Attack on Titan
Episode 52

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 52 of
Attack on Titan (TV 4/2019) ?

“Descent” is another table-setting episode after last week's explosive standoff with the Armored Titan, and it gives us some long overdue focus on Reiner and Bertholdt. The former is still alive after getting the top of his skull blown off by the Thunder Spears, and Bertholdt is literally thrown into the battlefield to rescue his fallen friend. Leading up to all this, we get some flashbacks to the pair's time working undercover for the human military, along with the sacrifices they've had to make to get this far.

While it's nice to get some more perspective on the Titan side of this war, most of this episode didn't work for me nearly as well as I wanted. The opening act of flashbacks feels very dry and straightforward, even as it reveals how the death of old Marco Bott was directly caused by our Titan traitors. You see, Reiner and Bertholdt were rather stupidly discussing their heinous plans and true identities out in the open during the Battle of Trost way back in season one, and Marco overheard everything. Despite Reiner trying to play it off as a weirdly morbid and specific joke, Marco caught wind of the truth quickly and made a run for it. Reiner and Bertholdt had to get Annie to strip Marco of his ODM Gear so they could leave him for dead, which led to his brutal death.

Given what we already know of Reiner and Bertholdt, this scene doesn't offer anything new for us to chew on, with the one notable exception being Annie's reaction to the whole tragedy. It's been forever since she's been a real presence in the story, and she was always portrayed as the cold and calculating loner of the group, so seeing Annie so shaken up over killing Marco showed us a very different side of her personality, which I appreciated. We also get a reminder of the blond guy who's operating the Beast Titan, which is bound to become relevant soon.

After that, it's time for the scouts to continue their defensive maneuvers against Bertholdt, and this is another sequence that doesn't play as well as it should. The weak direction and inconsistent art of this week's production really hinder the episode's attempts to build tension around Bertholdt's inevitable transformation into the Colossal Titan. We later see the explosion caused by his transformation, which explicitly echoes a nuclear bomb detonation, so there should be some real urgency and danger to Bertholdt's arrival, but it doesn't quite click. Later, when Bertholdt finally does transform, the CG used for the Colossal Titan, especially its lanky arms, looks especially wonky and almost comical.

What I liked about this episode, in spite of its pacing and production issues, was how it got back to AoT's complicated criticism of war and the varied perspectives caught up in it. Armin tries to engage Bertholdt with dialogue rather than violence, but all of this chaos has given the Colossal Titan a newfound sense of grim resolve. He doesn't hate his former comrades, and he doesn't believe they deserve to die, but he'll kill them all the same. His timidity has been replaced with bitter resignation at the battle lines that have been drawn for him, and he'll do whatever he must in order to capture Eren, eradicate the humans within the walls, and buy Reiner time to regenerate from his injuries.

Reiner's apparent anti-human sentiments make him an easy villain in the moment, but Bertholdt proves that not every Titan-shifter shares those feelings. In fact, the Scouts' despair over killing Reiner makes the point of showing how hard it is for soldiers to kill when their formerly monstrous enemies are revealed to be just as human. While I hear the show's handling of its allegorical politics might be getting messy before long, conflicts like Armin and Bertholdt's are enough to keep me interested for now.

Rating:

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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