The Female Titan arc continues at high speed as we delve into one of the most exciting and emotional parts of the series.
Despite some of my issues with the Female Titan arc so far (somewhat messy pacing with the insert of Eren learning his Titan ability with Levi’s team in order to display character interaction and build of trust in Episode 19) the one thing that Shingeki has been getting right so far are the action scenes, and Episodes 20 and 21 were full of them. From the 3D Maneuvering Gear parts to the excellently animated battle between Eren in his Titan form and Female Titan, Shingeki has been better about using its budget for these critical moments, and it really shows. Whether this means that later episodes will suffer dramatically is something we’ll have to wait on and see, but as of right now, Shingeki couldn’t be in better shape.
Episode 20 is where things really take flight. We’re lured into a sense of comfort when Eren finally believes in the team that’s worked so hard to protect him and the Female Titan is caught by Erwin’s squad and is almost cut open. But in a surprising turn of events, the Female Titan sacrifices everything – even her own body – to escape and that‘s when the horrible feeling starts sinking in: things are going awfully wrong. From the way the Titan easily lets her body get eaten by other Titans (a fact that confuses me – I thought Titans only ate humans?) to the way she easily slips into 3D Maneuvering Gear to slaughter Eren and Levi’s team – everything about this speaks high stakes and higher consequences. What makes this even more intense is this unsettling feeling that the one who’s behind all of this is someone that Eren knows – that we, the audience knows. It makes the betrayal play out on a new, more emotionally accessible level, and that explodes in Episode 21.
One of the things I really enjoy about the Female Titan arc is how it’s a little more cohesive than previous arcs. This shows when we have two full episodes devoted to Eren’s connections and ties to Levi’s team; it’s because we have scenes where Petra and the gang bit their hands to try and feel what Eren feels when he turns into a Titan, or helped him clean out the castle that I actually feel for once that there is a sense of teamwork here. Their work together never seemed forced and as a result, trust and dependency was natural; for the first time I felt like Eren was naturally interacting with people around him rather than it being sparse and forced dialogue. And as a result, Episode 21 really hits the emotional buttons when Eren decides to rely on that trust and it completely backfires, resulting in the death of the squad. There is something gut wrenching about the way all five members’ lives vanish in the snap of a finger; what was once a group of cheerful and friendly titan killers is now nothing more than minced meat. This is the kind of power I wanted from Shingeki since day one – not mass amounts of soldiers I don’t know or care about stuffed down my throat every episode. The message here is really well delivered: no one is spared, not even the characters we care about. Simple belief in comrades won’t save the day all the time. Shingeki has been saying this since Day 1 I guess, but it’s only here where it sinks in properly.
An issue I do have with Episode 21 though, is Eren (unsurprisingly). There have been so many opportunities for the series for him to develop and flesh out his black and white moral system, but all moments have been rushed or deemed unnecessary and as a result, Eren remains as stagnant as ever. One of those moments is right in the heart of Episode 21, when Eren expresses regret, frustration, and anger at the fact that he could have saved his companions had he shifted before they died. There’s a clear cut moment here where Eren does give a monologue about how angry and sad he is about the incident, but really, there’s nothing more than that. We don’t see Eren try to understand or come to terms with his own Titan self when he fights the Female Titan or even question how to engage; he just brutally launches himself at her with pure, blind, rage, and while the scene itself is great, the emotional resonance behind it is somewhat lacking or just not as strong. This is in contrast to the brief moments of desperate rage we see from Mikasa, who finally shakes off that cool demeanor she’s worn for so long in the series and launches her own attack on the Female Titan, slicing bits and pieces until she’s held back by Levi, who is the opposite: despite losing his own team, he’s quite cool headed and calm.
All in all, it’s been a tight month for Shingeki, but all that’s left is the catharsis. It’s here where this show usually stumbles the most and instead rushes onto a new plot development rather than giving us time to interpret what’s happened and let feelings sink in. Part of this is because Shingeki is a fast-paced shonen which allows it to go at a breakneck speed, giving us the real feelings of adrenaline and action, but the downfall is the loss of nuance which has never existed from the start. The Female Titan arc has been pretty fantastic at points, but can it end as it started – with grace and ease? With four episodes down the line, it’ll be hard to say how Shingeki will finish off, but I’m curious to see how it’s done nonetheless.