3-gatsu no Lion – 31

Rei is enjoying a big feast with the Kawamotos before he heads off to Osaka for the Newcomer Tournament final, but Hana isn’t. She can’t eat a bite; her stomach hurts. It’s because she’ll be heading off too: to Kyoto, on a multi-day class trip.

Rei immediately knows why Hina is feeling the way she is, and gives what advice he can to help ease her pain, since he’s felt it too. He vividly imagines the hell she’ll have to face while on the trip, ostracized by her peers. She’s going into battle just as much as he is. And like him, she wants to win.

When Rei meets Kawasaki Junko, the game records of his semifinal match with Nikaidou have already said a lot about the guy (except that he looks really old for someone 26 and under). Knowing he couldn’t beat Nikaidou in a quick game, Kawasaki did everything he could to lengthen it, knowing Nikaidou’s health would give out and the match would be his.

Knowing this is how Kawasaki wins fills Rei with rage, and he almost plays right into his opponent’s hands when a voice inside him stays his hand: it’s Nikaidou’s words ringing out: don’t attack, defend; take care of your shogi and yourselfPerservere. It’s what Nikaidou did, even though he failed. It’s what Hina is doing in Kyoto.

Back on course, Rei contains his anger and focuses it on persevering, on enduring the mind games Kawasaki is playing, and by focusing on the shogi, and when the match is over, Rei is the new Newcomer King, while Kawasaki is a fief in the land of losers where he deserves to be for his callus, unchivalrous play.

Rei does not savor the victory long, because he knows Hina’s still out there battling. After a fellow player gives him some stomach medicine Shimada recommended, Rei races to Kyoto by bullet train, and using Hina’s class trip schedule, combs the shopping venue where her class is supposed to be.

Then he remembers his own times of loneliness during such trips, and how a mall full of laughter and fun would be the last place he’d be. Instead, he searches the river, the place back home where she’s always run to be alone.

Her reaction to Rei suddenly appearing there, just when she was about to start crying, is hard to put into words. Poweful? Sure. Heartlifting? You bet. When he was younger, Rei had to face many battles alone.

Now he knows how much better he’d have fared if he had someone beside him to make things even a little more endurable, and happens to have someone in Hina who he can ensure won’t endure her battles alone.

All it took was being there—in that particular time and place—to be hugged, to be a font for her tears, to remind her she isn’t fighting in vain, and that it’s going to be alright.

Attack on Titan – 13

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The episode that marks the end of the first half of Attack on Titan also, mercifully, marks the end of the interminable Battle of Trost. It’s an episode full of big, great, “Hell Yeah” moments. One of those is when everyone, believing they’re all at death’s door, suddenly stops what they’re doing and listen to the steady, ominous footsteps. Clearly they’re from a Titan, but it’s when they see the boulder moving that they know it’s their Titan, Eren, finally doing what he’s supposed to be doing.

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Finally, with the mission on the right track, everyone knows what to do: Eren must be protected at all costs. If he is swarmed by Titans again and God forbid, drops that boulder, it really is all over. Mikasa for one, is clearly not going to let any Titans get near him, belting out a primal war cries as she cuts them down one by one.

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Another great moment is when Eren finally gets to the broken gate and slams the boulder in place, kicking up a huge cloud of dust. All the torment of the arc’s past episodes seems to be worth it; for the first time, the humans can truly claim victory over the Titans (albeit thanks to another Titan). Rico admires Eren’s handiwork and is staggered by the enormity of what just happened. An most importantly, none of the hundreds of soldiers who fell today died in vain; they all died so that the gate could be sealed and the district saved.

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But there are still a good number of Titans still within the walls, so as much as everyone wants to stand down or pass out from exhaustion, there’s still a battle to be won. Fortunately for Mikasa, Armin, and a freshly-extracted Eren (it seems to get tougher and tougher to separate him from the Titan…uh-oh), the cream of the Scout Regiment arrives, confused by what the hell just happened, but ready to mop up. Captain Levi’s movements in particular are like nothing we’d seen in the battle before, even from Mikasa.

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With the last of the Titans dealt with, the butcher’s bill comes in: over 200 dead, nearly 1,000 wounded. It’s up for the soldiers like Jean and Sasha to gather up the bodies (or what’s left of them, having been horrifically spit up by stuffed Titans) and burn them before an epidemic finishes what the Titans started. It’s a ghoulish, traumatic business that ensures there won’t be any celebration for this first victory; not while one is surrounded by the stench of the burning remains of comrades.

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The final big moment of the episode, which paves the way for the second half, is when Eren wakes up behind bars, chained to his bed. He may have been the linchpin of the operation that saved Trost District and Wall Rose, but he’s still a potentially dangerous and unstable element, so the bars and chains are a wise precaution.

Fortunately, it would also seem that his captors hew more towards Pixis than Woerman, with actions driven by reason rather than fear. The commander of the Scout Regiment, flanked by Levi, simply asks Eren what he wants to do. If they’re to investigate Dr. Yeager’s secrets, hidden in the basement of Eren’s now-destroyed home in Titan-riddled Shiganshina, having a Titan on their side could prove as decisive as it was in the battle of Trost.

Eren wants to join the scouts and drive the Titans out. That impresses Levi enough to decide to take him under his wing. With a clear path set for the second half, and an interesting new master-student dynamic, I’m looking forward to seeing how things shake out with Eren, Levi, Mikasa, and Armin.

As for the other members of the 104th? Well…aside from Sasha and Jean, they haven’t made much of an impact for me, and even those two are a bit muddled. IMO AoT has most effective when it has resisted the urge to give every single character their two minutes in the sun, and instead focused on the core trio.

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First Half Pros/Cons:

Pros:

  • Richly-rendered world with well-defined scale and complexity
  • Palpable atmosphere of large-scale despair, desperation and futility
  • The Titans stike a weird balance of terrifying and cute
  • The Eren/Mikasa/Armin dynamic works very well, with each character contributing a unique strength
  • Mikasa is the undisputed star, cool outside but all churning emotions inside, making it all the more awesome when they break out

Cons:

  • Front-loading of episodes with recapping and retracing to start episodes
  • I’m sure the creator/producers thought through the 3D harnesses, but it still took a while to get on board with the fact they actually worked, and how
  • The supporting cast is generally bland, amorphous, and served mostly to steal valuable time from main triad
  • Excessive explanation combined with camera cutaways from overt gore suggest the targeted audience is younger than me
  • The show suffers from inconsistent pacing; the Trost battle went on far too long

Attack on Titan – 12

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After another extremely long and annoying (for someone semi-marathoning) recap of What’s Happened So Far on AoT, we return to the situation in Trost: Eren has transformed into a Titan, but he’s useless. All he manages to do is blast both of his fists off going after Mikasa, who insists to her CO Ian that Eren is “family”, not her boyfriend. Your blushing says it’s more complicated than that, Miss Ackerman.

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She suspends herself in front of his face and tries to reason with him, to no avail, so the episode, like many others before it, is more about what happens when things go wrong than what happens when they go right. But to the credit of Ian and the elite squad with Mikasa, the mission to protect Eren, even though he’s currently useless, takes precedence over their own lives.

Rico is angry about it, because he doesn’t think Eren is worth it, but he still obeys orders. He doesn’t let The Fear overcome his discipline. Instead, he resolves to go out fighting, showing the Titans what they’re made of. Elsewhere in the district, Jean tries to keep it together and prove—more to himself than the others—that he has what it takes to be a good soldier.

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Every minute Eren is out of action, dozens of soldiers both fit and unfit are being slaughtered and/or eaten by the growing horde of Titans. Pixis admits that he and he alone is responsible for these deaths, but is willing to be called a butcher if his actions save humanity.

Even though the elite squad signaled failure, he’s not throwing in the towel. Of course, one could say a great many of these soliders were going to die whether Pixis hatched this cockamamie plan or not, and one would be correct. If they do nothing, humanity is eventually going to be toast, to a man. So why not try something?

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Speaking of which, when Mikasa’s verbal pleadings fail to rouse Eren (who is stuck in an idealized dream in their old house in Shiganshina with his still-alive parents), it falls to Armin to try something else. Remembering the location from where Eren emerged was the same as the weak spot of all Titans, he digs his sword in, nicking Eren in the arm, and yells at him through the opening to wake the fuck up.

Again, AoT demonstrates why Eren and Mikasa alone can’t survive; it takes Armin’s extra perspective. Mikasa never would have risked harming Eren by stabbing him in the neck, but that’s exactly what needed to be done to snap him out of his blissful but self-destructive fantasy. Now that he’s awake, we’ll see if Eren’s able to exert enough control to pick up that boulder and seal the gate. Better late than never, right?

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