I guess this is the day for gender-bender characters in anime. There’s Yeti (Wiseman’s antics have me more convinced than ever that he’s a snow boy) and in a series where I didn’t necessarily expect to find one, we have Hanji (Paku Romi). To be honest it would never have occurred to me for a minute to think she might be a dude, but apparently this is the subject of considerable controversy in the rabid AoT fanbase. I think sometimes people make way too much of small stuff like female anime characters using masculine personal pronouns – real Japanese girls do it all the time – but I think fanbases love manufactured drama like that as well. Of more import to me is the entrance of Paku-san (which admittedly doesn’t offer much clarification on any potential gender issue) – she’s a welcome addition to any cast, and quite bosy of all a sudden. Hopefully that means she’s healthy again and ready to be a fixture of anime casts for a long time to come.
Hanji’s entrance is part of what I take to be a watershed moment for Shingeki no Kyojin, the formal introduction of the main characters in the Recon Squad. Chief among them is seemingly Levi (Kamiya Hiroshi, who at first impression seems miscast). He bears a notable facial similarity to Eren but not many others – his style is the soft-spoken, suave badass. There’s also Erwin (Ono Daisuke), Commander of the force. We don’t get much from him but the fact that he’s more or less dramatically cuckolded by Levi and Hanji leads me to believe he’s either incompetent or traitorous, or at the very least lacking in exceptional qualities compared to his subordinates. The most interesting element of the sequence is narrator Armin’s reveal that the Recon Squad “left on a mission that very morning” the day the titans mounted the Trost attack. Coincidence? I hardly think so. The connection between humans and titans is now well-established – I think the connection to the human leadership is only a matter of time.
Apart from that, in hindsight very little actually happened this episode. It was mostly Eren flashing back to his time in the belly of the hippie titan (and even farther back to things his father told him) and he, Mikasa and Armin staring down Kitts Verman and his artillery. I could certainly see where the humans would be skeptical after what they’d seen – I mean, a guy emerging alive from the belly of a titan is a strange sight indeed. However I don’t quite make the jump to why that makes them assume Eren is a titan himself. Admittedly no explanation does present itself based on the knowledge Verman presumably has, but it seems like a huge leap of logic to go straight to that one. In any event no one is trying to do much explaining – it’s pretty much a matter of Armin looking scared, Mikasa making threats and Eren being confused.
The inference is that nothing Eren would have said would have mattered at this point – “I’m human”, “I’m a titan” or “I don’t know WTF is going on”, whichever it was Verman was going to give the order to fire. While Eren remembers only bits and pieces of what happened to him in the titan’s stomach (sorry) staring down the barrel of heavy cannon does seem to trigger another flashback to his father experimenting on him, this time one with considerably more detail. The key, apparently – both literally and figuratively – is the secret basement of their old house, now squarely in titan territory. What secrets it holds I suspect we’re going to be waiting a while to find out, but I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t prove to be a “We have met the enemy, and he is us” kind of thing. For the moment, Eren apparently remembers enough to turn himself into a titan again, by biting himself on the arm (where’s L-Elf when you need him) in order to protect Armin and Mikasa.
I suppose the intermediate crisis point for the plot is going to revolve around what role Eren is to play as a member of the human fighting forces. The return of the Recon Corps at a key moment of the standoff seems likely, and their response is going to be interesting to see. Eren’s squad certainly knows the truth of what happened – how even as a titan he was an ally of mankind – but even if it were possible to convince the military authorities of this, I suspect the ones at the top would do anything to keep information like that from going viral. It’s a bad spot for Eren – the grunts on the ground see him as a threat because he might be a titan, and the elite because he might reveal things they’re desperate to keep hidden.
I’m anxious about Eren being back, to be honest – I think the series was better without his vocal theatrics – but hopefully this experience will have changed the character for the better. I’m also starting to wonder just what’s going on with the hilarious faces on the titans. Maybe this is just the animators – and presumably Isayama – having fun with an element of the series that could have been plain vanilla. But there’s so much variety of features and expression and some of them look so absurd on those titan bodies that I’m wondering if their facial features might actually have some kind of plot significance, unlikely as that sounds. If human beings did indeed create the titans, perhaps there’s some importance in the templates that were used for their forms.