This episode combined strong narratives with amazing music, great structure, and a fantastic evolution of the story. Overall, episode 48 is one of the best episodes this anime season, and maybe in ATTACK ON TITAN writ large.
93 %
Amazing Intensity!

Episode 48 may be one of the most beautiful episodes of ATTACK ON TITAN I’ve ever seen. Part of this has to do with the show’s incredibly high standard. But a big (and perhaps unique) reason for this episode’s greatness is where we are in the story. At this point, the Scouts have had their first real win in quite some time. Every major fight tends to end in some kind of tragic and catastrophic stalemate. When Armin revealed Annie’s identity as a Titan Shifter, they defeated her. But, that only resulted in her entering a crystalline stasis. When Bertholdt and Reiner made their last stand atop the walls, both escaped. On top of that, they managed to nab Ymir, and thus the Jaws Titan, as well.

So, being able to truly kill Rod Reiss, replace the false hold on the throne, and open the door to recovering the outermost human territory is huge. It also puts us at an interesting emotional point in the series. For the first time in a while, there’s humor. And not the tragic, sardonic humor of soldiers facing their death. This week’s episode had a carefree lightheartedness to it. It’s something we haven’t seen since Season 1; a years-forgotten joy that the Scouts haven’t had the luxury to indulge in. But simultaneously, there’s a curious additional aura of seriousness. Every character we know and love is battle tested. And it shows.

Episode 48 “Bystander” was strong because it built toward the next arc without detracting from itself. That is to say, even though it functions as a break in the story, it still developed a lot. Plus, we finally are learning more about the history of Eren’s father and, by extension, the origins of his Titan power.

A New Time of Peace?

This episode takes place about two months after the final events of Episode 47. Historia is officially the new Queen. In addition to that major political change, the Scouts created new uses for Titans. On top of functioning as strong fortifying materials, hardened Titan body is usable in technology. Similarly to how many shonen time skips tend to increase the relative fighting capacity of its fighters, ATTACK ON TITAN increased the Scout’s military capacity. The episode executed this parallel super well and explained its consequences. On the one hand, humanity can kill Titans without direct engagement now. On the other hand, that means the new generation of soldiers isn’t battle-scarred. Considering that fear and desperation led to great technological strides, but also pain, it’s unclear if anything was worth it.

Eren and Historia in ATTACK ON TITAN
There’s peace, but were the Scouts correct? | Image: Crunchyroll

At the very least, it seems that the military is very well poised to take the world on. And, it gave us the chance to see that great interaction we’ve been lacking lately. Battle is great, but watching just some good ol’ fashion joking around is nice too.

In this case, while the threat of external attack is lingering, the world has changed. Those in power now include a Queen with knowledge of living as a commoner. Following the sort of class reversing coup Marx would be proud of, the nobles lost hold and the common will replaced it. That’s a great foothold for the next arc of the series.

Strong Emotion

Even more, the emotion in this episode was just spectacular. ATTACK ON TITAN has always had a talent for conveying this, especially given its unique art style. In Episode 48, it was the eyes and music that created a sort of cascading effect; brief introductory sequences of joy and happiness traded with sudden tragedy and suffering. The lines around every character’s eyes gave the effect of dread and fear without obstructive shadows. Combining this with a solemn set of accompanying music felt deep and whole. In presenting flashbacks like this, the episode did two things.

Firstly, it filled in gaps of stories we already had passing knowledge of. This lets viewers play an active role in the narrative construction and felt quite satisfying to sit through. Secondly though, and probably most important, it characterized people either long forgotten or dead. It’s rare that anime return to old characters from years past and integrate them into the present. ATTACK ON TITAN’s mystery allows them to do this.

Reactions to news of Eren's mother dying in ATTACK ON TITAN.
The shots of horror came through especially well | Image: Crunchyroll

Along with that, the themes of “being special” echoed even before they were explicitly referenced. Eren especially has been struggling to understand his place in the world. Indeed even in ATTACK ON TITAN, I feel better calling him “a” main character rather than “the” main character. Like his father and Historia, he’s learning that not everyone is all that special and sometimes just needs to be a piece of a broader scheme. This is super unique for a shonen protagonist.

Hope Returns to ATTACK ON TITAN!

The story is approaching a critical point. Right now, there’s a tremendous high in terms of results for the Scouts. This is the first major victory of the series, and it shows. Yet, what’s gold can never stay. Any anime watcher will know that tragedy and struggle follow happiness. And, if past episodes are any indication, it’s likely that the next fight will be against the Titan Shifters.

The only question is, are the Scouts ready? What will they do to even the odds against a Titan that can command other Titans and take down Reiner easily? That remains to be seen. But when it comes, it’s sure to be incredible.

Featured image from Crunchyroll.

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