ATTACK ON TITAN continued to construct its impressive and complex narrative this week. The Scouts need to play mind games to live, and Episode 41 showed exactly how they plan to do it.
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Superb Storytelling

ATTACK ON TITAN isn’t playing around this season. The animation, the depth of mystery, and the intensity are unprecedented. Rarely will an anime, let alone a shonen anime, focus on plot depth this much. Even when they do, they rarely opt for the slow-moving or incredibly detailed plot ATTACK ON TITAN has. This anime has completely departed from its previous type of plot and action. In Season 3, there have been virtually zero encounters with mindless titans. Eren’s titan form only came out as the result of Hange’s experiments after he unleashed his newfound power. And, since his capture, he hasn’t done anything beyond sit beside Historia in Rod Reiss’ custody.

But this is a good thing. Eren as a character is only compelling insofar as the titan within him affects the plot. Right now, the story of Season 3 is a lot more about politics than physicality. The battles are mental ones. While competitive force is especially important in casting the finishing blow after mind games, it’s secondary. Some of the Scouts’ most important and impressive moves so far have been subtle tricks and subterfuge. For an anime originally based mostly on action to shift to this style is amazing.

That’s what made Episode 41 so spectacular. There was very little “fighting” but plenty of action. When characters torture a captive or use violence, it’s well animated. Thankfully, ATTACK ON TITAN is maintaining that standard in animation quality set during Levi’s first fight against the Interior Squad. On top of that, the mysteries of the show have reached a level of complexity that is impressive in and of itself.

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Reasonable Capitulation

Throughout the third Season, we’ve seen two kinds of non-Scout characters in the series. The first kind is complicit in obscuring the truth. Most of the Interior Squad under Kenny fall into this category. They act in ways that perpetuate the Royal Capital’s lies and know it. The second kind is the citizens and general foot soldiers that neither know of the true workings of the walls or the deceit that hides that truth. In both cases, every soldier is fighting for the same thing. Deep inside, the Scouts, Military Police, and even villains in the Capital want peace for humanity. The only difference they have is approach and information.

Two reporters in ATTACK ON TITAN.
Media self-censors for the Military Police | Image: Crunchyroll

ATTACK ON TITAN illustrates this idea in Episode 41 with the actions of its characters. We saw early on that the Military Police were quick to blame the Scouts for everything. And given what they see, this makes sense. If you’re unaware of the disturbing secrets the Scouts uncover daily, all you see is their aftermath. Young soldiers are forced to carry the bodies of civilians after every one of the Scout’s fights. To them, and the public, the “result” of every fight is carnage, not truth. And, as several characters make clear, finding that truth has unclear pragmatic benefit. If your life doesn’t materially change whether the Scouts or Police win, why risk it?

This is the series of important questions ATTACK ON TITAN forces characters to explore in Episode 41. Seeing news media voluntarily censor themselves for the purpose of safety was an excellent example of this. People embrace paternalism when they fear the alternative. Winning the minds of the people is a game of fear that the Capital has been playing since the walls first came to be.

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Value of a Life

In this game of perception and mindsets, different lives are of different values. Levi noted that the lives of Scouts are worth more than those of others. The Military Police make use of the exact same calculus when assassinating someone. There has to be a consideration of if a bad act is worth it for good people. But, in terms of combat, Levi and other higher-ups have to consider the long run potential of each piece on their side of the board. Now that things are truly matters of life and death, only those with information and resolve matter.

Levi doing some interesting interrogation techniques in ATTACK ON TITAN
My man Levi literally shoved his boot down someone’s throat | Image: Crunchyroll

If a Scout, for example, were to lose their will to fight, Levi may actually be justified in killing that Scout. Both sides are torturing their enemies. If Levi was willing to literally shove his boot down someone’s throat after the slightest bit of resistance, imagine what he would do to someone with real information. It’s unknown which side of the conflict will actually lead to legitimate peace. Episode 41 has already made this ambiguity quite clear.

But, the moral rightness seems to be somewhat on the side of the Scouts. There will is the one least likely to cause senseless death of civilians. The Military Police and Interior Squad both act under the instruction of heartless capitalists. If your bottom line is a couple extra acres of land, it’s hard to justify slaughtering innocent people.

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The Scouts’ Practical Response

In today’s episode, the Scouts were able to analyze that informational source of power and flip it. After all, every sign of deception exists out in the open. It’s only a matter of exposing it. That’s why the royal family leans so heavily on Kenny and the interior squad. Something as simple as noting a contradiction in government-backed textbooks can make everything fall apart. Levi, when speaking to the captured Military Police, showed us just how easy that was. By telling the captive soldiers that Annie was a titan, their entire foundation for demonizing the Scouts came into question. Like a house of cards or a cheap suit, everything immediately became a lie.

Levi Ackerman in ATTACK ON TITAN
Levi speaking volumes | Image: Crunchyroll

Even civilians joined in the fight once they had one example of lies from their trusted Military Police. In the same way that royals use the people to control the flow of knowledge, Levi pushed lies back up the ladder. But, as we saw last week, even the Scouts don’t know everything that there is to know. They’re aware of what the Reiss family wants, but not what they plan to do with it. Upper ranked members of the military aren’t allowed to know everything, and it’s unclear whether Kenny does either.

The Interior Police’s new weapons and gear are specifically designed to counter the Scouts. There is no reason to develop something that lethal if the intended target is not a threat. Given that the Capital is prepared to execute Erwin and every single Scout when they don’t have all the information yet, they’re likely on the right track.

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The Narrative Deepens in ATTACK ON TITAN

The world as we know it is constantly evolving in ATTACK ON TITAN. In Season 1, we learned about Titan Shifters. In Season 2, we learned of Reiner and Bertholdt’s treachery and the world beyond the walls. The past few episode’s focus on the corruption and darkness of the world within the walls is a welcome shift. By analyzing the underlying political and economic structures that govern ATTACK ON TITAN, the fighting gains quite a bit of substance. Episode 41 showed another piece of the weeks-long puzzle this anime is slowly putting together. Who knows what we’ll finally see when it’s complete!

Featured image via Crunchyroll.

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