For once, I agree with pretty much everything Eren said – I was thinking “this is a haven for freaks” just at the time he said it about the Recon Corps. In any sort of world where these are the people who end up as the heroes, you know things have to be in desperately bad shape. But so it is here, as the alternative seems to be a broad range from corruption to cowardice to apathy to possibly outright conspiracy. Whatever weird quirks and foibles the R.C. has, at least they don’t seem interested in protecting the status quo when the status quo is so bloody awful.
This episode seems mostly to be setting up the arc to come – it even has “Prelude” in the title (along with “Part I”, which with Shingeki no Kyojin takes on an ominous tone for me) just in case you had any doubts. There are mass introductions to more members of the Recon Corps, specifically Team Levi. Among them, Petra Rai (Aikawa Natsuki, debut performance) seems to be the most normal – with this group she’s probably hiding some terrible freakish secret but compared to the others, she’s a lamb. Levi’s domineering personality hangs over this group like a foul odor, and Petra reveals to Eren that Levi was a thug before he ended up in the R.C., which certainly fits.
The two members of the corps that really interest me are Erwin and Hange, though for quite different reasons. Hange is, like most of the characters in AoT, completely over the top – she’s such a psycho that even the other psychos in the Recon Corps seem scared of her. But she’s interesting in a way most of the cast isn’t, partly because Paku Romi is doing her usual stellar job of finding interesting places to take her character and partly because her personal obsession is with uncovering the layers of lies and bullshit that permeate the entire premise as it’s been sold. She goes about it in quite disturbing fashion, conducting Mengele-like experiments on her titan subjects even as she gives them names and baby talks to them. And in her own fashion, she seems to be inching closer to the truth.
In truth, none of the brutality in this show is really disturbing because in usual Araki Tetsurou fashion, it’s so outlandish and frequent that one quickly becomes desensitized. In watching the scenes of Hange experimenting on the titans I couldn’t help but think of the scene in Shiki where Dr. Ozaki experimented on his vampire wife. What a huge difference in impact, at least for me – that was one of the most devastating anime sequences I’ve seen, and I think it points up that AoT has really failed to connect with me on an emotional level most of the time. It remains interesting intellectually though, and it appears – partly through Hange’s experimentation – that we’re inching closer to the truth. I found one observation of hers especially interesting, when she noted that the titans were lighter than they should have been, based on their size – and she speculated that “what we’re seeing may not be what’s really there.” She may be a nut job, but I suspect Hange is closer to the truth than almost anyone we’ve met so far (who isn’t in on the conspiracy, anyway).
And then there’s Erwin, who’s made an impact despite – or perhaps in part because of – the fact that he’s rarely been on-screen. He’s a hard man to read, by his own design, the calm eye at the center of the freakstorm that is the Recon Corps. His appeal partially overlaps with Jean in that characters who act like sane, normal people are rare in this cast. But there’s also an intense curiosity about what makes him tick, and what he really knows. When the key moment of the episode occurred, the killing of Sawney and Bean, he leaned over Eren’s shoulder and whispered “What do you see there? Who do you think is the enemy?” Hardly a subtle bit of foreshadowing there, though of just exactly what it’s still hard to say. It wouldn’t be a big leap to the notion that Hange is getting closer to the truth than those in power are comfortable with, and that Erwin is still trying to take the measure of his new “ray of hope”…