Attack on Titan – 14

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AoT is a show in which Eren and pretty much everyone else around him is usually fighting for their lives. As such, it is more necessary than other less “lethal” shows to suspend disbelief that this week will finally Eren’s last. The truth is, he’s the protagonist, and he’s not going anywhere. So the show has to be clever in order to keep the audience suspended in disbelief, like a scout regiment soldier suspended in the air.

This week, I couldn’t help but come to the ground, probably because I couldn’t silence the voice of a theoretical 90’s-style overdone television commercial for this episode: “This week on Attack on Titan: Eren goes on trial. Will he live…or die?”, and so forth. Opening the second cour of AoT with a stodgy standalone trial episode with a foregone conclusion frankly wasn’t all that engaging.

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Forget the feeling this is just a formality, and the nagging certainty that Eren would be spared the proverbial guillotine. After all the horrors and near-misses we’ve faced with Eren, a courtroom setting populated mostly with ignorant wimps just doesn’t feel that threatening. C-in-C Zackley is built up as this force to be reckoned with, but he’s mostly just a bore who is not only constantly failing to keep order in the court, but doesn’t even seem particularly interested in doing so.

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I kinda pumped my fist, then, when Levi essentially puts an end to the farce by approaching Eren and then proceeding to beat the ever-loving crap out of him, an effort to show he can control him, but also to call out all the schlubs who talk big but weren’t ready to back up their bluster with action. Sure, Levi activates Angry Mikasa, but it would seem Armin has the ability to hold her back in such situations. If he didn’t, I still think Levi would give her a run for her money; he seems a true-grit kinda fellow.

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Zackley decides to hand Eren over to the Scout Regiment, represented by Erwin Smith, Levi, Hange Zoe (who seems to have a scientific inclination) and Mike Zacharias (who likes sniffing people then sneering). Between them, only Erwin seems normal. As it turns out, Levi only beat up Eren in order to convince Zackley to let the Scouts take him out to the exterior, to see if he can truly be a benefit to humanity.

Mind you, Levi didn’t hold back, but he did have to sell it, even to a judge as disinterested as Zackley. And Eren seems to still possess rapid-healing powers, as the tooth he lost to Levi’s beating is already growing back.

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Attack on Titan – 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First Half Pros/Cons:

Pros:

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

Cons:

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