Judge, Jury, and Executioner; Attack on Titan Episode 14

Shingeki_no_Kyojin_-_14_[9C2C0E7E]_Jul 17, 2013 2.41.03 PM

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.

Both sides make valid cases, so where is the grey morality that Shingeki is often pointing at here? Why are there so many assumptions made without evidence?

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.

Eren Makes Bad Decisions Again, a novel

Rivaille carefully manipulates the system using fear as both a lesson and a way to make his case more sound.

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!

 

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5 responses to “Judge, Jury, and Executioner; Attack on Titan Episode 14

  1. Somebody pointed out over at The Cart Driver that Shingeki no Kyojin is a Shounen and should be treated as thus. I tend to agree with this.

    I think we can all agree that SnK would have been far more interesting as a Seinen. And the show pointing it out every so often like in this episode doesn’t make things better, I agree.

    But I think we should accept that the SnK won’t go into a deep analysis of its own setting (I just hope it can stick to its themes) and judge it as an action series. I’m not calling for indulgence (God no!), but to stop projecting ourselves onto the story and recognize it for what it is.

    • Well to be fair, Aku no Hana is also regarded as a Shonen (despite me disagreeing and saying that it retains a much more Seinen-appearance) and yet it lives up to my expectations not based on genre, but as an effective and well-written show. My issue with Shingeki is that it tries to portray a grey morality outlook on situations when it goes against that theme in every way possible. I’m not asking for a deep analysis regarding the government; just a bit of insight on the powers that are so influential in the world of Shingeki. If you’re going to focus on the life behind the walls, you should have effective writing regarding that focus! I don’t think my demand of this is a form of projecting – it’s just a regular requirement I hold for all shows, regardless of genre.

      • Well, I guess Aku no Hana is a Shounen in that it’s all about adolescence, so I can understand why its regarded as such.

        These are all valid criticisms with which I agree completely. Going against your theme when it’s convenient and using broad strokes to make your point is not what I call good storytelling either.

        However I read a lot of articles focusing on what they want the show to focus on or speculating to make up for said unsatisfied wants, often bordering on “I would have made it like this!”, instead of focusing on what the story tells you, and asking what works and doesn’t and why.

        I’m realizing now that you extrapolated on what the story said and didn’t say in order to point out its own contradictions and failures. I guess my rant wasn’t directed at you or your article but to the general way shows are criticized on the blogosphere. You should know that I consider this blog one of the few that tries to truly grasp the center of storytelling and discuss its finer points.

  2. This is the one reason why I do not enjoy Shingeki no Kyojin as much as the hype wants me to. All the “enemy” characters are one dimensional in the way they are presented. Of course, Eren, Mikasa, and Armin are depicted as always being the most logical, because they are the protagonists. It is like you said, the nuance is lacking with the antagonists. Then again, this series has as much subtlety as a summer action blockbuster movie. And for these purposes, its a great series, but oh the wasted potential.

    • I think that’s really a good point! As someone who’s read the manga, I can say that on certain points Shingeki does get moral relativity right – for instance, a lot of these main characters aren’t necessarily the most heroic kids around (Eren killed people as a kid, Mikasa is willing to kill anyone in her way to save Eren, etc) but it’s not explored enough to really hold water and secondly, it doesn’t apply elsewhere, especially in the world of Shingeki, where the corrupt rule and the poor suffer. There’s no nuance anywhere, and it’s highly frustrating considering how fascinating the world of Shingeki is. A lot of the series seems to have this lost potential which makes it all the more disappointing and sad.

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