Assassins Pride – 05 – Just a Step in Front

Keira Espada tells her underclassman Salacha Shicksal that she’d rather an inter-family fued like the Angels’ not interfere with the Luna Lumiere Selection Tournament, but there’s nothing she, Melida or Elise can do about it. White Night’s ongoing investigation into Melida’s ability and Othello’s insistance on Elise’s superiority means there’s no way the tournament won’t be affected. Indeed, it already has.

That’s thanks both to Othello’s rigging of the cadet selection and the fact that Black Madia is not only on the loose in the school, but assuming the form of a student, meaning she is everywhere and nowhere. Still, the host school’s headmaster would apparently prefer both a tainted final result and the mortal danger of a lurking assassin rather than cancelling or even postponing the tournament. She puts tradition and propriety before truth and the safety of her students. Shame on her!

Anyway, the show indeed goes on, by which point Melida has been encouraged and galvanized by both her tutor Kufa and her teammates Nerva and Shenfa, who buck the trend of believing Melida will never measure up to Elise. When the two finally meet for the fateful duel, Elise finally expresses that she didn’t want to win against her “big sister” because she didn’t want everyone’s assumptions—including her own—that Melida was weaker than her to be true. She wanted to continue being second-best.

Deeming that to be impossible to keep up the charade any longer, all Elli can do now is prove that which everyone assumes and which she always feared: that Melida can’t beat her. Only…Melida hasn’t been sitting idle all these weeks with Kufa. She’s learned quite a few new tricks that optimize her mana, and Elli has been too busy with her own preparations to keep up with her big sister’s training.

Turns out Melida not only believes she can beat Elli, but she goes and does it. With everyone watching, Elli doesn’t take the fall, she loses fair and square to a disarming attack, and Melida makes it clear she’s determined to stay a step ahead of her little sister…if only just a step.

While the sisters’ fight didn’t last long, it did pack a punch, and I appreciated that Ishikawa Yui got some spirited dialogue to sink her teeth into, almost channeling her best-known role, Mikasa Ackerman, in the process (both Mikasa and Elli both being cool, powerful, yet reserved beauties).

As they fight, Kufa is on the lookout for the disguised Black Madia, and thinks he’s found her when he encounters her all alone with something suspicious in her bag. Turns out he’s mistaken: it’s not Black Madia at all, but a student from the other school who spoke with Melida last week: Mule la Mor. Her mana-absorbing Diabolos class is too high a class for Madia.

Soon after Melida and Elise’s big catharsis, Madia steps in to try to finish the job Kufa won’t on behalf of White Night, who disguised herself as Nerva to get as close as possible to her target. The glass palace’s giant sentries initially stops her, but she destroys their weapons. Turns out that’s an unforced error, as it allows other non-cadets to enter and save the day: specifically Kufa, with Rosetti backing him up.

Kufa slashes away all of the Clown-class’s illusions until she’s stripped down to a revealing outfit that makes her self-conscious. At this point she completely loses her nerve and becomes submissive to Kufa, almost acting like she likes him, which may be the case. In any case, Kufa suggests a compromise: she can return to their boss with his “supplementary report”, thus not returning empty-handed in shame. In exchange, she’ll withdraw without further trouble.

After the credits, however, Madia is right back at the school, this time entering the front door as an instructor. Her transition from fearsome adversary to potential ally and supporter of Melida is awfully quick, but I’ll allow it. As for the tournament, Keira Espada wins, and Mule la Mor shows Salacha Shicksal a “mana analyzer” containing all the mana info of every girl who fought in the palace—including Melida’s—for Salacha’s brother. As the OP hinted, looks like we’ll likely see more of Mule and Salacha.

Assassins Pride – 04 – What Matters is the Way it Looks

Since they were little, Elise has always seen herself as Melida’s little sister, someone to cling to. That hasn’t changed just because Elise’s mana awoke sooner, nor since she surpassed Melida in combat prowess. That means the both of them would really prefer if they could be on the same side…a sentiment shared by Elli’s tutor Rosetta where Kufa is concerned.

Unfortunately, when the Luna Lumiere Selection Tournament kicks off, the two are unexpectedly named Cadets and the leaders of three-girl teams in direct opposition with each other, along with two similar teams from their sister school. Both Nerva and school “queen” Shenfa join Melida’s team.

Needless to say this isn’t ideal for the girls, as Melida still doesn’t think she has a hope of defeating Elli in the inevitable one-on-one matchup. She may not be wrong, but as one of the members of the other school (perhaps the “amazing first year” people were buzzing about) tells Melida to stand tall and demonstrate her power, otherwise no one will ever trust that she has it.

Kufa tells Melida that no matter what others think (and they think her and Elli’s selection was rigged), he’ll stand with her always. But he also finds out that Elli’s maid Othello rigged the stained glass window so the two would be named the school’s cadets, which he reveals to both girls and Rosetta. Still, Melida intends to carry on; beating Elli fair and square in the final trial is the only way to change the minds of people like Othello.

However, a number of obstacles to that outcome reveal themselves. First is Black Madia, an emissary from the White Night who confronts Kufa in the forest. She wonders why his report on Melida was so sparse and whether his loyalties to their order are wavering. As far as Madia’s concerned, Melida should already have been eliminated, but to do so herself, she’ll have to get past Kufa and Rosetta, and later school security.

She can’t, so she withdraws for the time being, warning through her burning cards that “the shadow is always behind you.” Kufa tells Rosetta that Madia is Flandore’s most powerful member of the Clown-class, able to mimic all the other classes. Needless to say, we haven’t seen the last of her.

The other main obstacle to Melida’s intentions is, well Elise. Elise isn’t any more confident Melida can beat her than Melida is, and so she comes to her room in the night to announce her intention to lose to her on purpose. She clarifies that she’s not doing it for Melida’s sake but for her own: she wants to remain her “little sister”, and beating her in public is the last thing she wants to do.

This doesn’t sit well with Melida, but fortunately she has a week to change Elli’s mind, either through words, or more convincingly, through her actions during the tournament.

Attack on Titan – 06

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I wasn’t all that enamored of Armin’s extended whimpering at the beginning of this episode, but his realization that not only is it a cruel world where the strong slaughter the weak, but it has always been so; he just had to lose his best friend to realize it fully. And messed up as he is, he can still look at a desperate Hanna performing CPR on her clearly-dead Franz and think stop…he’s already dead. I am weak. We are weak. But we don’t have to fall to the strong today.

While Armin laments the apparent loss of Eren and the rest of his unit in its entirety, Mikasa bags her first Titan (or at least the first Titan we see her bring down), an “abnormal” that runs a lot faster than the others and was about to go to town on a throng of evacuees who weren’t able to escape because a haughty merchant is blocking the gate with his wagon full of goods.

Mikasa’s job is to kill Titans, but she’s killing Titans to save lives, not goods. So she clears the gate a blade less than an inch from the merchant’s eye, then goes back to work killing Titans once the evacuation can proceed. Her superior wonders what the hell this kid went through to become so tough and unyielding. I too have been wondering where she got her seemingly superhuman strength…and how she, and Ackerman, came to live with the Yeagers.

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The show enlightens us with a gut-punch-riddled flashback. Armin’s assessment of the cruelty of the world is felt firsthand by Mikasa, whose loving mother and father are murdered right in front of her eyes. They prepare to sell her into the service of old perverts, as she’s a rare (if not one-of-a-kind) “oriental”. And that’s exactly what would have happened, had Eren not tagged along with his dad on a house call to the Ackermans.

When Eren realizes what has happened to the parents of a girl he was going to meet for the first time (and was going to weigh whether to be friends with her based on “how she acted”), he goes off on his own to rescue her, achieves entry to the criminals’ hideout by pretending to be lost, and then kills two of the men holding her, one with a knife to the gut at the door (just how Mikasa’s dad was killed), the other more viciously with a spear-broom.

But there’s a third man, and once he has his hand around Eren’s throat, it falls to Mikasa, who had always abhorred the inherent cruelty and violence of nature. Eren gives her the rundown: Fight, or die. Win, and live. That’s it. With the knife in her hands, a switch flips: she’s the strong one here; the man busy with Eren the weak one. With overwhelming force, she fights and wins, and she and Eren live.

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The two kids are shell-shocked in the aftermath of that ordeal, but Mikasa is still in tune with reality enough to say she’s cold, and ask which is the way back home. Eren and his dad welcome her into their home, which becomes her home. Eren gives her his warm scarf; perhaps the same scarf she still wears in the present.

Eren is her everything; he saved her life, and woke her up so she could save both of them. He’s the reason she’s alive, and the reason she fights, and wins, and continues to live. As long as he’s with her, she can do anything, and goshdarn it, I believe it. But what if he isn’t with her? What if he’s Titan chow? I know he isn’t, because, well, this isn’t Gurren Lagann and he’s not Kamina…but she doesn’t know that yet.

That aside, this was a tremendous flashback episode that helped humanize and further deepen our understanding of our favorite character in the show by a mile so far. I daresay it was worth arresting the momentum of the last couple episodes.

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Attack on Titan – 05

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When Eren ends up all alone with the Colossal Titan, he wastes no time attacking it, using his ODM gear to climb all over his body and delivering a blow to the back of his neck as he was trained to do. But Eren doesn’t have his revenge today; the Titan merely disappeared as mysteriously as he’s twice appeared. Just a couple of footprints where the enemy once was. And he’ll surely be back whenever he feels like it.  There’s no resolution, no catharsis…no glorious victory.

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Now in the heat of battle, Eren is the only one among his contemporaries who seems to have his shit together, and that’s because, as his instructor noted, he’s never seen anyone work with as much purpose as Eren. He’s singularly motivated to defeat the Titans, and hard-headed enough to let that drive drown out his nerves, if only partially and temporarily.

He tries with all his might to relay to those around him the importance of forgetting about what they have at stake and focusing on their immediate duties. Armin and Mikasa are brighter than Eren, but those extra smarts put them at a disadvantage here. They waver; they overthink. Eren has to headbutt Mikasa to snap her out of her feedback loop. “You’ll be fine. We’re all going to make it. Now get your ass moving.”

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Eren’s comrades on the battlements were conspicuously absent during his skirmish with the Colossal Titan, and not just because they were flung far away, but because they were to a man paralyzed with fear. Jean, enraged his transfer to the interior has been postponed, fumes about having to share his fate with a “suicidal maniac” even though he played all his cards right to get the cushy life he wanted.

Well, everyone, including Eren, learns this week that life isn’t fair, and life for the humans of AoT is a constant cycle of false security and horrendous massacre. No inspiring deeds or words from Eren can change that, but they are enough to motivate Eren’s comrades to follow him into battle. That…doesn’t go well.

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AoT is gradually starting to train me that Eren’s words about defeating the Titans and saving the world are, so far, just that and nothing more: words. And words are wind. Not a single Titan is shown being decisively killed. Eren and his mates look really cool dramatically swinging around the city, then Eren gets a bit too close to a Titan and loses a leg.

That leg is like our hope that victory is possible in this battle, but that Titan is this show, heartlessly snapping that hope up the blink of an eye and turning everything to shit. One by one, his comrades, who had enough lines (albeit mostly death flags) earlier that they’re not just pure redshirts, are plucked up by Titans and…the rest is left to our imaginations.

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Rather implausibly, Eren doesn’t let the loss of his leg (and whatever other injuries he sustained during his deceleration) stop him from literally snatching Armin from the jaws of death, only to be snapped up himself, losing an arm in the process and being swallowed, to Armin’s infinite dismay. Holy Crap, I thought to myself: the protagonist got eaten in the fifth episode.

But the Titans don’t care who you are, how much money or power you have, what your plans for the future are, or why you’re fighting. They’re only interested in what you taste like. I’ve seen few shows where it’s being a thinking, feeling, loving human being sucks this much. Where mankind has been portrayed as this damned and ineffectual. And AoT’s just getting warmed up.

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Attack on Titan – 04

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I’ll say this about these first episodes of AoT: it does not dick around. Two more years pass during which Eren, Mikasa, Armin, and a large group of fellow young cadets are hardened and trained, and graduation nears. As the drill sergeant observes them training in the woods he helpfully lays out the strengths and weaknesses of each recruit.

Armin lacks strength, but he’s got a sharp mind; Eren isn’t spectacular at any one thing, but he learns quickly, works hard, and no one is more driven. Mikasa is perfect at everything; a once-in-a-generation all-round talent. But you know what? That’s fine with me, because she’s so damn modest and unassuming about that ability.

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What I also like is that Mikasa isn’t just tough for a girl, she’s the toughest cadet, period, and there are other tough girls too, like the food-obsessed Sasha and aloof Annie Lockhart. The latter teaches both Eren and Braun a lesson with combat skills her father taught her, but isn’t taking any of this seriously, as the whole idea of those who are the most talented at killing Titans get to serve furthest away from them, in the interior Military Police.

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Indeed the top ten cadets in the class of 218 have the option of reporting straight to the Military Police, where they may theoretically live out their lives in relative peace and safety. Mikasa graduates top in the class, while Eren finishes a surprising fifth, with Armin placing outside the top ten.

Eren will have none of the military police; he’s joining the Scout Regiment, where he can take the fight directly to the Titans who took his mother and home. Armin and Mikasa decide to join him in turn, with Mikasa convinced he’ll die a quick death without her by his side. Protective? Sure, but he is her family.

When they graduate, Eren gives a speech rejecting the notion the Titans cannot be beaten, and that there’s value in fighting them even at the cost of his life, as continuing to fight them will allow them to gather more and more intel about their foe, so that one day, future forces might be able to bring them down for good. He doesn’t want to die, but he can’t sit back and do nothing.

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The speech clearly moves a few of his fellow top tenners like Conny and Sasha, who join him in the Scout Regiment. When they arrive in Trost district along Wall Rose, they’re welcomed by an optimistic crowd; it’s been five years since the Colossal Titan attacked, and there hasn’t been any advancement by the enemy. In that time, the collective wounds have healed a little, and both hope and dignity are in the air.

…Then, on Eren’s first day atop the wall maintaining the cannon, the Colossal Titan returns, and the lighthearted mood is replaced by terror and despair. Man…Not particularly forgiving to its human populace, this show. Yet Eren doesn’t freeze in fear. He and his comrades are scattered off the wall, but he uses his ODM gear to get back to the battlements and face his nemesis down.

He’s not scared, he’s pissed, and his time has come to finally attempt what he’s wanted to do since he saw his mother get eaten. I have no earthly idea how he expects to take the behemoth on, who will help him, and who won’t survive the imminent battle, but I’m damned eager to find out on all counts.

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Attack on Titan – 03

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Two years after the Titan attack destroyed their home, Eren, Mikasa and Armin begin boot camp, and their drill sergeant suffers no foolishness, especially from one Sasha Blouse, who just can’t help scarfing down a hot potato while he’s talking (the tension of the exchange is highly amusing, showing off Titan’s sense of humor even in such bleak setting. (The sergeant also thinks Armin Arlert is a dumb name.)

It’s a common strategy: strip the cadets down and then build them back up, in their case, into Titan-killing soldiers. As the sergeant walks down the line, we learn how the recruits are from all over, and have enlisted for many different reasons. Many don’t cut it and leave to work the fields on the first day. Others will wash out later. I liked how the sergeant knew from the look of the cadets who’d already gone through the wringer.

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Eren is eager to get through training so he can start kicking Titanic ass on the front lines, but he hits a snag: the omni-directional mobility gear all soldiers need to master. In short, he sucks at it. He has all the motivation and determination in the world, but appears to lack the aptitude. This is a huge setback for his life goals, and you can see in his haunted expression at dinner that he fears failure and his own weakness far more than any Titan.

This episode also presents the opportunity to spread out beyond our core trio to several interesting supporting characters, some of whom may well end up in the same unit as Eren. The aforementioned Sasha is a bit one note in her relentless pursuit of food, but Jean Kirstein’s honesty about wanting to join the military police so he can serve in the safe(r) interior provides a welcome contrast to Eren’s puffed-chest gung-ho act.

Even better though, Jean and Eren don’t just come to blows over the disagreement. A bell rings, and the two make up, perhaps aware that fighting each other is a waste of time. Then there’s Reiner Braun, who like Eren & Co. is one of the few cadets who has seen the Titans firsthand; in other words, who have seen hell.

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But the undisputed rockstar of this episode, and of the show so far, at least for me, is Mikasa Ackerman. We learn a little more about her intensely close, co-dependent bond with Eren; neither of them want to ever be apart from the other; both feed off of one another’s unique energy. She aces the OGM, makes someone fall in love with her just by walking past, looks awesome no matter what her length of hair is, and even owns Sasha by not surrendering her bread.

She also rejoices when Eren finally gets the OGM right (turns out he had a defective belt, but even managed to balance properly on that, proving he’s more than capable). But she’s also the only one who doesn’t see self-satisfaction in Eren’s face. She sees relief that he doesn’t have to leave her.

Not that he would have to: had he failed, she would have gone with him to the fields; Armin too, probably. Because if there’s one thing that’s working out for these three kids in this dastardly post-apocalyptic fiasco of a world, its the three of them sticking together.

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Attack on Titan – 02

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As the first waves of Titan victims become a feast for crows, Eren, Mikasa and Armin retreat from Shiganshina and the breached Wall Maria to Wall Rose. Initially carried by Hannes, Eren fumes over running away, but there’s nothing else to do: he lacks the strength, as does all of humanity.

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As for the Titans themselves, there’s a bizarrely charming dumpy childishness to many of the smaller ones, acting like the humans spread out before them are simply fun toys that happen to double as food. But then there are some that seem much more purely evil, or at least more evolved to dispatch humans on a massive scale, like the Titan that blasts through the gate and uses fire breath to roast the garrison.

There’s a sickening inhuman cruelty at work, but also the sense that this is simply how nature has progressed; humans are no longer the top dogs, and life is going to get more difficult. The Titans are simply doing what they’ve evolved to do: feed on humans. Sorry, humans.

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The kids end up on a boat with a few hundred other survivors, who then become refugees within Wall Rose. Whatever picturesque, idealized town Shiganshina was, their new temporary home is far bleaker and harsher, with a populace already experiencing a food shortage, there’s great animosity for the newcomers; even wishes that the Titans ate more of them.

Once he’s over the initial shock of witnessing his mother’s death and the death of hundreds of others before his eyes, Eren switches to anger and goals that, at this point, are absurdly unreasonable and premature. He tries to run before he can crawl, or at least talk about running, i.e. driving the Titans out.

Thank goodness then, he has the more sensible Armin to keep him from getting an even more severe beating from a guard, and a no-nonsense Mikasa who isn’t above punching Eren out and stuffing bread down his throat if it means keeping him alive.

I’m already enjoying the dynamic of these three, in particular Mikasa, the steadfast rock of the trio with no patience for Eren’s empty speeches about wiping out the Titans when clearly, at present, nothing can be done.

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That fact is underlined when, after putting the refugees to work in the wastelands cultivating food doesn’t arrest the food shortage, 250,000 of them are sent back out to “fight” the Titans. Of course, they only serve as a massive buffet (only 200 survive), and a sign of how callous those behind an inner wall can be to preserve what they have.

A lot of time passes this week, making these first two episodes  a solid foundation chronicling the trauma endured by our protagonists that motivate them to enlist in the military, that they might do something, anything to try to push the Titans back.

Meanwhile, Eren has intense, disturbing dreams and/or visions of future events; his dad is still alive somewhere, and there was a secret in the basement of the family home his dad intended Eren to see. All of this points to Eren being more than just talk, but whatever power he possesses seems a long way from being unleashed.

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Reminder: Comments are welcome as always, but please limit discussion to this episode and avoid spoilers, as I am watching AoT for the first time. Many thanks—HB