Review: Attack On Titan: “Small Blade”

Mikasa is finally able to make it back to the remaining members of the graduating class, who are nearly out of gas and thus stranded in a sea of Titans. Amongst their number, she finds Armin, who finally tells her the fate of Eren’s squad. Filled with sorrow, Mikasa flings herself at the enemy in a desperate attempt to lead a breakout, her grief driving her to reckless actions. As all seems darkest, a ray of hope shines from the most unexpected of sources, in “Small Blade: The Struggle for Trost, Part 3.”

 [Warning! Spoilers for Attack On Titan episodes 1-7 below!]

 “Small Blade” is much more plot-heavy than episode 6: several significant events happen, one being a potential game-changer. While the appearance of the strange new Titan steals much of the spotlight, Mikasa, Jean and Armin all make extremely important decisions. Though none of them are out of the jungle just yet, they have been given a slight respite.

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Though there is again a large focus on Mikasa, this episode finally shows what’s been going on with the rest of the cadets; mainly, they’re frightened and demoralized. Their specific reactions remain consistent with their characters: Jean is pissed off and hung up on Mikasa; Annie is pragmatically considering her options; and Sasha, bless her heart, is trying to lift her comrades spirits, to no avail. As for Armin, he’s retreated even more into his head: his expression when Sasha asks him to help is even more lifeless and despairing than when Connie found him. It should be noted, however, that he’s not unconcerned with what’s going on; he picks up on Mikasa’s state of mind and rushes to her aid when she falls. Rather, Armin has reached the rock bottom of his self-loathing, and is in fact suicidal. He doesn’t want to abandon his friends and crawl into a corner to die, but instead to sacrifice his life in place of theirs, as Eren did for him. When he gives Mikasa his gas canisters and tells them to leave a blade so he can make it quick, he’s not being brutally pragmatic; he’s seeking a solution that guarantees his death.

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Mikasa is there to pull him back from the brink, but not immediately. When Mikasa finally learns about Eren’s fate, she is DEVISTATED. Though she try’s to act tough and get everyone to safety, Armin recognizes that she’s merely trying to dull her pain by focusing only on combat. Her gear running out of gas and causing her to fall is a direct result of her blocking out all thought to avoid having to face her sorrow. Alone, with only a small broken blade, she seemingly accepts death, not wanting to live in a world without Eren. Yet, at the last moment she fights back against the Titan, moving with the same precision and skill she has in all her battles. Why does she do this? Mikasa comes to believe that it is because she doesn’t want to betray what Eren stood for, and that if she dies her memories of him will die also; these reasons factor into her refusal to give up, but I don’t think they’re the main cause.

When Eren saved her, told her to fight or die, he didn’t just inspire her: he etched an indelible mark on her soul. She now CANNOT give up, no matter how much she may want to. Eren kindled within her a will to live than can NEVER be extinguished; even with him gone, the impact her memories of him left is so deep that Mikasa will fight to survive no mater what. This unbreakable promise is what gives Mikasa the strength to face such insurmountable odds, to save not only herself but also her comrades. Notice the difference between the two times she encourages Armin to not give up; the first time, she is withdrawn and cold; the second time, she is full of compassion and determination. In between these two instances she realized that she can and will continue to live in a world without Eren, and commits herself to saving all of her friends who remain.

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As it turns out, though, she doesn’t need to bear the burden of being the only titan-killing badass; the strange, new Titan does a pretty good job too. I mean, seriously, IT KNOCKED THAT OTHER TITAN’S HEAD OFF WITH ITS BARE HANDS! I mean, Damn! That sequence is perhaps one of the most unbelievably awesome things I have seen in any anime, period. The animation and cinematography of this series has always been at least above average, but that scene and this episode as a whole really raise the bar. From close-ups of characters struggling with their emotions to long shots of incredible battles, “Small Blade” delivers. Animation aside, the appearance of what I have dubbed the ‘Anti-Titan’ is an astonishing development, one that is unprecedented for both the audience and the characters. As Mikasa says, there has never been a known instance of a Titan attacking another Titan, never mind one that apparently knows their weak spot. Connie tries to brush it off as just another abnormal; Mikasa correctly sees it as unprecedentedly unique. She is filled with awe and a strange kind of hope when confronted with this mysterious, amazing creature, and I was too.

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“Small Blade” is the first episode in several weeks to end on a hopeful note, with Mikasa being told the worst news she could ever receive and not succumbing to despair. Voice actress Trina Nishimura deserves high praise for her intense, nuanced portrayal of Mikasa’s inner turmoil, with the rest of the cast putting in similarly excellent work. Their performances, combined with the great animation, moved me deeply. As we leave our heroes staring at the Anti-Titan, my final thoughts echo Mikasa’s: “What was he? Are there any more like him? I’ve never herd of a Titan killing another Titan, no one has. But it struck a cord in me. Something so familiar, so…primal. I bore witness to the manifestation of humanity’s rage.”

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[Spoilers for Attack On Titan episodes 1-7 end here.]

 Grade: 4.5 out of 5

Attack On Titan is aired every Saturday at 11:30 pm PST on Adult Swim; see local listings for details.

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