In the wake of an unprecedented victory, Armin, Mikasa and Eren enter a new phase of their lives. New allies come forth, bounds of trust grow stronger, and the groundwork is laid for humanity’s comeback. However, when an unforeseen and terrifying new enemy emerges, our heroes learn that there war is far from over…
[Warning! Spoilers for Attack On Titan episodes 14-20 below!]
Looking back, AOT’s first 13 episodes are a story of rising up in the face of immense tragedy. Many died, including characters we’d come to love, but humanity had, in the end, achieved its first true victory against the Titans. In the face of such a game-changing event, the question on everybody’s minds was, what next? The show’s answer was to greatly expand its scope, introducing new characters, details about the world and plot elements.
Though briefly shown in earlier episodes, the most important new characters are the Scout Regiment’s elite: Commander Irwin Smith, scientist Hange Zoe, and Captain Levy and his squad. Of these three, my favorite is Hange. As what can only be called a ‘Titan Fan girl,’ Hange is a delightfully unhinged presence, with her obsession with finding out what makes the monsters tick making for some of the best comedy in the show thus far. Initially, I was uncertain of English dub actress Jessica Calvello, with her shrill voice contrasting greatly with Japanese VA Romi Park’s deep register. Thankfully, Calvello does a fantastic job, capturing the manic energy of the Scout’s mad scientist perfectly.
While Hange became my favorite of the new Scouting Regiment characters, Captain Levy also makes quite an impression. Rated as the most popular character in the series (both in the US and in Japan), Levy is the archetypically stoic, dethatched badass, his skill at titan slaying legendary. Levy’s character hasn’t been much developed beyond this cool-as-ice persona, although small scenes (such as his speech to Eren in episode 19) show hints that he is more complex than he appears. At the very least, we know that he cares deeply for his men, which may cause him trouble down the line with the last new major character, Irwin Smith. As commander of the Scouts, Irwin is shown to be a cunning, ruthless strategist who is willing to sacrifice large amounts of his soldiers to accomplish his goals. Whether such sacrifice is worth it in the end, however, remains to be seen.
While all these new additions to the cast draw a lot of the spotlight, our familiar group of terrified teenagers has not been pushed into the background. In the wake of the Battle for Trost, all of the remaining cadets have gone through great trauma. Connie, Sasha, Armin, Annie…all have been faced with the reality of the Titans, and those previously wanting to join the Scouts are having second thoughts. However, the one most impacted by Trost is someone who never wanted to fight Titans in the first place: Jean Kirstein. Outside of the main trio, Jean is the one who undergoes the most change, as Marco haunts the young mans thoughts. Marco saw Jean’s potential as a great leader, and admired him immensely. Marco’s subsequent random, pointless death irrevocably changes Jean; just as Mikasa cannot go back to being the innocent girl she was, so Jean cannot remain a selfish opportunist. While this is a massive development, it’s important to note that Jean hasn’t become a completely different person: as he says to Sasha, “Of course I’m scared, I’m not an idiot here.” He’s still a giant prick to Eren as well, (E: Hi Jean! J: Marco’s dead!). Still, in spite of all his flaws and fears, Jean has made a commitment, and I have a feeling that he’ll stick with it, even to the bitter end.
While the episodes 14-21 give ample focus to the Scouts, just as much is given to their new enemy; the Female Titan. I say character, as there is indeed a human inside that giant body, but this terrifying new entity is more a force of nature than a person. Possessing not only the incredible strength and speed of regular Titans, the Female is also lethally smart, using deception and cunning to annihilated her victims. The ease at which she slaughters every Scout sent after her, often without having to even stop her pursuit of Eren, is terrifying. Her nude, skinless appearance is both off-putting and strangely sensual, and, combined with her horrific actions, only adds to her aura of terror.
The Female Titan’s seeming invincibility is key to what I believe is the central message of episodes 14-20, which is that you can do everything right, and still fail. Irwin’s plan to lure her into the forest ambush was brilliant, and took into account everything they knew about Titans: it still failed. Eren put his trust in Squad Levy, knowing that they were the best the core had to offer; and they still failed. Convinced that he could have saved them if he had ignored their pleas and transformed, Eren bit his thumb and went after the Female Titan with all his power; and STILL he failed. In each case, the people involved made the best decision they could have, based upon the knowledge available to them, and utilized their skills an resources to the fullest. In the end, however, their information was incomplete, and they failed. In war, soldiers often go into battle uncertain of what awaits them on the battlefield; they can have the best intelligence available, the best equipment, the best training, and they can still lose. Even though AOT is a fantasy series, set in a world vastly different from our own, it has things to say about war in the real world that are quite relevant. Soldiers today may not fight giants, but they definitely can fail in their mission despite doing everything in their power to succeed, and die in the attempt. The series’ willingness to explore such harsh subjects is one of its best qualities.
At the end of episode 21, Eren’s fate and the fate of the Scouting Regiment as a whole is left in the air. Do Mikasa and Levy have any chance of defeating the Female Titan? What is her true identity? Why did she spare Armin? Why is she doing this? Was any of it worth it? All I can say is, in the face of all the horror, all the hopes dashed, all the pointless death, I’m holding on to Mikasa’s words at the end of the episode, words that we all should live by: “Never give up.”
[Spoilers End Here]
Grade: 4.5 out of 5.0
Attack On Titan is aired every Saturday at 11:30 pm Pacific Standard Time on Adult Swim & is available for streaming at funimation.com.