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.

3-gatsu no Lion – 26

As Hina cries in her big sister’s lap, Rei catches us up on the reason for her tears, as well as her missing shoe. It’s a harrowing, all-too familiar and common story: some girls in her class with nothing better to do started bullying her longtime friend Chiho. While everyone ignored it or pretended nothing was happening (even the teacher), Hina, like a Fire Sister, kept talking and eating with Chiho.

Eventually, the bullying got so bad Chiho stopped coming to school, and her mother decided they’d move to where her father works, pulling her out of school. When the girls who started all this make light of that in gym class, Hina pounces on their queen bee in vicious rage, to no avail.

Now Hina is the target of their bullying, and she’s terrified of going back to school and being alone, just as she’s distressed that she couldn’t do anything for Chiho. After scaring Momo with her crying, Hina runs out into the night, and Rei very slowly chases her (what can you say; kid’s not an athlete).

Rei makes no bones about it: Hina is the reason he’s above water; she is his lifesaver; and after gently taking her hand, he promises he’ll always stay with her, no matter what. After all, for all the distress and pain it’s caused her, Hina is quite correct that she did absolutely nothing wrong in trying to defend Chiho. That it was beyond her ability to stop the bullying, or that she’s the new target, does not change that simple fact that she’s a good person.

Fully appreciative of her fragile state and need to not be alone, Rei spends the day with her at the libarary where they look at books, something he’s been doing a long time and the reason he’s so good at shogi at his age.

While she’s looking at Japanese sweets books, Rei is looking for the name of the “ladybug bush” of his dark earlier years: “Silverthorn.” He also finds the scientific name of the Asian Ladybug that populated those bushes, and Hina notices the kanji for that name also means “heavenly path.”

Rei takes her to the bush and places a ladybug on her hand, and it climbs as high as it can before flying off toward the sun, demonstrating why, long ago, people gave the bug that name.

As the beetle flies heavenward, Rei would wish nothing more than to unleash hell upon those who have done this to Hina; but just as she walks the heavenly (i.e. just and rightous) path, he knows so must he. Tearing those bullies limb from limb won’t solve anything, and probably onlu make things worse for Hina.

Evening arrives, and Rei escorts Hina home, where Akari and Momo are waiting for them and invite Rei to join them for a sumptuous dinner consisting of all of Hina’s favorite foods. Their Gramps is there too, and gravely asks Hina to sit down and listen.

Akari told him everything that happened…and he praises her heartily for what she did. He knows from the papers how serious bullying can be, so he has nothing but joy and pride in knowing Hina would go to bat for her friend despite the dangers involved; something most adults wouldn’t do. He echos her own earlier words that she did nothing wrong, and should be proud of herself.

Now, I watched his monologue in a very dusty room, so you can imagine I needed a lot of Kleenex nearby, just as the Kawamoto sisters did. Both Gramps’ words of encouragement and Akari’s meal were things they knew they could do for Hina. Rei wracks his brain over what he can do, but simply being there for her, by her side, and assuring her he’ll never leave it, is already enough.

Tokyo Ghoul – 10

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Our friends at Anteiku may have enjoyed a period of peace and calm in the time between Mado’s death and the previous episode…we just don’t get to see a lot of it. Thus, in this way, despite the disorientation of a time-jump and a crapload of new characters—some more interesting than others—the tension is kept up in a show that needs tension and peril to thrive.

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An all-out war between Ghouls and Doves isn’t just “coming”, it’s already here, as Aogiri Tree riads the CCG’s 11th Ward precinct and slaughters every last Dove. Marude, the guy put in charge of the response who very much looks like he’s trying to pop his skull out of his face, has decided to evacuate the ward of all humans in preparation for a massive strike.

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There’s a lot of sneering, eye-bulging, and yelling going on this week, as tempers run short and hot. Worse, Aogiri Tree’s aggression is utterly destroying any chance of detente between the races of the kind Anteiku has successfully achieved. Of course, by harboring Rize’s vessel Kaneki Kei, they made themselves a target of radical ghouls and “special” Doves like Suzuya Juzo, who I hope is insufferably repulsive on purpose.

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This episode also marks the end of a good run of episodes in which Ken wasn’t kidnapped, as a sequence of n’er-do-wells darken Anteiku’s door, starting with Banjou (who resembles a DRAMAtical Murder character), his three masked and numbered underlings, Touka’s brother Ayato, and then, in a case of Bad Guy Overkill, the comically huge and comically-attired Yamori (why a leisure suit?) and his gay stereotype partner Nico.

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We like Banjo’s volatile personality, kooky underlings, funny swirl beard, but he’s too quickly edged out by Ayato, who’s your typical cliched Evil Sibling who only seems to exist to make life more miserable for Touka, and the less seen of Yamori and Nico the better; they really class down the joint with their ridiculous, bordering-on-silly over-the-topness.

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Case in point, an inordinate amount of time is spent on Yamori beating the ever-loving shit out of Ken because, oh I don’t know, the episode has time to kill. And yet, despite varying between seven and ten feet tall, the bear-like Yamori isn’t even able to do much physical damage to Ken.We see showers of blood, but it’s hard to care about the beating when we know Ken isn’t really at risk of being killed. The show just likes using him as a punching bag a little too much.

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In a nice grasping of the concept of gender balance many other shows struggle with, this results in a case of the girl (Touka) having to go save the guy. She won’t be going alone, though. Yoshimura is tired of all these nutjobs messing up his lawn and hurting his friends. He’s closing Anteiku until further notice, and along with Yomo, Nishio, and even ‘lil Hinami, he’s going to help rescue Ken. We’ve seen the bad guys’ teeth, now it’s time to see what the good guys can do when fully mustered.

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Tokyo Ghoul – 09

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After everything that went down last week with Mado, Touka, Hinami, Amon and Ken, you’d expect some kind of respite to follow, and to a degree, that’s true of this week. No one is fighting for their lives, and instead of lots of action and drama, we get backstory and new characters. It almost feels like a new season, with much that is familiar, but details great and small that show that life has gone on in the month-and-a-half since those brutal battles.

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The episode starts, strangely enough, from Amon’s perspective as he first joins the Doves Home Office and is paired up with Mado, who has a reputation for being a kook. Mado teaches him vigilance, in that he suspects an adorable old lady to be behind a string of predatory Ghoul attacks. Amon can’t possibly believe that until he almost becomes a victim, but Mado saves his life, after ostensibly using him as bait.

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Amon seemed more bemused than moved by Ken’s mercy, and he clearly hasn’t stopped idolizing Mado, who he considers to be a hero and “his pride.” I hope Amon’s aggression towards Ghouls won’t grow as twisted as his mentor’s had, but Mado is probably the way he is because he lost everyone he loved and cared about; if the same thing happens to Amon, well, the cycle will continue.

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Meanwhile, Hinami has moved in with Touka and has nursed a pet cockatiel back to health. The bird has really lifted Hinami’s spirits, but despite the fact Touka fought to save Hinami, she still seems to regret having to kill Mado. He was a wretch, but as the ring indicated, even he had a family. That and the bird make her think of her own childhood, when she and her timid little brother Ayato also helped a bird, while living with their dad.

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It’s such a lovely family scene, and it also happens to be the first time we see Ayato. When we see him in the 11th ward licking blood off his arm and calling his sister a “peace-loving wimp.” It’s likely whatever went down between digging for worms as kids and the present, it made both siblings do things they didn’t want to do, but eventually came to enjoy. Touka is through with that part of her life, but her bro clearly isn’t. I imagine he wants Rize back in the fight.

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Other changes in our quasi-season premiere: Amon gets reassigned to a special task force in the increasingly unstable 11th Ward, and two new Doves take over in his old 20th Ward post. A very weird dude with pale skin and red stiches pickpockets Ken, who is probably his prey, a white-haired girl visits Mado’s grave after Mado, and Hide pretty clearly knows what Ken is, but doesn’t seem to have decided what to do about it yet. Lots of table-setting going on. I can only hope the show remembers to stagger the bookings, lest the kitchen get overloadedand chaos reign.

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Tokyo Ghoul – 08

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Overcome by grief and loneliness, Hinami breaks out of Anteiku to wander Tokyo. This is an extraordinarily bad decision, but it’s one a young girl in her state is more than capable of, and in any case, its the catalyst for two crucial and simultaneous showdowns, which in their combined form we consider to be the best the show has presented to date.

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I want to say that none of this would have happened had everyone taken turns being by Hinami’s side in her fragile state, rather than keeping her in a dark room alone (She’s not a stray cat!), but Mado was gunning for her big time, and ultimately would have found her anyway. She just makes confrontations that have to happen happen sooner, and I don’t have a problem with that.

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One showdown is between Touka and Mado, as Hinami cowers in the corner. The other is between Mado’s partner Amon and Ken. Both showdowns feature the same conversations. Amon decries how Ghouls heartlessly tear apart families and are messing up the world; Touka says pretty much the same things about humans to Mado, trying to get him to see her point of view.

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Touka’s words fall on ears that aren’t necessarily deaf by choice, but it’s hinted that they’ve been permanently closed by decades of torment. It’s simply too late for Mado. With that in mind, morals aside Mado is a brilliant genius for figuring out how to make quinques out of the kagunes of dead ghouls. One can’t help but wonder the good that genius could have done had it not been twisted by decades of grief and anguish.

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Alright, enough sympathizing with Mado, the bastard tries to use parts of Hinami’s dead parents to kill her and Touka. NOT COOL. You can’t spell Mado without “Mad”, right? Touka, still recovering from her last fight with him, is again overpowered by Mado’s dual-wield quinques, but his killing coup-de-grace is nullified by Hinami, of all people.

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She finally reveals her own kagunes, showing she possesses the combined powers of both her loving parents. She uses them, and Mado goes down, but she doesn’t finish him, not wanting to become a killer. Mado bleeds out and dies on his own—a welcome nod to the fact that humans are far more fragile than ghouls, and all but defenseless without quinques.

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Whereas it’s too late for Mado and he won’t listen to anything Touka says, Ken is more than receptive of Amon’s words. He knows them well, since they’re the exact same words that describe what’s happened to Hinami. What Amon doesn’t understand yet, but isn’t beyond understanding like Mado, given time, is that ghouls have the same feelings humans do. Amon is so caught up on the minority of evil ghouls that he’s blind to the fact most of them are just trying to live.

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He’s also so caught up in the grief and victimhood that he’s also blind to the fact that there’s a minority of bad humans that, along with the bad ghouls, are messing up the world together. Neither side is innocent here, and there’s plenty of middle ground to be had if only cooler heads on either side sat down and listened. As he’s being beaten to a pulp, Ken realizes that having both ghoul and human makes him singularly equipped to be the bridge the two races desperately need before they destroy each other.

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At first, he tries to make Amon understand by letting himself get beaten up. When that doesn’t work, he grudgingly summons Rize’s power and attacks Amon, but like Hinami, holds back, not wanting to become a killer. Rize, as mad as Mado, fights hard to take over Ken’s body, but Amon isn’t mortally wounded, and heeds Ken’s desperate cries to run away. Amon sees the tears and the pain Ken is in, and knows Ken just had mercy on him. Maybe that’s the beginning of him starting to understand.

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I just hope Amon finding Mado’s body doesn’t undo all of the progress (such as it was) Ken made with him. Ken, meanwhile, is saved from flying off the handle by Yomo, who takes Ken’s strike like it’s nothing (though it probably is something), calmly states he now sees what Yoshimura saw in him, and asks him to come home. They reunite with Touka and Hinami. When the latter asks if “it’s okay for her to be alive”, Ken is ready with an apt reponse: “your mom was telling you to live.” Is it okay to be alive? Absolutely. Is it easy? Not a chance.

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Tokyo Ghoul – 07

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After six weeks of building up our affinity for the Ghouls, we finally get a more in-depth look at the Doves. Like the Ghouls, not all of them are remorseless killers. If you forget the overarching fact that they’re a force tasked with subjugating and eliminating another race, they occupy a comparable amount of shades of grey as the Ghouls.

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Both sides have their extremes. Mado is very much the Dove equivalent of Rize and Shuu: unhinged and completely detached from morality. Both sides have their innocents, whether it’s Hinami and her mom on the Ghoul side or Amon’s two colleagues, who always seem to be the ones who pay the price for the action or inaction of a third group. “The more earnest they are, the sooner they lose their lives.”

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Amon and Touka belong to that third group: far stronger and more capable than the innocents, but still aware that their actions are wrong, but must be taken anyway. I don’t think Mado was born rotten any more than Shuu was; time and the horrors they witnessed and committed over the years, twisted all of them gradually.

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When Hinami’s mom is killed senselessly, Touka cannot stop herself from retaliating, even though Mado is a walking ghoul encyclopedia armed with a deadly zabimaru-esque quinque that seems to be fueled by ghoul blood. In other words, she’s no match. Touka is as indiscriminate in her victims as Mado was.

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Murdering the affable “dove schlub” Kusaba sets off Amon the same way Ryoko’s murder set her off. This is a cycle of violence that is very much in practice in several parts of the real world, and that’s just between factions of humans; It’s not surprising coexistence between humans and ghouls is equally untenable.

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This isn’t just a case of evil people doing evil things and good people doing nothing to stop them; it’s about people who could be good becoming seduced by anger and revenge and letting it drive them to commit evil themselves. Ken still hasn’t made sense of it all, nor does he know who, if anyone, to endorse. All he knows is that Touka is his friend and he doesn’t want her or anyone else to die.

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He’s also sick of doing nothing, so he collects his spooky mask from Uta and accompanies Touka; not to kill investigators, he says, but to do something. He’s not sure what he’ll do—it will greatly depend on what Touka is up to—but at least he’ll be in the position to do it.

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P.S.: The illustrations during the end credits have always been a feast for the eyes, and we get a new set this week. If only the characters looked this awesome all the time!