Attack on Titan
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 47 of
Attack on Titan (TV 3/2018) ?
This week is Attack on Titan's big infodump for everyone's favorite Killer Cowboy, Kenny the Ripper. It's an interesting morsel of a much larger story that's still very much in progress, and as far as fleshing out more of Kenny's backstory and the general history of AoT's world is concerned, “Friends” gets the job done. That said, it's one of the bumpier rides the show has delivered so far this season, feeling less like a cohesive backstory episode and more like a combination of leftover scraps that, while definitely important to the bigger picture of Attack on Titan's narrative, don't necessarily fit together so neatly.
We'll start with Kenny himself, who gets the lion's share of the episode devoted to revealing how his relationships with the Reisses formed, and how his generally bleak and violent existence brought him to where he is today, dying of terrible burns under a tree while Levi watches. The opening scene sets up the most interesting thread of the episode, which is Kenny's begrudging friendship with Rod Reiss' doomed brother, Uri. In typical Attack on Titan fashion, this begins with Uri almost crushing Kenny to death with his Titan hand after Kenny fails to assassinate him, on account of the Ackermanns being exiled from society and demonized as traitors. Given how Kenny seems to respect power above all else, he convinces Uri to let him live and serve as an adviser, so thus begins a strange relationship that lasts until Uri dies and passes on the Founding Titan's power to Frieda.
This newfound power on Kenny's part leads to a couple of noteworthy developments, but “Friends” also takes some time to address Kenny's relationship with Levi, which is honestly less engaging than I expected it to be. Levi's mother was Kenny's sister, and after she died of starvation, Kenny took it upon himself to at least teach Levi how to use his Ackermann strength to cause a little chaos and get by in the Underground. To be honest, this sequence is probably more noteworthy for how much time we spend in the mysterious subterranean city that has only ever been hinted at before, as even Kenny admits that he was never cut out to be a father and just leaves Levi down there alone one day. If there are any more complications or nuances to be found in this relationship, this episode doesn't explore them, and I'll admit that I was hoping for more ground to cover between these two, especially since Kenny dies this week.
Kenny and Uri's friendship is much more compelling, although it's not necessarily due to how the pair interacted when Uri was alive. Rather, I liked how Kenny's motivation for potentially stealing the royal family's Titan abilities for himself isn't just about seeking pure power, but about trying to connect with humanity. It isn't clear if Kenny is a straight up sociopath, or if his hard life as both an Ackermann and a person forced to live in the Underground has ruined his ability to form connections with others. Either way, it seemed to Kenny that Uri became a more empathetic and emotional person as he lived with his powers over time, and part of the reason Kenny formed his Anti-Personnel Control Squad to begin with was for Kenny to see if such a transformation was possible for him too.
Even with this backstory episode, we still haven't gotten enough details about the APCS to justify their undying loyalty to a man like Kenny, who admitted to gleefully killing his followers' comrades for years before they joined up with him. The one nihilistic speech we get from the blonde girl that died in the cave collapse a couple of weeks ago wasn't quite enough to make up for that lack of development. And since Kenny and Levi have shared so little screen time, it's hard to get invested in Kenny's apparent death this week either. Knowing this show, I wouldn't be surprised if Levi secretly injected Kenny with slow-acting Titan Juice for a surprise reappearance down the line, but for now I'm considering Kenny's role in this story to be more disappointing than anything else.
The rest of the episode feels similarly rushed; we get Historia's coronation, which was nice, though I wasn't a fan of the awkward way the episode reexplained the reasoning behind Historia's gambit last week. I understand her need to assert her royal authority as quickly as possible, but it ends up making the way the team took on Rod Reiss feel even more contrived, and the way the crowd conveniently keeps shouting how impressed they were with Historia's kill was another bit of uncharacteristically lame writing. Still, the scene where everyone cheers on Historia's revenge punch for Levi was pretty cute.
Then, out of nowhere, the episode ends with a cut to Titan Reiner getting the snot kicked out of him by the Beast Titan, with the final shot showing us the mysterious blond man inside of the Beast from the end of season 2. I understand why this scene would arrive now, at the conclusion of season 3's first story arc, but it's still a janky way to reintroduce a plot point that we haven't gotten hints of for over a year. I'm looking forward to the Titans coming back into the narrative more regularly now that this coup is over, but I do think this arc started much stronger than it finished up. Even with all of the manga's fat trimmed off, I can see why this part of AoT's narrative wasn't everyone's favorite part of the story. I loved many parts of it, but it's clear the series is still figuring out how it wants to handle its more complicated long-term story beats. Historia is the Queen now at least, so I'm prepared to consider these first ten episodes a net positive overall.
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