Midpoints in anime have always been a fantastic mark for conclusions and new beginnings. Depending on the type of story told, and who is telling it, midpoints can either be a bridge for a new arc or dramatic shift in the tale, or an excellent cliffhanger which marks a new dimension in storytelling. Psycho Pass last season, for instance, pushed us into a darker and more personal world when Akane was forced to bear witness to her best friend’s cruel execution. Shinsekai Yori on the other hand, didn’t necessarily need a sort of ‘midpoint’ – its storytelling was cohesive enough that the shifts would naturally happen when the time needed it.
For a show like Shingeki however, shift is important. In a show where life and death is determined by swift choices, children and adults alike must take action to ensure that they can see the dawn of a new day. Due to this, there’s a constant sense of bleakness and depravity that’s not even lurking in every scene – it is every scene. I’ve already complained about the blatant and hackneyed atmosphere of Shingeki, but that’s the point. Episodes 12 and 13 might be the episodes we need to conclude this sort of writing and start somewhere fresh. Somewhere within the walls, rather than outside of them or on top of them.
Of course, 11 and 12 are somewhat standard on their own accord. There is some great animation here as usual (but also some godawful animation – more on that in a bit), the music is top notch and continues to really make the tension enjoyable rather than tedious, and one of the main gripes I had with the plot of Shingeki – that is, Eren being able to Titan-ify himself – is almost saved. I earlier stated that with Eren being able to transform into a magical badass boy would be a detrimental impact to the importance of other characters and would interfere with the focus of struggle as well, but interestingly enough, it doesn’t. Eren is able to transform into his Titan, but he goes berserk (do we know why though? no clue). As a result he pretty much messes up the entire operation, and once again, countless of lives that could have been spared are not, and the entire mess is actually worthwhile to watch, now that there’s actually a significance behind it. Because of Eren, these soldiers who had families to return to are lost. And their lives are almost lost in vain. While Eren is punching buildings and roaring incessantly, many teenagers and adults are getting gobbled by Titans and you actually manage to feel something about it rather than yawning and wanting to press the forward button again. It’s nice, and I hope that we see something like this again soon.
Eren’s transformation into a Titan is also interestingly handled because as I had mentioned previously, a fear I had with this plot twist is that Eren would be able to literally carry the weight of humankind on his soldiers – 3D Maneuver Gear and humans would almost be pointless. Luckily, it seems that even regular Titans recognize Eren as their enemy (proving that the normal ones aren’t quite so dimwitted after all) so he does need help, and there’s no doubt that if Eren had done this entire mission on his own, the operation would have failed before it even started. Many soldiers sacrifice their lives for Eren, trying to help him as he stomps his way to the wall and bowls the rubble in, literally. But their lives actually meant something this time! One of the most powerful moments of Shingeki altogether for me is at the end, when one of the cadets’ knees buckle, and she falls, crying out that her comrades didn’t die in vain. (Why weren’t you the main character of this show, we just don’t know.)
There are problems, however. The first is that Eren once again lacks necessary character development. Armin manages to get through to him, and there’s this monologue about how freedom is necessary for every living being – “we are born into this world, so we get to decide how we die and we have the right to fight and see this world for ourselves” – which is nice! Except it really doesn’t fit in with Shingeki‘s actions whatsoever. Death is not something we choose; it is something that happens to us, because we make a bad decision, because our 3D Maneuvering Gear fails to work, or, or, or….we’re just plain unlucky. Shingeki‘s world is one of decay and despair; of anarchy, hostility, and brutality. Survival of the fittest is the only governing law, whether you are a soldier, farmer, Titan, or King. In that sense I guess Eren’s optimistic view of why freedom should exist (which is perfectly fine) aligns with his childishness. Because freedom should exist! It just doesn’t in this world. Even if you eradicate the Titans, as Pixis says earlier in Episode 10, you can’t exactly unite humankind together. I don’t think Eren is the answer to either of these dilemmas, so for me, this dramatic conversation really goes nowhere. It does however, give off this pumped up feeling of “Yeah! We’re soldiers! We can do this! We may not really contribute to anything, but we’ll die with pride!” which is appropriate when you have soldiers dying left and right.
The second issue, and perhaps the most important and repetitive one for a while now, is pacing. I was satisfied with Episode 11’s cliffhanger, when Eren rages out of control and goes as far as to hit Mikasa, but in Episode 13, the climax finishes 10 minutes in. It felt very short compared to the manga, which is odd, because previously, we had episodes that would drag out a couple of scenes for entire episodes. I understand Shingeki is on a tight budget or rather lacks the necessary amount of key animators to really accomplish its visions, so shortening the fight scenes in the most compact and efficient way possible is a good idea, but it still creates the feeling that something is left to be desired. Eren’s return to his normal state of consciousness came out of nowhere and thus an opportune moment for some nice character development is lost again. Even more random are the Jean scenes, which just feel completely out of place. I am happy that Jean got some focus as he’s a relatively interesting character, but I still fail to see the point of this mini story of his. He survived at the cost of his friends – something we saw again and again back in Episode 8, so why are we still bringing this up? Even Marco’s loss feels like nothing. I don’t know Marco. There was one scene where Marco gave thanks to Jean and that was it. I didn’t see Marco die; I didn’t see the light go out of his eyes, what his family was like, what he wanted to do with his life. Why should I care if Marco died? How do I see the impact it has on Jean if all he does is widen his eyes in shock and then walk away? Shingeki still seems to fail to understand the value and emotional impact of loss and instead relies on it for aesthetic and cheap value.
Next week seems to be a recap episode so I won’t be covering it, though I would like to see which scenes the show decides to take a look at. And after that is really the point where Shingeki starts to become somewhat interesting, so I am looking forward to how the next arc will be adapted, as the threat is continued within the walls and we get to see our trio in action again.