That’s three really good episodes in a row now (and 14 was pretty solid as well) so it seems as though Attack on Titan really is over the hump. We can go back and forth about adaptation decisions, and for me it’s a huge shame that intentional stalling effectively undercut about half of the series so far. Commercial considerations should never trump artistic ones in a perfect world, but this is anything but a perfect world and you’re hard-pressed to find many examples in mess media where they don’t do some serious trumping. It is, as they say, what it is.
There’s no mystery as to why this episode worked especially well. It was a beautifully choreographed and expensively-animated action episode, and it focused heavily on the two most recognizably human characters in the cast, Jean and Armin. I’ve liked Jean all along, but I have to say Armin has grown on me quite a bit. If Jean is the one who looks at ridiculous events from a common-sense average guy perspective, it’s Armin who actually analyzes them. I like the obsessive streak he has – it’s kind of fun hearing his restless thoughts constantly pinballing around in his head, especially when he second-guesses himself as soon as he guesses. And the fact is, most of his guesses are pretty good – he’s a pretty good strategist with an ability to see both the forest and the trees.
It’s been obvious for a while that the Survey Recon Team Corps is where the real action is in Shingeki, plot-wise. Both literally and figuratively the plot is finally going somewhere, and it’s quite interesting to watch this mission play out. The war vs. the titans is far more interesting in open badlands than it is inside city walls, and the strategy used to deal with them as well. Erwin’s scouting formation strikes me as clever, but effectively trying to make the best of an impossible situation. It has obvious flaws which were quite apparent in the events of this episode, but I’ll be the first to admit I couldn’t think of anything better. It almost seems to be as if in titan country you’d be better off in tiny groups of three or four people rather than providing a huge target an army like this provides – send Eren out with Levi and two or three others and let them try to rely on speed and secrecy.
Be that as it may, there are as always a lot of interesting mysteries in this episode, most of them surrounding the female titan with the “nice ass”, as Reiner calls her. Intelligent titans we’ve seen before – there was certainly intent in what the armored and colossal titan did – but we’ve never seen the phenomenon this close before. I read her actions exactly the same way Armin did – that was clearly a human intelligence, it was clearly looking for someone, and by far the most likely target was Eren. What we can’t know of course is who the human controlling that titan is, and why. The most likely scenario is that they’re a part of whatever conspiracy has been perpetrating this atrocity against humanity, and see Eren as the first true threat. But then – why let Armin live, once his identity had been verified? And why is it so important that Eren be taken alive, to the point where she kills no one until she’s sure they aren’t her target? I might speculate that the implication is whoever she is knows Armin personally, and doesn’t wish to kill him – which would narrow the field down substantially, with one conspicuously absent person specifically coming to mind – but that’s just a guess until I have more evidence to back it up.
There are other strange things happening here, too. Reiner (who was kind of badass here – I never paid him that much attention before) should be dead, shouldn’t he? When the female titan squeezed him and seemed to pop his head like a champagne cork, something very weird happened. First of all, the scene was “don’t blink or you’ll miss it” fast, but it really seemed he regenerated after he somehow escaped. He was certainly steaming and a lot of blood disappeared – although it could’v been Nice Ass’ blood, too. And then, assuming it was her blood, why wasn’t he crushed? How did he get out of that one? Unless – again – the titan knew him and didn’t wish to kill him. And then there was Armin’s “Avenge the bastard who rushed to his death!” speech. It was a very odd thing to say in that moment, and it seemed to stop Nice Ass in her tracks as she was about to flatten Jean. It was almost as if Armin gave that speech for the titan’s benefit, as if knowing she’d understand exactly what he was talking about (even if I don’t, yet). I’m struggling to think of who Armin might have been talking about but no one leaps out – which then leads back to the idea that he gave that speech for the titan’s benefit, except to convince her that someone known to them both was dead on the right flank (he was very careful to mention the right flank).
Well, all in good time I suppose. I don’t really mind long and drawn out conspiracy plots as long as there’s movement, and the journey to get there is entertaining. That’s the case at the moment, and SnK is transformed because of it – it’s back to being the high-octane summer blockbuster thrill ride I thought it’d be after the first couple of episodes. It sounds as if there’s so particular need to warp the pacing in order to end the season at a logical point, so there’s good reason to help the rest of it will be as solid as the last few eps have been. I can’t imagine the remaining eps will be as lavishly budgeted as this one – the animation (the all-fours titan chasing Petra, for example) was pretty spectacular – but this show is making a lot of money for all parties involved, so even there I think it’s fair to expect things to stay at a pretty high standard. All in all, Shingeki no Kyojin is making what amounts to a very rewarding comeback.