Attack on Titan – 08

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Man, those Titans look like the “Came With the Frame” family, wearing seemingly warm, friendly expressions. To bad they only look like that because they’ve found fresh humans to eat. The fact that Titans (unique variants aside) aren’t particularly grotesque monsters  but look simply like scaled-up naked humans who act purely on instinct, has made for quite a skin-crawlingly disturbing dynamic.

This week, we see Jean, who never wanted to fight on the wall in the first place, almost fall backwards into a position of leadership and the esteem of his peers, not because he performs amazing feats of badassery like Mikasa, but because he’s just…one of them. Not particularly strong, but able to assess situations and rally others to his side. After all, if someone like him can keep his cool (most of the time anyway) in such awful scenarios as he faces this week, so, they believe, can they.

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Speaking of lacking either physical or emotional brawn, Armin starts this episode content to be left behind lest he slow Mikasa and Connie down. But like Eren, Armin is Mikasa’s family, and she’s lost enough of that, so she’s not leaving him. Since he’s going to be a burden to them one way or another, Armin hatches a plan: something neither Mikasa nor Connie would have ever conceived of: lead the weird Titan-fighting Titan (TFT) to HQ so he can take out he Titans there, allowing them to resupply and continue the battle.

So Mikasa and Connie (with Armin in tow) set to work killing all the Titans around the guy, until he notices the ones gathered around HQ and gets to work. That handsome couple up top are his first victims, who are killed before Jean’s eyes just as he’s ready to give up (there’s a lot of instances of people about to give up in this show; all of them perfectly justified).

Once there, Armin comes up with another plan. In the process, he transcends his whiny third wheel act. Now, he’s a crucial member of the ramshackle unit, not just because Mikasa draws strength from him being alive, but because he just might be the sharpest tactician they’ve got.

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This plan has a lot less margin for error than the TFT-luring operation. Everyone has to put their lives on the line for the sake of everyone else. Any slip-ups, and they could all die. Seven athletic fighters hide in the rafters, waiting for the rest of the unit to blast the seven Titans in the head with shotguns so they can swoop in for the kills.

And while Connie and Sasha fail to strike killing blows to their Titans, Mikasa and Annie, two of the toughest ladies around, bail them out. I like how Sasha is pissed off with herself for giving up and not trusting her comrades would save her. Now she knows better.

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When they resupply and return to the surface, their would-be TFT ally is in the middle of a cannibalistic scrum. As they debate over whether to continue to rely on him, he dispatches the last of the Titans and collapses, armless. Then, from the dissolving remains of the TFT carcass, a regular-sized human form emerges – the human we all knew was in there, kicking Titan ass as a Titan.

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But I must tell you, while I fully expected Eren to be in that TFT, I was not prepared for the emotional impact of Mikasa running to him, embracing him, then totally losing it when she hears his heartbeat. That was even the title of the episode, and it still absolutely slew me.

There will certainly be many different reactions to Eren being a Titan (or having the ability to pilot them). Not all of those reactions will be positive. But right now, the only thing that matters to Mikasa—and me—is that the heart of the person she holds most dear in all the wretched world is still beating.

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Attack on Titan – 07

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We quickly learn this week that those intense flashbacks to when Eren and Mikasa first met, and Mikasa found her purpose in life—to be with Eren—was all simply building up for the moment Armin tearfully informs her that Eren died to save him.

It’s another cruel blow to someone who’s already endured so much pain; in fact, it figures to be the final blow; after all, Mikasa has been going on over and over about there being no other reason for her living than Eren.

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To Armin’s surprise, and mine too, however, Mikasa doesn’t break down; not outwardly anyway. Instead, she seems to shut down right then and there. Her eyes lose their sparkle. But for now, she sticks to her duty. She gives a big speech about being far stronger than all of them (which is true) and calling them pathetic cowards.

She’s going to go fight and live, even if she has to do it herself. Others follow her, whether due to a sudden spark of motivation from her words, or out of shame. Elsewhere, it’s so grim one soldier successfully loads a gun so he can put it in his mouth and end it all.

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But like Armin, we know something’s not right about how Mikasa is proceding. She’s going too all out; killing with extreme prejudice until her gas supply is totally exhausted. And with no gas, she has no mobility, and no more hope of suriving the gathering Titans.

She kneels in an alley, waiting for death…but she reflexively doesn’t let herself die, in spite of herself. As a Titan comes at her, then another, she remembers Eren, and dodges, and fights back, like he did, to save her. Then one of the Titans kills the other, and leaves her alone. Wait…what?

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This “ally” Titan—with familiar unkempt hair and steely teal eyes—is Eren in another form, to my eyes. And he kills the other Titan with the same raw ferocity he killed one of Mikasa’s captors; as she puts it, putting “all the manifest anger of humankind” behind his righteous blows that rip his own fist apart, only to re-heal instantly.

It’s too soon to be sure, but this “unique variant” may be humanity’s first real effective weapon against the Titans. If he pans out as a reliable human ally, he certainly won’t be a total game changer; he’s just one “good Titan” against countless scores of Titans of all shapes, sizes and strengths. But I for one am glad Mikasa and the little people have scored a break, even if it’s a temporary, incomplete one. Like them, I’ll take every break I can to stem the rising tide of blood and anguish.

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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

Attack on Titan – 01

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Thanks to Netflix and a relatively light Fall season, I am pleased to finally crack open the massively popular Attack on Titan, a show I eschewed virtually sight unseen, choosing instead to follow Gargantia, Majestic Prince, and Valvrave. I’m only past the first episode of AoT, but I can already see I made a major oversight; one that will be corrected forthwith.

AoT’s cold open shows us the very moment the people of Shiganshina are royally hosed, then after the credits, rewinds to the morning before the shit hits the fan and begins the process of masterfully building up the dread and tension preceding the events of the cold open.

As we follow Eren (a loud-mouthed portentous shonen if ever there was one) and his sister Mikasa (a girl of few words but immense strength) as they wind their way through the streets of their huge hometown, the walls, streets and structures have a strength, solidarity, and safety to them. Even the sounds of everyday life are lulling.

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If there is one shortcoming to this first episode, it’s that Eren isn’t necessarily likable at first. His reasons for wanting to strike out into the outside world aren’t unreasonable, but he can be over-emphatic in his protestations and scolds.

Sure, he may have had a vision of doom descending on Shiganshina, but he’s fighting against a century of idleness and contentment. Conviction and loudness are no substitute for hard evidence. Also, the episode tries to paint Armin with broad strokes, but there’s not much to him yet except that like Eren, he’s not content to stay within the walls.

Then the evidence arrives in the form of a hand grasping the top of the 50-meter outer wall, and it’s a powerful “Toldya so” moment that shakes every inhabitant of the city to their core. Then…a hole is blasted in the wall with such force it causes widespread destruction to the rest of the city. And that’s before smaller Titans start rushing in.

Any early quibbles I might have had with Eren or Armin go out the window when the appalling carnage starts, with throngs of humans running for their lives and many being scooped up and gobbled up like hors d’oeuvres. There’s a distinct sticky aura of awfulness to the spectacle, and the utter powerlessness of the three young protagonists.

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When Eren rushes home hoping against hope his house is still intact only to find his mom’s legs crushed under its ruins, it’s a gut punch. Before I can recover from that, a Titan eats her with cold satisfaction as a fleeing Eren watches, flooring me yet again.

Amidst the wholesale butchery and mass despair, there are obviously glints of both hope and levity. Mikasa’s imposing brawn is employed for a snicker when she and Eren rescue Armin from bullies, and the smash cut from Hannes momentarily facing off against a Titan to reconsidering and scooping up the kids, and retreating was a legitimately funny “oh shit” moment.

As for hope, well, Eren, Mikasa, and Armin are still alive, which means anything is possible. Obviously, they won’t stay powerless for long. But nor is any viable counterattack likely in the immediate future. The onslaught of the Titans has only begun, after all. For now, surviving is the name of the game.

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Welcome to my weekly (or bi-weekly) Attack on Titan retro reviews. Comments are welcome as always, however please limit discussion to this episode and avoid spoilers, as I am writing these reviews as I watch AoT for the first time. Thanks—HB

Charlotte – 09

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Judging from the amount of time he spends figuring out what to wear, Yuu is not only looking forward to his concert date with Nao, but also seems to be developing some feelings for her. When they meet, he encounters a much more pleasant and bubbly and less surly Nao who is genuinely excited to see ZHIEND live (and collect their very practical smartphone case!)

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As the concert progresses, Yuu’s mind-splinter like nagging feeling of deja vu keeps building until it finally explodes when Sala starts singing a song caled “Trigger”, which just happens to be the trigger that sends Yuu…somewhere, somewhen else. Here, he and and a very alive Ayumi are patients/inmates at the very kind of government facility Nao always warned about, where ability users are rounded up and monitored, while those more powerful (and thus dangerous) are restrained, dissected, and/or disposed of.

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Is this a flashback, or an alternate reality? The show doesn’t say for sure, nor does it need to. Suffice it to say this is an awesome new direction for a show featuring characters with all sorts of crazy powers, so the ability to travel through time (Yuu’s “big brother” Shunsuke’s ability) isn’t that far out there.

The episode fully commits to this new, harsh, dystopian setting with abandon, along with the efforts by other users to free Shun with Yuu’s true power, “plunder”, or the ability to steal other abilities. That power makes him uniquely suited when the time comes to race through the corridors of the facility to release Shun. In the process, many of his associates fall to the security forces. The time between 13:55 and 17:30 is a thrilling masterpiece in and of itself.

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Everything seems to be worth it though, as Shun is released, his eyes uncovered, and…well, something happens. Yuu wakes up in the hospital with Nao by his side, as if it was all a dream, but the timing of Shun using his powers suggests it’s because of Shun that Yuu is here, and was here in this world living peacefully with Ayumi.

Nao is confused by Yuu’s thinking out loud, until a dry Kumagami (who was in the facility with Yuu and Ayumi) enters the room, offering to take Yuu and Nao somewhere where they’ll learn everything they’ve missed out on so far, including reuniting with Shunsuke, who Yuu learns was the one who set Nao on her path of finding and protecting users, thus helping the overall cause. Kumagami also says he can help Yuu rescue Ayumi, as if she wasn’t dead (and indeed, we never saw a body.)

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From post-rock concert to dystopian government facility to comfy hospital room, Yuu then finds himself following Kumagami with Nao to another top-secret underground facility, though in this case, it’s the well-funded but time-deficient headquarters and last stronghold of the “resistance” of ability users against the government, an organization led by Shunsuke, who is now blind.

This is little more than a reveal, with Shuu exchanging pleasantries and preparing to tell Yuu and Nao Everything, but this episode had done more than enough already, completely changing the complexion and expanding the scope, stakes, and very reality of the show. This is no longer just about a school club that rescues kids one at a time. This is about saving them all, including Ayumi. I’m always suspicious of un-killing characters, but in this case I’m very intrigued to see how they do it.

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Charlotte – 08

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Charlotte follows its best episode (and one of the best episodes of the Summer) with another powerful outing, though not quite packing the same punch. It has Yuu returning to school and to the routines he had abandoned after Ayumi’s death. It’s all here, from Joujirou’s fanboying and bleeding, Yusarin’s spells and music videos, Tomori’s standoffishness and drop-kicking.

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But just when Yuu (and I) think the wet guy is going to show up with the next ability user, Tomori says he’s not coming. Instead, she has a second ticket to a ZHIEND show tomorrow, and wants one of them to go with her. Citing their honest ignorance of and disinterest in post-rock (look it up on Wikipedia), the process of elimination makes Yuu Nao’s “date,” and when she says it’s nice to have a breather now and then, he agrees and accepts.

Later that day while walking home, he bumps into a fuchsia-haired blind woman who mixes English in with her bizarre accent and is on a quest for “modern-yaki.”

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Yuu takes her to a okonomiyaki joint for some hiroshima-yaki instead, and learns that she’s none other than Sala Shane, the lead vocalist for ZHIEND. Not only that, Sala is a remarkably down-to-earth person who picks up instantly on Yuu’s still-raw wounds of grief, and decides to spend the whole day with him.

Yuu calls Nao to join them, but she seems utterly disinterested, which I took to mean she might have somehow arranged this, because the fact of the matter is Yuu benefits from hanging out with Sala, even as he still reflexively pulls out his phone to tell Ayumi he won’t be home for dinner.

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Sala once had the use of her eyes, and was once far bigger and more popular than she is now with her “dull” little post-rock band. But when things got out of hand with the fame and the money and the way the people around her changed, she gave it all up, making a deal with God to take her sight in exchange for a smaller, more peaceful life.

I couldn’t help but notice the similarity of her sitting in a dark, trash-filled house with nothing but the light of the TV to similar sights of Yuu in the same position. She remarks that the day may come when he too has to make a deal with God, and tells him to “handle it well” when it does.

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We learn where Yuu is taking Sala when we see the rest of his phone call with Nao, in which he tells her he’s bringing Sala to her brother’s hospital, betting she might be able to help bring part of him back from the fog. Where Nao almost seemed annoyed earlier in the call that she’d jump at the chance to see her heroine (in stark contrast to Joujirou, who worships the dirt beneath Yusa’s feet), here she expresses gratitude as the sun sets before her.

The highlight of the episode is Sala’s stirring solo a capella performance to an audience of Yuu and Kazuki. Sala is old enough that she would no longer have a power, and yet there she is, soothing the soul of a fellow adult, as someone who still has their power listens intently.

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Kazuki does come back; Yuu wins his bet, at least for now. Nao rushes to her brother’s side, then calls Yuu back to thank him from the bottom of her heart. Yuu doesn’t need Sala’s other heightened senses to detect Nao’s sincerity.

As for Yuu, he takes what Sala said to heart about him knowing good people, which have changed him without him knowing it. Last week, Nao straight-up saved him from falling off a cliff of despair. This week, without even thinking about it, Yuu repaid Nao’s kindness by helping her brother. Thanks to his experiences in these first days back in the post-Ayumi world, Yuu can see the light, and himself, and is happy with what he sees.

But he still gets nostalgic when he hears ZHIEND. Will he reach another breakthrough at the concert with Nao?

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