For a show about the last vestiges of humanity pushed to the edge of extinction by an uncaring, downright malevolent outside force, Shingeki no Kyojin has some surprisingly decent comedy chops. Granted, they’re mostly to do with Sasha stuffing her lovely face or people getting caught in stupid poses with the most stoic expressions imaginable, but that still goes a long way toward making a slow, drawn out conclusion to the training arc infinitely more enjoyable, and for providing appropriate levity to a bleak situation. If nothing else, appropriate levity is what this show truly excels at.
All in all, the first half of the episode feels hollow and drawn out, most likely to take up time for the inevitable cliffhanger. There are a few bright moments of good character development, but they’re hampered by needless repetition of motivations, and the deliberate affirmation that Mikasa’s only role in the story is to protect Eren and serve as an all-purpose female Rambo. Coupled with the slowness of this final phase of training and the immediate aftermath, it drags way longer than it should on the way to more titan mayhem.
When the episode starts with a running sequence followed immediately by a demonstration of the gear’s capability for sweet moves, pausing the action to describe characters is a clumsy way to serve up exposition while saving all the money for Colossal Titan’s reappearance. I mean it works, but it takes what should have been a fun sequence and chops its pacing solely for the purpose of exposition and adding minutes to the episode’s runtime. It’s unfortunate, because I for one would’ve been overjoyed to see soldiers swing from branch to branch, narrowly dodging each other as they moved to swipe at titan dummies without the action coming to a halt every ten seconds—just two minutes of unnarrated action would’ve been satisfying enough.
As if to make up for the humdrum conclusion of the training arc, the scene of Eren and his comrades maintaining artillery on the wall is perfectly paced, and doesn’t last longer than it needs to. Sasha offers stolen rations that she continuously slavers over, and all is good until Colossal Titan swoops down from the heavens and knocks Eren’s group off the wall with the accompaniment of a dramatic chorus. It The abrupt change in tone is managed with virtually no hiccups, something that’s difficult to pull off for any show.
The sudden reappearance of the Colossal Titan, whose tiny eyes are now the creepiest thing about him, serves as an appropriately abrupt end to the relative peace and quiet of training; the threat is much scarier when you can’t see it lumbering from miles away. The way that the (relatively) big ones appear from seemingly nowhere and attack without warning not only elicits an atmosphere of paranoia, but serves as a grim reminder that no amount of preparation matters when something that big can appear out of the blue and demolish fortifications with a half-hearted swish of its arm. It’s unceremonious, it’s unforeseeable, and most of all it’s scary.
Every scene involving the titans up to this point has given me goose-bumps, thanks to a strong visual presentation and an appropriately grandiose soundtrack that falls just short of being ridiculous. All of those are in full force for a few glorious minutes toward the end, and it succeeded in making me want more, even knowing full well that it deliberately set itself up for one hell of an annoying cliffhanger. Yet, there are still a few questions that could do with some answering. Why can titans only appear immediately outside the wall? Why didn’t Colossal Titan help continue their push into the city immediately, rather than letting people build up again? I mean given the titans’ nature, you’d think they’d keep pressing onward, not wait several years for people to recuperate and train, and it doesn’t seem that there are prerequisites for Colossal Titan to reappear, save for it being convenient for the plot.
Still, aside from the first half of this episode, things have been excellently paced so far, striking a confident balance between titan-centric mayhem and character development, delving into bleak territory without becoming consumed by it.