Attack on Titan Episode 44
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 44 of
Attack on Titan (TV 3/2018) ?
I'm going to begin this review by talking about the episode's second half, since that's where the meat of the story lands this week, as Reiss offers his daughter Historia a terrible choice while Eren emits muted screams from his perch in the crystal cavern.
The main question at hand for the past few episodes is whether or not Historia would be willing to go along with her father's plan to be transformed into a Titan so that she can eat Eren and reclaim the Power of the Titans for the Reiss bloodline. Even given how much screen time she and Ymir got last season, we've still learned very little about her personal beliefs and how much she might value the bonds she's forged with her fellow soldiers when the chips are down. Seeing how traumatized Historia has been by her fractured upbringing, would she choose her paternal family over her brothers and sisters in arms?
After Rod explains to Historia that only a true Reiss can unlock the full Power of the Titans, including the memories of what human civilization was like prior to the erection of the Walls, Kenny arrives to throw a fit about his crushed ambitions. He tries to turn Historia against her father, but she won't have any of that. Historia holds the syringe of Titan fluid to her wrist and threatens to take charge of her destiny and consume Eren, though she balks when Kenny removes Eren's gag and sees that Eren still refuses to fight against her. Bloodied and weeping, Eren demands that Historia go through with the plan and relieve him of his life and his titanic burden with it.
This interaction between Eren and Historia is one of the most heartfelt and tragic moments of the series so far, because for Eren the real pain of the truth he's learned lies not in his father's betrayal, but in the many friends who died trying to protect him, despite his power being stolen through the murder of Historia's family. It's too much for Eren Yeager to bear, and in this moment he's weaker than we've ever seen him; the ferocity and vengeful drive that has defined Eren for all of AoT's run has been replaced with truly haunted remorse. Yuuki Kaji's performance as Eren has always been good, but I don't think he's ever been more effective than in this scene – the stifled rage and sorrow he communicates ranks among the best vocal performances that Attack on Titan has ever delivered.
Still, even better is what Historia does next. I've always liked her character as Ymir's cute girlfriend with a moving past, but she rocketed close to the top of the show's best character ranking when she slapped the syringe out of her father's hand before flipping him over her shoulders and defiantly striding up the chamber's steps to free Eren. She even smacks our protagonist around a little to get him out of his self-loathing funk, declaring her ethos as the heir to the kingdom's throne:
“Exterminate the Titans?! Who the hell wants to do that bullshit?! I'm starting to hate humanity! Let 'em get wiped out by Titans! I'm humanity's biggest enemy! Got it?! I'm the worst girl who ever lived!”
Even when you consider that Historia may or may not be declaring war on the entire human race, this is one of the most stone-cold badass moments to come out of this entire show, so much so that it overshadows the entire first half of the episode, which consists of a white-knuckle showdown between Levi Squad and Kenny's droogs. This whole sequence is pretty brilliant, and it highlights what I love so much about the new human-on-human battles of this third season. More than ever before, Levi, Hange, and the others have to figure out creative strategies to beat their opponents, leveraging the tactical differences between their swords and their opponents' guns in their favor while also taking advantage of the strangeness of the environment. Sasha uses her skills as an archer to explode some barrels of oil and take out a few of Kenny's fighters, while Levi and Mikasa take the lead in absolutely brutalizing their foes. The action here is exceptionally well-animated, and the choreography tends to be clean and coherent; there were a few beats where the direction failed to capture the intended speed and weight of the maneuvering fighters, but for the most part this stood out as one of the best action scenes of this third season.
Now for anyone who's impatiently waiting for more Human vs. Titan action, things look to be gearing up in that direction, since the episode ends with Rod deciding to slurp up some of his Titan juice, which immediately begins the process of generating a giant serpentine spine with a Titan's head attached to it. Given how much this season has reveled in opportunities to defy expectations, I wouldn't be surprised if it's a little while longer before we see another classic bout between humans and Titans. If the storytelling and acting continues to be this good, I won't be complaining about whatever the show decides to do next.
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