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Saturday, 22 April 2017

Attack on Titan S2E4: Soldier

Attack on Titan
Series 2, Episode 4

With episode four, we are now officially one sixth of the way through this series. It's not really a landmark moment, if we're all being entirely honest with each other, in the same way that being three episodes in (and thus one eighth) of the way through wasn't, and neither was being two episodes in (and thus one twelfth) was. Still, this also means we're drawing up on the point that usually marks the first major plot turn in an anime's story, the quarter mark at episode six, so that's something to be excited for.

(EDIT: Apparently this series only has twelve episodes lined up, so we are in fact a third of the way through, which is more significant.)

This week, though, we follow Reiner, Bertholdt, Ymir, Christa, and Connie as they take shelter at Utgard Castle, only to end up attacked by Titans under the direction of the Beast Titan. As several senior scouts attempt to fend off the attack, the five are left with little way to protect themselves -- and when all of the senior scouts are killed, it seems like it might be the end for them. Meanwhile, Reiner reminisces on his past and discovers something about Ymir that could potentially change everything.

This episode spends a lot of time trying to convince us that Ymir is a traitorous human Titan, just like Annie was, which, naturally, means that Ymir is not a traitorous human Titan -- although she is a human Titan, as we learn at the end of the episode in a moment that was obvious from a mile off the moment Connie remarked that he had a knife.

Ymir has tiny pupils.

(Specifically, she seems to be the human Titan that ate one of Reiner's friends, which has disturbing implications. Like, if she's a human Titan, why is she going around eating people? Why was she trying to eat three young men? Was she not in control at the time?)

The episode also strongly signals that there's something not quite right with Reiner and Bertholdt. Reiner seems to have some inkling about humans being turned into Titans -- enough so that he, like Ymir, tries to shut Connie down when he's speculating over it -- but moreover, he's able to recognise the language on the tins that, apparently, nobody should be able to read, since by his own admission it's bizarre that Ymir can. He seems to even know what it means that Ymir can read the tins' labels.

I mentioned last week that the show has so far been very close-lipped about Reiner's past, and honestly, this episode doesn't give us much more to go on: We get one short flashback of one of his friends being eaten, and one cryptic (and passive-aggressive?) remark from Bertholdt about how Reiner used to be more of a warrior.

That is Ymir, right, I'm not going crazy?

The distinction between 'soldier' and 'warrior' is one I've always found to be a bit facetious, but it's one I've heard made in this manner before in a few things: The thrust of the idea seems to always be that soldiers are group-oriented, interested in protecting their nations, et cetera, whereas warriors are more interested in rampant destruction, pillaging, et cetera. It's a rhetorical tool that's meant to frame soldiers and military forces in a positive light by distancing them from the worst excesses of war, and in fiction it tends to be a character contrast device.

Which is how it's being used here: Bertholdt is utilising a rhetorical device, but he's reversing the moral element -- it is bad, the implication seems to be, that Reiner is now concerned with the safety of a group, when he used to be more concerned with destruction. Which ties in to the imagery of hunters and prey in the show: Hunters are solitary and occupy a position of power (and are the ideal that Eren and others in the Survey Corps aspire to), while prey are numerous and occupy a position of weakness.

It's a meaningful line, but it's difficult to see what the pay-off will be at this point in the anime.

I just really like this shot.

The rest of the episode is largely devoted to the senior scouts battling against the Titans. They're doomed, and we all knew that the moment they were introduced, but the episode still manages to make it hurt through its usual method: Having all their bravado and dignity collapse as they're eaten alive. That never fails to be harrowing, in part because it hits so badly at the presiding cultural conception of what death is and should be. That said, the show should probably be careful not to overuse it: Even the most harrowing idea can become bland if overused.

So, that was episode four. The next episode seems like it'll mostly focus on Ymir and Christa's backstory, and Ymir fighting the Titans on her own -- which I suspect will probably end with her death, to be honest. I imagine we'll also see Eren and the others arriving at Utgard Castle in this episode, too, to set the stage for a big battle in episode six.

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