Warning: Contains spoilers.
Not Doing It Lightly
Ah, more of what’s inside Eren’s head! I feared that after the thought-rich previous chapter we will be put in the dark once again about what’s going on in the protagonist’s mind. How nice to have another chapter where we see Eren’s contemplations about the decision he had to make.
I’m extremely glad he’s not doing the “Hell yeah! Kill ‘em all! Destroy every single one of them: civilians, pregnant women, little children, babies…yeah, man! Kill! Kill! Kill! Woooh yeah! Die die die! Serves you right, fucking losers!” kind of swaggering triumphalism of the video game player on a murderous rampage, complete with fist pumping and maniacal laughter.
So many readers on the fan boards (of a certain age range and gender, might I add) are all so cocky and cavalier about Eren destroying the world. This kind of conceited, gloating attitude to mass murder is a result, I believe, of a desensitization to violence. Just because we’re talking about a fictional world with fictional characters we think it’s perfectly fine to kill everyone in sight, just like a mindless shoot-em-all type of video game. We don’t know these people, who cares if they suffer? Kill them all and be truly free! It’s just a fucking manga anyway! And so on.
But Isayama shows his skill as a storyteller once again. It’s so easy to drop a bomb on nameless faces and faceless names, but he makes sure we get a good glimpse of what is happening down below. The little boy we saw in his memory shards, who appears as a pickpocket and is saved by Levi when they arrive at Marley, is seen once again. This time he’s give a name, and we get to know the reason why he’s stealing. As wise readers we know that he has to steal far, far more than he has in order to afford decent housing in a country that welcomes refugees, but this kid is too young to know the details and is just dreaming of a better life.
It is this kid and his big brother, already missing a left hand as punishment for petty thievery, that are crushed—very graphically at that—under the weight of the wall titan’s foot. They are crushed like cockroaches when seen from a drone’s perspective. But we know these kids had names and lives and emotions and thoughts and dreams and aspirations. Through them we feel the tragedy of an indiscriminate massacre.
Isayama’s great talent is showing us what is one the other side. One of the major reasons I’ve grown so hooked on the Attack on Titan manga is that “the enemy” aren’t just evil aliens from outer space or irredeemable psychopath Nazi-type criminals or some easily hateable bunch of wicked people that populate mainstream films and manga. In AoT-verse the enemy is more complicated: they are countries filled with ignorant people, deeply flawed human beings who turn this ignorance into fear, which grows into hatred, and ultimately ends in tragedy. We’ve seen the unscrupulous politicians taking advantage of this ignorance, manipulating public perception for their own self-serving ends. In many countries it is the people who elect the politicians. In other words, the enemy is us.
I wish Isayama took more time in showing us the lives of the Marleyan Eldians and also the Marleyans themselves. I would have liked to learn more about Magat’s family, for instance, and also about the group of (non-Eldian) progressives that are fighting for Eldian human rights. Who are these people? What are their names? What made them take up the fight on behalf of Eldians? Even this group will be crushed under the weight of the marauding wall titans. How ironic, spending your life advocating for the rights of a people whose god (Eren) ends up killing you in the end.
We’ve seen a glimpse of Pieck’s father, and also Reiner’s and Gabi’s. Reiner’s mother in particular was emotionally manipulative and will never win the Mother of the Year award. But what about Falco’s family? Their father, a freedom fighter who died for his beliefs, was mentioned briefly. He and his wife must have been kind people and competent parents, having done a great job in raising the good kids, Colt and Falco. Falco in particular has an incredible amount of empathy and emotional intelligence. We could only surmise that he grew up in a family environment that encouraged this kind of growth. But we don’t really learn much about any of these people, who are all dead by now. Ignorance breeds fear, fear breeds hatred…
Once we put names to faces and learn about their lives, it is much easier to feel compassion for others. Our lack of empathy for victims of massacre and mass slaughter is because we don’t know who these people are. What’s worse, anyone big enough to feel compassion is derided by the rah-rah-massacre-yeah-kill-everyone group, who label them as bleeding hearts or wussies. I personally think it’s pathetic how low some people can get, thoroughly enjoying the suffering of others, including small children.
In shoot-em-up fictional narratives, without much consideration we simply side with the protagonist (or person with the biggest gun) and consider everyone else to be collateral damage.
Isayama has done a good (albeit belated) job in showing us a glimpse of the lives of the people being crushed to death. It’s barely enough for me, but I’m infinitely glad that he tried.
Eren’s crisis of conscience is palpable. His suffering is immense, the self-hate unmistakable. He weeps openly, apologises profusely to his future victims. We see the depth of his suffering and his cry for help. His decision to do a full rumbling was not an easy one. He suffers greatly but, because he believes there is no other alternative, goes through with it anyway.
The above panel of a smiling child Eren looking above the dust clouds churned out by the marauding wall titans and calling it freedom can be tied to the last panel of him closing his eyes to the suffering down below. Founder Ymir sees it and he himself knows it is happening. This isn’t freedom, nor is it heaven. It’s hell on earth, and adult Eren understands this more than anyone. His childhood dream has been crushed, thus the mental suffering.
Yet this chapter has made it obvious that Eren still has a conscience, still has traces of humanity left in him. When (yes, when, not if) someone can come up with an alternative to a full rumbling, we can count on Eren to stop.
That someone, I’ve always believed, is Armin. Eren himself had predicted it on that roof in Shiganshina: Armin will save the world. It’s just a matter of time.
Which brings us to–
Armin and Annie
Ah, these two! Aren’t they cute? After Annie burst out of her crystal I was wondering why she and Armin didn’t have a conversation. I mean, come on! He’s been monologuing in front of her frozen form for four years and they have nothing to say to each other? Jesus.
Finally we see them talking in this chapter. It’s always been obvious that Armin had a thing for Annie, all the way back during their cadet days. Eren accusing him of having feelings for her as a sign of being manipulated by Bertholdt’s memories is patently untrue. Armin liked Annie even before he devoured Bert. It was nice that he finally got the chance to tell her at world’s end. Not!
We can see Isayama’s crazy aversion to romance here. The two—one is nineteen while the other is a stymied fifteen-year-old—come off sounding like a pair of third graders. It was really cute, the blushing they did. But c’mon, Armin, just say it already! I like you, Annie. If Falco can say it to Gabi then so can you.
Yo aruani, you two might just end up being killed while trying to stop Eren. Go ahead, while you’re both still alive, put your heart on your sleeve and out with it! You have nothing to lose, trust me.
It seems to me that Annie felt let down because she had wanted Armin to clearly, verbally express his affection for her. But since he clammed up instead she simply chose to leave. His stopping her was a good thing, but he goes on to discuss morality and his backpacking dreams instead.
Sigh. Since this is Isayama we’re talking about, we won’t get so much as a friendly hug. I suppose that’s where us fanfic writers come in—ahaha!
To those aruani haters claiming that everything Armin has said was due to Bertholdt’s undue influence, excuse me? Are we reading the same manga? If we go back to the chapters of their early days of training, we see that Armin is the only non-Marleyan Eldian that Annie has ever really talked to other than Eren.
Remember that Annie spared Armin’s life twice. She could have killed him easily, but chose not to because she cares for him. Armin even asks her why she let him live when she knew it was dangerous to do so, and all Annie could come up with was “Dunno.” She couldn’t bring herself to kill Armin but easily killed the original Squad Levi and hundreds of other soldiers and civilians. Obviously Armin is special to her.
Armin, too, was instrumental in identifying the Female Titan. But he did it reluctantly. When Eren asked him if he was able to dig into Bert’s memories after devouring him, he said no. Remember that Eren lied to Mikasa about hating her, so it’s highly probable he also lied to Armin about him being manipulated by Bertholdt. The conversation we saw here in Chapter 131 was all Armin. He’s not being mind-altered or heavily influenced by Bertholdt. If he were, he’d be screaming for Eren’s head on a platter.
Annie points out that Armin’s desire to have dialogue with his enemies as well as not giving up on dialogue with Eren is a result of his wanting to shrink from a fight, a form of conflict avoidance. It’s a very perceptive comment, and also highlights the difference in their beliefs. For Annie, armed conflict is inevitable; for Armin, diplomacy should reign supreme. Which of these beliefs will triumph in the end will determine how the manga will go down in history. Will it be an ode to violence, or an ode to discourse? I’m looking forward to how Isayama works everything out.
The World of Paths
I think the most important panel in this entire chapter is the one were Armin is in Paths and looking at a young Eren talking about finding freedom.
I’m supposing that was when Armin was about to die but got into Paths to be fixed by Founder Ymir the way Zeke did after he blew himself up? At any rate, we’re given more alternatives on how Armin can save the world. With the time travel card, he may be able to persuade current Eren to go back in time and convince child Eren not to destroy the world. Or something like that.
In the last panel of the chapter, Armin says he still believes there’s a world outside the walls that they don’t know enough of. I’m pretty sure he’s not speaking of riding across the desert on the backs of camels or bobsledding in the Arctic. Instead, he’s speaking about Paths. It’s a world in and of itself, connected to theirs and accessible to titan shifters. It’s a place to go for healing, and also a place to talk and trip down memory lane. If Armin can go there and see child Eren, imagine what else could be done. We see Carla and Founder Ymir in this chapter, who are part of the past. If the future indeed cannot be changed, then it is the past that must.
Eren is a slave to freedom, and this is making him suffer terribly. If there is anyone in the story that needs help, it is him. His friends must and will come through for him, and I believe this because in this chapter we see so many–
Signs of Hope
This chapter further hammers down my belief that Eren deliberately isolated and estranged his friends so that they’ll go out of their way to stop him. He can’t change his own actions as he’s already seen himself doing it in the future, but they can change theirs.
When the refugee kids were being crushed, Founder Ymir could be seen watching in the background. What is she thinking? Does she want this to happen? She might just be the key to solving the dilemma. Eren has given her freedom, so she’s roaming the world as a free spirit I suppose. If he can go back in time to save her, then none of this would have happened in the first place.
It’s painful to see both Eren and Armin being very disappointed when they find out the true nature of the outside world. It’s not just pretty landscape scenery out there, it’s filled with horrible people and terrible situations. We always think of the “other side” in terms of the grass being greener, but once we find out the truth it can be a real letdown. Yet Armin’s continuing hope to go to explore the world with Eren gives a hopeful note to the story in general.
The seagull that landed on the ship and looked Armin in the eye is most definitely a symbol of hope. Seagulls symbolise the ocean and seafaring. They’re free, adventurous birds because they can fly a long range. I’m sure it’s an optimistic message for everyone. Armin sees the bird and has come up with an idea of what to do next. I’ve been saying this for a long time now but I’ll say it again: as Eren himself had predicted, it is Armin and not anyone else who will save the world.
Finally, the biggest sign of hope for me is Eren’s saying 「未来は・・・変わらないらしい」(“It seems the future cannot be changed”). Eren did not say “The future is definitely unchangeable.” He’s only assuming it is, but he’s not completely sure. The important point here is the qualifier seems, which gives us hope that perhaps it can, once someone (Armin most likely) figures out how.
Next Chapter Wishes
Next chapter I hope to see them planning on how to save Eren and the world. I’d love for more conversations like the aruani one. If we could get a positive jeankasa convo then I shall love Isayama for the rest of my life and die a happy fan!
Liberio is already destroyed, and I’m assuming Marley will soon be flattened. Why are these people on the ship still trying to stop Eren? For Hange (moral grounds), Onyankopon and the Azumabito group (saving their respective countries) the reasons are obvious. But I’d love to see the others on the ship voice out their concerns and thoughts as well. What does Reiner feel about all this? What about Gabi? What’s Levi thinking? Where is Zeke?
All in all, this was another great chapter, ending in a hopeful note. Can’t wait for the next one! My heartfelt wish is that Isayama won’t rush the ending. There are so many loose ends to the story. Even the bit of aruani we saw in this chapter was left hanging. Nothing has been resolved.
What we do know for sure is that Eren is suffering and needs help. Can his friends come through for him, in the typical shonen manga fashion?
I fear that, in the end, while Eren is trying to save his friends, they will—ironically—end up sacrificing their lives to save him from himself.
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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