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

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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