Attack on Titan – 06

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I wasn’t all that enamored of Armin’s extended whimpering at the beginning of this episode, but his realization that not only is it a cruel world where the strong slaughter the weak, but it has always been so; he just had to lose his best friend to realize it fully. And messed up as he is, he can still look at a desperate Hanna performing CPR on her clearly-dead Franz and think stop…he’s already dead. I am weak. We are weak. But we don’t have to fall to the strong today.

While Armin laments the apparent loss of Eren and the rest of his unit in its entirety, Mikasa bags her first Titan (or at least the first Titan we see her bring down), an “abnormal” that runs a lot faster than the others and was about to go to town on a throng of evacuees who weren’t able to escape because a haughty merchant is blocking the gate with his wagon full of goods.

Mikasa’s job is to kill Titans, but she’s killing Titans to save lives, not goods. So she clears the gate a blade less than an inch from the merchant’s eye, then goes back to work killing Titans once the evacuation can proceed. Her superior wonders what the hell this kid went through to become so tough and unyielding. I too have been wondering where she got her seemingly superhuman strength…and how she, and Ackerman, came to live with the Yeagers.

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The show enlightens us with a gut-punch-riddled flashback. Armin’s assessment of the cruelty of the world is felt firsthand by Mikasa, whose loving mother and father are murdered right in front of her eyes. They prepare to sell her into the service of old perverts, as she’s a rare (if not one-of-a-kind) “oriental”. And that’s exactly what would have happened, had Eren not tagged along with his dad on a house call to the Ackermans.

When Eren realizes what has happened to the parents of a girl he was going to meet for the first time (and was going to weigh whether to be friends with her based on “how she acted”), he goes off on his own to rescue her, achieves entry to the criminals’ hideout by pretending to be lost, and then kills two of the men holding her, one with a knife to the gut at the door (just how Mikasa’s dad was killed), the other more viciously with a spear-broom.

But there’s a third man, and once he has his hand around Eren’s throat, it falls to Mikasa, who had always abhorred the inherent cruelty and violence of nature. Eren gives her the rundown: Fight, or die. Win, and live. That’s it. With the knife in her hands, a switch flips: she’s the strong one here; the man busy with Eren the weak one. With overwhelming force, she fights and wins, and she and Eren live.

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The two kids are shell-shocked in the aftermath of that ordeal, but Mikasa is still in tune with reality enough to say she’s cold, and ask which is the way back home. Eren and his dad welcome her into their home, which becomes her home. Eren gives her his warm scarf; perhaps the same scarf she still wears in the present.

Eren is her everything; he saved her life, and woke her up so she could save both of them. He’s the reason she’s alive, and the reason she fights, and wins, and continues to live. As long as he’s with her, she can do anything, and goshdarn it, I believe it. But what if he isn’t with her? What if he’s Titan chow? I know he isn’t, because, well, this isn’t Gurren Lagann and he’s not Kamina…but she doesn’t know that yet.

That aside, this was a tremendous flashback episode that helped humanize and further deepen our understanding of our favorite character in the show by a mile so far. I daresay it was worth arresting the momentum of the last couple episodes.

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Attack on Titan – 05

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When Eren ends up all alone with the Colossal Titan, he wastes no time attacking it, using his ODM gear to climb all over his body and delivering a blow to the back of his neck as he was trained to do. But Eren doesn’t have his revenge today; the Titan merely disappeared as mysteriously as he’s twice appeared. Just a couple of footprints where the enemy once was. And he’ll surely be back whenever he feels like it.  There’s no resolution, no catharsis…no glorious victory.

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Now in the heat of battle, Eren is the only one among his contemporaries who seems to have his shit together, and that’s because, as his instructor noted, he’s never seen anyone work with as much purpose as Eren. He’s singularly motivated to defeat the Titans, and hard-headed enough to let that drive drown out his nerves, if only partially and temporarily.

He tries with all his might to relay to those around him the importance of forgetting about what they have at stake and focusing on their immediate duties. Armin and Mikasa are brighter than Eren, but those extra smarts put them at a disadvantage here. They waver; they overthink. Eren has to headbutt Mikasa to snap her out of her feedback loop. “You’ll be fine. We’re all going to make it. Now get your ass moving.”

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Eren’s comrades on the battlements were conspicuously absent during his skirmish with the Colossal Titan, and not just because they were flung far away, but because they were to a man paralyzed with fear. Jean, enraged his transfer to the interior has been postponed, fumes about having to share his fate with a “suicidal maniac” even though he played all his cards right to get the cushy life he wanted.

Well, everyone, including Eren, learns this week that life isn’t fair, and life for the humans of AoT is a constant cycle of false security and horrendous massacre. No inspiring deeds or words from Eren can change that, but they are enough to motivate Eren’s comrades to follow him into battle. That…doesn’t go well.

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AoT is gradually starting to train me that Eren’s words about defeating the Titans and saving the world are, so far, just that and nothing more: words. And words are wind. Not a single Titan is shown being decisively killed. Eren and his mates look really cool dramatically swinging around the city, then Eren gets a bit too close to a Titan and loses a leg.

That leg is like our hope that victory is possible in this battle, but that Titan is this show, heartlessly snapping that hope up the blink of an eye and turning everything to shit. One by one, his comrades, who had enough lines (albeit mostly death flags) earlier that they’re not just pure redshirts, are plucked up by Titans and…the rest is left to our imaginations.

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Rather implausibly, Eren doesn’t let the loss of his leg (and whatever other injuries he sustained during his deceleration) stop him from literally snatching Armin from the jaws of death, only to be snapped up himself, losing an arm in the process and being swallowed, to Armin’s infinite dismay. Holy Crap, I thought to myself: the protagonist got eaten in the fifth episode.

But the Titans don’t care who you are, how much money or power you have, what your plans for the future are, or why you’re fighting. They’re only interested in what you taste like. I’ve seen few shows where it’s being a thinking, feeling, loving human being sucks this much. Where mankind has been portrayed as this damned and ineffectual. And AoT’s just getting warmed up.

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Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 03

Poor Miranda! She never had a chance, and more than Coco
Poor Miranda! She never had a chance, any more than Coco did

Cross Ange is a dark, gritty, brutal, sometimes just-plain-wrong mecha series done right. As First Troop battles a battleship-sized DRAGON and its twenty-odd underlings, Miranda is simply told to keep back and stay alive, an order she cannot follow. Just when you thought, “well, maybe they’ll have Miranda resent Ange for Coco’s death later”, she dies too, just as she’s told not to!

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But just so you know, the show isn’t content just with killing off rookie redshirts, as the highly capable, experienced bad-ass Captain Zola also meets her end in the fiasco of a battle where Ange first tries to desert, then freaks out and flies around, then slams into Zola’s Paramail, preventing her from landing the killing blow on the DRAGON. For her trouble, Ange gets to await rescue as the blood from Zola’s empty eye socket drips all over her cockpit. Frankly, I’m surprised more pilots didn’t lose their lives out there: those DRAGONS are exceedingly efficient at tearing people to pieces.

Everyone hates you. You are the worst.
Everyone hates you. You are the worst.

Even if it’s not all due not entirely to Ange, her selfish actions contributed greatly. She’s also gone and made even greater enemies of Zola’s three lovers: Hilda, Roselie and Chris. And Jill even sent her official petitions to several nations: all were rejected, as no one has ever heard of the Misurugi Empire or a Princess Angelise. She hasn’t just been plucked from her world: that world doesn’t even exist anymore.

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Nice touch that Norma get their full names back when they die

Once healed up and out of her Gaultier Leeloo bandages, Jill has her lug the tombstones of the dead to their final resting places – the duty of the person responsible for their deaths. It’s here she learns her cushy mana-filled world is built atop the bones of the Norma, all fighting to protect a civilization that spits on them. When she learns fallen Norma get their names back, she starts to wish for death, to escape the hell and return to a place of peace, even if it is the afterlife – because she’ll at least once again be Angelise Ikaruga Misurugi.

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Villkiss – Ange’s (old) new ride

With her first paramail trashed, Jill bestows Vilkiss on Ange – while awesome-looking, it’s hard to control and has seen better days; the perfect ride for someone with a death wish. But the Vilk is no lemon; and in giving it to Ange Jill seems to be challenging the voracity of her wish.

Salia is the new First Troop Captain…for better or worse, as she’s extremely rigid and by-the-book leader, probably a better lieutenant than captain. When they find the DRAGON and it’s revealed it’s basically acting as a decoy for a sea-to-air attack, Salia kind of just freezes. She’s only saved from the fates of Coco & Co because Ange lures it away — not because she particularly cares about Salia (or anything), but because she’s trying to die.

Vilkiss, Resplendent in Assault Mode
Vilkiss, Resplendent in Assault Mode

That is, until that DRAGON grabs her paramail and stares her down, and she remembers the dying words of her mother: “Live on.” Her ring, which was returned to her, glows, and when blood from her head drips upon it, there’s a reaction that’s both surprising and utterly un-surprising considering Ange’s natural course from now on. She’s not going to die there, because she realizes she doesn’t want to die.

Ange's not ready to die yet after all
Ange’s not ready to die yet after all

To that end, she does what it takes to live on — wasting the dragon in a heated blaze of gun and sword attacks and ending the battle on an exclamation point, bailing out the tactically deficient Salia in the first sortie under her command. By the end, Ange is flushed with excitement, just as Zola said she’d get when she hit her back. Ange is still ashamed to feel this way, but she can’t deny she does.

I have Nothing. I am Nothing. I will live. Kill and live. That is all.
I have Nothing. I am Nothing. I will live. Kill and live. That is all.

She hasn’t been a knowing Norma long, and having not grown up as one doesn’t harbor the same deep scars, but she’s very quickly starting to understand what kind of living Norma must cling to. Even if it involves killing and a whole host of other nasty stuff, they have to take what they can get and find peace and solace however they can.

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So Angelise cuts her long flowing locks and tosses them into the wind, to join her name, her past; everything else she’s ever had or been. She decides she will live on, as Ange, at any cost; not die as quickly or easily as her mother or young comrades. Then she takes the pudding Coco gave her out of the dustbin and dutifully chokes it down. It tastes disgusting, but it will nourish her soul. When in Hell, you savor every compromised comfort you can get your hands on.

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