I’m wondering why it took me so long to write this up. It’s been more than ten days since the latest chapter came out and I found myself procrastinating on the review. I can dish out some lame excuses: my job got in the way, other people’s dramas got in the way, the coronavirus got in the way… But the truth of the matter is, those are all but excuses.
Deep down, I believe the real reason this review was so hard to write was that the chapter made me feel really, really old. And that’s not a good feeling.
I was a teenager when I first started reading the AoT manga. Now it’s been years since I’ve graduated from university. I’m working full time already, paying taxes, juggling the bills, paying up my student loans, drinking beer by the six-pack, doing adult stuff, all the while still keeping up with the manga.
And now Keith Shadis is dead.
Do you remember when we first met him, in the early days of the manga when he was the Scouts’ rather incompetent commander? He was blunt enough to tell the weeping mother of a dead soldier than her son’s sacrifice resulted in nothing.
And then we see him again, now as the bald head of the cadet corps. He made us laugh uncomfortably with the way he gave each cadet his or her baptism of fire. If rite of passage can be encapsulated in a headbutt, or punishment for a pilfered potato, then we’ve seen the penultimate example of the proper way of doing it.
The endlessly interesting, inexplicably fascinating training days of the cadets that so many of us loved in the manga were, I believe, made possible by Keith Shadis’ looming presence. Who could forget his interactions with the gluttonous Sasha, or his extremely sharp, incredibly accurate performance reviews of the Top Ten cadets?
It was in Chapter 71 where we finally learn of Shadis’ back story. And what a story it was. Like Erwin and Armin and Eren, he was sick of being trapped within the walls. He wanted to become a hero, wanted to be a leader worthy of affection and respect, especially from the waitress Carla Jaeger, whom he secretly loved. But it turns out he’s nothing special, merely a bystander, unable to change anything. Even his attempt to dissuade Eren from becoming a soldier didn’t work. All he could do was watch from the sidelines. Hange, who seemed to have a thing for him, was disgusted with his hiding in the barracks. When they found out the real reason he gave up command to Erwin, they became angry and disappointed.
The way he savaged Carla’s words and thoughts, insulting her intelligence and simplistic view of life, shows a person doing what so many of us do: hurt the ones we love in order to make ourselves feel better, to justify our choices in life. He couldn’t make a difference in the world. And so he lashed out at the woman he couldn’t have. Feeling regretful about it afterwards, he wanted to make amends. But alas! It was much too late. Poor Carla was dead.
But life goes on. He continues to train cadets at 3DMG, and when the fascist Floch forces the cadets to beat him up, he lets them. And then when others find out, he covers for them with that unforgettable remark: he was mauled by a bear.
Until the very end, when he leads the now-repentant cadets in killing the titans, he covers for them. He tells them that one day, they’ll have to make a stand. I hope that these last words from instructor to student will have a positive impact on the cadets, the way his relaying of Carla’s words to Eren–that he was special already simply because he was born into this world–encouraged him and strengthened his resolve.
When Magat and Shadis finally meet face to face, the latter readily admits he was moved by his former cadets’ show of maturity. Magat tells Shadis what he did was hugely significant, and Shadis returns the favor by telling the general he was also doing the right thing.
Two middle-aged men, old by shonen standards, full of regrets, making a last stand. Magat tells Shadis what he’s always wanted to hear his entire life: that he’s a hero.
Magat’s confessing how he doesn’t feel proud of himself and how he just really wanted to see the Eldian warriors live happy, ordinary lives was incredibly touching and sad. Made me cry, seeing that flashback of the warriors.
Whether their sacrifice will make a difference all depends on the remaining 104th.
It seems that Isayama is killing off the older people one by one. Gone are Shadis and Magat. Who will be next? Kiyomi? Hange? Levi? I am now closer in age to the old guard than I am to our young protagonists, who are still teenagers. When the oldies die, I feel that a small part of me dies with them. Melodramatic, eh? Well, just goes to show how long-running the SnK manga has actually been.
Other interesting stuff in the latest chapter:
- Is Floch really dead? Or will he make a zombie-like resurgence, swimming up to and then climbing aboard the ship via 3DMG and killing off Hange & Co? No mortal can survive that fall, but SnK is a fictional world. If Armin can survive that amount of burning and fall when he battled the Colossus Titan (the titanized Bertholdt), then there’s no reason Floch can’t do a similar miraculous feat. I hope not, though. Unlike Zeke, who was an incredibly well-written, perfectly formed villain character, I feel that Floch’s rise from mere SC late recruit to top fascist and Eren’s supposed right-hand man has been rushed and badly thought out. It’s time for him to go. But knowing Isayama, who has show time and again how much he loves the Lazarus story, I won’t be the least bit surprised if Floch will make a resurrection.
- It’s rather ironic the way Mikasa is helping Annie and Jean is helping Reiner to board the ship, when just hours earlier M&J wanted to beat the living daylights out of A&R when they were in the forest.
- Connie has paid his dues. In the earliest Trost attack when Armin came up with the plan of eliminating the titans inside the gas supply building, he failed in his mission and Annie saved his life. Then again at Utgard Castle, he was about to be grabbed by a titan when Reiner saved him. In this chapter, he flies right in front of the weakened Annie and Reiner to face the attacking soldiers. It was a suicide move, but it worked. Now they’re even.
- Falco thinking that if only Porco was around then they wouldn’t be in trouble, reminds me of Armin thinking the same with regard to Erwin. If Gabi is Eren 2.0 then Falco is Armin 2.0.
- It was really painful to see the 104th/SC killing off each other. But then again, we humans have spent our entire race’s existence killing off each other. It’s like the thing we do. Humans are basically ugly, terrible creatures, IRL and in the SnK universe.
- Seeing Connie weep as he kills his fellow soldiers is what makes SnK a cut above the rest of mangadom. (Completely unrelated but what made Kimetsu no Yaiba so annoying for me was how thoughtlessly and unfeelingly the killings were made. It’s like everyone there was a psychopath or something…)
- Floch agitating the soldiers to fight for the island and their loved ones reminded me of Erwin rousing the new SC recruits to give up their lives in the suicide drive against the Beast Titan. The difference is that Erwin thought they were just fighting against the hairy creature and his ilk. Floch knows, gleefully at that, that he’s giving up billions of lives outside the island in order to save his own skin. What would Erwin have done? I really miss him.
- Gabi’s face as she watches Magat blow up the ship with himself inside it was heartbreaking. They’ve always had a connection. Brainwashed killing machine though she may be, Gabi is really just a kid fond of the grownups in her life who’ve shown concern for her wellbeing.
It seems the SnK fandom continues to be divided between the Jaegerists (Eren/Floch) and the liberal pacifists (Armin/Hange). Which side are you on? I’m on Jean’s side. I just want him to be happy. Whatever makes him happy. If he’s happy, I’m happy. If he dies, I’ll die right there with him.
All in all, another sad chapter, but a necessary one, to transition between the Old Guard and the new. Once again, I’m reminded of the greatness of the SnK manga, in that nearly every character is made as real as possible. Real in that no one is perfectly good or perfectly evil. Everyone is deeply flawed in some way. But they’re all just doing the best they can given their limited capacities.
Shadis, too, is a flawed human being. But in the end, he stands up for what he thinks is right. No longer a bystander, he blew up the supplies train, which made all the difference in the world for Hange and the rest of their team.
The blurb on the last page says 「されど、人は死に方を選ぶことができる」(Saredo, hito wa shinikata wo erabu koto ga dekiru – “Be that as it may, a person can choose how to die”).
We don’t choose to be born, and for the majority of us who cannot afford a stay at Dignitas, we also don’t get to choose how to die. In that sense, perhaps the two middle-aged men on the blown-up ship were the lucky ones.
RIP, our favorite Marleyan general. RIP, our favorite instructor.
Thank you so much for reading! Please consider sharing a thought or two in the comment section below. Your comments give me life and are a real source of encouragement. xoxo, hana
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