Shingeki no Kyojin #05.
「初陣 ―トロスト区攻防戦①―」 (Uijin -Torosuto Ku Kōbōsen (1)―)
First Battle: Battle of Trost District, Part 1
Following last week’s suspenseful episode, I was tons of bits surprised at how some reviewers were criticizing the characterization and development for Shingeki no Kyojin’s cast, especially in comparison to other series of this season. My response to those critiques, in regards to this episode, is a definitive negatory. No, naught, no way, not at all, never, not by any means, not in the least. The events that transpired in this week’s episode attest that I feel for these characters, even the more minor ones such as Thomas and the other members of the Recon Squad that remain unnamed, even. In fact, I still have a feeling wretched restlessness in me right now, as I am reminded of their fates.
To summarize the episode, things pick up right where they were left at last week. Eren goes full throttle on the Colossal Titan, finally reaching its sole weakness after a series of agile maneuvers on the 3D Gear, only to have it disappear right before he lands a killing slice. But even with the Colossal Titan gone, chaos is still amidst as the lesser Titans are flooding into the town through the breach that the Colossal Titan had intentionally caused. Amongst the evacuation of civilians, formation of battle-unready soldiers, and even the portrayal of the panic-striken king, all is obviously not okay. In due time, the soldiers are eventually organized into three groups, the front line of defense, the second line of defense, and the rear-guard. This ultimately results in the separation of our cast of characters, most prominently sending Eren and Armin to the second line of defense while Mikasa is assigned to the rear-guard. And what Eren and Armin come to experience truly is one kind of hell, as they discover upon arrival with some other members of the Recon Squad that the first line of defense has already been completely annihilated. Eren’s fearlessness is able to galvanize the whole team, but ultimately leads them to their demise as they are overwhelmed by the Titans and eaten alive.
Now, despite the sheer amount of shock there is to take-in for this episode, and oh man, do I need to stress how much there is to take-in, I have to say that more so than the actual events that transpired, it was the masterfully woven mood that really gave this episode its shock value. To split the contents of this episode in half, there are two prevalent moods, the devastating feel of just pure agony and the inadequate shimmer of hope, that for the most part sources only from Eren and his indomitable will. Despite their differing impacts, it’s the exquisite interspersing of these two contrasting moods that accentuates them both so damn finely.
Exhibit A shows face during the assembling of defense lines, in which one unnamed commanding officer is briefing everyone else on the current state of the town. All throughout, his countenance matches exactly what can be seen on faces of the newer ranks, and that of course is an expression of pure terror. When all’s said and done; right before he dismisses the formation, he feels an obligation to remind everyone,
Desertion is a capital offense! Vow on your hearts and devote your lives!
to which they all respond with a reluctant cry of affirmation. There’s not much to delve into here, as it’s bright and clear that his need to iterate that is a reflection of his own fright.
In the following scene, Eren has to emancipate Jean from his own state of trauma. Eren and Jean’s relationship has gradually progressed throughout the last episodes. In their first showdown, they resolved their difference by apologizing. That amiability of course, was compromised when Jean became envious of Eren’s close relationship with Mikasa. In their second encounter, emotions were much more fervent and aggressive. However, their dispute was unintentionally adjourned by the drill instructor, Keith Shadis, but not before Eren successfully slammed Jean to the ground and publicly admonished his pusillanimity. Conclusively, in this episode’s third showdown between the two, Eren thoroughly proves he is the better man between the two, respectfully riding Jean of his traumatization and reassuring him of his own ambition, despite dissenting of it until now.
Earlier on, Eren had to also console a distraught Armin. Later again, Eren eventually has to tell Mikasa to regain her senses. Mikasa, of all people. Mikasa, our paragon of a character that has displayed nothing but complete strength and collectiveness until now, disciplined by Eren, who got his ass and ambitiousness handed to him by Annie. Yeah, let that sink in. In his final and most successful display of leadership, Eren emboldens his squad of Recon Corps members to fight alongside him, to the point where they are willing to compete against each other in Titan kill counts. Perhaps this is just a desperate attempt to dissuade their fears, but the social mechanism is a clear indication that they need to depend on each other for reassurance, because they sure as hell cannot depend independently on themselves. At this point, it feels like things are finally hopeful. As Eren describes it himself, “humanity’s counterattack begins now!” It is when our protagonists have their backs up against the wall that they can finally be prompted to deliver a hardcore Titan ass-kicking, in true shonen-esque fashion. Or well, at least that’s what we might think.
In assuming the role of the leader, Eren too has to assume the responsibilities of his leadership. And in the massacre that results from his call to action, we can really see that this shit is finally getting to him. If there’s any exemplar of how fast-paced this episode is, it’s in the final moments. Overlooking the military leadership that I made seem all so important just a sentence ago, this conclusion takes a swift dive into a much more personal realm, as a dismembered and barely conscious Eren watches his best friend being eaten by a Titan, a sight that invokes a flash from the past in our protagonist. This time, in true heart of the shonen genre, the flashback imbues our hero with a sudden resolve that supersedes the blacking out from immense pain, the physical hindrance of a severed leg, and the suffocating fear of something much more terrifying than death. The flashback is Eren’s childhood memory of Armin showing him the world outside of the walls they are confined in, in which there are bodies of saltwater; lands of ice, snow, fire, and sand; and so much more unimaginable grandeurs to be seen. Strengthened by that astonishment the two friends had once shared, Eren breaches the mouth of the Titan, drags Armin out of its throat, and throws him to safety, although at this point, no place can really be called safe at all. With his last words, while just barely withholding the immense crunch of the Titan’s jaw, Eren reminds Armin of that precious memory they had shared
You think I’m going to die here? Hey, Armin… You told me about it… So I’m going… to the outside world…
with the most disturbingly terrified face we’ve had the unsettling displeasure to see thus far. It is a conceptually mind-blowing scene, wherein Eren saves Armin from the confines of the Titan’s mouth, ultimately trapping himself in it. If the Titan’s mouth represents the prison of a civilization in which they live, then Eren has symbolically freed Armin from this life of constant fear. But just like the “outside world” the two boys dream of, outside of the Titan’s mouth exists only much more danger to be feared, in this case, it being the mass of other Titans infiltrating the town. It’s hard to understand the meaning behind Eren’s last words, “So I’m going… to the outside world.” Whether or not he is putting up a bold front until the end, it can’t be known. It would certainly be admirable if this is the case, in the sense that above all else, what matters most to him is belief. Some may write it off as stupid, especially since Eren’s courage has been met with nothing but anguish, misery, and death so far. But in imagining their current scenario of absolute despair in which everything is lost, which is worse, giving into that desolation or retaining hope? Imagining the hypothetical instance that reinforcements arrive just in the nick time to save only Armin, I’m quite sure that a memory of Eren being such a bad-ass until the end has a much stronger overall effect than a memory of Eren wailing with regret. But to be honest, it’s really hard to tell which is true, because the expression on his face is just so damn painful, not to mention the episode gives us no time to contemplate on it at all as the Titan’s teeth swiftly descends upon Eren’s protruding arm, snapping it right off and flying it towards the mortified Armin, leaving him squalling in horror as the dark clouds cover the town and the episode closes. (And although the Titan’s jaw technically should have ascended to dismember Eren’s arm, I think the whole guillotine effect was used for a more dramatic portrayal. We’ll let that slide.)