Attack on Titan
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 43 of
Attack on Titan (TV 3/2018) ?
There were a lot of big twists and revelations this week, but we obviously have to get the big one out of the way first: Little Historia got the name of her alter-ego, Christa, from a children's book that her older half-sister Frieda used to teach her to read. Isn't that just the most precious thing to come out of Attack on Titan in maybe ever?
Oh, and the reason Historia forgot about her sister was because of the memory-altering Power of the Titans, a supernatural gift inherited by all members of the royal family, which they have been using to pacify and dominate the human race for an untold number of years. That's pretty important too, I guess.
In all seriousness, “Sin” was a very important episode of AoT, one that unearthed a number of new secrets and clarified old theories, expanding the scope of this new arc's conflict and setting the stage for the strange battles to come for Eren and the rest of our heroes. It's also kind of a mess, structurally speaking. It begins with Rod and Historia unlocking an incredibly juicy flashback that brings Grisha Jaeger's role in the story roaring back into the light, then slows down severely for the more personal memories that Historia and her sister shared, before switching gears altogether for a frankly bizarre check-in with Erwin and Pyxis' revolution, all while managing to sprinkle in even more revelations about the true history that binds Levi, Kenny, and Mikasa to the Ackermann name.
It's a Whole Lotta Story, and that's really saying something given Attack on Titan's already high standards of narrative escalation. Ultimately, “Sin” ends up feeling more liminal than expected from an episode that's ostensibly designed to thoroughly shake up its characters' place in the plot, although Eren's flashback gets across the most emotional impact. Ever since Ymir's story revealed the mysterious syringes that transformed her people into Titans, it was pretty clear that Eren's father was the one who instigated his son's monstrous transformation way back in episode 2 of the show's first season, though actually seeing poor little Eren suffer his first shift into Titan form was still an effective and powerful moment.
At the same time, the events before and after Eren's abduction were the most narratively interesting. Rod Reiss tells his daughter that the reason the rest of her family died is because Grisha Jaeger used his own Titan shifting powers to ambush the family and kill them all. His goal was to consume Frieda, since according to Rod she had the most powerful Titan abilities, including the Scream that could control other Titans. When you factor in Eren's abilities and the fact that he was able to recover his human form, there seems to be no other explanation but that Eren ate his own father. That's heavy stuff, and I'm very interested to see how this affects both Eren and Historia going forward.
Then comes the visit to Zachary's Fun With Science Corner, which is certainly something, I'll say that much. While Erwin and Pyxis have begun picking up the pieces of the last regime, Zachary's been living his best life and making his long-time dreams of cruel and mechanically creative revenge a reality. Specifically, he's strapped Aurille the nobleman upside-down to a chair, with a funnel shoved right into his rectum, so the whole kingdom can watch him be force-fed through his ass while a tube runs into his mouth and forces him to swallow some manner of his own bodily secretions – The exact nature of the machine is somewhat unclear, but you can be damn sure it's really gross. At the very least, it's gotten the former upper-crust shaken up enough to spill the Reiss family's secrets, especially since some of them still believe that they'll just be able to wipe humanity's collective memory and take over once the dust settles.
It's an "interesting" scene, and I'm definitely curious about where the revolution is headed in the coming episodes, but there isn't anything revealed in this C-plot that we don't already learn from Rod Reiss in the first half of the episode – it mostly just exists to establish that other characters are catching on to what Eren and the audience have learned, and that kind of checklist-based storytelling is a downside of having so many moving pieces running through this story at once.
The same narrative wobbliness can be felt in the other major story beat of the episode, where Levi confronts Mikasa about her relationship to Kenny. Mikasa reveals that the only thing she knows about her family name is that they lived in exile before they were murdered because of prejudice against their family name, as well as his father having married an “Oriental” woman. I'm still not entirely sure how ethnic histories and racial politics work in AoT's world, so putting aside how all of this may or may not connect to the ethnic prejudices of our real-world civilizations, introducing racial divides into Attack on Titan's narrative is still a big deal as its own sort of reveal, and it isn't even the main point of the scene.
The real focus of Mikasa and Levi's conversation comes when Levi asks Mikasa if she ever found herself awaken to a new kind of power within her, which she confirms happened the first time she killed after meeting Eren. Levi then reveals that he and Kenny had similar experiences, and that the trio's prowess in battle can be traced back to the Ackermann lineage, as they once served as the King's most loyal protectors. Given how stylized AoT's action has always been, it's tough to tell just how much disbelief we're supposed to be suspending when our heroes are careening through the air and slicing up Titans, but apparently Levi, Kenny, and Mikasa might actually have some kind of superhuman abilities, further complicating an already convoluted web of Titan powers, mysterious serums, and stolen magic.
The show gets so lost in this side-story that Levi Squad's arrival at the broken church that supposedly stands above the crystal caverns feels almost anti-climactic. Even though the very last scene tries to build the hype back up by showing Kenny's goons lying in wait for Levi's squad, I can't help but feel like this episode tried to cram too much into a single half-hour. The material itself was good, but it probably could have been presented more cleanly. Still, I can't wait to see what goes down next week, though I can only hope that Zachary and his Machine sit episode 44 out. And maybe for the rest of the show too.
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