Shingeki returns from its one week break to deliver a new kind of intensity – one found not by fighting titans, but within the courtroom.
After a consecutive turn of events (Titans invading the wall, Titans eating people, Eren being a Titan, Operation Take Back Wall nearly failing) Shingeki takes some time to look at the consequences of these actions. Cue a cheer from me: so far, Shingeki has often avoided realistic consequences and has swapped them with inert ones (people randomly getting eaten as a way of showing that no one is safe) which has been one of my primary complaints throughout the series. What’s delivered here isn’t a battle on the walls or outside of them, however. It’s within the walls. Specifically within a courtroom, where your skill and fighting prowess doesn’t matter. It’s your voice, reasoning, and ability to convey the truth in the most persuasive manner possible. To me this is a much more compelling way of depicting not only the problems the system sees, but the problems of the system itself.
And yet, Shingeki disappoints in a way. It regresses back to the simplistic ideas of painting certain individuals as villains and others as heroes; it argues that the system is corrupt with certain leaders being privileged and wealthy, while the rest are poor and oppressed. It doesn’t really go into how or why these people are the way they are. Where is this hierarchy? What is the relationship of the religious cults with the traders? How is the Police army involved? How does the government function exactly? When this episode could have been a fascinating insight into the worldbuilding of Shingeki – something worth a lot of potential – it instead becomes a showcase of basic flaws and one-sided truths. The traders are bad because they hold money and are corrupt. The religious leaders are bad because religion is always bad in anime! The heroes are the people who want to save Eren (and also beat him up at the same time). It’s frustrating, because at this point, neither the people within the walls nor outside of it seem to be layered enough to be holding up my interest in the world of Shingeki. Eren’s speech, just like in Episode 13, holds no value for me because it makes no sense. If these people are cowards for never seeing a Titan, how is it their fault? It’s not like they signed up to be a soldier. Since when did you need full battle experience to deal with unique situations? Considering Eren is an anomaly, and this sort of situation has never happened before in human history, why would you expect people to be familiar with Titans to deal with Eren? All of the arguments presented at the courtroom were valid. So why paint the Police – who suggest that dissecting Eren, a new specimen, who has brought many soldiers to their deaths in a previous mission – as bad people? Why yell at figures who hold power when all it’s going to do is get you killed? If this is some sort of manipulation on behalf of these said corrupt figures, then why not actually show how it’s done rather than just pointing fingers and putting labels on groups so that it’s easier to understand? Once again, Shingeki‘s logic collapses under itself not because of shabby characters and writing, but simply because there is no worldbuilding. It refuses to look at different points of view and so what could have been a great look at how people’s mindsets are formed and built in times of war and in relationship to power turns into a simplistic babble. And I do understand that the focus of the show is on the soldiers, so in that sense it wouldn’t be necessary to build these other characters in interesting ways, but it would still be effective if you did. Not only would it make this entire episode more enthralling, but it would actually make Eren and the Recon Corps’ argument worth investing in, not because they’re the heroes of the show, not because Eren is the main protagonist and thus he must be right, but rather because they make the best case.
That said, Rivaille proves to be one of the more interesting individuals to come out of the cardboard that is Shingeki. His beating of Eren isn’t just somewhat satisfying (I have always been annoyed with Eren and his childishness) but it serves a point: the only way of getting out of the system is to use it. It’s disgusting, but there is no other way of complying and getting what you want. Rivaille’s brutal torture isn’t necessarily the prettiest thing to watch, but it is one of the more fascinating scenes that Shingeki has delivered, simply because it serves two purposes. It proves to Eren that you can’t just spit out whatever you want, but it also proves that in the world of Shingeki, power is what is most effective. If you lack resolve, you are useless as a soldier; Eren is the opposite of these words, and he learns his lesson the hard way. Part of me says it’s about damn time – Eren has gotten the baby treatment for long enough – but another part of me is curious as to how this system works and its impact on soldiers like Rivaille or Pixis. It’s a shame we’ll never get to know because Shingeki prefers to look at the soldiers and their ongoing struggle to fight the Titans, but I’ll take what I can get.
With Eren now joining the Recon Corps, things are bound to be a little more cohesive. For one thing, we don’t have a wide cast of characters that randomly get the spotlight from time to time (see: Jean, Armin, Mikasa) and we can look at Eren in a new setting with a new leader. We’re also going to see actual team bonds being formed here in what’s like my favorite arc of the series, so while I may have been a little disappointed with this episode, I’m excited for things to come!