When action reaches its fever pitch, that which follows is a wind down. An eerie calmness. An aftermath. Unfortunately for our intrepid soldiers, their recent clash with forces mostly unexpected did not end in the victory they were all but assured and they instead find themselves battered, bruised and fewer in number.
So Eren just can’t win a fight, can he? Like, ever. And that’s not just me being mean to the guy, it’s actually a plot point. In a stunning return to relevance, Hannes reminds us all that he too was once important in the life of Eren and shares the collective emotional range of Mikasa and Armin, which essentially amounts to concern and blind, unyielding fury. He also serves as a rare example of human compassion that is not surrounded by promises, salutes and vendettas. Though rescuing Eren will require combating Titans, Hannes speech is simply about Eren’s personality, his flaws and strengths, his relationship with Mikasa and Armin and the hope he holds for the future, along with his fondness for the past. One might almost forget that 90% of social interactions in this series revolve around slicing the napes off of big, weird looking monsters. What’s more, this scene is allowed to play out at its own pace thanks to the flashback that preceded it, which may just be the most fun Attack on Titan has ever been.
Jumping back to a time when the Walls stood strong, our heroes were children and the idea of a Colossal Titan seemed frighteningly redundant, we once again witness our hero…getting his butt kicked. Taking on three bullies who stole food from Armin, Eren flails and punches his way throughout a marketplace, revealing that Shiganshina actually exists as more than a place to get destroyed in the true beginning of this saga. Anywho, Mikasa holds to character and Naruto runs to Eren’s side, proceeding to kick the crap out of the aforementioned food thieves. Whilst this is nothing new to the series, the manner in which it is handled this time around is…envigorating. Utilising an upbeat music cue that I do not recall ever hearing in this series, the young trio’s encounter with the bullies would not be out of place in a much lighter series. Hannes’ drunk ramblings that the police need not interfere as Mikasa will soon arrive is a humorous acceptance of her unrivaled ability and the subsequent fistfight between Hannes and a fed up citizen is played for laughs just the same. All things considered, it is honestly the first time I have ever believed that the people who live inside the Walls have ever been a community. Not a group of people huddled in fear, a town who culls their numbers to survive the sparse winters, or a military force bound by blood and iron wires, but a community. A simple group who live together, know each other and possess any emotion other than those that lead down a violent path. Although punching bullies who stole three days worth of food for Armin’s family is completely acceptable regardless. Those dudes deserved it.
On the more sombre side of this episode, present day Mikasa and Armin once again prove that they are pretty awesome characters who follow a pretty crappy friend. Though young Eren’s endeavour to avenge Armin’s dinner does its best to mete our protagonist’s selfish tendencies, it is not able to entirely do so. As we have seen before, it takes numerous failures for Eren to even accept the aid of others and his self proclaimed destiny to, “Kill all the Titans,” is one that more often than not harms those around him. And as sweet as it is that Mikasa is ever loyal to the boy who tried his best to save her all those years ago, their relationship borders on unsettling. Though by far one of the strongest characters in the series, Mikasa seems to have no identity other than that of Eren’s saviour. Combine this with the fact that Eren seldom sees her as anything other than a soldier that he knows pretty well and these moments of relationship building are more heartbreaking than heartwarming. Even Armin has managed to carve out his own little niche in the series, showing that he could actually function without Eren as an emotional tether to reality. Sure, this is probably a major point in Mikasa’s characterisation, but still, it makes me feel sad.
So there we have it folks, an oddly uplifting break in what has been a cavalcade of horrors pretty much since humanity received that grim reminder all those years ago. And I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Seeing young Mikasa deck those bullies and then remind Eren he has chores was funny, seeing the police not deal with the situation was entertaining and learning that these days drive Hannes forward was touching. I think we needed this. I think the series needed this. A calming breath to actually add some heart to the characters who stand for humanity itself. After all, as intensely inspiring as that is, it becomes far more believable once we see what that word actually means to everybody. And what’s wrong with risking your life to bring back the days when you sat around, drank and played cards with your buddies?