Attack on Titan – 75 – Piecking Sides

Zeke barely survived the Thunder Spear explosion, but believes he may be soon pushing daisies until a Pure Titan arrives, cuts open its belly, and places Zeke inside; presumably to facilitate healing. Levi’s gambit failed and his fate remains unknown.

To the last, Attack on Titan is to tense, unpleasant meal scenes as Yuru Camp is to relaxing, pleasant ones, as Pyxis is forced to dine while soldiers wearing the same uniform hold a gun to his back.

Pyxis notes that various colored handkerchiefs adorning everyone—white for Jaegerists, red for those who found out they drank wine and forced to comply, and black for those who drank wine without knowing it—seem an awful lot like “how Marley does things”. But Yelena makes one thing clear: this isn’t about revenge.

In the jail, Connie and Jean want to know what Eren said to Mikasa that made Armin throw a punch at Eren, then get the shit beat out of him (though his Titan healing seems to be working fine). Mikasa doesn’t want to talk about it, Connie thinks it doesn’t matter; Eren is a piece of shit and now he’s gone mad; and Jean wonders if Eren is actually playing some kind of 4D chess.

Then Yelena arrives to tell the once-“heroes of Shiganshina” that they’re to sit quiet and behave until Zeke and Eren meet. When Niccolo berates Greiz for selling them out to become Yelena’s lackey, Greiz lays into Niccolo for falling in love with a “devil spawn whore”.

His words earn him a bullet to the head…from Yelena, who bows in apology and assures the others that Paradis “has no need for those who would call you devils”. She decides to come clean with Zeke and Eren’s true goal: the Eldian Euthanization Plan that will end the cycle of hatred.

Gabi, the rootable yet pitiable poster girl for that cycle throughout The Final Season, is visited by Eren, who asks her to help him if she wants her friend Falco to live, by calling for help on the radio to flush out her allies. Just as he’s making this not-a-request, one of those allies in Pieck slips right in, cuts the guard’s throat, and points her Luger at Eren, ordering Gabi to train the guard’s rifle on him.

Eren is unmoved. Pieck’s orders were to retake the Founding Titan, not kill him, otherwise he’d already be dead. He impresses upon her how both she and her family would be punished by Marley for disobeying orders. Pieck stands down and orders Gabi to do the same, declaring that her true goal is to free all Eldians—in Marley and around the world.

When Pieck asks Gabi what they are, she says “Honorary Marleyans”, but Pieck says they’re Subjects of Ymir first and foremost. Port Slava showed that the time of the Titans’ usefulness is nearing an end due to the advancement of military technology. When it does, Marley will slaughter the lot of them.

While Pieck tries to convince a still-thoroughly conditioned Gabi of their need to fight for their right to live, Yelena finishes explaining to the prisoners how the Jeager brothers’ plan will end the Eldians’ time on this earth “gracefully and peacefully”. Armin is moved to tears by the nobility of such a cause, apparently in agreement that the only way to end the cycle is to end the Titans.

Having agreed to point out her fellow Marleyan invaders to Eren from atop the Shiganshina citadel’s tower, they walk through the citadel. She waves to soldiers like an idol and is met by blushing faces…there’s no denying Pieck is extremely cute—and cool-headed to boot. But until Eren is satisfied she can be trusted, he has her shackled to Gabi so if she tries to transform into the Cart, she’ll kill her.

Just when Gabi couldn’t be feeling lower, Pieck squeezes her hand in hers and gives her a soft, kind smile. When Eren orders her to point out where the enemy is, Pieck turns around and dramatically points…right back at Eren. She’s not lying, nor is she talking about Eren, as Porco/Jaws blasts through the floor and snaps up everything below Eren’s waist.

Unfortunately he wasn’t able to snap his head off, gobble him up whole, and Eren simply transforms into the Founding Titan. But that’s apparently just what Pieck, Porco, and their compatriots want, as five Marleyan airships arrive right on time, with both Commander Magath and Reiner Braun on board. We get one last look at the Founding Titan’s glorious glutes before the cut to yet another To Be Continued.

That’s right: The Final Season isn’t over yet, only the first part. This actually came as news to me, but I’m also eternally grateful things don’t end here with some kind of “Want to find out how it ends? Read the manga!” message. As the minutes were counting down I had a feeling there simply wouldn’t be adequate time for an anime-original wrap-up of everything going on. But the endgame is certainly nigh, and this first part of the final season covered some serious ground and ended with Eren as the Big Bad.

Will he remain so in Part 2, or go against his brother’s plan to exterminate their race? Is his relationship with Mikasa and Armin been permanently destroyed, or will a chance at redemption present itself, possibly aligned with his split from Zeke? How many more twists are we in store for? Questions abound, just as they always do at the end of a cour of Shingeki no Kyojin—and as always, the next cour can’t come soon enough.

Attack on Titan – 72 – Lost in the Forest

One quiet afternoon, the fancy restaurant at which Niccolo works suddenly becomes very busy. First, the Blouses arrives with “Ben” and “Mia” in tow, to take him up on his offer to cook the meal he wanted to make for Sasha. Kaya tells them Niccolo is the Marleyan they should speak to. His food is the best any of them have ever eaten.

Not long thereafter, Hange and the Scouts arrive with Onyankopon to discuss some things with Niccolo. He sets them up in the private room where them Military Police often ate and drank. When Jean picks up a bottle of “special” red wine, Niccolo picks a fight with him and snatches it away.

Of course, we know, and later find out why he’s acting like an anti-Eldian ass to cover for the fact he’s saving Jean’s life, because that wine isn’t meant for Jean, and not because it’s too good of a vintage.

When Gabi and Falco spot Niccolo heading down to the cellar on his own, they excuse themselves from the table to meet with him. But while they weren’t wrong to seek aid from their Marleyan countryman, Niccolo just happens to be the absolute worst countryman they could have encountered.

As Gabi gleefully reports she killed a woman on the airship, Niccolo realizes these are the kids who killed his Sasha. Falco can see the change in his demeanor, but Gabi doesn’t. Niccolo tries to brain Gabi with the suspicious bottle of wine, but Falco pushes her out of the way and takes the hit.

Then he takes them both upstairs to present them to Sasha’s parents, along with a knife and the promise that if they don’t want to kill them, he surely will.

When Gabi sees the faces in Sasha’s parents’ faces, she automatically assumes they’re the looks of hatred and murderous rage. That’s certainly what’s emanating from Niccolo, who deduces from the way Falco shielded her that he’s someone important to her. Sasha was that someone to him, despite being a “descendant of demons” she saved him from the war by loving his food more than he’d ever seen anyone love anything.

Gabi tells him that Sasha “started” the killing by killing her friends (i.e. the Marleyan guards she shot), and she was only avenging those friends. At this point, Niccolo doesn’t care who started the killing, he just wants blood. Instead, Mr. Blouse asks for the knife. As he holds it he has a sobering monologue about how he and his wife raised Sasha as a hunter of the forest.

In the forest, it was kill or be killed, but they knew they couldn’t live like that forever. But when Sasha was exposed to the world, it ended up being just a bigger “forest” where the rules were just as ruthless. In his country drawl, he says to Niccolo that it’s up to them as adults to shoulder the sins of and hatred of the past and not pass them on; to keep the kids out of the “forest”, or they’ll just keep running in circles.

Then he and Mrs. Blouse tend to Falco while Connie and Jean restrain Niccolo. When a crazed Kaya rushes at Gabi with her own knife, wanting to kill the bastard who murdered her savior, Gabi is saved by Mikasa, who along with Armin take Gabi to the other room.

Niccolo tells Hange to wash Falco’s mouth out thoroughly, as when the wine bottle shattered some of the contents got into his mouth. That’s not good, because the wine may well contain some of Zeke’s spinal fluid, which he’d used in gaseous form in the past to immobilize a village in Paradis, as well as enemy cities on the mainland.

Niccolo further explains to Jean and Hange that he was told by Yelena to serve the wine to high-ranking military officials. While the Scouts were told that Zeke’s spinal fluid causes Eldians to freeze up, it could have other effects Zeke simply isn’t telling them about.

In the private room, Gabi asks Armin and Mikasa if they really hate her and want to kill her. We know they don’t, and they lament that a kid ended up in such a shitty position where all she can think of is hate and killing. Armin mentions that it reminds him of “someone he knows”, and right on cue that someone, Eren, enters the room, his hand bleeding like a lit fuse.

While Levi is questioning Zeke back in the forest, he gets a report that Zachary is dead, the walls are under Jaegerist control, and Pyxis has conceded to their demands.

Levi’s messengers think Pyxis is simply rolling over for Eren and Zeke, but Levi knows better; Pyxis is still trying to feed Eren to someone else. Levi looks back on all the times he saved Eren’s life because he thought it was the best chance for humanity’s survival, but seeing the mess they’re in, wonders why he bothered.

Back in the restaurant, a group of Jaegerists arrive led by Floch, taking Hange, Connie, and Jean and Niccolo into custody and demanding Hange tell them Zeke’s location. When Hange says they weren’t going to fight them on this, Floch tells her that Eren decided not to trust Pyxis’s surrender, certain the commander wouldn’t gamble the fate of the island on them.

When Hange tells Floch that wine laced with Zeke’s spinal fluid has been distributed throughout the military, Floch lets on that he already knows with a big playful grin. It’s part of the Plan. I assume Zeke already owns all those high-ranking military police officials who dined at Niccolo’s restaurant, and are currently with Pyxis planning to steal Eren’s Founding Titan.

As for Eren, he’s come for one reason: to speak to Mikasa and Armin, his best friends in the whole world; his brother and sister. No doubt he’s come to ask them to join him…and he’s probably only going to ask once.

Attack on Titan – 69 – Love Is in the Air

Things in present-day Paradis are pretty grim, but leave it to Hange to liven things up a bit by getting all pedantic about an incarcerated Eren repeating “fight” into his mirror. Hange is there to talk, just like the first time they met, only this time they’d prefer if he did most of the talking. If nothing else, Hange believed Eren would never sacrifice Historia (which is necessary for the Rumbling). Yet here they are.

Flash back to two years ago, with the Scouts and Yelena’s Marleyans welcoming the first outside visitors to Paradis’ rebuilt port: Paradis’s sole friendly nation, Hizuru, and its special envoy, Azumabito Kiyomi. During initial pleasantries, Kiyomi presents the shogunate crest: three katanas forming a triangle. Eren urges Mikasa to reveal what she’s only ever shown to him: that very same crest on top of her right wrist.

That’s right: Mikasa is the long-lost descendant and rightful heir to Hizuru’s throne. Queen Historia immediately feels a deepened kinship with Mikasa, as both were born with a heavy burden to bear. It’s just that unlike ‘Tori, Mikasa likely has no intention of uprooting her life, so say nothing of leaving Eren’s side.

Kiyomi has come to Paradis on Zeke Yeager’s invitation, as he enticed them with the prospect of mining the unique resource known as “Iceburst Stone” which fuels Paradis’ ODM gear. They’re excited at the prospect of restoring their former glory by taking the lead in an innovative industry. It also becomes clear that the Azumabitos of Hizuru are particularly concerned with profit, however it can be acquired.

Zeke’s plan to use the Rumbling to protect Paradis consists of three stages, as presented to Historia and all the island’s higher-ups. First, there will be a “test run” of the Rumbling, then strengthening of the Paradis military. Finally, the Founding Titan and a Titan with royal blood will be passed down. Zeke will pass the Beast Titan to a royal, and for thirteen years that royal’s primary task will be to have as many children as possible.

This plan makes sense in the present, but it does nothing about the overarching problem of the power of the Titans bringing ruin upon Eldians. Basically, the cure (i.e. the successful defense of Paradis) is worse than the disease. Hange understands this, and doesn’t like the prospect of kicking the can down the road to future generations, as previous ones did to them.

Back in the present, Hange tells Eren she felt the same urgency to weigh the protection of their lands against the cost it would incur, but still wishes Eren hadn’t gone off on his own, which severely limited their remaining options. Eren’s only response is that no prison can hold him now that he has the Warhammer Titan, so if Hange has “anything up her sleeve”, now’s the time to come out with it.

As for Queen Historia, she became pregnant in the ensuing two years, as discussed by a good old boy’s club getting drunk and discussing future strategy. The father of the child she’s carrying once threw rocks at her on her farm and later volunteered at her orphanage as penance. It was Historia who initiated their eventual liason resulting in her pregnancy.

One old man, Roeg, drunk on wine, can’t believe the queen got herself knocked up, and suggests they make her a Titan despite her pregnancy; no one else thinks that’s right or wise. Roeg suspects it was Yelena who convinced Tori to get pregnant, but he really has no idea. These guys, by the way, are being attended to by Greiz and Niccolo, who serve under Yelena.

Looking back two years ago, Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha, Connie, and Jean are all hard at work building a Paradis railroad, of all things, when Hange and Levi pay them a visit to report that Hizuru gave their reply: they won’t help Paradis open trade with other nations, as they’re committed to a monopoly on the island’s resources.

The rest of the world’s nations remaining united against Paradis, Root of All Evil, creates stability they’re unwilling to give up. That means they have little choice but to rely on the Rumbling for defense, which means sacrificing Historia. Armin wishes they’d reconsider a more peaceful path, but Mikasa tells him it’s no good; as long as those nations don’t know who and what they really are, they’ll always fear them.

An alternative plan, then, involves showing them who and what they are, by setting up a base in Marley. Eren worries time is running short; he only has five more years as a Titan. Then talk turns to who will inheret his Titan. Obviously, Mikasa volunteers first, but Jean vetoes, as there’s too much mystery surrounding the Ackermans.

Jean volunteers, but Connie believes he’s too valuable as a future regiment commander. Connie volunteers, but Sasha says they can’t leave such an important role to an idiot, so she volunteers. Connie says she’s more of an idiot than he is, so that wouldn’t work. Then Eren says he doesn’t want any of them to have to inherit it. They’re all too important to him, and he wants them to live long lives. This causes all of them to turn red—apropos for Valentines.

Back in the darker, bleaker, narrower present, Mikasa, Armin, Jean and Connie discuss what’s next now that Eren seems to be going all in on Zeke’s plan. If Eren is choosing Zeke over them, they may need to cut him down, but of course Mikasa would never allow that. She assures them it won’t come to that, that he still cares about them.

But Jean mentions how the old Eren would try to keep Mikasa off the front lines. The new one pulled them into an unnecessary battle that got Sasha killed. And worse, Connie mentions how Eren laughed when he heard Sasha had died. Armin decides that he and Mikasa will talk to Eren alone and try to see how he sees things. Because he may not be Eren anymore, and thus may not consider them as important as exacting final revenge upon Marley and the world.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Attack on Titan – 68 – No Peace In Our Time

The Scout Regiment is back home on Paradis, and Armin is reminiscing on better times on a torch-lit cell, all the while with the shell he found that day on the beach in his hand. He looks back to three years ago, to when there was still a possibility things could come to a peaceful or diplomatic solution.

Thanks to Eren lifting Marleyan scout ships out of the water and dropping them on dry land, the Scout Regiment as led by Hange and Levi manage to secure the entire Marleyan crew as captives. But they have help from within: Yelena, who along with her pro-Eldian compatriots, turn on their Marleyan crewmates and accepts Hange’s somewhat kind if somewhat manic offer of a cup of tea.

Yelena and Onyankopon describe to Hange and Levi Marley’s extensive advantage in military technology. When asked why Marley hasn’t used that tech to invade Paradise, Yelena’s answer is twofold: the hordes of Pure Titans around the island meant to keep the Eldians within the walls also do a good job keeping would-be invaders away.

Secondly, after the Colossal and Female Titans were captured by Paradis, Marley’s weakness was exploited by a number of nations ganging up on them. As we know, the fresh invasion of Paradis couldn’t happen until their war with the other nations was won. Yelena and her people, who aren’t foreign secret agents embedded in Marley but a group called the “Anti-Marleyan Volunteers” are tasked with freeing the Eldian people, are led by Zeke Yeager.

Hange relays Zeke’s plan to save all Eldians by bringing about the Rumbling, which requires both the Founding Titan and a Titan of Royal Blood. When some higher-ups bristle, Eren confirms that Zeke at least isn’t lying about the Founding Titan and Royals, as he himself experienced with Dina Fritz. He hadn’t brought it up until now because he wished to protect Queen Historia.

The Scouts capture more Marleyan Scout ships as the plan is considered, but Eren doesn’t want anything to do with a peaceful resolution. As far as he’s concerned, everyone across the sea who believe they’re scary monsters who can turn into Titans are absolutely right, and should be scared.

But three years later, with Liberio in ruins and Sasha dead, Armin wonders if they could have taken a different path to get what they wanted. Jean and Connie are joined at Sasha’s grave by Niccolo, the captured Marleyan who used to love cooking for Sasha as much as she loved eating his cooking. Sasha’s parents visit the grave, and Niccolo tells them the small but meaningful way he knew and cared for their daughter, and he shakes her father’s hand.

It’s Armin’s wish writ small—an Eldian and a Marley joining hands and joining in their mutual grief. But it’s too small against the most dangerous “Titan” of them all: that generational leviathan of shared, irreconcilable hatred and distrust. It’s why once Yelena’s haul of stolen Titan serum is secured, Pyxis has the volunteers detained, while Levi stuffs Zeke in the forest, on a tight leash.

Meanwhile, in the cell she shares with Falco, Gabi chews her nails to the quick, cursing Eren Yeager with every breath, a vessel for that long-stewing hatred mixed with her own personal losses at Paradis’ hands.

Armin then says that no longer what he and Mikasa and Sasha and everyone else did or didn’t do, Eren was going to have his way; the worst was going to happen regardless. With that in mind, he believes they had no choice, no more than Reiner, Bertholdt, or Annie had a choice that day years ago. The person he’s talking to? Annie, still frozen in crystal.

As Mikasa leans against a gravestone, she repeats the words she’s lived by: “Fight or die. Win and live.” Those words are echoed by an Eren just as fully committed to war and vengeance as Gabi…just as lost: “The only way to win is to fight.”

Rating: 4/5 Stars