Animation
Characterization
Story
Summary
While lacking in traditional action-oriented plot, Episode 40 of ATTACK ON TITAN heightened it's existing political and social side. In doing so, fans were greeted with a wonderful picture of a multi-faceted conflict with difficulty at every turn.
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Amazing Mysteries

ATTACK ON TITAN just added another deep and exciting layer to its mystery. A major part of the appeal isn’t that each individual part is enticing. Rather, its multiple parts in tandem that make things work. Slowly but surely, we’re becoming aware of what feels like a massive informational war. The access to knowledge both corresponds to and magnifies access to power. For a series like ATTACK ON TITAN where everything operates along class lines, the possibilities for a nuanced understanding of politics and social relations are unprecedented. ATTACK ON TITAN Season 3 is making the most of that kind of narrative structure. As a result, we have an amazingly complex story that a lot of people are unfortunately failing to grasp properly.

A lot of fans have posted complaints on episode links and discussion pages about pacing. And, to be fair, even the manga is known for proceeding somewhat slow. The manga comes out every month in part because it’s too deep a story to accurately depict week by week. The anime has already made some changes to the order of events in order to prevent running into this problem. But, even so, it’s important to recognize that ATTACK ON TITAN isn’t a traditional shonen. And this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. ATTACK ON TITAN manages to include the shonen-esque battle scenes like Levi’s escape last episode while also making the story thematically rich. One tradeoff for achieving that is speed. But, slow is best in this case.

Episode 40 “Old Story” exemplified that standard. There wasn’t very much action, and it could even be said that the plot needed some work. Yet, while it’s no Levi Spiderman fighting 18 people at once, the political revelations were quite entertaining.

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Tragic Pasts

The episode jumped right into Historia’s memories. Her entire disposition changed this season once she dropped the bubbly Christa persona. Her real personality is quite gloomy. In the manga, her talk with Eren prior to the First Interior Squad’s ambush included these memories. The anime moved it in order to couple her flashbacks with Erwin’s. This magnified the drastic nature of her personality shift by shocking the viewer with it. Growing up, Historia knew nothing of affection. Her conception of maternal love was entirely from literature, and she struggled to reconcile what she does in real life with how things are portrayed in print.

Historia as a child in ATTACK ON TITAN
Historia after trying to hug her mother | Image: Crunchyroll

The first and last words Historia’s mother said to her were that she regretted her daughter’s birth. Historia’s life was torn apart by the need for secrecy. In effect, it acts as a good lens for understanding ATTACK ON TITAN society writ large. Political motivations and greed cause massive inequality in individuals’ lives. Even those with information lack the ability to assemble all of it to see a full picture. Erwin’s life story was somewhat similar.

Even last week, we saw in the Military Police’s memories that their primary function is to crack down on any attempt to breach the carefully cultivated order of the walls. Both Erwin and Historia’s childhoods define them in ways that explain their character and explain the resolve they have to expose the truth. Once a slight sliver of lie is exposed, it’s hard not to resist pulling every last scrap of wool from your eyes.

What these stories tell us, beyond just new facts about the political structure of the world, is that this struggle over authentic versions of truth and history are long lasting and incredibly deep-seated.

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Political Power Struggles

What makes life for the Scout Regiment so difficult is that they’re simultaneously fighting four battles. They have to deal with the Reiss family, the royal establishment, the Military Police, and public perception. And not a single one of them is the kind of combat that they’re equipped or trained for. They’re in the process of initiating Erwin’s plan to overthrow the current ruling class and make Historia the Queen of humanity. But, the military police are indoctrinated into the false narrative of royal loyalty to the fake ruling class.

As a result, Levi, Erwin, and their soldiers not only have to prove that what they’re saying is right, but also that all accepted versions of humanity’s structure and history are wrong. Even for the characters fighting this battle, this is difficult. We saw last week the mental toll that killing even a single human had on Armin. Ultimately, what everyone wants is peace. As Erwin rightfully explains, however, peace often means different things.

The scene of a murder in ATTACK ON TITAN.
The Military Police frame Erwin for murder | Image: Crunchyroll

To the rich in the Capitol, peace means status quo. They don’t fight for humanity since their primary concerns are property and power. To soldiers, peace means that all relevant powers of humanity are being used to save humanity. For the Scouts specifically, their peace is a combination of the general soldiers’ and a focus on truth. The struggle occurs when those definitions warp along predetermined hierarchies. Even Eren has ceased to be a person in the eyes of everyone but his friends. He’s simply a vessel for his power, the scream that controls and coordinates titan assaults.

In Season 2, we got a lot of hints for what power weaponization looks like. Now, we understand the dehumanization that forced Reiner into madness.

The Control Over History

Control of a historical narrative is what makes all of this possible. This week, we saw plenty of examples of propaganda and trickery with regard to the Scouts. The Military police have the advantage of constantly associating with the public and claiming motivations of peace. Even when brutally killing parents for something as simple as teaching inaccuracies in history, they feel justified. And, since the Scouts mostly work outside of the walls, it’s very easy to just say they’re useless.

An information war via propaganda fliers in ATTACK ON TITAN
The government’s propaganda campaign | Image: Crunchyroll

This is an amazing addition in an anime. I can’t recall too many shows that create an entire season almost purely around snake like espionage and little combat. In fact, I don’t know of any anime capable of doing this as good as ATTACK ON TITAN. By making it clear that control over what people consider “history” is the key to winning in the anime, the path of the heroes is clear. Levi’s squad needs to figure out what the truth is and undermine the foundations that keep lies in place. Otherwise, whatever they say will just sound like heresy and falsehood.

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An Ever Complex Plot in ATTACK ON TITAN!

This new episode was a great example of how ATTACK ON TITAN is able to capture a wonderfully deep story over the course of several episodes. They’re all detailed even if they are slow. Now, Erwin has turned himself in to the Interior Squad in order to buy his Squad time to rescue Eren. The power to control Titans is obviously an incredible one. This is clearly true not only because of Reiner, Annie, and Bertholdt’s decade-long mission, but Reiss’ too. No one would try this desperately to capture a power that wasn’t game-changing.

Article VI of ATTACK ON TITAN’s human constitution makes it illegal to prioritize individual gain over what is good for humanity. Erwin’s theories about the worlds’ memories fit the weird Orwellian structures that govern this anime’s world under that principle. But peace, no matter how achieved, always exists along lines of class and inequality. This episode did a great job in exploring the social and military ramifications of that paradigm.

Featured image from Crunchyroll.

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