ATTACK ON TITAN has a degree of mystery and world building that rivals decades-long anime. This episode may have changed quite a bit from the manga, but it still was absolutely phenomenal. See our review!
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An Amazing Addition

My God, that animation. ATTACK ON TITAN continues to deliver an incredible and dynamic season full of mystery through amazing animation. So far, Season 3 departs from the usual narrative of constant Titan slaying outside of the walls.

At the end of Season 2, Eren showed a new power. After letting loose a primal scream while defending against a transformed Reiner, Eren pulsed energy. This energy radiated outward, affecting all nearby normal Titans. Eventually, he was able to command these Titans to attack Reiner and Bertholdt, forcing the two to flee with Ymir in tow.

As a result of Eren’s increasing power, the revelation that Titans make up the walls, and the capture of Pastor Nick, the Scouts find themselves unable to operate. Orders from the royal capital freeze their activity completely. Now, we’re finding out why in an extremely violent mystery. And finally, we’re learning more about the background of ATTACK ON TITAN’s very own smol badass, Levi.

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Slight Changes

This episode was amazing. But, and I want to note this early because it’s a common feeling, I’m a bit disappointed. ATTACK ON TITAN is enjoyable for me because it’s deep and raw. The violence isn’t a bloodbath for no reason. Every death, even of non-major characters, is important. This is because every single piece of ATTACK ON TITAN’s story has the same impact as a planetary threat. After all, if the world as you knew it was a couple million people, a single civil war would be much more serious.

But beyond just basic censorship, the story is quite a bit different from the manga. A lot of flashbacks and (from manga readers’ perspective) very important content seems to be missing. My hope is that the anime is reconfiguring the order of events to make episodes flow differently. Yet, as of now, it seems like ATTACK ON TITAN is prioritizing speed over adherence to the actual, and complete, story.

That being said, the anime still does an amazing job with the story. Every frame is crisp and I end up begging for more by the time the episode is over.

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Levi’s Escape

Episode 39 “Pain” began with Levi quickly escaping Kenny’s ambush. The Scout Captain noticed that their plan to evade capture was working out a bit too well. Unfortunately, he realized that about 2 seconds too late. Plenty of people die in this and last episode, but Levi puts on an incredible performance. He was able to evade Kenny’s ridiculously powerful shots and dodge an entire squad. This episode gave us a chance to see some of that definitive ATTACK ON TITAN style.

No anime has that incredibly active quick moving fighting style like this one does. Levi makes incredible use of his Omni-Directional Movement gear and a great deal of trickery to escape. Eventually, he manages to rendezvous with the remainder of his soldiers and stops Kenny from wiping them out. It’s quite clear that Kenny taught him some of his tricks. Not only do the two operate in similar ways, but they have that same calm intellect about them.

Shifting Sides

Afterward, we get several interesting bits of information and see allegiances form. Levi and Hange begin to torture Djel Sannes, tearing off his nails and using tricks to make him fold. Levi also manages to turn Dimo Reeves, the businessman who runs commerce for almost all of the Trost district. While we don’t see quite as graphic and violent a torture sequence as in the manga, the information is the same. Sannes exposes the truth about Kenny’s men, the First Interior Squad. They basically act as secret police and murder anyone who challenges order or seeks the truth. Levi, and his squad by extension, learn the truth about the royal family. They then inform Erwin that the Reiss family, not the current aristocracy, is the true royal family.

The aftereffects of torture in ATTACK ON TITAN
Sannes reveals dark truths after hours of torture | Image: Crunchyroll

This means two things for the episode’s mystery. One, it means that Historia is a legitimate heir and member of some of ATTACK ON TITAN’s biggest puppet masters. And two, it means the conspiracy is even bigger than the Scouts imagined. Plus, now that they’re facing off against both the real and shadow families of power, they’re criminals. Every move they make carries the risk of detention or death.

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New Forms of Combat

Kenny informed us today that Levi is an Ackerman, a member of the same family as Mikasa. And this is incredibly important for the new kind of physical combat we get in Episode 39. Human vs Titan combat is nothing compared to the amazingly fluid experience we got here. Generally, the enemies that Scouts take down are barely moving. Even against the Titan Shifters, usually only a few people were moving and the target was the single Titan weak point. Human versus human combat is a ton of moving parts and weapons. The degree of animation intensity in just Levi and Kenny’s fight was amazing. Throwing in other Scouts and the gun-sword exchanges between other soldiers was even better.

Levi Ackerman in ATTACK ON TITAN
Levi killing another soldier | Image: Crunchyroll

The second form of combat we’re getting a better taste of is political moves in ATTACK ON TITAN. The royal government has clearly been playing an incredibly thought out game. They literally operate behind every set of walls possible, both figuratively and literally. As a result, they have access to information. As Episode 39 showed us, they have so much information that even questioning others might reveal secrets. We don’t know much yet, but one thing is clear. Eren was certain that the royals planned to have him eaten.

We know thanks to Ymir that normal Titans become humans when eating a shifter. We also know that normal Titans all started off as normal humans. Given that, it seems likely that Eren is at risk of losing his powers — and his life. But the battle is one that breaches the sword and gun and even permeates politics. This multi-dimensional conflict is one reason people love ATTACK ON TITAN. It looks like Season 3 is planning on giving us even more of it than usual.

Moral Qualms

While a lot of the focus in the episode was on Levi, Eren, and Historia, Armin was a crucial point. Today was his first time taking a human life, and it had an effect on him more than anything else. Thinking back to the early moments of Season 1, Armin still didn’t react as much as he did this episode. After Military Police took control of the cart holding Eren and Historia, Armin and Jean took it back. However, a third soldier managed to get Jean at gunpoint, hesitating to kill him before Armin shot him from behind. For Armin then, not only did he take another human life, but he killed more readily than a trained killer. The Interior Squad are essentially assassins, and yet one still hesitated. This brings up some amazing commentary on morality from ATTACK ON TITAN’s characters.

Armin devastated at his first human kill in ATTACK ON TITAN
Armin devastated at his first human kill | Image: Crunchyroll

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Good and Evil

Because of the show’s structure, the line between good and evil is somewhat blurry. The Titans are mostly mindless brutes with only the drive to eat humans. Because they act on subconscious impulse, I hesitate to call them inherently “evil.” Now that the Scouts are fighting other humans, the first instinct is to assume that the main characters are good and the others evil. After all, revealing the truth and saving Eren and Historia seems like a good thing. But in actuality, that still involves killing soldiers and overthrowing the government. From Armin’s point of view, it’s unclear whether the route the Scouts want is actually a good one. For the Military Police, they believe that their actions, while bad at the moment, guarantee humanity’s long-term survival.

Leaders in the ATTACK ON TITAN Capital plot Eren and Historia's capture
Leaders in the Capital plot Eren and Historia’s capture | Image: Crunchyroll

And this isn’t a new idea. Reiner and Bertholdt were in the same conundrum acting for their homeland. ATTACK ON TITAN isn’t a story of good against evil; it’s a story of survival. Every desire is the same, the only question is whose method wins out. Hopefully, we’ll see even more incredible clashes of will. Armin is the first of many of our favorite characters who’ll need to dip a few toes into darkness. With the revelation that Titans may have originally been humans, the Scouts know they’ve been killing. Taking the life of a fellow soldier means they need to steel their resolve and temper their will. Otherwise, Season 3’s already high body count might tick up a bit.

The Civil War in ATTACK ON TITAN

The episode was a huge mix of combat, politics, and mysteries. From the current progression of the series, it seems like most of the next episode will explore Erwin’s memories. There are certain elements of the story from the manga that might make an appearance too. In either case, we’ll be following each characters’ understanding of the world in ATTACK ON TITAN to uncover secrets. And every step of the way, we’re certain to learn about Levi’s tragic past and see great fights. The concept of soldiers flying about with compressed air shotguns was cool enough. Seeing it in action was even better. Plus, the Interior Squad is forcing the Scouts to be creative in their attack strategies, using their gear as a ranged weapon.

Needless to say, the episode was impressive. This is a great start to what will hopefully be a consistent and action-packed season. With the story being shifted from the manga a bit, it seems even those who’ve read this arc have surprises in store.

What were your thoughts on the episode? Let us know in the comment section below!

Featured image via Crunchyroll.

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