Some folks questioned why I once referred to Shingeki as science-fiction, but after this episode I’ll stand my ground. How else besides time travel do you explain Mikasa suddenly being a 35 year-old woman? She’s still hot, I’ll give her that. But even more absurd is that I’ve learned that the cadets we meet this week are supposed to be 12 years old. I don’t know what’s more bizarre – that, or or the fact that it means before the timeskip, they were supposed to be ten. Yes, that’s right – in this mythology, this is a 12 year-old.
All levity aside, I really do wonder if there’s an explanation behind this glaring disconnect with reality – perhaps rapid evolutionary changes in the human species – or it’s just some of the strangest character design on record. If I didn’t know it wouldn’t be an issue, but I can’t un-know it now, so it’s an irritant – and so are the super-thick character outlines that are now beyond doubt an artistic choice and continue to be a distraction. It’s an odd move for Production I.G., which normally shows exquisite taste in matters like this even in their weaker series. I suspect it’s supposed to be a homage to the manga, which is all well and good theoretically, but an anime is not a manga for a reason.
Well, all that is what it is, and it obviously isn’t changing. Apart from the visual quirks, for me Shingeki no Kyojin remains what it was – a series with a very compelling premise without any breakout characters so far. This week we moved ahead two years and pick up the action in a sort of medieval Full Metal Jacket setting, complete with the sadistic drill sergeant. What this episode does do – somewhat surprisingly, given the circumstances – is inject an element of humor that’s been absent in the first two. It’s bleak humor, to be certain, but it’s there – a kind of grisly absurdism that works best in the scene where simpleton Sasha Braus (Kobayashi Yuu) tries to explain to the drill instructor why she’s stolen a potato and decided to eat it during the initial muster.
Most of the scenes this week are pretty standard for the scenario – the characters are introduced, they tell their stories, we get an idea of how harsh basic training is. Joining the cast are Reiner Braun (Hosoya Yoshimasa) and Bertholt Huber (Hashizune Tomohisa), two mountain boys who’ve tasted the wrath of Titans first-hand, as well as Connie Springer (Shimono Hiro), a cocky little smart-mouth who calls himself a genius but doesn’t know how to salute. There’s also the extremely cynical Jean Kirstein (Taniyama Kishou), a potential Eren-foil who joined up because he didn’t want to look like a coward and hopes to land a cushy job as a cop in a city in the interior, kind-hearted Krista Lenz (Mikami Shiori) and calculating Anna Leonhart (Shimamura Yuu).
Predictably, Eren comes into camp with both vocal chords blazing, bragging about how he’s going to kill every Titan there is, and just as predictably is unable to back it up. But when he fails the mobility gear test that even Armin passes, there are some suggestions that something odd is going on – can it really be a coincidence that Eren’s gear was the first to fail in all the time the drill instructor has been on the job? It seems likely that Eren will wind up being capable enough to join the corps (we wouldn’t have a series otherwise) but there are many others in camp with more obvious skills. Eren’s behavior is toned down a bit after the timeskip, fortunately, and while he doesn’t exactly endear himself he’s at least a bit more tolerable and sympathetic.
I’m still waiting for someone in the cast to give me a reason to care about them as much as I do about the overall struggle of humanity, and it’s too early to tell if any of the large character dump this week will be the one (or get enough development to have the chance). I do like the tone of the series better with a bit of humor in the mix – I think the best moment of the episode was when Kirstein saw that Mikasa was with Eren and “wiped his faith in humanity” off on Connie’s shirt. We seem to be entering what’s effectively a training arc, with the story destined to return to the real plot of taking the fight to the enemy. Hanging over all this is the question of Eren’s father – is he alive or not, and what’s up with the strange dreams Eren had with his father seemingly injecting him with something against his will?