Attack on Titan – 60 (S4 E01) – This One’s For All the Marbles

If you’re looking for Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Sasha and the Scouts picking up where they left off on that beach, you won’t find them here, in the first episode of Attack on Titan’s final season, also the first by Studio MAPPA. But oddly enough, there’s a crew of young Marley soldiers who remind you of those main players: Falco, Gabi, Udo and Zofia.

Their armbands not only identify them as Eldians, but as Warrior (i.e. Titan pilot) candidates. Other Eldians aren’t so lucky, serving as cannon fodder or straight-up suicide bombers. Most look like they’re in this battle against their will, but their choice is between this and execution or worse.

Falco & Co., as well as the older Colt, have more freedom and privileges, and have fully bought into the idea that they can make a difference. The confident-bordering-on-arrogant Gabi (Ayane Sakura) even believes she can prove that “not all Eldians are bad”, even though their non-Eldian commanders refer to them as “spawn of the devil.”

Gabi strips down to her slip to pose as a surrendering civilian so she can get close enough to an enemy armored train to blow it up with a cluster of grenades. It works perfectly, but it’s also reckless as hell, as she ends up under heavy machine gun fire in no-mans-land. Falco exposes himself to that fire to rescue her, but she doesn’t really need rescuing because she’s so badass. Or lucky. Maybe both?

They’re both saved by “Jaw”, a super-quick Titan piloted by a guy named Galliard. Gabi struck me as a Mikasa analogue, albeit one driven by personal ambition and not devotion to a person (i.e. Eren). Falco gives off a lot of early ineffectual Eren vibes, as he tries to tend the wounds of a maimed enemy soldier only for that soldier to insist he not touch him. You know, devil’s spawn and everything.

As Falco and Gabi stand by in the trenches, the second phase of the assault on Fort Slava commences with the drop of dozens of paratroopers who look like they’d rather be anywhere else. With one shout from Zeke Yeager, they all transform into lesser Titans, and those that survive the drop eat everyone in sight.

With the Titan version of cannon fodder unleashed and the fort sufficiently softened up, the two Heavies of the operation spring into action: Reiner Braun AKA the Armored Titan, and Zeke Yeager AKA the Beast Titan. Braun jumps first and quickly learns the enemy has ordinance powerful enough to pierce his armor, as well as a second armored train.

He wastes the train and most of the cannon but not before losing a hand. That’s when Zeke drops in as Beast, picks up a handful of shells, and lobs them baseball-style at the enemy fleet just offshore. The fleet manages to let off a salvo in his and Braun’s direction before getting decimated by the rain of fire.

Colt, Gabi, Falco, Udo, and Zofia watch in awe as their senpais and nation’s greatest weapons do what they do. The enemy is defeated and the fort is taken, but at great cost: the fleet’s final salvo seemingly killed the Armored Titan. If Reiner died too, that means one of the kids will succeed him. Gabi thinks that should be her. It might end up being her. But that’s a story for another episode.

The main takeaway from this episode, meanwhile, is that as previous Titan seasons have successively done, it aims to reinvent itself by further expanding the world far beyond the confines of the Walls of Paradis. Marley wins the day and remains power in this world, but a decidedly fading one due to the steadily crumbling advantage the Titans provide.

Then there’s Marley’s whole policy of enslavement and oppression of the Eldian minority at every turn. Even those Eldians who believe they’re on the right side of the war and of history, like Gabi, come off as naive and even deluded. Hers may be the last generation of Warriors to pilot Titans—assuming they even get that far. In other words, the cruel, brutal, individual-crushing pessimism that has marked most of Titan’s run remains in fine form. Welcome to the beginning of the end.

Attack on Titan – 59 (S3 Fin) – Finally, A Beach Episode

After hearing testimony from the surviving scouts and the opinions of the brass, Queen Historia decides to make the truth public. It’s feared doing so will sow chaos, but as Pyxis puts with his usual elegant bluntness, if they’re going to keep lying or hiding the truth, why did they even bother ousting the last king?

Once the people are told what they really are and what was done to them, there is indeed a measure of heightened chaos, but public reaction runs the gamut from belief to disbelief, resignation to outrage, relief to rage. That’s a as good a sign as any that they made the right choice. The massive lie was another prison, but Eren & Co. found the key, and Historia used it to throw open the gates. People are now free to leave…or stay.

Of course, after the trauma of the battle that claimed Commander Erwin Smith and most of the scout “fodder,” that group’s sole survivor in Floch can’t escape the prison, even with the open door right in front of him. He can’t even see the door.

Floch is chained down by the belief that Armin was the wrong person to revive, and it was a decision born of emotion by Eren and Levi. He tells this to Armin’s face, and stands his ground when Eren gets in his face, because he believes has nothing left to lose. He already lost it all, and believes winning is no longer possible.

The conviction of his words shakes Armin to the core. He can’t help but agree with Floch that he shouldn’t have been the one saved, and that he has no idea how to turn things around. Armin is about to walk right back into his prison when Eren tries to encourage him that it’s too early to say, at least until they finally see what’s beyond the wall.

Since they were kids, Eren and Armin believed freedom was beyond the wall. But now that Eren has been beyond it, though his father’s memories and those of Kruger before him, to which he is now privy, but is being very careful about revealing what he knows to anyone else. In trying to comfort Armin, Eren only ends up bumming himself out when he dredges up the horrible scene of Faye torn to shreds by Marley dogs.

At the award ceremony, a fully decked-out Queen Historia presents the nine surviving scouts with medals of valor. Eren will do anything, including casting his life aside, to prevent a repeat of Faye’s fate. Anything except sacrificing Historia. And yet, upon taking her hand and kissing it, he pauses, leading Historia to wonder what is amiss.

Eren is remembering the day Grisha stormed into the Reiss chapel, before defeating Freida and eating her. He wears a subtler version of the same crazed, horror-filled face his father wore. Is there really hope beyond the walls, or only despair? Can freedom be achieved without harming Historia, or is Eren as much of a slave to this “cycle” as all who came before him?

Following that ceremony and Eren’s look of horror, a year passes. Wall Maria is purged of all Titans. Refugees return to their homes and begin to rebuild. The Scout Regiment rides again, beyond Maria, into the great frontier. A year older yet somehow much cooler-looking Eren, Mikasa and Armin are among them.

After finding a particularly unfortunate Titan whom Eren identifies as a “fellow patriot” sent to Paradis transformed, and left to crawl along the earth at an infinitesimal pace, he and the scouts simply leave it behind and continue pushing forward, through valleys and sands that were once only illustrations in Eren and Armin’s book.

And then, just like that, they arrive at the edge of the island of Paradis and glimpse the sea for the very first time. It is one of the most epic moments of the entire series, and it’s sold quite well. Everyone is in a giddy sort of shock about it, like it doesn’t quite feel real. They taste the water, splash around, have fun. And why not? It’s a gorgeous day and they’re at the beach!  It’s the kind of day dreams are made of.

As Armin dredges up a distinctive shell (notably empty), the breakers cause Mikasa, standing beside him, to stumble, but she manages to regain her balance. After a beat, Mikasa’s face shifts from surprise to sheepishness, before flashing perhaps her first genuine smile in six years; a smile which Armin returns. Honestly, her sequence of expressions was almost as momentous as the initial sight of the ocean.

Eren, who gesturally speaking is apparently still in that “phase” Levi mentioned to Hange, points dramatically to the horizon, to Marley, and tells his friends for the first time that he was wrong: freedom didn’t lie beyond the sea, enemies did.

As for whether killing all of their enemies will free them once and for all, that remains a question to hopefully be answered in the fourth—and most likely final—season of Shingeki no Kyojin, to air in 2020. Until then, we are all of us trapped in a new prison…of waiting.

Attack on Titan – 45 – Her Next Duty

The bad news? Rob Reiss transforms into an utterly massive Titan, far larger even than the Colossal. The good news? He’s no immediate threat to anyone in particular, just the structural integrity of the cavern and the chapel above it.

While neither of those two things survives the episode, everybody who set out to rescue Eren and Historia does. All the damage he causes allows Levi & Co. to escape Kenny’s trap and access the chamber where Eren and Historia are.

Even while free, Eren is lost. He was fully prepared to be eaten by Historia (and we later learn Historia momentarily considered transforming him and eating him so as not to be hated by her Dad). Between his antics and the sins of his father, Eren initially just sobs about being so worthless. His friends aren’t enthused. They risked their necks to get to him; the least he can do is not want to die, rendering their efforts in vain.

So Eren bucks up a bit, and bites down on a vial labeled “Armor.” The result of ingesting the serum within allows the Eren Titan to use the same Titan Hardening ability as the Armored Titan, building an avant-garde yet sturdy cage around his friends in order to save them from the growing Rob-Titan, which Levi dubs the “Big-Ass Titan.” It’s accurate!

Once they free Eren from his still fully-hardened Titan (sorry if that sounds a bit dirty), Levi & Co. take him and Historia and ge tthe hell out of there. As Armin and Moblit got the injured but stable Hange to safety earlier, the Scouts suffer no fatalities.

But there is that tricky matter of the Big-Ass Titan, which is a sight to behold; like something out of a Miyazaki film (Nausicaä, to be precise), yet like those Giant Warriors, not quite complete, and so it crawls awkwardly on its belly. Still, it’s so damn huge even in its current state it will reach the wall by dawn—and likely incinerate it.

When the initial plan to let Eren feed himself to Rob is shot down (there’s no guarantee Rob will return to being a human even if he eats Eren), the plan becomes “Stop the Big-Ass Titan at all costs.” Since Eren now has the Hardening Ability, there’s now a decent shot of repairing Wall Maria, but no repairs can take place until Rob is dealt with.

However, we do learn that Rob’s story about Eren’s father was naturally biased; in reality, Dr. Yaeger was trying to save humanity by destroying the line of the First King and the Reiss reliance on brainwashing. There’s also fresh mentions of the secrets in Eren’s basement, so there’s that.

Levi adds to Historia’s burdens by informing her that Erwin has insisted that once the latest battle is over, she will have to take up the mantle of Queen in order to give the regiment coup legitimacy and appease the public. Both Connie and Jean rightly pipe up that that shit ain’t fair, Historia has only just turned the page and gained as sense of individuality, only to be thrust into yet another duty.

I’ve really enjoyed Tori’s rise to prominence since her true identity was revealed; she’s basically a co-protagonist alongside Eren, and watching her decide her course in life in a world where such a thing’s a great luxury, has been a delight.  She’s grateful for their defense, but she agrees without complaint…but with one request: If she’s to be queen, she’s going to give it all she’s got in the battle that proceeds her coronation.

That means donning the uniform of the Scout Regiment, strapping on her ODM gear, and taking her place beside her comrades—her friends—her true family—to whom she owes not only her life, but her sense of self. Rob isn’t her dad anymore; he’s the enemy. It’s time to go to work.

Attack on Titan – 44 – Eat Me, Save Humanity

As Rob Reiss prepares to instruct Historia to inject a serum that will transform her into a Titan so she can eat Eren, Hange and Levi’s team enters the cavern, sporting some unconventional tactics in order to level the playing field against Kenny and his intensively-prepared anti-personnel troops.

With a combination of surprise, gunpowder, signal flare smoke, and pure guile, Eren’s allies are able to get right on top of Kenny’s people; the hard part is having to make the decision to kill their fellow human beings for the first time.

The sequence is taut and intense, but doesn’t forget to show those tiny moments of hesitation that linger in the thoughts of Sasha, Jean, and Connie. Not surprisingly, there’s nary a shred of hesitation in either Levi or Mikasa.

Kenny himself enters the fray, and quickly finds his nephew Levi is a lot tougher than he gave him credit for, successfully wounding him in the midsection and forcing him to retreat almost as quickly as he arrives.

But his presence gives his second-in-command the opening she needs to deal a crushing blow to the Scouts: by getting the advantage over Hange Zoe and seriously wounding her. If she isn’t able to get back up, that’s a huge blow for the good guys (even if it’s been demonstrated that neither Hange nor anyone else is 100% good or bad here).

This season of Titan continues to be generous with its answers regarding what the heck is up with this world, filling in a few more of the many blanks that have lingered for nearly four dozen episodes. Rob is the source of more world history wisdom. Turns out most of society, due to the mind control of the Reiss Titans, don’t recall any history beyond 100 years…no doubt since an ignorance populace is easier to control.

The Founding Reiss Titan used its power to built the Walls that protect humanity, but also passed on all the knowledge that proceeded the boundaries of the rest of mankind; how the world as they know it was formed and how to preserve it. That is now Historia’s repsonsibility; she has to eat Eren in order to inherit Freda’s memories as well as her powers.

When an eavesdropping Kenny hears that only someone with the blood of the Reiss’ can inherit the full power and memories of their predecessor (meaning if he took the serum and ate Eren, it would be meaningless) he’s pissed.

More than having planned to betray Rob, he knew Rob knew he’d betray him one day, and even counted on it, but not until it was all but too late to do anything about it. Rob releases Kenny from his service, and Kenny in turn decides to make things interesting by removing Eren’s gag and cutting him so he’ll transform and give Historia a fight.

That would have likely been something quite awesome to behold…but something perhaps more interesting happens instead: Eren doesn’t transform. He doesn’t want to; he wants to die. He sees himself as the cause of all of the trouble they’ve been in up to this point, and more importantly, all of the people who died, who he lists in roughly the order in which they died.

With both Rob and Eren begging her to inject herself with the transformation serum and eat Eren, Historia seems stuck between a rock and a hard place…but there’s still the matter of what she, an individual, wants to do, even if her duty seems clear, while her victim is ready to die for the sake of humanity and correcting perceived wrongs, both his and those of his father.

But then she remembers Ymir, telling her whether she’s simply trying to do something “nice” (i.e. what she thinks everyone expects of her). She also rememebers that time on top of that castle, when Ymir, before transforming, tells her that all she wants is for Historia to live a life she’s proud of.

‘Tori can’t do that if she injects herself. She can’t do that if she eats Eren. She can’t do that if she exterminates the Titans. Rob calling what she’s becoming to be something akin to godhood is the last straw. She slaps the syringe out of Rob’s hands and it shatters on the ground.

Historia decides to free Eren, because she likes him a heck of a lot more than she likes the rest of humanity. As far as she’s concerned, they can all get wiped out by Titans—hell, she’ll even lend a hand, declaring herself both “humanity’s biggest enemy” and “the worst girl who ever lived”…neither of which are true. Humanity’s true worst enemy? Itself. Historia Reiss? More badass than bad.

Unfortunately, Historia is also her own worst enemy, as she breaks the syringe but then rushes to free Eren, leaving the puddle of MacGuffin transformation serum completely unprotected, ready to be lapped up by anyone. And not just anyone laps it up; Rob does, not long after telling Tori in no uncertain terms that he should never be the one to transform. We didn’t learn the reason why, but I imagine we will, very soon.

Mahou Shoujo Ikusei Keikaku – 05

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Surprisingly, no one dies this week, despite plenty of palls being cast over various magical girls, and none darker than those upon Sister Nana and/or Weiss Winterprison, AKA Habutae Nana and Ashuu Shizuku, a couple in real life.

What we get instead of a death is the full laying-out of what I’ll call the “Spectrum of Light and Dark”. We now know more or less where everyone stands, and the makeup is such that Fav will likely get what he wants: the field of sixteen is already fourteen, and it’s gonna get smaller.

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Mind you, this is a spectrum, not a black and white situation. Way over on the Light End end are goody-two-shoes like Snow, Pucelle, Nana and Weiss who want to end the conflict. Then we have those way over on the Bad Side like Calamity Mary and Cranberry, who just want chaos and good fights, but also want to win. They like Fav’s new strategy.

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Other than these extremes, a whole bunch of people are various distances from the middle of the spectrum. You have opportunists like Swim Swim and her gang, who might be less unscrupulous if circumstances were different. You have Magicaloid-44, who is after a buck first, but seems at least aware of how much she screwed the person who became Weiss Winterprison. Others, like Top Speed and Ripple, are on the fence.

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Now that we know more about where people are coming from—both in their real lives, in Nana and Weiss’ case, or where they stand on the spectrum, like everyone else—I’m starting to become more invested in the supporting characters of this show. Nemurin’s fate moved me, and I even felt bad for Ruler even though she was a haughty piece of work.

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Now, as Cranberry descends upon Nana and Weiss, I feel bad for them too. Weiss depends on Nana’s buffing power, and Cran would rather fight a strong Weiss than a weak one, but someone has to die eventually, and it’s more likely to be those who would rather not fight than those who love to fight. Nana loves peace, and she loves Shizuku. The baddies will exploit those things to ruin her.

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The only chance the good-to-near-good guys who don’t what to fight is if they stick together and look out for each other. It’s not enough for Nana to rely on Weiss, or Snow on Pucelle: they’ve got to join forces. The baddies aren’t going to make that easy.

Newcomer Hardgore Alice seems singularly fixated on Snow White (as she’s kinda the opposite with the Goth look), Swim Swim’s crew has yet to come up with a solid plan but will shit on Snow White and Pucelle on social media for now, and Cranberry wants Pucelle.

There are magical girls on the board who are in this for themselves, and those who are in it for or because of others, and the ones they love. This isn’t just a last-girl-standing battle, but a struggle to determine what a magical girl should be. Classically, it’s the ones who want to protect the weak, but they’re the ones looking weak in a game rigged to favor those with poorly adjusted—or nonexistent—moral compasses.

Then again, we’re currently being led to believe the likes of Nana and Koyuki will simply crumble if they lose their respective knights. But is that really the case? If that happens, it will be interesting to see if these “light” girls will embrace the darkness and, having nothing more to live for, commence personal quests for vengeance.

16rating_8

Attack on Titan – 01

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Thanks to Netflix and a relatively light Fall season, I am pleased to finally crack open the massively popular Attack on Titan, a show I eschewed virtually sight unseen, choosing instead to follow Gargantia, Majestic Prince, and Valvrave. I’m only past the first episode of AoT, but I can already see I made a major oversight; one that will be corrected forthwith.

AoT’s cold open shows us the very moment the people of Shiganshina are royally hosed, then after the credits, rewinds to the morning before the shit hits the fan and begins the process of masterfully building up the dread and tension preceding the events of the cold open.

As we follow Eren (a loud-mouthed portentous shonen if ever there was one) and his sister Mikasa (a girl of few words but immense strength) as they wind their way through the streets of their huge hometown, the walls, streets and structures have a strength, solidarity, and safety to them. Even the sounds of everyday life are lulling.

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If there is one shortcoming to this first episode, it’s that Eren isn’t necessarily likable at first. His reasons for wanting to strike out into the outside world aren’t unreasonable, but he can be over-emphatic in his protestations and scolds.

Sure, he may have had a vision of doom descending on Shiganshina, but he’s fighting against a century of idleness and contentment. Conviction and loudness are no substitute for hard evidence. Also, the episode tries to paint Armin with broad strokes, but there’s not much to him yet except that like Eren, he’s not content to stay within the walls.

Then the evidence arrives in the form of a hand grasping the top of the 50-meter outer wall, and it’s a powerful “Toldya so” moment that shakes every inhabitant of the city to their core. Then…a hole is blasted in the wall with such force it causes widespread destruction to the rest of the city. And that’s before smaller Titans start rushing in.

Any early quibbles I might have had with Eren or Armin go out the window when the appalling carnage starts, with throngs of humans running for their lives and many being scooped up and gobbled up like hors d’oeuvres. There’s a distinct sticky aura of awfulness to the spectacle, and the utter powerlessness of the three young protagonists.

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When Eren rushes home hoping against hope his house is still intact only to find his mom’s legs crushed under its ruins, it’s a gut punch. Before I can recover from that, a Titan eats her with cold satisfaction as a fleeing Eren watches, flooring me yet again.

Amidst the wholesale butchery and mass despair, there are obviously glints of both hope and levity. Mikasa’s imposing brawn is employed for a snicker when she and Eren rescue Armin from bullies, and the smash cut from Hannes momentarily facing off against a Titan to reconsidering and scooping up the kids, and retreating was a legitimately funny “oh shit” moment.

As for hope, well, Eren, Mikasa, and Armin are still alive, which means anything is possible. Obviously, they won’t stay powerless for long. But nor is any viable counterattack likely in the immediate future. The onslaught of the Titans has only begun, after all. For now, surviving is the name of the game.

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Welcome to my weekly (or bi-weekly) Attack on Titan retro reviews. Comments are welcome as always, however please limit discussion to this episode and avoid spoilers, as I am writing these reviews as I watch AoT for the first time. Thanks—HB

No. 6 11 (Fin)

Citizens of No. 6 start dying from the parasitic wasps within them. Shion and Rat have found Safu, but she’s become a medium for Elyurias, and while part of her remains to tell Shion she loves him, she isn’t quite Safu anymore. Rat sets a bomb on the main computer core and escapes with Shion, but Safu stays put. When the bomb blows, the prison begins to crumble, and is hastily evacuated. Both Nezumi and Rat are seriously wounded by gunfire from guards. Elyurias transforms into a giant wasp and spreads her power throughout No. 6, removing the infestation of wasps, tearing down the walls, and healing the guys. With eveything Shion hoped for accomplished, he and Nezumi go their separate ways, with Shion returning to a changed No. 6.

Eleven-episode runs can be killer for series with Really Big Ideas like No. 6. As the series progressed, it seemed unsure of how large a story to tell, and unsure how exactly to tell it. Episodes were spent with Nezumi and Rat just sitting around philosophizing. There’s a lot of exposition and lengthly explanation here, too. This was not a perfect ending, and I don’t think it was a great one, either. But it was pretty good.

I was disappointed that the guys came all that way to rescue Safu (though Rats primary goal was destroying the prison) only for her to say a few word and then basically die; she almost feels like a McGuffin. She’s obviously the kind of girl who knows who she loves no matter how little of him she actually sees, and Shion is a mess after Rat carries him off without her, having lost someone he had so much more to say to. But his pipe dream came true – in a deus ex machina, neat-little-package way kinda way. It had a definite ending, which is more than can be said of some 11-episode series.


Rating: 3