Attack on Titan – 70 – The Good Eldian

Gabi Braun needs the world to be black and white. It’s how she’s always seen it. They are the good guys, and the “island devils” are the bad guys. So of course she’s not going to have any sympathy for the guard into whom she beat her frustrations with a brick, who was only concerned with her health. He’s a devil. The enemy. The bad guy.

Gabi and Falco escape their prison and run all night. Upon stopping to drink and wash off, Falco asks Gabi why she’s still wearing her Eldian armband on, which could get her killed if a soldier sees it. Gabi replies that she doesn’t care about being caught or killed, as long as she finds out the truth from Zeke before she is. When Falco rips it off anyway, she loses it, tackles him to the ground and demands it back.

To her, it’s not a symbol of her peoples’ oppression at the hands of the racist Marleyan state. It’s a talisman in this strange land, proof she’s a “good Eldian” not anything like the island devils. Then she asks, with tears welling in her eyes, why Falco followed her, saying he “didn’t have to die too”. It’s the first and only instance of Gabi acknowledging Falco as someone she cares about.

The duo don’t remain hidden from others long, as a young woman spots them while they’re fighting. Falco, showing his value in such situations where Gabi would be useless, comes up with a cover story on the spot: they’re siblings and runaways. They’ve inadvertently not only come to the right place, but a thoroughly ironic one, in keeping with Titan’s whimsical sense of karma.

To the young woman, Kaya, Gabi and Falco aren’t captives, they’re guests of the Blouse Stables, run by the family of the young woman Gabi killed while aboard the airship. The young woman her uncle Reiner once described in way overblown terms when she had stolen a potato. Gabi doesn’t want to interact or eat with devils, but Falco insists, leading to Gabi trying a spoonful of soup containing—you guessed it—a chunk of potato.

Meanwhile, in the capital, the press has gotten wind of Eren Yeager’s imprisonment and want an explanation, as a sizable segment of the population would probably celebrate his efforts in Marley. Hange will say is that everything that is being done is for the good of all Eldians. She meets with Floch and three recruits who are also against Eren being detained, and don’t care what happens to them; the info they leaked can’t be un-leaked.

Mikasa ends up escorting Louise, one of the recruits, to her cell, where she’ll stay until formally tried for the leak, discharged from the training program, incarcerated…perhaps even executed. But Louise isn’t in despair, she’s smiling as she makes clear she’s the same person Mikasa saved that day when she defeated a Titan before her very eyes.

That day, Louise experienced firsthand how powerless she, her mother, and all the other bystanders were, and how without power, you can’t protect anything. Mikasa tells her to stop talking and turns to leave, but catches Louise giving her a formal Scout Regiment salute, causing Mikasa to recall the same kind of moment she had years ago, when Eren saved her from the robbers.

Gabi and Falco, AKA Mia and Ben, settle in to farm life, with the former not proving particularly popular with the horses, one of which she originally planned to steal (they don’t know how to ride). The little comedy of errors is the one bright point in their whole visit. Kaya has them break for lunch, and tells them how the farms and stables are full of orphans utilizing the Queen’s welfare policies.

When Kaya brings up how she and all the other orphans lost their parents four years ago, Gabi can’t hold her tongue, and starts spouting the Marleyan company line. Kaya admits she’s known they were from Marley for some time, leading Gabi to grab a pitchfork. As Falco struggles with her, they attract the attention of other orphans, and Kaya covers for them, saying “Mia” was worried she’d steal her brother.

Then, in hopes of getting Gabi and Falco to understand her and the other orphans’ plight, takes them to the ruins of her village, and to the very spot in her house where she sat down and listened as her mother, who couldn’t walk and was abandoned by the others, was slowly eaten alive. That experience is burned into her brain forever, and makes her wonder why humanity outside the walls thinks they’re devils, when this is what happened to them.

Kaya asks simply, What did my mom do? Gabi comes back at her about ancestors this, millennia that; slaughter this and century that. In other words, whole cloth straw man arguments. Gabi can’t name a single thing Kaya or her mom did to deserve their suffering. As Kaya gets more and more upset as she tries drives that point into Gabi’s conditioned head, you can almost see the Gears in Gabi’s head start to spark and smoke.

All Gabi can do is talk about holding people responsible for things that happened before they were even born. Things she never witnessed but was only told about. Things that, considering Zeke’s betrayal, she cannot trust to even be true. Falco finally answers Kaya truthfully: she and her village suffered because they got caught up in Marleyan force-recon mission…and that’s all.

When Falco apologizes for what happened to Kaya’s family, she objects to him feeling like he should apologize for simply being from the country that did it. He didn’t do it! Then Kaya tells the story of how her life was saved after her mom was eaten. A girl a little older than her grabbed a hatchet and attacked the Titan, putting herself between it and Kaya. That girl was Sasha.

Kaya is right: if Sasha were still alive, she wouldn’t abandon Gabi and Falco who had nowhere to go, simply because of where they were from. Kaya tells them they’ll be having dinner with a Marleyan that night, and if they like, they can talk to that person about getting back home. Of course, Kaya isn’t aware that these are two extremely dangerous Titan candidates, but she’s not worried about who they are, but who she wants to be: a person like Sasha.

After the credits, Magath confirms to Reiner, Colt, Porco and Pieck that Zeke faked his demise and is working with Paradis, and announces a global alliance will launch a full-scale attack on the island…but not for six months. Colt doesn’t want to wait that long to rescue Falco and Gabi, who are after remain vital military assets (though we’ll see where their heads are at later). Magath insists they must wait; Marley alone will only be pushed back again.

Reiner assures them, Zeke is counting on them taking their time to attack so he can formulate a defense—or even perfect the Rumbling. He recommends they launch a surprise attack as soon as possible, not letting the Eldians bask in their Liberio victory. We’ll see if Magath listens. Until then, this was an episode full of people who were saved wanting to emulate those who saved them, and the decisive breakdown of Gabi’s black-and-white philosophy.

Darling in the FranXX – 18 – All too Brittle a Home in which to Live

Everything Squad 13 does in the remains of Mistilteinn is being monitored, so you knew the first night Kokoro and Mitsuru spent together would probably be their last. We start with what could be the happiest morning of their lives, where the love they shared seems to paint everything around them in a more beautiful light. They are experiencing that which humanity has apparently given up.

Sure enough, Hachi informs Ichigo that the squad will soon be packing up and leaving Mistilteinn, leaving their distinctive, human birdcage for a far more sterile, antiseptic one where all the other, emotionless parasites live. Hiro thinks they should close out their days there with a wedding ceremony for the beaming new couple (and notably not for him and Zero Two).

Everyone is gung-ho about making it a celebration to remember; all but Ikuno, who lies in bed dejected. Ichigo thanks her for getting angry and sticking up for Kokoro and Mitsuru, but Ikuno tells her she didn’t do it for them, but because she agreed with a part of the lead Nine’s assertion about man-woman pairings.

Ever since Ichigo gave her her name (turning the number 6 on its side to make the “no” kana), Ikuno has had eyes only for her, and always cursed the boys who got to stand by her side simply because they were boys. Ichigo recognizes the pain from her own unrequited love for Hiro in Ikuno, but draws her into a comforting hug and tells her she doesn’t mind.

These are simply part in parcel of all the messy things they have to live through that makes them human. Left unsaid is the fact that virtually everyone outside of Mistilteinn no longer feels that way. They’ve shed that vital part of humanity, presumably in order to survive most efficiently.

As the preparations for tomorrow’s ceremony are completed, the squad and Zero Two take a group photo together, mimicking the photo of the previous squad that lived there. As they stand there, their joy and camaraderie frozen for posterity, I thought of two things.

First, how much everyone has grown as characters, from Hiro and Zero to Ichigo, Mitsuru and Kokoro, Ikuno, Goro and even Futoshi. Only Zerome and Miku have remained more or less static in their childlike naivete. And yet I’ve come to love each and every one of these characters, and become fully invested not just in their safety, but in grasping the humanity the rest of their people abandoned and finding genuine happiness.

Second: that there probably won’t be a squad that comes after 13 who will ever see that photo. It just feels like the wheel is breaking, not least of which because Mistilteinn itself is no longer a viable place to live, having been crippled by the Mega-Klaxosaur hand slap.

It’s that slap that Zero Two dreams of after nodding off while drawing her storybook illustrations. The dream also features a gang of partially injured soldiers grabbing her and preparing to drag her away. Hiro wakes her up and asks what’s wrong, but Zero Two doesn’t want to mar another lovely moment with her darling on the eve of such a blessed event with unpleasant portents.

The next day, Zero Two commits to living in the moment, sharing a playful frolick with Hiro through the blooming sakura trees, dressed in the same gray uniform as the other Squad 13 members, thus truly becoming one of them. She’s able to wear one of their unis because Kokoro has changed into her re-purposed curtain gown, looking every bit a bride as she descends the staircase to join her waiting groom.

Ikuno presents them with a bouquet and boutonniere and escorts them to the aisle, while the other assembled squadmates ring bells and toss petals. Futoshi decides to officiate the wedding, giving closure to his one-sided love for Kokoro by being the one to “give her away” to Mitsuru.

Everything is just lovely, until it isn’t. The Nines arrive aboard an APE assault ship with a squad of grunts and place everyone under arrest before Kokoro and Mitsuru can seal their bonds with a kiss. They fight; their squadmates fight; Zero Two attacks the Nines, her former comrades…but it’s all for naught.

Everything they carefully built crumbles like a stale old breadstick and an iffy Italian restaurant…or more appropriately, like the sakura blossoms falling from the tree. Like their lives on Mistilteinn, the wedding was only a passing dream; one everyone could happily live in only until it ended, and it couldn’t end more cruelly.

Hachi, while protesting the Nines’ actions, does nothing to stop them, and does nothing to comfort the rest of Squad 13 as Kokoro and Mitsuru are taken away for “reindoctrination” to remove the “dangerous” ideas they’ve developed.

As the rest of the squad defeatedly packs up to leave their home on the worst note ever, Hachi visits the similarly “defective” Nana in her cell and remembers the first time she was dragged away like Kokoro and Mitsuru, after her FranXX copilot (whom she must have loved) was killed she had an emotional outburst. Hachi, devoid of emotion then, as now, could only silently watch.

Here, he remarks that Nana “in her current state” could nonetheless better provide comfort to Squad 13 than he. It might not seem like much, but the mere fact he believes they need or deserve comfort means Hachi has gained back a slim measure of humanity simply buy observing the very emotional parasites.

Squad 13 and Zero Two sans Kokoro and Mitsuru arrive at the parasite camp  “Bird Nest”, and it’s a real downer of a place, reminding them of Garden and not in a good way (it also feels like they’ve been taken backwards in their development, which may well be Papa’s intention).

Weeks pass with no news until one day they are reunited with Kokoro and Mitsuru. Though they still wear the rings they so tenderly and lovingly presented to one another, their memories have been altered (like Hiro and Zero Two’s years before) to make them not only believe they are new members of the squad, but to make them forget they ever knew each other.

It’s a heartbreaking gut-punch to end the episode, and yet when Kokoro is on her own and spots the abstract “trees” in one of Bird Nest’s courtyards, she’s reminded of “sakura”, the blooming trees under which she and Mitsuru wed. She may not remember Mitsuru, or the wedding, or anything else, but she remembered the trees.

After watching what Papa and the adults and the Nines did to his squad, his home, and finally his two friends who truly and deeply loved one another, Hiro announces in voiceover that they are “at the end of their rope.” He’s done being ruled by a destiny that will only continue to pulverize the things they build into dust.

I’m eager to see how he’ll try to start fighting back, even if I’m dubious his efforts will net him anything but more cruel tragedy and loss.