In the face of seemingly inevitable defeat, a strange, unlikely beacon of hope emerges: Eren Jaeger. Will the Military recognize the chance for victory he represents, or will their fear of Eren’s power blind them to reason? Even with their trust, can Eren truly defeat the Titans? Our heroes learn no true victory is possible without great sacrifice as the Struggle for Trost reaches its bloody conclusion.
[Warning! Spoilers for Attack On Titan episodes 1-13 Below!]
Before I start the analysis, I should explain why I’m reviewing five episodes at once today. As those who follow the AOT reviews no doubt know, I haven’t been posting for over a month; this was due to some personal issues of mine taking precedence, issues that are mostly finished. I am covering episodes 9 to 13 in this article, and will cover 14 and 15 next week, with 16 and 17 the following week, after which I will go back to reviewing one episode at a time. I would like to thank our longtime readers for their patience.
Now, lets get back to Attack On Titan! Episodes 9 through 13 saw the end of the Struggle for Trost Arc, and with it a fundamental swift in the character’s lives, positions and goals. I’m going to first examine how the main characters have changed, and then discuss the main themes of this arc. First, let’s talk about Eren.
We now know exactly whathappened to Eren in that Titan’s stomach, though are manifestly less clear on how or why it happened. The sequence where he awakens amongst the floating…pieces of his comrades is, in my opinion, the most horrifying part of the series yet, surpassing even his mother’s death in episode 1. Eren is at his most vulnerable in this scene, with Bryce Papenbrook conveying the young man’s overwhelming disbelief, horror and sorrow perfectly. This scene, and Eren’s subsequent transformation and emergence from the Titan’s dead body as a creature of righteous fury, is one of the most moving things I have ever seen in any piece of media, ever.
However, this power is as frightening as it is awesome. How did Eren gain this ability? He theorizes that his father gave them to him when he erased his memory of their last meeting, but that hypothesis raises more questions that it answers. While Eren is quick to reassure himself, and the frightened Garrison that he’s human, he really doesn’t know what he is, and seems to be blocking such existential questions from his mind. Some viewers have called Eren an idiot because of such behavior, and he can certainly be oblivious to what’s right in front of him sometimes (Mikasa wants you, dude!). Despite this, I think that his behavior is caused more by him willfully repressing ideas and notions that he doesn’t want to face.
This reading of Eren’s character is supported by the ‘Dream Family’ visions he experiences when he transforms into a Titan for the second time. In this dream world, his family is alive and whole, and he comments, “It’s not like [he] wants to be a scout.” In this imaginary reality, Eren never desired to explore the outside world, to fight Titans, and thus never had friction with his mother. The ‘dream family’ sequence shows that Eren does have doubts about whether pursuing his goal of exploring the outside world is worth it, in addition to his survivors guilt at being unable to save his mother. Thankfully for humanity, he is freed from his imaginary perfect world, by someone who knows how important it is that Eren doesn’t give up: Armin.
Armin’s development as a character in these episodes is perhaps the most significant; as he finally realizes that his feelings of worthlessness are completely unjustified. All his friends had known this all along, but it is Eren and Mikasa’s faith that his words alone will save them from execution that trigger this epiphany for Armin. His following appeal to reason, standing proud while at gunpoint, marks a true sea change in his character. Gone are the suicidal tendencies, replaced with a new spirit of pro-activity; when his plan to seal the breach runs into a snag, he immediately rushes to Eren and is able to get him moving again, when no one else could. It is Armin’s mind as much as Eren’s Titan strength that causes humankind to reclaim Trost.
The significance of the victory at Trost for the characters cannot be over estimated: as Pixis relates, humanity has never before reclaimed territory lost to the Titans, ever. Trost is an unprecedented achievement, and shows that Eren’s newfound abilities could save the human race. Unfortunately, just as this arc shows that victory is possible, it also exposes the costs of such victory. Rico (the Silver haired female officer) tearfully proclaims that her squads deaths were not in vain, and indeed they weren’t, but they’re still dead. Is there truly a difference between meaningful and meaningless sacrifice?
Despite sealing the gate and killing all the remaining Titans, 200 people are gone forever, amongst their number young Marco Bott. After the breach had been sealed, after the battle had been won, Marco died, alone and for no greater purpose. Jean isn’t even able to find out how he died, and probably never will. Attack On Titan is making a bold statement: that even if your side wins, you can still die a meaningless death. Despite being a fantasy series, AOT has a fair amount of things to say about the nature of war, and Marco’ fate gave me much to think about.
All these great story moments require equally great direction and animation, and I felt that episodes 9 to 13 delivered on this front. True, in some scenes characters moved less fluidly than they should have, and I felt static freeze frames were used a bit too often, but the truly awesome moments (such as the first time Eren transforms) more than make up for it. The cinematography and editing remain excellent, with the multiple montages and cutting back and forth between scenes never feelsrepetitive or boring. The voice cast maintains the high quality of their performances, and the script doesn’t diverge from the original Japanese to any significant degree. It was a bang up job all around.
By the end of episode 13, the viewer has much to ponder, and while the Struggle for Trost may be over, different but equally difficult challenges seem to lurk in our heroes’ future. Is all the suffering and sacrifice that they have had to endure worth it? I ‘m not sure, but I couldn’t help but be inspired by Eren’s words, all the same: “Were born free, all of us. Born Free! Some don’t believe it. Some try to take it away. To hell with them! Water like fire. Mountains of Ice. The whole bit. Lay your eyes on that, and you’ll know what freedom is, and that it’s worth fighting for. Fight to live. Risk it all for even a glimmer of real freedom! FIGHT!”
[Spoilers End Here]
Cumulative Grade: 4.0 out of 5.0
Attack On Titan is broadcast every Sunday at 11:30 PM Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) on Adult Swim. Check local listings for details.