Attack on Titan – 20

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Hmm…this is what I was afraid of: either the episode would feature everyone besides Erwin and Levi heeing and hawing about what’s going on, delaying the reveal of who is inside the Female Titan, or they’d simply be unable to get her out. We get both. But while this episode lags at times with its scores of characters who don’t know as much as we do, I still didn’t hate it, because it went in a different direction and opened my eyes to a through line I hadn’t yet fully considered.

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Speaking of eyes, both they and the short blonde hair got me thinking Krista is the Female Titan, but we see her positioned on the edge of the forest, distracting the lesser Titans along with Armin, Mikasa (who has been criminally sidelined this arc), Sasha, etc.

So Krista’s out, leaving only one blue-eyed blonde, who oddly chose not to join the others in the Scout Regiment. If that’s Annie Leonhart in there, it explains her past aloofness and desire to be independent from the scouts when the time came to nab Eren, not to mention her martial arts background.

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Unfortunately, Erwin and Levi aren’t able to get past the Titan’s hands, and before they can blow them off with explosives, she gives out a blood-curdling cry that sends legions of Titans to her position, where they proceed not to free her from her restraints, but eat her, leaving Erwin no choice but to give the order to retreat, with their prize now gone.

Erwin, clearly feeling pretty defeated and distraught, notes that the She-Titan gave up everything to foil his plans, mirroring Armin’s notion that those who aren’t prepared to lose it all won’t be able to enact the necessary change to save humanity. Well, it works both ways.

Meanwhile, and less interesting, are Eren, Petra, & Co. sussing out exactly why they were left in the dark, concluding that there’s a pro-Titan traitor in their midst, so need-to-know was the name of the game.

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When Eren was told the expedition isn’t over and you haven’t officially survived until you’re back home, I knew it probably wasn’t going to be an easy retreat. Erwin also makes it a point to order Levi to fill up on gas and blades for the return trip, just in case something happens. And something does, with the “pilot” of the Female Titan masquerading as Levi and luring his squad to their potential doom.

For the first time, this episode turned me on to the idea of humans collaborating with Titans, even if I don’t quite understand how the hell it works. When everyone was accusing Eren, I obviously thought they were full of it, because I watched what Eren went through firsthand.

But this female traitor (who is probably Annie?) She’s the real deal: she’s killed dozens of her fellow humans and isn’t done, and is still very much after Eren. I’d say a Titan-on-Titan duel in the forest is pretty much inevitable.

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Attack on Titan – 19

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What does Levi’s big flare gun shot set into motion? Well, in the immediate moment, not all that much; it’s only an acoustic round that doesn’t seem to affect the She-Titan at all, but could serve as a signal for the soldiers ahead of them, as well as wiping everyone’s slate clean, so to speak, and focusing them.

But the more Eren focuses on what’s behind him—scouts engaging the Titan and getting killed, while he runs away—the more upset he gets, to the point he’s ready to bite his hand and become a Titan himself so he can stop the killing. Levi, looking ahead the whole time, doesn’t discourage him from this. Rather, he tells him to make his own choice, though Petra begs Eren to believe in her and his other comrades.

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Those words—“Believe in us.”—triggers a flashback, which is another suspension of the momentum of the present events, but actually turned out to be a worthwhile detour. When Eren climbs down a well to test his Titan-transforming powers, biting his hand doesn’t work. Levi tells him not to sweat it, and they have some chow.

But as Eren reaches for a spoon that’s just out of reach, the Titan transformation occurs, as he unwittingly creates a partial Titan torso and arm grasping that spoon. All of a sudden, Eren’s comrades draw their swords and start yelling, ready to kill him if he so much as flinches. The sense of cascading fear and mounting chaos in this scene was quite palpable.

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Eren tries to de-escalate by shouting “Be quiet for a second!”, but he’s really saved by an elated Hange Zoe, whose mouth is literally watering at the chance to see Eren’s ability in the hot, skinless flesh. Ironically, it’s Hange’s crazed, reckless thirst for knowledge and unapologeticly light mood that defuses the tense standoff. And Romi Park is immensely entertaining in this role.

An assist goes to Levi, who stood between Eren and his trigger (or rather blade)-happy officers and insisted they all basically chill the fuck out. No one acts in the time between Eren’s transformation and Hange’s arrival because the others are heeding their Captain, even if the compulsion to act decisively without thinking too much is strong.

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In fact, those instincts are one of the very reasons Levi chose them for his unit. None of the men or woman directly under Levi can be said to be like Armin; they’re not overthinkers. If they see an imminent threat, they don’t assess; they act. But another reason he chose them is their unswerving loyalty. When Hange determines Eren’s actions were involuntary, they know when they’re wrong and that they were threatening jerks to Eren, and not only apologize, but bite their own hands.

Would they act exactly the same way as they did if the clock was turned back (as tends to happen on this show) and they faced identical circumstances? Definitely, but that’s not going to ever happen, because now they know a little more about Eren and his ability: he only transforms when there’s a specific purpose to it, whether it’s protecting his friends from a cannon, plugging the gate, or reaching for a spoon.

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That night when Petra and the others bite their hands pledge to believe in Eren, and urge him to believe in him; that’s the end of Eren’s deliberations. Petra’s look up top is the same as the one from that night, an earnest plea for him to put his trust not only in himself, but in her, and Levi, and the rest of his comrades. Rather than transform, with the purpose of beating the She-Titan, he decides to keep racing forward on his horse. He’s growing a lot on this mission…without having to grow into a Titan.

His faith in his comrades and the Scout Regiment in general pays off, as the She-Titan, having been harried by several scouts who gave their lives to enable Levi, Eren, Petra & Co. to stay just ahead of her, is led straight into an elaborate trap consisting of hundreds of restraining wires that stop her in her tracks.

This was Erwin’s plan all along: using Eren to draw the She-Titan into captivity. She’s covering her nape, but they believe someone is in there (probably someone with that same hairstyle, I’m thinking), and they’re itching to get her out of there so she can answer for what she’s done…whoever she is.

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Attack on Titan – 18

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A survival crisis crops up when Armin, Jean, and Reiner are stuck in an exposed area with only one horse, and consider leaving someone behind, possibly to die, but Krista Lenz, who happens to be some kind of horse whisperer, rescues the three guys by bringing two horses with her, causing them to fall for their pretty savior right then and there.

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That scene is a nice little breather before returning to the dilemmas at hand: the formation is off course and being torn to smithereens by the Female Titan, who continues to repel any scout attack against her, displaying intelligence and creativity even most elites have never seen.

The show’s penchant for dark humor is amplified when she spins one poor soldier around like a stone in a sling, before apathetically letting him loose behind her. I was waiting for the awful crunching sound of the guy hitting the ground,but we were spared.

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Ultimately, the She-Titan’s goal is Eren, as Armin deduced from her course. The balance of this episode becomes about Commander Erwin’s strange orders and how all the lower-downs handle them. He shoots his elite core with Eren into the depths of a forest of really tall trees, which is really cool and looks like a place I’d want to camp were there not Titans around.

In fact, one wonders why humans didn’t just build settlements in the treetops, out of reach of the Titans. I guess there just wouldn’t be time to build, and in any case, the Colossal and Armored Titans would wreak just as much havoc on a forest as on a wall. That doesn’t change my opinion that a tiered tree-city would be cooler than a walled one, but I’ll table that wish in the interests of proceeding with she show we have.

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In the show, Jean, Eren, and several others are outright confused by Erwin’s moves, and wish he’d just explain to them what his plan is so that they won’t be so damned jittery. That doesn’t happen; even the elites under Levi’s command look like they have no clue what’s going on. Again, one can hardly blame them; when the She-Titan suddenly appears in the forest and goes after Eren it’s pretty damned frightening.

But neither Erwin nor Levi will tell anyone anything until it’s time to set into motion whatever trap they’ve set for the Female Titan, if that’s indeed what’s going on. Levi simply orders everyone to cover their ears (what about their horses’ reins?) before firing what looks like a flare gun. And that’s where the episode leaves us, on the edge of our seats, wondering what pulling that trigger will do (beyond launching a flare, of course). Fortunately I won’t have to wait a week to find out.

Also…I doubt it’s just me, but isn’t it a bit suspicious that Krista and the She-Titan have the same hair and eyes, and that Krista showed up immediately after the She-Titan disappeared? Probably just a coincidence.

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Attack on Titan – 17

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Wow, AoT really geeks out this week with the intricate enemy scouting formation dealie Erwin cooks up for the regiment. It’s a clever way to make a group of mounted humans work like one big organism, complete with eyes on the flanks that communicate to the brain controlling navigation in the center, through the use of colored signal flares. Considering the enemy is one big organism, strength in numbers makes sense, just as it does on the Serengeti.

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And naturally, because this is AoT, it doesn’t take long for Erwin’s delicately-crafted formation to start getting completely torn up by Titans, including one very frightening “centipede” variant that chases and nearly nabs a straying Sasha, who is thoroughly freaked out by the experience, causing me to wonder if she should really even be out there participating in an operation.

It’s a bit harsh to say Sash should be used to it by now, this job is going to entail a lot more close calls with Titans than steamed potatoes. Also, that crawling Titan was pretty freaky. Hell, she reacted like I would have. The thing is, Crawly isn’t the scariest Titan this week by far. That goes to one a lot…different.

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I’m talking of course about the 14-meter elephant in the room: a female Titan that is incredibly fast, quick, and smart. So smart, she’s aware her nape is her weak spot and guards it from attacks, and rather than step on the cloaked Armin, daintily pulls his cloak back and gets a good look at his face before getting up and moving on. Without eating him. This is a weird Titan, indeed. And as Armin, resident brainiac, opines, it’s behavior that puts her in a very small class of Titan, along with Colossal, Armored…and Eren.

Combined with Hange’s discovery that Titans are far lighter than one would think, and those secrets in the basement, and Eren’s unique-so-far ability to transform into a Titan, the body of evidence is growing that some Titans may be humans in Titan bodies. Could there be a civilization far beyond the horizon that sent Colossal, Armored, and this She-Titan as “generals” of sorts to herd the dumber hordes of Titans to feed, like so many foot soldiers? The mind boggles at the possibilities.

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But the Scout Regiment doesn’t have time to stoke their chins and consider those possibilities. They have a formation to keep and a mission to complete. Armin, with help from Jean and Reiner, manage to escape the She-Titan after trying and failing to take her out, and from the direction she’s headed, Armin believes she’s looking for Eren.

This was a thrilling episode pretty much from start to finish, doubly admirable considering Eren and Mikasa weren’t even in it, and it took place on a mostly flat field. The 360-degree cameras following the soldiers as they fought the Titans, as well as the unique way the She-Titan looks and moves, all added to the engrossing spectacle. And because much of the episode took place on horseback, things literally moved along quite nicely.

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Attack on Titan – 12

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After another extremely long and annoying (for someone semi-marathoning) recap of What’s Happened So Far on AoT, we return to the situation in Trost: Eren has transformed into a Titan, but he’s useless. All he manages to do is blast both of his fists off going after Mikasa, who insists to her CO Ian that Eren is “family”, not her boyfriend. Your blushing says it’s more complicated than that, Miss Ackerman.

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She suspends herself in front of his face and tries to reason with him, to no avail, so the episode, like many others before it, is more about what happens when things go wrong than what happens when they go right. But to the credit of Ian and the elite squad with Mikasa, the mission to protect Eren, even though he’s currently useless, takes precedence over their own lives.

Rico is angry about it, because he doesn’t think Eren is worth it, but he still obeys orders. He doesn’t let The Fear overcome his discipline. Instead, he resolves to go out fighting, showing the Titans what they’re made of. Elsewhere in the district, Jean tries to keep it together and prove—more to himself than the others—that he has what it takes to be a good soldier.

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Every minute Eren is out of action, dozens of soldiers both fit and unfit are being slaughtered and/or eaten by the growing horde of Titans. Pixis admits that he and he alone is responsible for these deaths, but is willing to be called a butcher if his actions save humanity.

Even though the elite squad signaled failure, he’s not throwing in the towel. Of course, one could say a great many of these soliders were going to die whether Pixis hatched this cockamamie plan or not, and one would be correct. If they do nothing, humanity is eventually going to be toast, to a man. So why not try something?

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Speaking of which, when Mikasa’s verbal pleadings fail to rouse Eren (who is stuck in an idealized dream in their old house in Shiganshina with his still-alive parents), it falls to Armin to try something else. Remembering the location from where Eren emerged was the same as the weak spot of all Titans, he digs his sword in, nicking Eren in the arm, and yells at him through the opening to wake the fuck up.

Again, AoT demonstrates why Eren and Mikasa alone can’t survive; it takes Armin’s extra perspective. Mikasa never would have risked harming Eren by stabbing him in the neck, but that’s exactly what needed to be done to snap him out of his blissful but self-destructive fantasy. Now that he’s awake, we’ll see if Eren’s able to exert enough control to pick up that boulder and seal the gate. Better late than never, right?

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Attack on Titan – 11

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Supreme Commander Pixis decides the fate of humanity will depend on whether Eren can seal the broken gate with a boulder. At no point does he ever go a step further to what the plan is if Eren can’t, or say, if the Colossal and Armored Titans reappear and destroy the boulder or blast a new hole in the wall. I guess that doesn’t really matter at the moment; one crisis at a time and all that.

The advantage of semi-marathoning (2-3 episodes per week) is that I can go from one episode to the next without waiting a week. In the case of the Battle of Trost arc, I’m starting to wonder how viewers back in Spring 2013 could stand the snail’s pace. Part of that is the fact the first few episodes covered five years; for the last seven to be about the same battle is a bit disorienting.

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Time is moving so slowly, serious damage has been done to the arc’s sence of urgency. Despite often claiming there’s no time in various ways, there’s still plenty of time for leisurely strolls along the wall and interminable motivational (or sobering) speeches. A disadvantage to semi-marathoning also rears its head: the use of narration and repetition of events we just watched don’t do the episode’s urgency any favors.

Stretch out a daylong battle across so many episodes, and the viewers’ minds can stray. I know that if this battle had been wrapped up by now, I wouldn’t be noticing details like it’s strange that Pixis’ voice can carry far enough for everyone below to hear him, or soldiers worrying about “losing discipline”…as dozens of scared soldiers start deserting en masse. Uh, I think that’s a sure sign discipline has already been lost, actually…

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Finally, near the end, we get beautiful and highly kinetic sequence of soldiers flying through the city. I’d been mired in speeches and exposition so long, this scene made me sit up straight. Like the rest of the episode, it’s little more than people getting into position, but it does so without listing a bunch of names of redshirts we may never meet, something Rico does to Eren as they’re running. Why does everyone suddenly think Eren’s a spoiled brat? He’s going to save everybody.

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Only, he’s not. Not really. And that was the most glaring problem with this episode, from my perspective: Titan-Eren was never going to actually succeed. When he transforms, he turns from the boulder and smashes the roof where Mikasa is standing, in an apparent attempt to kill her. Oops.

This show has proven, Lucy-from-Peanuts-like, that just because it’s carefully positioning a football on the ground, doesn’t mean it won’t pull it back up just when you’re about to kick it, leaving you, Charlie, flat on your back. Not always, mind you: Armin’s gambit worked very nicely indeed.

But past results are no guarantee of future success, and it would have been too easy if Eren just picked up the boulder and plugged the hole like a good Demi-Titan. So…how about that Plan B?

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Attack on Titan – 10

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After building a partial Titan to protect Mikasa and Armin, Eren considers going on alone to his parents’ basement in Shiganshina. In the present situation, Armin is crippled not only be fear, but the feeling he’s worthless and holding the other two back. One would think he wouldn’t still feel this way after his baller plan to liberate the resupply depot, but then again this is a pretty stressful situation, which can lead people to reopen still-raw wounds.

The reality is that Armin is a crucial member of the young triad: the brains. So it makes sense that those same brains can betray him by making him overthink things and be his own harshest critic. One reason Eren is a more effective conventional fighter is that he doesn’t think as much. So Eren leaves it to Armin to secure his safety as well as Mikasa’s, because of the three he’s the only one who can do it.

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To do so, Armin must disarm and expose himself to Woerman and his troops; which takes every drop of courage he has, but also proves he has plenty of courage. Unfortunately, Woerman is so spooked (rightfully so) by the prospect of Titans who look, walk, and talk just like humans, he’s no longer thinking rationally, only viscerally, which means he’s impervious even to Armin’s most dogged and reasonable arguments for sparing their lives.

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Woerman is about to take them out with a second cannon shot when his arm is suddenly stayed by his superior, General Dot Pixis, whose sudden presence catches everyone by surprise. He’s a bit of a weirdo (if he’s going to be eaten by a Titan, he’d prefer if it was by a smoking-hot lady Titan), but he’s got a lot more sense in this situation than Woerman, and more importantly, his actions aren’t driven by fear. He uses his judgment and his authority to save the three cadets, then asks to meet with them personally atop the wall.

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I liked Pixis’ attitude towards the nobility in an earlier episode, and I like his no-nonsense practicality in dealing with Eren here. He takes Armin at his word that it’s possible someone like Eren with “Titan Power” can be utilized to re-take Trost, if only by sealing the breach in the wall with a boulder.

Pixis first asks Eren if he can do it, but Eren isn’t entirely sure and worried about answering “irresponsibly.” So Pixis rephrases: Will he or won’t he? Obviously, he will. But even if Eren has found a valuable, powerful ally in Pixis (and we’re by no means sure of even that), and even if he does seal the breach and save the district, there will always be some, like Woerman, who won’t look at the evidence or listen to reason. Those who have let Fear take over, and will consider anything remotely Titan-related an enemy to be vanquished.

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Attack on Titan – 09

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The show chooses a rather odd time to introduce us to a new group of characters in the elite Scout Regiment, led by “neat freak” Captain Levi. I saw bizarre because there’s still quite a bit that needs to be resolved with Eren. As great as it is to see soldiers other than Mikasa having success in killing Titans, the truth is I was patiently waiting for the show to get back to the main characters, which thankfully happens about a third of the way in.

Before returning to the present, we find out what became of Eren after being swallowed. Not surprisingly, he ended up in the Titan’s gut, surrounded by his dead comrades being slowly digested, which…gross. But Eren refuses to give up, doggone it, and a light flashes and he transforms into Titan Eren, bursting out of the Titan who ate him and commencing his rampage.

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When Eren wakes up, he finds himself in a bit of a predicament. No good deed goes unpunished here on AoT, which means an entire battalion of his fellow soldiers have their weapons trained on him, Mikasa, and Armin. They’re led by a very twitchy commander who looks like he needs a lot more sleep, and everyone is convinced Eren is a Titan in disguise who needs to be eliminated.

With Eren still highly disoriented, negotiations break down pretty quickly, with Mikasa only offering temporary relief by putting herself between the guns and Eren and challenging anyone who wants to try to hurt him to get through her first. Eren finally cries that he’s a human, but the commander has already made his decision. Mikasa tries to get Eren away as the cannon above them fires, but Eren…does something else.

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And that something else is transforming back into a Titan, using his only partially constructed Titan body to shield his friends from the cannon blast. Once again, a bold action keeps him and them alive, but only a little longer: it doesn’t exactly help his claim he’s human, and I doubt such a trick can be pulled twice in such short order.

Preceding Eren’s last-ditch effort to keep death at bay, he experiences flashes of memory, like his dreams in earlier episodes, in which his father tells him the key around his neck and the secrets in the basement of their home are of utmost importance. I imagine the power he’s awakened has something to do with those secrets.

But first things first: how are he, Mikasa and Armin going to stay alive long enough to uncover those secrets? Forget the Titans; he’s got humanity against him at the moment. Talk about ‘out of the frying pan, into the freezer’.

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Attack on Titan – 08

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Man, those Titans look like the “Came With the Frame” family, wearing seemingly warm, friendly expressions. To bad they only look like that because they’ve found fresh humans to eat. The fact that Titans (unique variants aside) aren’t particularly grotesque monsters  but look simply like scaled-up naked humans who act purely on instinct, has made for quite a skin-crawlingly disturbing dynamic.

This week, we see Jean, who never wanted to fight on the wall in the first place, almost fall backwards into a position of leadership and the esteem of his peers, not because he performs amazing feats of badassery like Mikasa, but because he’s just…one of them. Not particularly strong, but able to assess situations and rally others to his side. After all, if someone like him can keep his cool (most of the time anyway) in such awful scenarios as he faces this week, so, they believe, can they.

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Speaking of lacking either physical or emotional brawn, Armin starts this episode content to be left behind lest he slow Mikasa and Connie down. But like Eren, Armin is Mikasa’s family, and she’s lost enough of that, so she’s not leaving him. Since he’s going to be a burden to them one way or another, Armin hatches a plan: something neither Mikasa nor Connie would have ever conceived of: lead the weird Titan-fighting Titan (TFT) to HQ so he can take out he Titans there, allowing them to resupply and continue the battle.

So Mikasa and Connie (with Armin in tow) set to work killing all the Titans around the guy, until he notices the ones gathered around HQ and gets to work. That handsome couple up top are his first victims, who are killed before Jean’s eyes just as he’s ready to give up (there’s a lot of instances of people about to give up in this show; all of them perfectly justified).

Once there, Armin comes up with another plan. In the process, he transcends his whiny third wheel act. Now, he’s a crucial member of the ramshackle unit, not just because Mikasa draws strength from him being alive, but because he just might be the sharpest tactician they’ve got.

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This plan has a lot less margin for error than the TFT-luring operation. Everyone has to put their lives on the line for the sake of everyone else. Any slip-ups, and they could all die. Seven athletic fighters hide in the rafters, waiting for the rest of the unit to blast the seven Titans in the head with shotguns so they can swoop in for the kills.

And while Connie and Sasha fail to strike killing blows to their Titans, Mikasa and Annie, two of the toughest ladies around, bail them out. I like how Sasha is pissed off with herself for giving up and not trusting her comrades would save her. Now she knows better.

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When they resupply and return to the surface, their would-be TFT ally is in the middle of a cannibalistic scrum. As they debate over whether to continue to rely on him, he dispatches the last of the Titans and collapses, armless. Then, from the dissolving remains of the TFT carcass, a regular-sized human form emerges – the human we all knew was in there, kicking Titan ass as a Titan.

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But I must tell you, while I fully expected Eren to be in that TFT, I was not prepared for the emotional impact of Mikasa running to him, embracing him, then totally losing it when she hears his heartbeat. That was even the title of the episode, and it still absolutely slew me.

There will certainly be many different reactions to Eren being a Titan (or having the ability to pilot them). Not all of those reactions will be positive. But right now, the only thing that matters to Mikasa—and me—is that the heart of the person she holds most dear in all the wretched world is still beating.

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Attack on Titan – 07

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We quickly learn this week that those intense flashbacks to when Eren and Mikasa first met, and Mikasa found her purpose in life—to be with Eren—was all simply building up for the moment Armin tearfully informs her that Eren died to save him.

It’s another cruel blow to someone who’s already endured so much pain; in fact, it figures to be the final blow; after all, Mikasa has been going on over and over about there being no other reason for her living than Eren.

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To Armin’s surprise, and mine too, however, Mikasa doesn’t break down; not outwardly anyway. Instead, she seems to shut down right then and there. Her eyes lose their sparkle. But for now, she sticks to her duty. She gives a big speech about being far stronger than all of them (which is true) and calling them pathetic cowards.

She’s going to go fight and live, even if she has to do it herself. Others follow her, whether due to a sudden spark of motivation from her words, or out of shame. Elsewhere, it’s so grim one soldier successfully loads a gun so he can put it in his mouth and end it all.

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But like Armin, we know something’s not right about how Mikasa is proceding. She’s going too all out; killing with extreme prejudice until her gas supply is totally exhausted. And with no gas, she has no mobility, and no more hope of suriving the gathering Titans.

She kneels in an alley, waiting for death…but she reflexively doesn’t let herself die, in spite of herself. As a Titan comes at her, then another, she remembers Eren, and dodges, and fights back, like he did, to save her. Then one of the Titans kills the other, and leaves her alone. Wait…what?

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This “ally” Titan—with familiar unkempt hair and steely teal eyes—is Eren in another form, to my eyes. And he kills the other Titan with the same raw ferocity he killed one of Mikasa’s captors; as she puts it, putting “all the manifest anger of humankind” behind his righteous blows that rip his own fist apart, only to re-heal instantly.

It’s too soon to be sure, but this “unique variant” may be humanity’s first real effective weapon against the Titans. If he pans out as a reliable human ally, he certainly won’t be a total game changer; he’s just one “good Titan” against countless scores of Titans of all shapes, sizes and strengths. But I for one am glad Mikasa and the little people have scored a break, even if it’s a temporary, incomplete one. Like them, I’ll take every break I can to stem the rising tide of blood and anguish.

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