Attack on Titan – 57 – Prisons

We return to Grisha’s accounting of the day he learned he was a prisoner, and always was. A prisoner of the oppressive Marleyans who confine all the Eldians to internment camps. A prisoner of history, for the Marleyans punish the Eldians for the crimes of their ancestors.

He’s a prisoner in his powerless child’s body, unable to save his little sister Fay from a terrible fate—being attacked and eaten by guard dogs—just for the crime of leaving the camp without permission. And he’s a prisoner to his father, who is a full-on collaborator who is happy to condemn his ancestors if it means being able to live out his humble life.

We also learn that the lands where the three walls that were the entire setting for Titan up to this point are only a tiny sliver of the world; in fact, everywhere Eren & Co. have ever known occupy a relatively small island called Paradis—the last refuge of King Fritz and the Eldians.

When Grisha learns the truth about Fay (confirming his suspicions), he joins an underground movement of “restorationists” bent on restoring once great Eldians—and of course, exacting revenge on Marley for their brutal oppression. They are aided by a member of Marleyan security, known only as the “Owl.”

That informant sends them the last surviving descendant of the Eldian royal family: Dina Fritz, and she and Grisha soon fall in love, get married and have a son, Zeke. But their attempts to indoctrinate him and make him the instrument of Eldian salvation fail miserably, as he turns in his own parents to save himself and his grandparents.

Grisha doesn’t blame his son—after all, he ended up building a prison for Zeke just as his father had tried to build for him: the prison of adopting the beliefs (and grudges) of one’s predecessors. But after thorough torturing, he, the other members of his cell, and Dina, are all sent to the island of Paradis, to be injected with serum to transform them into wandering Titans. Dina is transformed first.

Eren suddenly wakes up in a stockade in the present—he realizes he’s been connected with his father’s memories, such that it feels more like he’s been re-living Grisha’s experiences rather than simply having a normal dream. He and Mikasa are behind bars for their insubordination of Levi, but Armin, whom they defied Levi to save, is there with them.

Back in Grisha’s recounting, he finds himself at the boundary of the Titan penal colony, having just seen his friend and his wife transformed into mindless giant monsters, and the same officers he and Fay encountered the day she was killed are present with him. The mustachioed officer tells him he doesn’t feel remorse for the terrible things he does to Eldians because it was their ancestors who started the fight. Besides, life is more “interesting” if every day is lived like it’s your last.

As it happens, it is the last day for Mr. Mustache, as his colleague, Kruger, who was there back when Fay died and is here now, pushes him and not Grisha into the pit to be eaten by a Titan. Turns out Kruger is the Owl, and he cuts himself to transform into a lucid Titan, in order to demonstrate to Grisha what a Titan can do.

This was another trippy journey that vastly expanded the show’s universe and revealed more crucial answers about What This Is All About: a seemingly endless, vicious cycle of retribution between two races of men, neither of which can ever forgive the previous generations of the other; one ultimate prison, containing everyone in the world. So, when will Eren & Co. try to squeeze through the bars?

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Attack on Titan – 56 – The MacGuffin Unveiled

After a very creepy dream, Armin wakes up atop the wall, beside an injured Sasha, remembering virtually nothing after Bertholdt transformed. Eren fills him in on everything that’s transpired since then. He learns he was chosen to live on over Erwin, not just because Eren and Mikasa insisted to the point of insubordination, but because Erwin gave Levi the final call, and he made it.

Furthermore, only nine members of the Scout Regiment remain: Hange, Levi, Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha, Connie, Jean, and Floch…and that’s it. It’s a very end-of-The Last Jedi situation, with one important difference: they’ve dealt a serious blow to the Titans by freeing Wall Maria. Now there’s nothing between Eren, the others, and the mythical Basement. An an anime watcher only, I’ve been waiting for this for six years.

With such a long and drawn out buildup, a disappointment seemed nigh inevitable. And boy, do they ever lay the final buildup on thick, splicing scenes in the present day with scenes of Eren and Mikasa on the day the Titans came. But it works very well, thanks to the gorgeous scenery, haunting soundtrack, and all of the brooding closeups of the pair as they draw closer to the place where it all began.

After moving a boulder blocking the trap door, they access the hidden stair, but to Eren’s shock, his key doesn’t fit in the lock of the door they find. Levi simply smashes the door, and they walk into a seemingly innocuous chemist’s laboratory and office.

Even behind a locked door and hidden stair, Grisha took great pains to hide the secret of the basement from any possible incursion from the Interior Police. It’s not until Mikasa knocks a wooden cup on the ground that she spots another keyhole in the desk – one in which the key does fit.

Inside the unlocked drawer are three preserved books, the first of which contains a strange and very detailed and lifelike portrait. Grisha’s handwriting on the back describes it as a “photograph,” and reveals an entire society outside the walls that “lives elegantly.” Needless to say nobody in that room had ever seen a photo before, and there’s something very unnerving about that.

There’s an odd flash-forward showing Eren, Levi, Mikasa and Hange returning to further within the walls, where news has come Wall Maria has been taken back and the streets are full of celebration. Hange is holding the books they found in her arm. We don’t see their faces, but no doubt what they say in those books has changed them forever.

Post-credits, Grisha’s story begins when he runs out of the house with his little sister Kay in tow. His mother makes sure they’re wearing their armbands, and along with the whole bleak look of the place, high walls, loudspeakers, guards, and zeppelin, there’s a Nazi Germany ghetto vibe to the whole place, suggesting that life wasn’t so “elegant” for Grisha and his family.

Thousands of words could be written attempting to complete the picture this sequence only begins to paint. For instance, are the walls behind which Eren lived most of his life merely an upgraded version of the ghetto from which his dad hailed? What made the people in the ghetto different, besides clearly lacking the money of the zeppelin-riders?

Still, I’ll have to be patient at least one more week (since the French Open is wrapped up the next episode shouldn’t air late); no need for wild conjecture when the series seems committed to finally delivering the answers that had been delayed so long some feared they’d never come. But now here they are, and from what we’ve seen, they’re strange and disturbing…Classic Titan.

Attack on Titan – 49 (S3 Fin) – To The Basement

The bigwigs decide that the serum Kenny gave Levi should stay with Levi, to use if, when, and where he deems necessary. Where Levi bumps up against the brass is when Erwin insists on leading the battle to retake Wall Maria.

Even when Levi threatens to break his legs, Erwin is adamant about being present when they learn the truth, and if they retake the wall and gain access to the basement of Eren’s house. If he dies before that, so be it; Hange will take command in his place, and someone else if she dies.

The night before the battle (which is kept secret from the public) is to commence, the Scouts are treated to a morale-boosting feast that includes meat, something that’s been in short supply since Maria fell.

The mere sight of the meat on the table sends Sasha into an uncontrollable berserk mode, and she has to be tied up. Meanwhile, Eren and Jean start heartily going at it, at first with words, then with their fists…but no one stops them, at least until Levi kicks their asses and orders them to bed.

Mikasa and Armin decided not to interfere in Eren’s fight with Jean, both due to his quick healing, and the fact that it’s just nice to see Eren being “spunky” again, rather than moping or skulking or wallowing in despair. No doubt his experiences with Historia have changed his perspective and narrowed what he deems his responsibility.

He’s no longer trying to do everything on his own, or feeling like he needs to. Rather, he now accepts that nobody, not even Mikasa and Levi (of whom he always jealous for their ridiculous strength and skills) can accomplish much alone. Individuals have to find what they can do, and then rely on others for the rest.

The next morning, it’s quickly apparent the embargo on news relating to the battle for Maria was broken by Flugel, whose company provided the meat for the scouts the previous night.

As a result, the regiment gets perhaps its warmest and most enthusiastic sendoff, with the crowds below cheering as the scouts scale the wall, and Erwin pumping them up with battle cries and an order to commence.

It’s all very triumphant…but I couldn’t help but feel uneasy. It’s not going to be easy to retake a whole wall, after all, and it’s certainly not going to happen this third season.

Rather, we’ll have to wait for a fourth, and judging from the little teaser we get mid-credits—in which a bloodsoaked Levi slugs Eren and ends up with Mikasa’s blade at his throat—it’s clear that all of the hardships overcome this season will be replaced by a whole new batch of new ones.

And then there’s the nagging question of whether we’ll ever see that dang basement—or if it will continue to endure as one of anime’s longest and most frustrating teases. Until next year (or whenever), farewell, AoT.

Attack on Titan – 48 – A Story Utterly Useless to Humanity

Since ascending to the throne, Queen Historia seems to have led a very modest lifestyle, preferring to run an orphanage in the countryside than sitting on some gilded chair in a stuffy hall. The people call her the “Cattle-Farming Goddess”, and it’s not at all meant as an insult.

Also, as both she and Eren continue to adjust to their new roles they are spending a lot of time together, side-by-side, and some of that time they are engaged in what some could call flirting, and I am THERE for it. I am also there for Mikasa shutting such instances down with a glare for the ages.

Speaking of glares, all of the scouts we’ve followed realize how much they’ve been through in the last few months, and how they’re no longer newbies or rookies or greenhorns. They are veterans, and their ‘resting grave faces’ practically scream “we’ve been through some shit” to their “juniors” in the 104th who relatively speaking haven’t seen much action. They certainly haven’t seen their former comrades and friends turn into Titans.

But whatever shit they’ve been through pales compared to Eren, who has been through some truly existential, philosophical shit. As Jean remarks, he’s always off in the corner muttering weird shit to himself, like whether those who are Titans are merely being tormented by some kind of nightmare (Ymir’s word for it) that takes a terrifying physical form.

However, thanks to the flashes he’s been getting, he now knows who to talk to next about his father: no less than the cadet corps commandant (i.e. hardass drill sergeant) Keith Sadies. He, Levi, and the other scouts in their circle return to where their training began. Keith can tell how much they’ve been through, and how they’re no longer the maggots who crawled into his camp not too long ago.

Still, he doesn’t know how helpful he can be to Eren & Co., other than telling them the story of how he first met Grisha Yeager twenty years ago, at the gates of Shiganshina, dazed confused, and lacking memories of how he got outside the wall.

Grisha eventually remembers he is a doctor, and starts serving the people of the district in that role curing them of plague and other maladies—including the bar waitress Carla, in whom Keith seemed interested, but who would later become Grisha’s wife and give birth to Eren.

Keith also distinguished himself, rising to Scout Regiment commander (Erwin’s predecessor). He was well-suited for scouting, as life inside the walls always felt too cramped for him. But he also could sense that he wasn’t “special” enough to do much with his position or his life outside the walls, something all but confirmed when he led an assault on the Titans that ended in defeat and an embarrassing retreat that harmed the Scouts’ reputation with the people.

By the time he returns from this defeat, he, Grisha, and Carla, once so close, had drifted far apart, and Carla had little Eren. Carla and her husband worry about Keith and when his next mission will kill him, but Keith angrily tells her that he’s not like the other multitudes of people within the walls, utterly lacking imagination and unashamed of living “useless” lives producing “nothing but shit.”

It’s perhaps too harsh a diatribe to subject to a mother holding her young child, but considering what he just returned from, his rage and exasperation were understandable.

By the time the Colossal and Armored Titans breach the wall at Shiganshina, Keith had already stepped down as Commander. Lacking that “special” quality he felt to be absolutely essential, Keith felt he had accomplished nothing, because that’s all normal people can do. All he could hope for was to be a “bystander,” not a leader or agent of change. He joined the flow of those he once despised, feeling he had no other choice.

Hange is disgusted by what she sees as nothing but puerile self-pity on Keith’s part…but being pretty damn special herself, she can’t really ever relate to how he felt in the past when he gave up his title, or how he feels now.

In the aftermath of Shiganshina, he and Grisha crossed paths once more, but not for long. Rather than avenge Carla as Keith suspected he would, Grisha took Eren away and fashioned him into his instrument of vengeance.

The utter hatred for and desire to kill all Titans that Eren possesses at the very beginning of the series was instilled not only by what he witnessed, but also at the urging of his father. And Keith was the one to find him unconscious in the woods, with Grisha, who’d likely injected him with the power of the Titan earlier, nowhere to be found.

Eren too has also come to believe he’s not special either, merely the son of someone special. He was chosen, sure, but by that father. Everything he is and does, he became because of that father’s choices.

It’s a somewhat narrow view that ignores the fact he had to make his own choices along the way, but never mind; his mother Carla never cared whether his son was “special” or “normal”; instead, she felt it was special enough simply to be alive, and to be able to survive.

Out of worry for his ultimate well-being, Keith worked hard to keep Eren from getting into the Scout Regiment. But Eren was able to overcome everything he threw at him, including sabotage to his ODM training gear. But it wasn’t that Keith Sadies couldn’t do anything because he was’t special; it was because he was Keith Sadies.

Attack on Titan – 47 – How to Say Hello

When Kenny Ackerman first meets Uri Reiss, he’s at Uri’s mercy: Uri transformed into a Titan and grabbed Kenny with his big Titan hand, threatening to crush him. But he never does. When Kenny somewhat profanely begs for his life, Uri grants it. Uri understands the grudges the Ackermans hold against the Reiss, after all.

Instead of imprisoning or killing Kenny, Uri befriends and hires him. Kenny’s service ends the persecution of his family, but it’s too late for his sister Kuchel, whom he finds lying dead in a brothel…and a starving young Levi sitting in the corner.

Kenny thought he was the most powerful guy around…until he met Uri. And yet for all his power Uri was merciful; empathetic…compassionate. By throwing in with Uri, Kenny is still plenty powerful as well, and perhaps its for that reason he has the compassion not to let Levi die.

However, Kenny isn’t interested in being anyone’s father, so after teaching Levi how to properly survive in the cutthroat underground, he abandons him, leading to Levi’s present-day hatred of him. Meanwhile, Kenny is the last person Uri meets with before the ritual in which Freida eats him and gains his power.

He tells Kenny about the paradise he dreams of building within the Walls, and how even after he’s gone, Kenny’s services will still be required to realize that dream. The first time Kenny sees Freida after the ritual, he can tell Uri’s in there, looking back at him.

Kenny raises his paramilitary Anti-Personnel Squad, made up of the best of the best, and together they have many bloody adventures in the name of the Reiss. But all of that crumbled when Historia refused to keep the wheel turning and chose to break it instead.

With his squad all dead and his burns and wounds likely to take his wretched life any minute, Kenny ponders using the Titan serum he stole from Rob. But he doesn’t, and when Levi finds him, he points out how he could have injected himself at any time.

Like his friend Uri sparing his life, Kenny decides not to go the obvious path. In his last moments he thrusts the box containing the serum to Levi, his nephew, to do with whatever he pleases, and dies grateful he was able to experience the slightest glimmer of cool, pure compassion he felt emanating from Uri at all times.

Later, Historia is officially crowned before a vast audience, many of whom witnessed her slaying the Titan firsthand, and the rest of them hear the story, are impressed, and pass it on. Rather than more lies and secrets, Tori showed them something real and honest; an act that makes her worthy of the throne. Later, when she gives Levi a playful punch, Levi’s reaction is simply to laugh and thank her and everyone else for everything.

Everything looks primed to get shaken up again, as we check in on Bertholdt, Reiner, and the Beast Titan who is Eren’s father Grisha, and who desperately wants to reunite with his son. Not because he misses him,but because Eren is the Coordinate.

Attack on Titan – 43 – One Human or Less

Eren wakes up in the strange blue cave, a place he’s never been, but which he still finds familiar. Rob appears with Historia and tells Eren there’s a reason for that. Then Rob and Tori place their hands on his back, and the memories come back fast and furious. Not those of Eren himself, but those of his father, and how he came to inject his son with the royal power of Titans.

The memory awakening works both ways, with Historia suddenly remembering her half-sister Freida, who would periodically visit her to make sure she was doing okay, each time using her Titan “Scream”-derived power to wipe all of Tori’s memories before departing.

Rob completes the puzzle by combining Historia’s memories of Freida with those from Eren’s father Grisha’s POV, while also explaining the severe damage to the chapel above. Grisha came to steal the Titan powers from the Reiss’, specifically Freida, and while her Titan form was the most powerful, she lacked Grisha’s combat experience, and he ate her, thus stealing her Titan-controlling “Scream.”

Grisha then passed “Scream” to Eren via injection. To ensure no other Reiss would have the power, the Grisha Titan slaughtered Rob’s entire family. Only Historia wasn’t there, and she still carries the noble blood. Now that Rob has Eren, he no doubt intends to recover “Scream” for Historia. Whether she understands that will mean the end for Eren, I can’t yet say.

Back in the capital, Pyxis tells Erwin their coup is all for nothing if Rob Reiss obtains Eren’s “Scream.” They may have toppled the fake king, but they seem reluctant to let another take up the mantle of leadership so soon…not if they’re not sure it’s what’s best for humanity, which is all Pyxis cares about, and the only reason he sided with (the very sadistic) Zachary and Erwin.

Rob trusts Kenny, but he probably shouldn’t, if Kenny’s smirk and scoff upon turning his back on Rob is any indication. Not to mention the fact Kenny is an Ackerman, a clan of warriors who once served as the swords and protectors of kings.

They started to become persecuted along with the Asian races, both groups that were immune to the royal power to wipe memories. We learn this in a flashback in which Kenny talks with his grandfather who is on his death bed. We also learn of Kenny’s sister Kuchel, who was pregnant with (I’m guessing) Levi at the time.

In any case, if the goal is to save Eren from being eaten, Mikasa, Armin, Levi, Hange, Sasha, Connie, and Jean will have to get through Kenny and his slightly depleted but still formidable Anti-Personnel Control Squad.