Shingeki no Kyojin is somewhat commendable for showing variety in the both the rank and file soldiers and the brass, even if that variety only extends to one half being cowardly and rational, and the other being not and not. Even if it’s only in a rudimentary sense, the portrayal as an entity comprised of flesh and emotion that’s only as strong as its various components, as opposed to an arm of humanity just used to swipe away trouble, goes a long way toward making the various conflicts of the military actually resonate on a human level.
I guess what I’m saying is we should have more episodes centered on Hanji, so I can walk away more often with few complaints beyond the show not actually being Experiment on Titan, with Hanji as the lead and Sasha as her lovely, gluttonous assistant.
The problem that usually happens with characters like Hanji is they’re introduced as these free spirits with eccentricities well beyond the understanding of any kind of logic, and they’re never fleshed out beyond their initial gimmick until their impact has long dried up. It happened with Sasha and it happened with Pixis, but it’s thankfully being kept to a minimum with Hanji.
It was smart of the show to use her as a framing device for an episode of important exposition, rather than just relying on a solemn voiceover to describe the titan experiments. Hanji’s more sympathetic view of the titans carries what could have been a dull recollection of titan experiments. The fact that it does so with legitimately strong comedic moments, like Hanji lecturing Eren about her discoveries well into the night, or overreacting while blinding a titan, helps even more, while cluing the audience in on her personality.
Where most people confront the titans with a swirling sense of dread and duty, Hanji does with unbridled enthusiasm—not because she gets to kill them, but because she has the opportunity to observe their behavior. It’s strange, amusing, and rather fitting, that this particularly brand of crazy just sort of happened after kicking away a decapitated titan head. After staying in the Recon Corps for so long and witnessing horrific acts of carnage, Hanji found a way to cope with the trauma that’s almost worse than killing titans for catharsis, and no less dangerous.
What’s more, it actually serves a purpose in the grand scheme of things that isn’t just showing that Hanji’s a bit kooky; her experiments, though limited, do allow for greater insight into titan “biology”, and how they’re basically walking manifestations of solar power. I look forward to hopefully seeing more of her in the future.
When the series focuses on these members of the military who do their job, not with a grim sense of duty, but with the unbridled glee of a child finding a titan-shaped present under their Christmas tree, it picks up significantly. Shingeki no Kyojin sure as hell isn’t perfect, but episodes like this with fun, interesting characters that provide a fresh perspective really let it rise above its weaker elements. More importantly, if every soldier was half the woman that Hanji is, Wall Maria would be reclaimed by now. Or maybe there’d just be titans on leashes named Bean. Either way, things would be better.