As hope turns into terror, the young cadets must fulfill their oaths to defend mankind sooner than any of them expected. They’ve spent three years training to fight Titans. But are they truly ready? Eren, Armin and Mikasa find out the answer in “First Battle: The Struggle for Trost, Part 1.”
[Warning! Spoilers for Attack On Titan episodes 1-5 below!]
Oh. My. God.
I mean, WOW. Did that really happen? I mean, how are they going to…? I just…this was a big one, people. To fully understand just what happened here, and what it means for the characters and story, I am going to have to go through the episode in detail from beginning to end.
Things begin right where we left off last episode, with Eren confronting the Colossal Titan, which is destroying all the cannons along the wall after knocking a hole in it. Eren deduces from this action that it is intelligent, and planned the breach of Wall Maria and, by extension, the mass murder of one fifth of the human race. This serves to further enrage him, and he puts the skills he spent the last three years learning to use. Eren does pretty well, dodging the Colossal Titan’s attempts to swat him out of the air and positioning himself for a perfect killing blow, only for it to vanish in a cloud of steam. Where the hell did it go? I mean, it appeared so suddenly before, with the lightning bolt, but where did it come from? WHY did it leave? Was it afraid of Eren killing it, or was it for some other, unknown reason? Eren no doubt ponders these questions, but is quickly called back to the headquarters by his superiors, along with all the other cadets.
At the headquarters, everybody is rushing about, and panic is in the air. Armin is so scared he can’t stop shaking; his reason is that if the Colossal Titan has appeared, the Armored Titan probably will too, and that humanity will simply not survive Wall Rose being breached. Eren snaps him out of it, but at the same time it is shown that the advance squad defending the breach was unable to halt the never-ending tide of Titans and has been annihilated.
We then cut to deep in the interior, where news of the attack on Trost reaches the ears of Wall Garrison Commander Pixis while he is playing chess with the corpulent Lord Balto at the noble’s estate. How each man reacts to this news tells us much about them: Pixis is quick to acknowledge the situation, savoring a quick swig of wine before immediately heading for the front. He comes off as a intelligent, diplomatic soldier with a sly sense of humor, who is able to able to become deadly serious in a moment’s notice. Balto, on the other hand, comes off as a corrupt buffoon, dismissing the plight of Trost’s citizens and only concerned with his own safety. If he is representative of the aristocracy inside the walls as a whole, then they seem quite decadent.
The scene then shifts back to the cadets, who are being addressed by a very anxious-looking officer, who lays out the plan of battle. The graduating class is placed right in the middle of the city, as the second line of defense, with the advance squad already having been wiped out. The young cadets are understandably distressed by this news, with panic sweeping through the ranks. Jean, in particular, is in a state of disbelief; as if this attack had happened a day later he would have been safely in the interior. With his hard-won dreams of a better life now seemingly taken from him, he is filled with frustration and anger, which he naturally takes out on Eren when they bump into each other. Eren, holding himself together much more than Jean, slams him against the wall and talks some sense into him, pointing out that they both not only survived basic training but were part of the class’s top ten. If anybody stands a chance against the Titans, they do. This argument seems to bring Jean back to his senses, and he moves off to do the same to another panicking cadet.
As Jean leaves, Mikasa comes up to Eren, telling him that when things (in her view, inevitably) go wrong, he has to run away and find her so she can protect him. Eren is, of course, angrily refuses, reminding her that they have orders to defend the city and can’t let their personal feelings get in the way of their duty. Mikasa tries to argue but a superior officer comes along and orders her to help get the fleeing townsfolk to safety, away from all the rest of the cadets. This, combined with Eren’s refusal, makes Mikasa give in, saying that the whole situation “has [her] out of [her] head.” Yeah, that bull: Mikasa clearly prioritizes Eren’s safety over everything else, and is only leaving him because she has no other choice.
Meanwhile, the last member of our main trio, Armin, is looking at the growing devastation and thinking back to their lessons on the Titan’s biology; it seems that the creatures have tremendous healing abilities, even being capable of regenerating their heads if decapitated. Their only weakness, the only way to truly kill them, is to give them a deep cut on the back of their necks. We also learn through this flashback that Titans don’t need to eat to survive, and that they only attack humans, completely ignoring all other animals. These bizarre characteristics only add to the Titan’s mystery, and show how little humanity knows about their enemy. Eren snaps Armin out of his reverie, and tells him that this is a “golden opportunity,” a chance to make their name as Titan slayers. His words of encouragement are echoed by the rest of the squad, who even say they should start a competition to see who gets the most kills. With hearts full of courage, they leap into action.
But courage does not guarantee victory.
The first Titan the squad encounters moves faster than they could have imagined: before anyone is able to react, it has the blond-haired Thomas between its jaws. The rest of the squad watches helplessly as Thomas, who had told Eren that he was joining the Scout Regiment that very morning, is devoured. The senseless horror of this drives Eren into a blind rage, and he throws himself after Thomas’s killer, headless of his own safety…only to have his leg bitten clean off by another Titan mid-flight. The others rush to help Eren, but they too are ambushed, and in less than a minute every squad member besides Eren and Armin is being eaten alive. With their terrified screams filling the air, Armin is left petrified with fear, unresponsive until he realizes he is being partially swallowed by a Titan. Eren, bloody and now crippled, hears his best friends screams, and flashes back to when Armin first told him about the world outside the walls, a world of wonders that they promised to explore together someday. Armin, struggling to not fall down the Titan’s throat, is suddenly pulled to safety by Eren. His arms and single leg straining to keep it’s mouth open, Eren passionately declares that the refuses to die like this, that he will keep his promise, that he still had so much he needs to see. Then the Titan’s jaws snap shut, sending Eren’s disembodied arm flying, and swallowing the rest of him. Armin let’s out a gut-retching cry of absolute despair, and far away Mikasa turns in his direction, and senses that something irrevocably tragic has occurred.
I can say that when I first saw that ending, I was at a lost for words. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. All that struggle, all that courage and spirit …only for this to happen. What will Armin do? How will Mikasa react when she finds out what happened? Is there any hope at all? Where will the show go from here? I can’t say for certain, but after an episode like that, I know I have to find out.
Grade: 4 out of 5