Attack on Titan
Episode 27

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 27 of
Attack on Titan (TV 2/2017) ?

If the first season of Attack on Titan had any major shortcomings for me, aside from its occasionally rocky production values, it would have to be that the season's ambitions ran so high that it occasionally bit off more than it could chew (see what I did there?). At any given moment, Attack on Titan was attempting to be a war drama, a horror-fantasy, and a top-notch action spectacle, and while it was always good at being those things, it spent enough time jumping between these appeals that it never quite excelled at them. Of all its ambitions, Titan was most consistent as a shocking spectacle, but sometimes the characters would be spread too thin for dramatic moments to resonate in the way they were intended, or the half-dozen story threads wouldn't be given enough time to breathe and take advantage of the usual war story scale. Attack on Titan's first season was really good, but only on occasion was it capital G “Great” because it spent a lot of time reaching beyond its already solid grasp.

This second season is another story so far. Not only has the animation and direction been polished to perfection, but the show seems to finally be turning into the Spectacle Horror Fantasy War Drama it's always wanted to be, a beautiful monster capable of thrilling you, terrifying you, and tugging at your heartstrings in equal measure. The past two episodes of Attack on Titan haven't just been great, they've been absolutely stunning. This week in particular offered possibly the series' finest episode yet, a tightly-paced half-hour of stomach-churning, heart-rending perfection.

The key to this episode's success is its deliberate focus. In keeping with the season premiere, we get hardly anything about Eren and the “main plot” this week, with only a couple of minutes devoted to the Wall Titans and Church conspiracy investigation. Outside of that and a brief (yet devastating) coda with Connie, this week belongs entirely to Sasha, who is rushing back to her hometown to warn the villagers of the Titans' arrival. A long-time fan favorite, Sasha has never really been the focus of much drama, usually functioning as a comedy relief character for when things get too intense. This episode makes up for her lack of screentime, pitting her in an intense one-on-one battle against a Titan, interspersed with flashbacks that give us more insight into her character.

These flashbacks prove especially enlightening when we see Sasha growing up with her dad on the fringes of frontier society, hunting for every scrap of food they can find in the face of dwindling wildlife and resources. This backstory recontextualizes Sasha's chief character trait, her appetite, into something much deeper than a well to mine for cheap laughs. This is a girl who grew up constantly on the brink of starvation, and her family's exaggerated backwoods dialect emphasizes how cut off she was from the rest of society. Her later encounters with Krista and Ymir press this further, showing how her excessively polite speech patterns have resulted from her trying to overcompensate in hiding her humble origins. In just one episode, Attack on Titan manages to take a character who was loved largely for her humorous charm and make her more sympathetic by giving her more dimension. Here's to hoping more side characters will get the same thoughtful treatment this season.

Of course, between all these trips down memory lane, we get Sasha vs. the Titan, one of the best Titan encounters of the series so far. What it lacks in high-octane thrills, it more than makes up for with an atmosphere of palpable dread. Where most other battles have been high action sprinkled with a dash of horror, this episode is all about bringing that horror to the forefront. Sasha initially stumbles on this lone Titan feasting on a small girl's mother, an eerie and surreal situation that stripped Sasha's arsenal down to just a bow and axe. These stark circumstances only heighten the episode's survival-horror atmosphere to a damn good peak.

Death flags for Sasha abounded this week, but I'll admit that they weren't as effective as they could've been, if only because the details surrounding Sasha's fate are well-known even among manga neophytes like myself. Rumor has it that Sasha was definitely intended to bite the big one around this time, but the combination of her popularity with readers and the appeals of his editor convinced Hajime Isayama to let everyone's favorite Potato Girl live to see another day. While I can understand the temptation to use Sasha as a sacrificial lamb after revealing her backstory, I'm glad the story went in a different direction. Sasha's victory against the Titan and reunion with her father gives us the kind of optimism that's rarely permitted in Attack on Titan, which is what really makes the story shine as a war drama sometimes. Yes, things are dire, and of course anyone can die at a moment's notice, but offering these small touching victories makes the war feel worth fighting. Humanity may be perpetually at the brink of extinction, but we need to see that life does go on.

Of course, it doesn't for everyone. I'm generally the most optimistic of saps, and even I knew that the emotional catharsis of Sasha's victory wouldn't last long. Connie's arrival to the ghostly shell of his own hometown was a final gut punch that I absolutely saw coming but was dreading all the same. Sasha's story was filled with all the hope and fist-pumping bravado I could have asked for, but Connie's loss reminds the audience that the fight is far from over. Every small victory is offset by great and terrible loss. We're only two episodes into what promises to be an amazing season, so this is far from the last moment of grief we will witness. The Titans are still out there, and they're still very hungry.

Rating: A+

Attack on Titan is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.

James is an English teacher who has loved anime his entire life, and he spends way too much time on Twitter and his blog.

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