Meet the new team.
I’m actually enjoying this temporary break from constant warfare as Shingeki shifts into a more character-focused arc rather than plot-based one. There’s still stuff happening of course, as see with the ending of this week’s episode, but not overbearing to the point where it interferes with every other aspect of the show. Some of SNK‘s best scenes are adapted in these two episodes, from the fascinating nonbinary Hanji Zoe, to Erwin’s speech for the Scouting Legion, and it only leaves me wishing that the rest of the show could be this balanced and reigned in when it comes to dramatics. Nevertheless, episodes 15-16 of Shingeki are going to be the most interesting ones we’ll see in a while so I’ll take them while I can.
Starting off with Episode 15, Eren is forced to be handed over to the Recon Corps – a team of brilliant, but odd soldiers under the command of Erwin and his henchman, Levi. We already saw a bit of how Levi works a couple of episodes back – he’s extremely efficient at killing Titans, has a pretty badass attitude, but cares for his team and does whatever he can to ensure their survival and success. We also see other teammates: Petra Ral, a bold and younger girl of the team, Auruo Bossard, a man with some serious jerk-like qualities, Erd Gin, the guy who sniffed Eren’s hair, and Gunther Schultz. The star of Levi’s team however, is Hanji Zoe: a science geek who is as enthusiastic about studying Titans as she is about killing them in battle. Hanji’s quirky ability is really refreshing in comparison to how serious and dramatic everyone else is on the show – I wish we got more of her, because she’s fun to watch and is far more interesting and complex than Eren could ever be.
Episode 16 is a little more serious but has one of the best moments of the series so far: the cast reflecting on what they have gone through and witnessed and deciding to join the Scouting Legion. Erwin doesn’t gloss over the details: the Recon Corps/Scouting Legion is a nasty business, and chances are that 60% or more of the people who end up joining will die. The 40% that do become extremely gifted and have high chances of survival later on. It’s not a pretty scene and it’s in these cases that I do appreciate the dramatics. The threat is real and these soldiers have seen it, and in a time where choices really do matter, Shingeki can afford to be powerful. This is a powerful scene and it’s probably my favorite of the entire show because for once, it focuses on the cast both individually and as a whole as they retrospect their decisions in the past and decide to help out for humanity’s sake, even if they are scared to death.
Pair this up with an interesting scene where Jean (who is the star of Episode 16, interestingly enough) somehow goes against his own rationale and decides to trust in Eren and we’ve got exactly what I’ve always wanted from Shingeki: teamwork. Trust. Soldiers who don’t just randomly engage in action scenes but use their bonds to overcome challenges, both internal and external. This is the first time it’s happened and it’s sad that it took this long to get here, but it was almost kind of worth it.
The great bits stop however, at that last cap. I think the biggest issue about this is the direct conflict of Shingeki‘s subject matter with its themes. Marco is a character we were supposed to empathize with (I say supposed to because I didn’t but apparently that was the aim based on what’s said here) and he dies out of sight. Whereas many shounen shows would go for the “dramatic death” that Shingeki so often spits at and rubs its heel in, SnK decides to ‘hide’ Marco’s death. For what point? To prove that soldiers die on a regular basis? We’ve already seen this. Something I’ve thought about this time however, is that Shingeki is trying to collapse that system to say that all characters are the same and should be perceived as such, in both their life and death. Sacrifice holds sentimental value for the individual who is committing to it, but on a larger and more macroscopic scale, one’s death is insignificant. It’s a great message, but I feel like Shingeki is going about it the wrong way, and it doesn’t work in a story like Shingeki‘s anyways. Why?
It’s like saying “all characters’ lives are at stake; we have meaning, but we don’t have meaning when we die, but we still do because the main character protagonist says we should fight on….or something.” Isayama contradicts his message every time this is brought up. The issue is that in a story, you naturally prioritize. You place emphasis on certain characters more than others, and soldiers don’t die dramatic deaths because they aren’t important; they are not the main focus of the show. However, Eren gets a very dramatic ‘death’ scene when he nearly dies before turning into a Titan (hell, he even swims in intestinal fluids for a bit). He is the main character, so his death has to be dramatic. Isayama conforms to the typical storytelling method while trying to subvert it at the same time, which results in a large mess of things because something is said, but another is meant. If you want to be a history book with omnipotent narration, then yes, I would understand the intent. But Shingeki is not a war record on the battles with the Titans. It is a story. It is rooted in bias, preference, focus, and emotion. You cannot try to subvert an emotional tale by making it devoid of emotion, while trying to give it a different kind of emotion at the same time.
As much as I have issues with the series, I think Game of Thrones is a perfect example of how a story can have a large, diverse cast, which is nuanced so that the characters are accessible, breathing human beings each with their own arc, but are also equally focused on to the point that when the time comes for them to be killed off, it holds significance while telling us that no one can be spared in this merciless world. Game of Thrones has nuance; Shingeki no Kyojin does not. Game of Thrones focuses on each character and gives them an arc so a ‘single main character’ does not exist; Shingeki does not. Game of Thrones understands the value in screaming out its themes every episode and focusing on human interaction and comrades in battle; Shingeki is starting to get on this, but still seems to fail. The biggest mistake is that in the end, while Game of Thrones does have a large, intricate plot, it sells that plot through character interaction. Shingeki goes the other way around – it’s because the plot happens that character interactions must happen, and thus a lot of the value is lost and becomes forced instead.
Next time is where the big action starts hitting the screen as Shingeki returns back to its usual action. I’ll miss the break and depth these two episodes offered – Shingeki is often so focused on being so fast paced that it rarely spends moments for the audience to breathe, but at least the new mission is much more interesting than the Resecure Trost mission, so we’ll have that to look forward to.