The Fall; Attack on Titan Episodes 19-21

Shingeki no Kyojin - 21 [720p]_Sep 5, 2013 12.10.34 PM

The Female Titan arc continues at high speed as we delve into one of the most exciting and emotional parts of the series.

Despite some of my issues with the Female Titan arc so far (somewhat messy pacing with the insert of Eren learning his Titan ability with Levi’s team in order to display character interaction and build of trust in Episode 19) the one thing that Shingeki has been getting right so far are the action scenes, and Episodes 20 and 21 were full of them. From the 3D Maneuvering Gear parts to the excellently animated battle between Eren in his Titan form and Female Titan, Shingeki has been better about using its budget for these critical moments, and it really shows. Whether this means that later episodes will suffer dramatically is something we’ll have to wait on and see, but as of right now, Shingeki couldn’t be in better shape.

Episode 20 is where things really take flight. We’re lured into a sense of comfort when Eren finally believes in the team that’s worked so hard to protect him and the Female Titan is caught by Erwin’s squad and is almost cut open. But in a surprising turn of events, the Female Titan sacrifices everything – even her own body – to escape and that‘s when the horrible feeling starts sinking in: things are going awfully wrong. From the way the Titan easily lets her body get eaten by other Titans (a fact that confuses me –  I thought Titans only ate humans?) to the way she easily slips into 3D Maneuvering Gear to slaughter Eren and Levi’s team – everything about this speaks high stakes and higher consequences. What makes this even more intense is this unsettling feeling that the one who’s behind all of this is someone that Eren knows – that we, the audience knows. It makes the betrayal play out on a new, more emotionally accessible level, and that explodes in Episode 21.

The animation in Episode 21 was especially spectacular and smooth.

One of the things I really enjoy about the Female Titan arc is how it’s a little more cohesive than previous arcs. This shows when we have two full episodes devoted to Eren’s connections and ties to Levi’s team; it’s because we have scenes where Petra and the gang bit their hands to try and feel what Eren feels when he turns into a Titan, or helped him clean out the castle that I actually feel for once that there is a sense of teamwork here. Their work together never seemed forced and as a result, trust and dependency was natural; for the first time I felt like Eren was naturally interacting with people around him rather than it being sparse and forced dialogue. And as a result, Episode 21 really hits the emotional buttons when Eren decides to rely on that trust and it completely backfires, resulting in the death of the squad. There is something gut wrenching about the way all five members’ lives vanish in the snap of a finger; what was once a group of cheerful and friendly titan killers is now nothing more than minced meat. This is the kind of power I wanted from Shingeki since day one – not mass amounts of soldiers I don’t know or care about stuffed down my throat every episode. The message here is really well delivered: no one is spared, not even the characters we care about. Simple belief in comrades won’t save the day all the time. Shingeki has been saying this since Day 1 I guess, but it’s only here where it sinks in properly.

Petra’s death personally hit me quite hard because I had actually started to connect with her and see her as a real character rather than stock material like Marco.

An issue I do have with Episode 21 though, is Eren (unsurprisingly). There have been so many opportunities for the series for him to develop and flesh out his black and white moral system, but all moments have been rushed or deemed unnecessary and as a result, Eren remains as stagnant as ever. One of those moments is right in the heart of Episode 21, when Eren expresses regret, frustration, and anger at the fact that he could have saved his companions had he shifted before they died. There’s a clear cut moment here where Eren does give a monologue about how angry and sad he is about the incident, but really, there’s nothing more than that. We don’t see Eren try to understand or come to terms with his own Titan self when he fights the Female Titan or even question how to engage; he just brutally launches himself at her with pure, blind, rage, and while the scene itself is great, the emotional resonance behind it is somewhat lacking or just not as strong.  This is in contrast to the brief moments of desperate rage we see from Mikasa, who finally shakes off that cool demeanor she’s worn for so long in the series and launches her own attack on the Female Titan, slicing bits and pieces until she’s held back by Levi, who is the opposite: despite losing his own team, he’s quite cool headed and calm.

It’s a shame this dialogue isn’t followed up later with an identity crisis or anything, as it would have been pivotal to Eren’s arc and his development as he struggles to deal with his Titan self.

All in all, it’s been a tight month for Shingeki, but all that’s left is the catharsis. It’s here where this show usually stumbles the most and instead rushes onto a new plot development rather than giving us time to interpret what’s happened and let feelings sink in. Part of this is because Shingeki is a fast-paced shonen which allows it to go at a breakneck speed, giving us the real feelings of adrenaline and action, but the downfall is the loss of nuance which has never existed from the start. The Female Titan arc has been pretty fantastic at points, but can it end as it started – with grace and ease? With four episodes down the line, it’ll be hard to say how Shingeki will finish off, but I’m curious to see how it’s done nonetheless.

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10 responses to “The Fall; Attack on Titan Episodes 19-21

  1. Well, the reason Eren brutally launches himself at her with pure, blind rage… is because Eren is a character who represents pure, blind rage, and has become so traumatized by the numerous lives he’s lost at the hands of the Titan’s that he’s practically insane because of it. You can see by his facial expressions that he revels in merely the though of killing Titans. And this scene really has nothing to do with him coming to terms with his a identity as a titan; it has to do with him coming to terms with his decision, which he apparently could not do, which describes his pure, blind rage, which made the scene all the more powerful.

    Good post otherwise.

    • I disagree in terms of Eren being ‘insane’ – I think Eren on the contrary is a child who can’t control or reign in his emotions which often results in disastrous consequences. The scene technically doesn’t have to do with his identity as I said, but it’s odd that Eren would come across a Titan that he knows is a Shifter, like him, and not think about his own abilities as a Shifter. It lacks the emotional resonance that I thought it would have in comparison to Mikasa, who has always looked out for Eren so it makes sense for her to be very concerned about his well being and desperately try to free him from the Titan’s grasp.

      I think it just boils down to the fact that Eren isn’t as multi faceted as he should be and as the show tries to portray him as, and it’s conflicting because he has potential to become something more fascinating but ends up as a device for plot. The Female Titan arc is less about that ant treats him as a real human being and in that context it’s great, but it also temporarily forgets that Eren has no development whatsoever and so this treatment ends up as awkward – this is one of those times.

      • But I think your mistaking a character who lacks development with a character who lacks maturity. Sure, you could say that Eren SHOULD have thought more about the situation he was in, but that would be out-of-character. He is figuratively blinded by rage. Nothing is going to stop him from exacting his revenge: not physical limitations, not rational thinking, nothing. And perhaps “insane” is a bit too strong, but I’d say it’s definitely more than a lack of an emotional filter. Throughout the show we’ve seen Eren say some unsettling things, which are of course justified in his situation, but they are powered by more than anger. Just look at his facial expression at the beginning of episode 14 (“I want to kill as many Titans as I can sir!”), or even that brief moment when we see him inside his Titan in episode 21. This guy represents pure, animalistic fury, which is further heightened by the loss of his comrades and his (self-perceived) poor decision making.

        • Hmmm. It’s true that Eren’s immaturity bothers me, particularly when it’s measured against people who are mature in a world where maturity is often required for survival (if you make one bad move, you’re dead) but I think saying that ‘thinking more about the situation is OOC’ is also reducing Eren to a character who can’t think for himself at all? Which goes against what the show has portrayed him as in a lot of circumstances, especially earlier in the series (like for example how Eren was the first to keep his cool when the Colossal Titan showed up 5 years later).

          I don’t think Eren is powered by anything BUT anger. He is literally a rage-induced kid who is so bent on killing Titans he feels nothing else but that rage most of the time. It is literally the loss of innocence put on a pedestal or to an extreme every minute. But I still feel that people who are overwhelmed with one emotion does not mean that they cannot be multifaceted. The Female Titan arc tries to treat Eren as a human being who can feel the loss of comrades, the hatred of a Titan who took that all away, and the maturity of a teenager who can look at his youth and realize how heroism never existed (see: this week’s episode). Eren is very capable of feeling more than one emotion so why is it that when the show points this out, it takes two steps back and decides to make Eren yet another angry driven shonen protagonist? It makes no sense, does no justice to the potential depth and magnitude of his character, and keeps him at an incredibly stagnant position. It is because SnK hesitates in fleshing out Eren that he is as basic and static as he was in the first episode. There’s no change. At all. And it’s a shame, because Eren is brimming with excellent potential to become something fascinating, but the series/show keeps denying these possibilities.

          • I dunno, the things you point out (loss of comrades, false sense of heroism, etc.) are all true, but while you look at Eren’s senseless, hateful rage as a regression of development, I look at it as a strengthening of character. His actions make plenty of sense (as I outlined in my last reply) if you look at them within the context of the show, not within the perceived notion of “good development.” In other words, they have to go about his development realistically, and the plot must be driven by the characters, not by who they should be for the sake of development. You can say Eren is a static character for succumbing to his character flaws time and time again, but perhaps that is what the creators intended; not always do characters need to be completely dynamic. The way I see it, Eren’s character is static but growing. I mean, think about it, this is an anime wherein a) emphasis on the group is highly favored over emphasis on the individual, b) characters are killed off like livestock, and c) the story is nowhere near close to finished (the manga, that is). The story is neither favoring nor dependent on Eren’s sole development as a character, and even if they are, they have plenty of time flesh him out in the future, the series being relatively young. He’s growing, and he’s learned a lot, but he’s still in a sense the “same,” he hasn’t changed because he is still struggling in his quest. So no matter what he does, no matter how much he learns about faith and camaraderie – which I may add is development in itself (static but growing) – Eren will always have the heart of a beast, until he makes the conscience decision to change. And at moments like these, when he is again in complete despair, the beast will rise.

            • Oh no! i see your point, and logically it makes sense, but my issue is that Eren’s response to the experiences he’s gone through are much more limited and stagnant than the responses other characters have made? Jean for instance, has lost a dear friend to him, but he doesn’t shut his ears and eyes to the rest of the world – rather, he looks out for the people he cares about and tries to keep an open mind because of it. It’s perfectly valid to respond to tragedy and trauma different – the human condition is after all, unique and varied – but to be defined singularly by it is something I have issues with. And that’s true that not all characters have to be dynamic and by being static Eren provides a great foil for some of the characters (Annie, Jean, etc). But when he’s the main character and essentially the story is about him, I find it quite nagging and disheartening because every other character in the series is much more well developed than him; even the secondary characters are more realistic and human.

              You do say he learns about faith and teamwork to which I agree with in regards to the Female Titan arc, but that’s completely lost in later chapters when Eren completely ditches that knowledge. And that is really my issue: the show/series literally removes any possibility of development from Eren’s arc which is a shame. You argue that he’s ‘growing’ but in what way? Physically, yeah, but in terms of mentality, Eren is still the angry child he was back in the training arc and hasn’t changed one bit. I appreciate static characters from time to time, but the issue with Eren is that he has moments of clarity and insight, but then opts to throw them out in favor of becoming that ‘beast’ again – a trope that’s been consistently repeated since the first episode of the show. :/

              All in all, I see your points, but I still think Eren is perhaps the weakest part of this show and personally speaking, one of the worst protagonists I’ve seen in a series in a long time simply because he functions as a mass plot device and not as a human character.

  2. My thoughts exactly.
    The female titan arc is good because it just gets the fundamentals of storytelling. (i.e. empathy) As you remarked, Natasha, it even has a better thematic resonance, we feel emotions, we get the promise of Eren growing into a more complex character. (SPOILERS: he won’t) It’s almost great.

    Let’s see how they wrap it up, shall we?

    • Thanks for commenting :)

      The Female Titan arc is absolutely amazing in certain areas because you can really feel the emotions there, from Eren’s anger and sadness to Levi’s devastation when looking at all of his comrades. (I may also be biased because the Female Titan arc revolves around my favorite SnK character and this is precisely why that character is my favorite…but SPOILERS indeed :D) I wish the rest of SnK could follow this cohesiveness and promise, but alas, it reverts back to its stale and messy format. Best to savor the good moments while they last, yeah?

      I’m still looking forward to see whether it’ll be an anime original ending or if they’re going to pursue a second season. I guess we’ll have to wait and find out!

      • Indeed. Mikasa’s short moment of despair, Levi’s single blink, they’re all great. Those moments let us feel the characters’ emotions, and not in the usual over-the-top way the show is used to. You’d almost recommend the show just for this arc.

        I doubt there will be an anime original ending though. The show has been following the manga pretty closely so far, for better and for worse. There are also too many mysteries about the world that have yet to be answered for them to provide a satisfying closed ending. Plus, the anime original stuff in this show has been universally terrible until now.

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