ATTACK ON TITAN is continuing its impressive foray into the mystery and story of its heavily political world. Unlike Seasons 1 and 2, this season lacks the action of past ones. Last week, the closest we got to real action was Levi putting his foot down someone’s mouth. This week, almost every bit of the story took place within the noble and military’s own palaces. This moved the story away from a constant game of physical cat and mouse to a mental one. As we’ve seen, it’s incredibly difficult to manage a coup d’etat while also keeping opinions positive. The Scouts need to fight a battle on multiple fronts; undoing decades of asymmetric warfare and informational repression. The establishing powers have unique incentives to keep others in the dark.
This is the conflict that Episode 42 “Reply” begins with. The royal government has scapegoated Erwin and the Scouts for the entire season. This all occurs under the guise of protecting humanity from the supposedly selfish Scouts. The noble classes are able to rely on the fact that they’ve always been in power. Therefore, all periods of peace have been at their command. So, anything else would seem inherently foreign or risky. Because of this mindset of “trust the powers that be” in the people, the Scouts have to change minds at the source. Erwin’s plans hinge on the ability of non-nobles to feel duped and betrayed.
Episode 42 was able to shine beautifully by building upon the strong characterization of Erwin and soldiers writ large. On top of that, careful animation and ATTACK ON TITAN’s unique art style gave the entire episode an even deeper thriller vibe than its subject matter.
The Scouts Dismantled
The Scouts lacking proper leadership is both a blessing and a curse with regard to investigating. Because their commander is in the custody of nobles, there’s a presumption of their defeat. The interior government assumes that they’ve completely won every fight. They underestimate the Scouts and their ability to adapt to sudden changes in plan and danger. As a result, Erwin is able to cooperate with other members of the military and catch the government off guard. After all, his strength since the very beginning of Season 1 has been mental fortitude and logic. He’s capable of coming up with intense, deep strategies quicker and faster than anyone else. And, he doesn’t budge on his resolve. Even when the possibility of ruining human civilization exists, he charges forward.
Erwin was, undoubtedly, the star of Episode 42. ATTACK ON TITAN has a unique and animated detail to people’s eyes. In Erwin’s case, you can quite literally see the bright schemes playing back and forth in his eyes. And he uses his natural confidence and position as a suspect of treason to his advantage. Very few characters would think to make use of a soldier-filled palace courtroom in order to show the truth to other soldiers. His growth as a recurring character has been entirely related to his uncanny talent for trickery. In earlier seasons, since most of the focus was on high-intensity fighting, he was less involved. The political edge to Season 3 lends itself to his roles.
Plus, he acts as an interesting intermediary between the military leadership and the Scouts. He’s not quite as impulsive or emotionally intense as those around Eren or even Levi’s age. On top of that, his past gave us some much-needed context for understanding the nobles’ propaganda campaigns.
A Coup in Progress
Erwin’s plan to expose the nobles was not only brilliant but continuous. It operated on the same mental level as the plans the Scouts used against interior police in earlier episodes. These strategies all rely on repurposing the fundamental assumptions amongst comrades and exposing tension. When Hange was torturing interior squad soldiers, she convinced one to reveal sensitive information by insinuating that his comrade had done the same. They were united in their resolve to protect humanity from the shadows. Once those shadow’s ceased to be such a solid place of refuge, the comradery derived from them crumbled.
Erwin made use of the natural associations of Military Police Soldiers to undercut their loyalty to King Fritz. After all, most conflicts within the walls of ATTACK ON TITAN boil down to one thing: capitalist motivations. When the safety of the wealthy interior is guaranteed regardless of Titan attack, they care less about the poor further out. So, when Erwin managed to trick nobility into believing that there was a Titan attack, he was also able to make it clear where their motivations were. Most of the soldiers of almost any squad come from outside of the interior, meaning the nobles are locked in a strange feedback loop that Erwin exploited. The only ones in need of military careers tend to be those on the outskirts of society. And now, when they see their superiors condemn their families, their loyalties sour.
The coup in ATTACK ON TITAN has been thoroughly characterized, especially in this episode.
Thus far, we don’t know the specifics of Rod Reiss’ plan. We know that Eren is captured. We’re aware that there is some kind of connection across the Reiss bloodline that enables their plan to work. And we know that the true royal family has a thorough desire to take Eren’s power away from him. Given how Titan Shifters acquire and transfer power.
But because of the rampant uncertainty, it’s hard to contextualize the goal of the Scouts or the coup in general. Pixis does a bit of analysis in this and last episode and both bits of it are incredibly important. To him, it’s unclear whether the nobility of ATTACK ON TITAN is justified or not. There’s a certain risk calculus that determines whether he chooses to risk treason charges and death. But Erwin’s tricks made it quite obvious that Pixis is better off putting faith in those without the secrets.
On top of that, the arguments shortly before Erwin’s sentence at least give us an idea of the scale of power Eren possibly possesses. His scream, if properly controlled, can control and guide Titans in combat. This is the functional equivalent of having a massive, nearly immortal army capable of handling near any threats. If they’re all willing to toss away the lives of half of humanity, the extent to which Eren’s power can be maximized must be incredible.
ATTACK ON TITAN Nears Another Fight
As the Scouts discover more and more information, they’re approaching yet another skirmish. It’s looking like the biggest battle of the arc so far will happen at the Reiss’ church. The mysteries and thriller aspects have built to a height at this point. ATTACK ON TITAN’s animation is alternating between slow motion and normal speed action quite a bit lately. This, combined with amazingly unsettling background music, comes together to maximize emotional appeal every scene. And, the intensely strong facial expressions communicate every bit of betrayal and trickery in fantastic detail. While the plot is moving somewhat slowly, it’s doing so in meaningful ways.
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Featured image from Crunchyroll.