It’s hard for me to really describe how I feel about these three episodes.
I’ve always been a hard girl to please when it comes to anime original formats. A trend I’ve often see with this kind of writing is that anime original endings tend to be lazily written, horribly rushed, and don’t add to the world or existing canon of the work – instead, they detract from it and the result is something way out of character and unresolved. An example of this would be Ao no Exorcist, which was pretty solid throughout the show until it decided to create its own ending which resulted in a cliche and boring finale while doing disservice to some of the more interesting characters in the world of the story.
So when I say that Attack on Titan‘s anime original content – which has been a plenty throughout these three episodes – is hit and miss, I sincerely mean it. There have been moments where I have actually enjoyed what the anime has had to offer over the manga (though to be fair, Isayama was in charge of these changes so it’s not like he was unaware of what was going on) and vice versa. Episode 22 is a great start, for instance. There are a lot of moments in this episode that aren’t included in the manga – for instance, when a bunch of soldiers are stupidly insistent about carrying back one of their friends’ bodies, they put the entire team at risk and ironically, everyone’s corpses must be thrown off to save the living. Maybe it’s just me, but this part felt a bit…out of hand; yeah, friends die in battle, but it is more important to protect the living than the dead, no? Nonetheless, one of the more heartbreaking scenes emerge from this episode as Levi is forced to not only part with the only pieces of his lost soldiers with him – their emblem – but he must also give up his soldiers’ bodies as a result, and thus the journey back home is even harder when there is no clear evidence to show how these soldiers have passed away. This combined with some really great scenes of Eren crying and Jean reminiscing about what he could have done make a somber but powerful anime original episode. I’ve complained that Shingeki has ridiculous amounts of melodrama to the point where it becomes angry wailing noise, but here, it’s valid – we’ve seen the Survey Corps (people who were fleshed out and thus emotionally accessible instead of being random soldiers) die in front our own eyes. We’ve seen how much they’ve meant to Levi and Eren and so this loss and pain is rightfully put! It connects with us which is so important for narration and storytelling. For once, Shingeki stops being a boring history lesson and becomes a poignant and yet brutal war story.
Unfortunately, the good stops there with one of the most devastating and cringe-worthy blows to the show, also known as the twists on Annie’s arc. I’ve mentioned before that Annie is my favorite character in the series and the end of the Female Titan arc does her layered mechanics justice. In the anime though, this is scrapped for some very odd changes, pandering to the audience, and anime original scenes focusing on the other cast. There are multiple posts already on how significant these changes are, no matter how small they may seem to be, so I won’t delve into that. Rather, I’m going to focus specifically on how the anime takes away from some of the more complex and interesting aspects of Shingeki. Annie Leonhardt is a fascinating woman – a rare one of her kind – and what the anime does is simplify her and recreate her as someone to directly influence the audience’s emotions, instead of the other way around. Whereas in the manga Annie is portrayed as confident and deliberate woman in control of her own emotions, vicious and yet passionate in her ability to fight, anime Annie is fit into a yandere box, where she loses that control and thus becomes mentally unstable. Not only is this incredibly misogynic (sure, Levi is allowed to threaten a Titan with dead eyes and be in control, but god forbid a woman being able to have agency over her own arc!) but it really loses a key moment of moral relativity in the series. Annie is not supposed to be forgiven for her actions – she has killed the Survey Corps and countless others. The manga does not deny this, nor does she, and neither ask for consolation. Rather, Annie acknowledges her crimes, grins (and thus expressing that she doesn’t really care about the people she sacrificed) after claiming she has failed to be a warrior/complete her mission, expresses her thanks, and then turns into a Titan, ready for battle. Eren in complete shock fails to turn as well until only after Mikasa and Armin make him realize how desperate the situation is.
The key part to these glimpses is that Annie is not evil nor good. “There are no good people in this world,” Armin says earlier, and Annie is the pinpoint of that theory. She fits extremely well into Shingeki‘s themes and narratives, like a hand fitting into a glove. The world is merciless and cruel, but it is also beautiful and worth fighting for. Annie represents both sides – she cares enough about her teammates to spare them multiple times when shifting into her Titan form, and yet is willing to sacrifice everything for her cause. The manga displays this beautifully with sneers and wide eyes; the anime however, decides to shake this off and opt for a more dramatic and less emotionally resonant plot. One where Annie is no longer the complex girl who fought for both sides, but an oversexualized villain. One where Eren shifts out of rage and bloodlust yet again when it is emphasized in the manga that he shifts for the exact opposite reasons: out of desperation and empathy. It bothers me not only does the anime take away the moments that I had been waiting for so long, but it also simplifies Shingeki into a usual evil vs good show, and while Shingeki the series often does horribly execute the idea of moral relativity, Annie’s arc is the precise moment when it does not and instead glows. Of course, the good news is that this is all in exchange for some great squad and budget moments – our soldiers go Superman here with their circus acts and limitless gas, and we even see some more Jean and Hanji time – but it still doesn’t quite add up to the important moments that are lost here, and that’s a shame.
I’m not sure if I want to see how the finale continues to shaft Annie and her beautiful layered characterization, but I’ve made it 24 episodes in, so to skip one last one out of sadness and irritation would be quite petty. Nonetheless, I must give credit for Shingeki having a solid and consistent 6 week streak of breathtaking action and emotional intensity. It’s been an up and down ride for the past 6 months, and while I won’t necessarily miss it, it’s been an educational experience. Here’s to Saturday’s episode being just as good as the manga chapter itself!