This episode in Attack on Titan, [CLASSIFIED CLASSIFIED CLASSIFIED DO NOT SPOIL DO NOT PASS GO DO NOT COLLECT $200]
[trigger warning: gore! blood. man was this episode gruesome in some ways]
wendeego: Well, this was the episode that Titan got serious. A few of the things that were accomplished here:
- We receive a clearer picture of what exactly Titans are, how they live, what they eat, how to kill them, etc. Before this the series has been very careful to feed us details through visual inference, but this episode marks the first time the series has gone out of its way to confirm certain facts.
- We also receive a glimpse at the politics in play throughout Attack on Titan. It’s not especially complex at the moment, but you will be seeing the guy with the mustache come into play very soon.
- The series establishes our expectations for the upcoming skirmish. We know it’s going to be tough, maybe impossibly so. But Eren remains doggedly optimistic, despite the odds. It doesn’t matter that these soldiers are children, that they’ve just graduated from military training and that they’ve never fought proper Titans before. Their city is in danger, their lives are on the line and there’s a good chance that they will never be any more ready than they already are. Their only option is to survive. But hey, these people were just introduced. Eren is on fire. Everything’s going to be okay, right?
- Everything goes to shit. The Titans feast on Eren’s squadron. Eren stupidly jumps into battle, going through the (very fluidly animated) motions from the trailer, except instead of saving the day his leg gets torn off at the knee and he’s hurled across the rooftops by the impact. In another manga, Armin would be the one eaten by the Titan, forcing our hero Eren to reevaluate his priorities and become a better, stronger person. But here, Eren gets up, pulls Armin out of the Titan’s mouth and is eaten soon after. Attack on Titan’s shonen hero, the stubborn bedrock that Armin and even Mikasa leans on, unceremoniously devoured in the fifth episode of the series.
- In case you were wondering, Eren is eaten in the first volume of the manga.
When I was talking to Natasha last night about this episode of Attack on Titan, one thing that came up was comparing Eren being devoured here to Shun’s suicide in episode 10 of Shinsekai Yori. Natasha brought up the point that Shun’s death is frankly much more emotional and probably better executed than what we see here. I would agree! Not only is episode 1o of Shinsekai probably the best in the series, but it’s also an impossibly sad and even horrifying moment that elicited a great deal of emotion from me. Meanwhile Eren’s death is shocking and maybe even unexpected, but hardly elicits anything close to the same feelings. Araki’s direction (which verges on emotionally tone-deaf, as always) doesn’t help much either.
That said, I would say that when it comes down to it Eren’s premature end and Shun’s death were used by their respective creators for two very different purposes. Episode 10 of Shinsekai is an emotional climax, bringing nine episodes of tension and foreshadowing to a head. Episode 5 of Titan, on the other hand, is the cinematic equivalent of throwing down the gauntlet. In anime terms, it’s roughly equivalent to Mami’s death in the third episode of Madoka Magica. Besides Madoka’s dream and the creepiness of the art design, Mami’s death was the first indicator that something was seriously, seriously wrong in Madoka, and that what looked like a typical magical girl show was actually something else. Eren’s fate is similar: an indication that despite what early impressions may indicate, Attack on Titan is not a typical shonen series. The fact that up to this point, Titans can only be brought down by groups rather than by super-powered individuals (see sdshamsel’s excellent post on the subject) unbalances typical shonen dynamics from the start, but this episode makes it very clear that Eren’s tendencies to charge into battle without a plan of action will not work. Even worse is that Eren’s squad were devoured not because they weren’t strong enough, or because the Titans had some kind of trump card that they didn’t have. They died because they were caught by surprise, and then were picked off one by one as they were paralyzed by fear. In short, Eren’s squad died by accident, and in a medium where hard work, guts and friendship is supposed to carry you past every obstacle, this is nothing to sneeze at.
But what might be even more interesting than the implications this has on the plot of the series as a whole or on the genre is how it affects the rest of the cast. In many, many shonen series, the supporting cast are either subordinate to the main character or are given dimension through contrast to the main character. Poring through an issue of Shonen Jump would already net you plenty of examples. Attack on Titan sets its protagonist up as the character all the others lean on, the one whose inner drive forces everybody else to try harder, but then it snatches him away right under everybody else’s nose. What’s great about this is that it forces every character in the series to react. Will Armin be able to make good on Eren’s sacrifice and survive despite the odds? Will Mikasa cave in now that Eren is gone, or will she continue as strong as ever? Up to this point, Eren’s technically been the “protagonist” of Attack on Titan but the dirty truth is that Armin and Mikasa really have just as much of a claim on the position as anyone else. Granted, in the original manga you could question the worth of shaking up the status quo like this in the very first volume, but as it happens the anime has been very careful to establish a status quo throughout these past few episodes. Eren could be grating at times, infuriating at others, but now (as far as we know) he’s gone. What next?
Now, notice that while I have plenty to say about the ways that Attack on Titan bucks the shonen trend in some really cool ways, I do think that the execution in this episode was laughing. An entire unit of young soldiers being gobbled up in a day is dark material that demands a degree of careful handling, and if anything this episode made it clear that Araki is totally incapable of that. The last scenes might have been horrifying, with kids being eaten and limbs flying around, but everything was at such a high pitch that it came off as more hilariously over the top than affecting. Armin’s scream at the end of the episode is a pretty good example of what I’m talking about: it’s a justified response when your best friend is eaten right in front of you, but there’s not a hint of humanity in that expression. Titan is a series about kids with belaying equipment kicking the shit out of giant impossible monsters, but at the same time if the premise is going to work you have to care about the people being gobbled up. I’ve been hoping that the screenwriter would be able to curb Araki’s worst impulses, but I’m beginning to suspect that the Araki train cannot be curbed. Will Titan grow into a series worthy of its manga counterpart, or will it devolve into a series of exciting but hilariously tone-deaf fight sequences? As excited as I am at this point in time, I’d have to say it’s up in the air.
illegenes: Well, I was promised a serious episode, and to be honest, I did get one! But I think where me and Wendeego slightly differ on opinion is how I think that Titan has a good idea of what it wants to do, but is a little clumsy in actually trying to get there and send a proper message.
Let’s start with the good things. To begin with, the animation this week was really superb! I loved the camera angles, and how the animators tried to go about different way to make these action scenes exciting rather than repetitive and stale. The scene when Eren zoomed past the buildings only for his leg to get eaten was one of the best moments yet. Also, as Wendeego has already noted, a lot of background information was revealed about the Titans this week, which was frankly something I really needed. I mentioned in my last post that there were plenty of questions that weren’t adding up, and while this newfound information hasn’t really helped me find an answer to most of the questions I’ve been seeking, it has confirmed some theories and propelled others into action. I was glad that the fact that Titans only eat humans was confirmed, but at the same time it makes no sense. In terms of evolution, the Titans are an anomaly, and so I’ve concluded that there is a forced genetic trigger that makes Titans….Titans. In other words, I feel like from the data given, Titans must have a lesser form of some kind – a form that humans can’t distinguish or cannot see. It’s the only explanation as to how Eren was about to attack a colossal one only to find that it vanished. It’s not actually based on evolution however, because Titans in their released form only attack humans, and can’t actually eat anything else, which is completely illogical. In their lesser form, these Titans can eat and reproduce naturally, but in their triggered state, they cannot. It’s a weird hypothesis, but from the evidence drawn, it’s the only one that somewhat fits.
Titan information isn’t the only thing that’s given though. From the looks of it, Shingeki is still really behind in logical conclusions for worldbuilding.
I’ll leave this lengthy discussion for next time, but to sum up: there are a lot of things that just don’t make sense in Shingeki‘s world, and it’s not just me nitpicking, it’s blatant flaws; either a sign of deliberate red herrings, or flawed building.
The bad part was when Eren got eaten, and I didn’t really feel shock or horror at all. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that throughout this episode, I wasn’t really emotionally moved by anything. Eren is gone, but the comfort of knowing that he’s the goddamn protagonist stays. Why should I feel shocked when I know that Eren is going to somehow come back, more determined and powerful than ever, even without a leg or an arm? It feels like a cheap and wasteful trick, and yet, at the same time, I see where the creator was going for this. Eren has to pay for his optimistic determination, right? But aren’t there so many other ways to send that message? Couldn’t Eren actually escape with losing an arm, and have to work his entire life trying to defeat the Titans, armless? Or perhaps, couldn’t Eren just watch slowly as one by one of his comrades get torn apart, just like that day when he lost his mother? Perhaps these are all far too bleak for the show, but as I see it, if you’re willing to sacrifice a couple of characters you just introduced for effect, you can easily perform these situations as well.
Maybe this is just Araki’s problem; he’s a director that rarely captures emotional power well, and I guess this is the same thing with Shingeki. We saw that this was the case with Guilty Crown and Death Note. But I think where my issue stems from is something within the show rather than outside of it. It is the fact that I’m more interested in the actual world of Shingeki rather than its characters. There is a mix of either really deliberate buildup or lazy storytelling that bothers me and distracts me from being invested in these people and their fight. Ironically, Shinsekai Yori also started off very similarly I didn’t connect with Saki’s group until Episode 10 where I realized how much these characters meant to me. But whereas Shinsekai built its world methodically and slowly, filling up the gaps of knowledge by handing the audience the power of omnipotence and allowing us to view different events that would otherwise be shielded to the public, Shingeki sticks us in with the rest of the blind and deaf. Which is fine! This sort of method has been used many times before, and has worked well. But in Shingeki‘s case, where the show is more focused on these characters than the actual worldbuilding (while Shinsekai was focused on both), I feel like there should be a tradeoff. That in exchange for information on the Titans, we should get information on these characters. Instead, I feel like I’m on the wrong footing. I should care about Eren and his gang of Corps. I should have some sort of visceral reaction when Eren gets eaten up and a couple of soldiers get gobbled too. I shouldn’t be laughing when a giant with moe eyes and a strange face eats someone and that’s that. I should be more interested in these characters, rather than trying to work out how Titans exist and why humanity continues to hole itself up! But I don’t. And it’s frustrating.
Meditating on why this is happening, I’ve come to one conclusion: maybe the reason I don’t care about Shingeki‘s characters as of yet is because the show has offered us little time to interact with them and see who they really are. Whereas Shinsekai gave us a good 9 episodes to witness Shun’s humanity and its slow degradation, Shingeki has only given us what – 1 or 2 episodes? For a good 6-7 characters? It’s going to be tough for me to actually show interest when I barely know these people and what they’re really fighting for in the first place. Hopefully this is a hurdle that Shingeki can leap over, or maybe I’m just being a little too harsh – we’re only 5 episodes in after all, but when that’s nearly a quarter of the show done, I can’t help but be a little worried as to whether Shingeki will establish itself as a character-driven show or a plot-driven one. I’m more of the former, so I may be a little uncomfortable if the show goes for the latter. But whatever way Shingeki goes, the big question is: can it maintain a consistent balance between being emotionally engaging and explosive at the same time?
It’s a tough thing to do, and anime often struggles with keeping that line firmly established, but I do have hopes for Shingeki, and I think it’s a capable show! And so I’ll continue to root for it and its lost heroes. Here’s to hoping that our main hero returns and that there are less victims for the next battle!