Attack on Titan – 36

This week is a non-stop, bloody, gory, slimy, and above all mobile episode. With only the occasional momentary flashback rather than an episode dominated by one, we stay in the present, where there is quite a bit going on. Sure, the background sounds are reduced and time seems suspended at times, but everyone’s minds are still racing, wondering what the heck to do and who the hell to trust.

When Krista pops out of Ymir’s mouth, Ymir emerges from her Titan’s neck to tell her she’s using her as a chip with which to bargain for her life, putting Ymir #1 as always (only now with no more self-lying). Krista, er, Historia, wants Ymir to come back with her, but when it’s clear she won’t, she doesn’t give up her friendship, saying Ymir will always have her as an ally, no matter what.

As their lover’s quarrel goes on, Erwin and the scouts catch up, heading Reiner off with a huge horde of Titans right on their tail, and the commander launches a crazy charge that immediately claims his right arm. But rather than scream and ask for mommy as some scouts have done in their final moments, Erwin surprises by continuing to order the charge, and, indeed, charge himself, arm or no arm. We’ve got ourselves a badass here.

When Reiner finally has to move his arms to defend against the Titan scrum, Mikasa makes her first attempt to snatch Eren, but misses Bertholdt by a hair and gets nabbed by another Titan she didn’t see, who crushes her midsection. Jean saves her, but Eren remains in Bertholdt and Reiner’s clutches…

…That is until everyone’s favorite dramatic preview narrator Armin shows up next to Bert and Eren, and after thinking about what he can give up, what he can sacrifice to assure a future, he decides to give up any semblance of diplomacy with the traitors, and brings up their comrade Annie, taking care to go into great detail about the constant agony she’s in as a result of torture.

That gets Bertholdt to lose it and draw his swords to answer Armin’s insults, but Erwin leaps into the frame and relieves Reiner of a digit, sending Eren falling into a waiting Mikasa’s arms. After scoring her first Titan kill protecting Ymir, Historia is snatched up by Connie and Sasha, but demands they let her go lest Ymir be killed. They think Ymir’s just lying again.

In an effort to wrest himself free, Reiner decides to perform the shot put on numerous Titans, launching them into the sky. One such ground-to-ground missiles knocks Mikasa and Eren of their horse, who runs off, leaving them alone, on foot, on the ground with not just any Titan approaching their location, but the Titan that ate Eren’s Mom back in the first attack.

Is Eren healed enough to transform and get some payback? Will Mikasa’s internal injuries keep her from fighting 100%? Can help arrive in time? Will anybody get back to the wall? What will become of Ymir and Historia? So much to be resolved with just one episode remaining…

Attack on Titan – 35

Episode 35 starts by checking in on the mystery in Connie’s village, which was devastated but where there are no human remains, and where every horse is still in the stables. So what the hell happened? We don’t learn the answer to that, only that the sole Titan in the village—the one that looks like it’s fallen and can’t get up—is indeed Connie’s mother.

Moving on, we return to Reiner, Bertholdt. With scouts approaching, they have no choice but to get moving before nightfall. Eren pretends to cooperate—for all of five seconds—only to struggle in vain; he’s still too messed up to transform.

Reiner takes Eren and Bertholdt takes Ymir, who is still not sure who to trust. Reiner likes Christa too, and she factors into their “plans” (whatever they are), so Ymir goes along, until she senses Christa is among the pursuing scouts, and decides she’s going to do things her way.

That decision comes after a lifetime far longer than the age Ymir appears, in which lies she told herself and others temporarily placed her in places of comfort and purpose, only for everything to turn to shit.

In the earliest instance, cultists pick her up off the street and make her their icon, claiming she has the blood of the king. When troops raid the cult, she lies about deceiving them to save lives, only for all of them to share the same fate.

That fate involves some kind of sentencing that involves turning the condemned into a Titan and shoving them off the wall. On the other side, Titan Ymir wandered, suffered, and ultimately fell dormant and became buried by the earth.

When she finally wakes up, instinct leads her to eat Reiner and Bertholdt’s comrade Marcel…but doesn’t remember doing so. When she returns to human form, she’s greeted by a gorgeous starry sky, and makes it her new purpose in life to stop dealing in lies and live the way she wants, leading her to Christa, whom she considers a kindred spirit.

It’s a bold, engrossing tale that further fleshes out Ymir the person, made more intriguing by all the questions and lines of thinking that it raises during the flashback—questions a non-source-reader like me has no knowledge of—questions about the nature of humans and Titans; whether everyone has a Titan within them; even whether the state of human civilization within the walls is the true aberration in this strange world.

Back in the present, rather than simply going along with whatever plan (or lack thereof) Reiner and Bert have, Ymir flips the script. She wrenches herself loose from Bertholdt  and demands they let her bring Christa with them, or else she’ll take Eren and escape on her own using her superior speed and agility.

The lads seem to agree, because when Mikasa, Armin & Co. arrive at Ymir’s position, she’s become a Titan, and when Christa arrives, she swallows her whole (for ease of transport, not to eat her) and rejoins Reiner (in Armored Titan form), Bert and Eren, running off into the sunset, having thoroughly outwitted the scouts.

Of course, the scouts aren’t done chasing them. Erwin, as well as Mikasa and Armin, have come this far; they’re not returning home without Eren or Christa. And so the pursuit continues.

Attack on Titan – 34

While I’m all for hanging out in the branches of giant trees on a gorgeous sunny afternoon, I was hoping for a little more substance. Instead, it’s a time-marking episode, with Reiner and Bertholdt waiting for a sunset that never comes while Ymir and Eren poke and prod them with questions, none of which are actually answered except one: they’re ultimately headed for the traitor’s hometown.

Just as Mikasa has to keep calm and watch her pace so as not to break the rescue party formation, Eren has to keep calm and not do anything stupid by transforming back into a titan before he’s healed and in the middle of enemy territory. But while his eyes bulge and his teeth grind, Eren’s struggle is pretty moot: Reiner says he and Ymir are too weak to transform anyway.

Then Reiner goes off, talking as if he wasn’t the armored titan, but just another soldier in the scouts who should probably get a reward, if not a promotion, for all his good work. Ymir surmises, and is probably correct, that after spending so long pretending to be a regular human soldier, he no longer knows who he is, or at least forgets sometimes.

However, he’s lucid enough to know he can flip Ymir if he can convince her it’s in her best interest, or more importantly, in Christa, AKA Historia’s. Ymir is at least willing to listen, adding another slice to Eren’s shit sandwich. But as the sun sets, their limbs start to regenerate, and the smoke flares in the distance indicate the scouts are further along in their pursuit than Bertholdt calculated.

I was expecting a quiet episode in the trees, but rather disappointed in the lack of answers, especially when it comes to the Beast Titan. Eren also seems to know, and accepts, less than we do, and it’s always frustrating to wait for a character to catch up to you.

Attack on Titan – 33

Thanks to Bertholdt’s colossal smoldering husk falling off the wall, he and Reiner are able to make off with both Ymir and an incapacitated Eren in a literal cloud of smoke. All the scouts present end up injured and burned in some way, and Mikasa, who is knocked out, isn’t able to immediately give chase, like she did when Annie took Eren. No one is.

It’s a good a time as any, then, for another flashback to the “good old days” when Eren, Mikasa and Armin played out the very same dynamic: Eren would bite off more than he could chew in fights with bullies, Armin would run to Mikasa, and Mikasa would unleash hell on those who hurt Eren. But because she’s almost always just a bit late, she’s rarely able to get Eren out of a fight before he gets beaten up.

EAT ANGRY.

Hannes, who remembers this (and misses being a ‘useless drunk soldier’), reassures the two that Eren won’t give up just because he’s been taken away. There’s no evidence of him ever giving up throughout the years they’ve known him. So the best thing for Mikasa and Armin to do is not to stew in their own present helplessness, but rest, heal, and eat food, so they can give their best when it’s time.

That time comes sooner than expected, as Erwin arrives with the military police and join forces with the scouts to go across the wall. Hange believes the two traitors are likely tired after their ordeal and will hole up in the nearby giant forest until nightfall, when (most) other Titans don’t move.

She turns out to be correct, as Eren wakes up, still steaming and missing his arms, beside Ymir, who is looking much better than a couple episodes ago (in that she’s up, about, and talking). Reiner and Bertholdt are both back to their human forms. They should have a lot to talk about before the cavalry appears, and before the sun goes down.

Attack on Titan – 32

Those who had a hankering for a knock-down drag-out Titan brawl were treated to one this week, with the added gravity of the Titan combatants being Bertholdt, Reiner, and Eren. As the latter two go at at the base of the wall, Bertholdt swallows Ymir (and someone else) and gives the soldiers atop it a big hit of burning steam, making attacking him impossible until he wishes it. It’s a stalemate, with Krista holding out hope Ymir is alive, and Connie, the poor bastard, hoping Bertholdt and Reiner are okay.

With the top of the wall stalemated for the time being, both Eren and Mikasa learn their usual attacks are worthless against Reiner’s armor. Eren, flat on his back, suddenly recalls his first martial arts lesson with Annie, who showed him for the first time that someone who isn’t Mikasa can be far stronger and effective in combat than they look, due to using their opponent’s size and strength as weapons against them.

The flashbacks mostly made me miss Annie dearly, wish she was still around, and wonder when if ever her story will be continued and/or resolved, what with all this other stuff going on taking precedence so far this season. I also dearly wanted to see her fight Mikasa, even if I was pretty sure Mikasa would win such a fight (considering what she did to Reiner).

Ripped from that happier past into a far more morose present, Eren finds his feet and the proper technique against Reiner, and a titan MMA match ensues, with Eren ripping Reiner’s limb off and the armor gradually flaking off in enough places that Mikasa can finally cut him.

I was a little irked why none of the other armed soldiers were going at Reiner’s obvious weak spots, rather than just Mikasa, but then it did take a while for her to fly over there, and more importantly, Reiner and Eren’s mutual hold is to Reiner’s advantage, as he drags Eren with him to a place directly below the simmering, deteriorating Bertholdt, whose smoldering colossal skull falls off and threatens to crush Eren.

Head’s up!

Attack on Titan – 31

Last week was a barn-burner (or rather castle-toppler) that put everyone through the ringer, revealing Ymir’s true form and Krista’s real name, so you’d expect a quieter “breather” of an episode, and that’s mostly what we get, right up until the cliffhanger ending. And what a cliffhanger.

But again, things start out quietly, with a comatose Ymir being lifted to the top of the wall for eventual transport to Trost. No one seems to be in a particular hurry to get her medical attention, but then again, she’s proven to be far tougher than a normal human.

The delayed removal of Ymir from the vicinity can’t help but feel like stalling as Eren puts two and two together after a very out-of-it Reiner oh-so-casually informs him he is the Armored Titan and Bertholdt is the Colossal Titan, and their mission is to destroy humanity.

Reiner also wants Eren to come with them back “home”, wherever that is, and if he does, they might just forego destroying humanity. Reiner’s sudden openness leaves Eren a bit dazed, and he tries to chalk it up to Reiner starting to lose it after going through so much.

12 hours before, before bailing out the scouts at Utgard, Hange reports that she’s finally received documents on Annie, and has learned she came from the same place as Reiner and Bertholdt. Furthermore, Reiner’s unit was given false information that would seem to incriminate him as working with the female Titan/Annie.

Armin also remembers Reiner demanding to know Eren’s location. Considering all this was swishing around Eren’s head, yet he held out a sliver of hope that they were just wrong, and his comrades Reiner and Bertholdt are innocent, made Reiner’s casual confessions that much more deflating.

In his discussion with Eren, Reiner eventually “snaps out of it” and decides that after three years, it’s time for him and Bertholdt to get back to their original mission, as they’re both warriors and the mission is the most important thing.

But just as he’s about to grab Eren, Mikasa appears from behind and slashes at him, acting when Eren cannot. I did originally think it odd Mikasa was walking away with the others, leaving Eren behind, but she turned back in short order, and could tell there was something rotten about the nature of the talk.

Mikasa is not quick enough to kill Reiner or Bertholdt, and they transform into Titans in a huge cloud of dust, grab Ymir and Eren, and make their escape down the side of the wall. Eren, remembering all the good times he had with his now-former comrades, isn’t having it, and finally transforms himself into a Titan, in order to dole out punishment on the two traitors. So much for rest for the weary.

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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