Saturday, August 15, 2015

Musing Over Manga: Attack on Titan Chapter 72--No Turning Back

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We’re going to the basement!

(A/N: The post deals with spoilers for the entire manga and contains some disturbing and graphic images. Please do not read unless you are caught up!)

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…Right after this chapter draws a bunch of parallels to the earlier parts of the series!

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There were a ton of references back to early chapters of the series this month, especially in the second half. I had to go and pull my copy of the first volume off the shelf to get some comparison photos, so sorry about any quality issues! Still, in addition to showing how much better Isayama has become as an artist, these throwbacks really make it feel like we’re moving into the final chapter of the story.

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Mikasa's abs >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Marlowe's nose
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First, what hasn’t changed—Sasha’s still meat crazy, and Eren and Jean still have little to no problems with beating the crap out of each other with little provocation. The underlying dynamics to the group that were set up when they were still recruits at the start of the series hasn’t really changed, despite the absence of more than a few characters who sat with them the last time they acted like this.

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It also looks like Isayama isn’t just borrowing from what’s been covered by the main series here, since Eren’s reference to Jean’s mom and his “Jeannie” nickname only makes sense in the context of one of the anime OVAs. Jean’s mom hasn’t appeared at all in the manga, yet the OVA in question had her relationship with Jean as a central plot point for the episode. The episode itself was a silly pre-Trost story that drew on Isayama’s fake next-volume previews for inspiration (such as the one where Armin hits his shin on the stairs), so it didn’t get too much attention outside of being a fun one-shot. If this OVA turns out to be more important to the characterization in the main series than fans were previously aware, then maybe it will stand a chance of getting released in the US in the same way the Ilse OVA will be released in December.

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Also, this connection lends itself to the theory that Isayama has given the anime staff the go-ahead on adapting things that aren’t—or can’t be, due to pacing—covered by the manga. This also blurs the line on what is “canon” for this series, since discrepancies between the main manga series and various spinoffs like Before the Fall and A Choice With No Regrets have led some fans to claim that anything that’s not the main manga series isn’t accurate to the story. But if other sources, errors and all, are actually part of canon, that leads to some interesting implications for the main series given recent revelations in the plot. For instance, the reveal that Grisha was “a human from beyond the walls” last month made me think about the mention in Before the Fall of a town called “Naraka,” which is supposed to exist outside of the walls. However, whether or not Isayama is drawing from others creations in his own extended universe (or if he had a bigger hand in all of these spinoffs than anyone was aware of) remains to be seen.

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Getting back on track, another big visual throwback to the beginning of the series was the conversation between Eren, Armin, and Mikasa, all the way down to the way they were sitting. However, while the scene was visually similar for the most part, a lot of emphasis was put on how much had changed.

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Right before that scene, Connie gave a time frame for the series. While it’s been years for the people reading, he states that it’s only been three months for the characters since Trost was attacked. Personally, that time frame blew my mind. The majority of what’s occurred in this series, all the ways that the characters and their situation have changed, happened over just a few months. That’s incredible and terrifying at the same time. Fans have pointed out that that timeline is not exactly accurate—going off of what the series itself has said about its time skips, it’s been at least four months—but it’s still a shockingly small amount of time.

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In perspective, it hasn’t been all that long since these teenagers looked up at the stars and decided that they were going to join the Scouts together. Now, they’re already on their way to becoming elite soldiers but have lost a lot along the way. When I first read this chapter, I thought that the three of them mistakenly seeing Hannes in someone else was a reference to that, but it wasn’t until I looked back in my own first volume copy that I remembered that he’d been in that scene as well. As Eren points out, things have irreversibly changed, but that doesn’t mean that they should give up fighting.

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Driving home the point about how things have changed, there’s also a concerning distinction from Eren when Armin brings up their shared dream of seeing the world. At first I assumed that this was due to Eren still having to work out a balance between fighting for his own reasons vs. Sacrificing everything to the cause, which has been a theme over the last two chapters, but then Tumblr reminded me that interviews exist from both Isayama and the director of the anime stating that they don’t think that Eren and Armin will remain close friends until the end. That’s sad to think about when you consider that at their start both of their motivations were to see the world, but Eren is now in an entirely different position than when he made that promise, so it does make sense. I wouldn’t blame Eren for become a bit jaded due to everything that he’s had to put up with in this series. It’s just another way that things have changed, and they can’t go back to how it used to be.

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The main visual difference in this scene from the one that it’s drawing from is the inclusion of Levi listening in on them. We don’t even get a thought bubble from him, so it’s anyone’s guess what he’s thinking, but I agree with the theory that he was silently pledging to bring them back alive for two reasons.

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One, if we keep going along that thread earlier about Isayama drawing from spinoff material, then there’s an extended parallel here with this scene and a similar scene from No Regrets, where Levi, Farlan, and Isabel talk under the stars. The spinoff ends with Levi putting his own goals ahead of his friends, and he pays for it. It’s entirely possible that Eren, Armin, and Mikasa are reminding him of when a similar dynamic existed in his own life before his choices caused him to lose it.

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Two, if you don’t agree with spinoff material being canon, there’s a blatant throwback to the cover of Volume 5, with Mikasa taking the place of Petra and Armin taking the place of Auruo. The end for Levi’s last squad wasn’t pretty and made up a majority of my concern for the teenagers in the previous arc, but now that Isayama is making a clear connection between the two visually, I’m even more concerned.

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In fact, the teenagers aren’t the only people Levi shows concern about in this chapter. It’s almost as if he suddenly became aware of death flag cliches and is actively trying to stop them from occurring. And the character who collected the most cues that they were about to die in the last arc was Erwin.

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There’s an interesting push-and-pull dynamic in the conversation here where Erwin starts out by continuing to talk in the way that he’s publicly expected to as a commander, despite the fact that he no longer has an audience. Levi’s violent threat about breaking his legs in order to force him to stay is both a serious test on Erwin’s real resolve as well as an expression of what Levi thought Erwin was thinking. Levi’s statement that “I'll tell them that I complained until you gave in” points towards Levi thinking that Erwin feels like he needs to go on the expedition out of a sense of obligation as commander, and is not thinking in the best interest of all of humanity (which is usually how Erwin’s plans work).

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However, for the first time Erwin admits that he’s acting on purely selfish motives. Previously, his personal goals (such as avenging his father) lined up nicely with what he had to do for his job. This time, that’s not the case. As Levi points out, it would be better if he stays behind. But going on this expedition is not out of a sense of obligation to humanity this time. Erwin has fought hard for this day, and he wants to see it happen.

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Let the death flags roll in!
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The only way to describe the feeling in this chapter is “the calm before the storm.” Everything here appears to point to an endgame arc, all the way down to a rousing sendoff for the scouts, possibly the first in history that didn’t involve grumbling about taxes. The story has finally brought itself back around to the two goals from when it started; one, take back the land from the Titans, and two, find out what’s in the basement.

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But if this is in the fact the final arc, then it’s probably not going to look pretty. I still have a bad feeling about all the new people who joined the Scouts, and also the veterans that I’m pretty sure weren’t introduced earlier. Many of them don’t have names, but they’re distinctive enough to get a feeling for their character, which might mean that they’re around to be the first wave of canon fodder. After that, I’m not so sure.

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I imagine that the majority of the major characters will stick around for the fight against Reiner, Bertoldt, and an Ape Titan, but I’m not too sure how many will actually make it to the basement. I also get the feeling that this won’t be the final arc at all—maybe what they find in the basement will answer all the current questions and then set whoever is still standing on the path to the real ending for this series. Who knows! All I’m sure of is that I’m as excited as I am terrified.

Until next time, here’s my favorite panel from this chapter:

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Hanji and Shadis sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G~
Images from Please support the official simulcast.

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