Attack on Titan Episode 37
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 37 of
Attack on Titan (TV 2/2017) ?
Well, everyone, I have good news, and I have bad news. The good news is that we'll only have to wait until next year for Attack on Titan's Season 3 premiere. Of course, the bad news is that we'll have to wait at least another 52 weeks before getting more of this glorious show in our lives. I've said this before this season, but it bears repeating: Season 2 of Attack on Titan has been absolutely superb, eclipsing the first season in nearly every way to produce one of the most exciting, visceral, and gut-wrenching anime I've seen in years. This season's finale is rather fittingly titled “Scream”, because all I wanted to do when the credits rolled was scream in anticipation of the agony that the next year of waiting will be.
The finale is also really good, which is a relief, though after the staggeringly consistent level of quality anime this season has produced, it isn't all that surprising. We pick up directly where last week left off. The troops are being overrun by Titans and all hope seems lost, especially when a battered Mikasa and bound Eren are confronted by the same Grinning Titan that murdered Eren's mother in the series' very first episode. The arrival of this particular Titan may seem a tad unlikely (something poor, doomed Hannes even calls out), but I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for the sake of the juicy (pun intended) drama that follows. Besides, this is a show about teenage acrobat soldiers that bite themselves and turn into grotesque giant meat puppets. Suspension of disbelief should be a given at this point.
What especially impressed me was the episode's ability to have this confrontation play out without sacrificing the drama going on around Eren and Mikasa. Much has been made of Eren's drastically reduced time in the spotlight, and for the most part, I think this has only made Attack on Titan even better. The cast truly feels like an ensemble now, and all the differing perspectives are especially handy when painting a portrait of a mad and bloody battleground. Almost all of our central characters get little vignettes that help sell the emotion of the fight, from Armin and Jean desperately staving off a single foe to Hannes' own tragic attempt to avenge the death of Eren's mother. Even Historia (which seems to be her official name now) gets a moment to shine, and the musical cue that accompanied her entry into the battle was one of the best little moments of the episode. You could really tell that the animation department was working overtime this week, and at times the budget and resources almost seemed threatening to burst. Thankfully, the use of carefully framed still shots kept things flowing smoothly and never broke the immersion of the moment.
Still, even if this isn't necessarily Eren's show anymore, it certainly was his episode, and Yuuki Kaji turns in some of his best work to date here. The manic laugh he gives when he finds he can't transform was both chilling and tragic, and the exchange he has with Mikasa is one of the most touching moments AoT has yet produced. It was oddly appropriate to have Mikasa finally confess her feeling to Eren in the moment she's sure they're both about to die, and even the darkly comic image of Hannes' getting masticated in the background highlighted the dire straits our heroes were in. I even laughed at Mikasa's failed attempt to land a kiss, as Eren predictably shows his own love for Mikasa by preparing to punch the Grinning Titan barehanded. This of course leads to the episode's single biggest “Oh Crap!” moment, but before I get to that, I'm going to cover the last act of the episode first.
If this episode has any faults, it's in the final few minutes of the final act, and that fault lies more with the series as a whole than this particular episode. After the battle, Eren and the others return to the city, specifically to a secret underground encampment large enough to house the entire population. As far as I know, this giant underground refuge has never been mentioned before, and its reveal here seems a bit convenient. Equally last minute is Hange and Conny reporting their hypothesis that the Titans are actually human in origin to Erwin and Levi. While this twist is pretty obvious to anyone who's been keeping up with the series, it's a revelation for the characters that the show has been building up all season, so to drop it near the end as a cliffhanger feels a little anticlimactic.
All of this goes along with Eren's discovery on the battlefield that he has the ability to control the Titans, sending a swarm of them after the Grinning Titan who then proceed to eviscerate the creature. This is a decidedly badass scene, and I appreciate the closure it gives for at least one part of Eren's story. Still, I can't help but feel like there was one tease too many in this final episode, and the only reason I'm not more peeved is because I know we won't be waiting another half-decade to see some follow-through.
Still, despite how uniformly excellent this season has been, I can't help but notice that when it comes to the Big Picture of Attack on Titan, we've learned remarkably little over the past twelve weeks. The Church conspiracy and the Titans in the wall have barely been touched on, which is odd since that was the cliffhanger the last season left us on. We did learn the identity of the Colossal and Armored Titans, but that only raised more questions about who they work for, what their true mission is, and what Eren has to do with any of it. Eren's new power, which Reiner calls the Coordinate, seems to be a key factor, but that only just got revealed this week. Plus, we still haven't heard a thing about that damned basement in Eren's house or what his dad has to do with any of this. I was warned we wouldn't be seeing any of that this year, and it doesn't really hurt the season itself in the long run, but anyone going into this season looking for some “capital A” Answers might leave this finale feeling disappointed.
Does any of this mean that this finale, and the entire season that proceeded it, wasn't an absolute godsend of action entertainment? Absolutely not. The long-term plotting might remain a bit messy, but Attack on Titan has never really been about Big Picture storytelling. The mysteries keep things intriguing, but the series' strengths lie in scattered moments of intense and thrilling emotional power, the little stories that blossom from the grand narrative of war. This season has given us one-on-one fights for survival, bombastic clashes between Titan foes, and even an exceedingly atmospheric trip into Gothic horror territory. Each of those episodes and more are going to stay with me for a long time, and if the price we have to pay for that is a bit of a wait for more concrete resolutions to the show's burning questions, then so be it.
What Attack on Titan is really about is putting a bunch of scared kids into the literal meat grinder of survival against the Titans, watching the little stories that blossom from the grand narrative of war. It takes characters we've come to know and love (and sometimes hate), and throws them into situations that they can barely comprehend, and as an audience, we thrill and delight in seeing what comes of it. It can be bombastic, and it can be ugly, inspiring and downright terrifying in equal measure. More than anything else, Attack on Titan's second season has proven that there's really nothing else like it in anime, and the wait for next year is going to be grueling.
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