Okay yeah, this title’s a bit of a stretch, but I couldn’t not use this for the header image. I’m willing to sacrifice a good pun for a terrible one if it means using shots like this.
More relevantly, new season of anime means two things for Kyojin: A cheesy new opening that even the amazingly flamboyant Rhapsody would think too fruity, and a new set of problems related to the series’ world-building that could have been easily avoided if ambition weren’t diligently tempered with laziness.
As somebody that thinks Shingeki no Kyojin’s wall-bound society has the potential to become a somewhat unique exploration of what would happen to an entirely isolated mid-19th Century entity if it were invaded by titan versions of Chevy Chase, I haven’t seen Kyojin make the most of this scenario. The effort that has been made to give Kyojin’s society some semblance of life and vibrancy is hollow and token, barely touching on its unique problems in anything more than needlessly exposition-laden dialogue.
The most glaring example immediately follows the opening, where guards discuss their worries related to Eren’s titan form. Before long, they come to the logical conclusion that, instead of pursuing his single-minded goal of killing every titan ever, Eren’s going to harness his newfound power to kill bourgeois ass in Wall Sina. Barring a pointless scene with a stereotypical aristocrat several episodes back, there’s nothing that’s hinted at the working class harboring any sort of resentment toward the rich, nor have the rich been shown to be dickish enough to warrant the Rose inhabitants turning their attention inward. The discontent of the working class seems to be an important enough point to warrant the intervention of the Military Police in a military tribunal, but it’s not explored in anything remotely approaching depth, instead being used solely as context for the MP’s involvement. Even then, it’s ignored so Levi could beat the shit out of Eren—though, granted, there are worse reasons.
And then there are the politics surrounding Eren’s military tribunal, where the Military Police and the Recon Corps try to plead their case to gain possession of Eren—for execution and for utilization, respectively. While they aren’t dutifully ignored like the class issues are, they tie back to a few of the neglected points brought up earlier. The MP is pleading their case, not in the interest of humanity’s safety, but in the interest of the rich who supposedly are invested in keeping the status quo, despite nothing really showing that so far. Just panning by a group reading a newspaper is not enough to convey this point in a way that gets the audience invested.
The Recon Corps’ argument is much more persuasive, because we’ve seen the plight of the poor and displaced over the course of several episodes. Their interest in reclaiming Maria is tangible, and has been shown by many of the displaced joining the military, or even being willing to go on what they know will be a suicide mission. It’s interesting to have the two branches represent the two most disparate strata, and I’d definitely like to see more, but it’s not fleshed out enough to do what it wants. By painting one side in sympathetic strokes while ignoring the other, Kyojin isn’t creating the world of grey morality that it seems to be aiming for. There’s a clear right and a clear wrong here, and the only argument leveled in the defense of the Sina inhabitants is the potential for a food shortage if Rose should be lost. Knowing that, you’d think that they would help fund the push for reclaiming Maria in order to keep their tenuous positions intact.
In the end, this is a complaint that ties back to the pacing of the last few episodes, and the show’s decidedly small focus. While the Trost arc is perfectly fine on its own, very little of it benefits the big picture that the series occasionally has to pay lip service to. As if to spite its involvement of creatures the size of houses, it’s chosen to maintain a decidedly small scope when dealing with its characters. Very little outside of Eren and his immediate group are of importance to the story, beyond the nebulous goal of reclaiming Wall Maria. This is all fine, this all works, and it could exist in a narrative vacuum entirely separated from the world at large, not having to pay any attention to the plight of the civilians. Some hurdles aside, the current plot is more than strong enough to stand on its own, free of frivolous side details. The never-ending parade of earnestly goofy faces also helps.
The problem that this episode unintentionally brings up is that Kyojin chooses not to have its characters exist in a vacuum, or a titan-themed amusement park ride, or inside the head of a bored Eren slumped at a school desk, waiting for his lecture on the merits of nepotism to come to an end.
Shingeki no Kyojin is framed by a world that presents oodles of opportunity for exploration. The threat alone of a titan invasion is enough to warrant the rise of a cult that venerates the walls, of social classes dedicated entirely to maintaining them, and of people who react against these two groups. The series knows this and makes an occasional attempt to breathe some life into its setting, but the end result is stiff and reactionary, melding to fit the current plot without being consistent. Shingeki no Kyojin essentially learned how to make lifelike paintings of sailboats on stormy seas, and opted to paint a gorgeous sailboat onto a crude MS Paint rendering of water.