The people who preceded the coming of the titans thought that a non-human enemy would unite them. But to think so is to misunderstand the human condition – a fact Eren now understands far too well.
At the end of the last story, Eren was revealed to be the manic titan fighting all of the other titans. That brings up an enormous amount of questions. How is he able to change into a titan? Does that mean he has some connection to them? If so, is he more titan or human? (None of these questions are answered in this volume). But, more than anything, it puts a target on Eren’s back. Rather than seeing this as a great weapon and welcoming Eren as a hero, they see him as one of the titans, and hate him as an enemy.
Thankfully, a sensible military officer keeps the soldiers from killing Eren outright. He understands their plight. After ruminating for a bit on the folly of their ancestors who thought a non-human foe could unite them, he turns to their true problem: a lack of unity within their own borders.
This works particularly well for the story because it brings some emotional diversity into the mix. Eren’s primary motivation so far has been hate. Hate (rightly placed) for the titans, for what they’ve done to humanity and especially his mother, is what drives him. It was, it’s implied, a core part of the reason he’s able to turn into a titan. But with the new turn of events, he’s forced to think about something other than hate. He’s forced to think about unity, encouragement, and most of all, hope.
This new turn of events also allows Armin to share a little of the attention. Continuing with the rotating spotlight (first Eren, then Mikasa, now Armin), Armin showcases his quick-thinking, intelligence, and strategic wit, which makes him highly valuable, despite his low self-esteem at being a weak warrior.
But with all of that said, this volume doesn’t hold together quite as cohesively. The despair of the humans, which made a lot sense during the set up of the story in volume one, is now becoming overbearing. There’s a bit too much of hopeless soldiers arguing with orders, and too little of the identity struggles that Eren must be going through, being in some sense the very thing he hates. The result is that it feels too much like a filler piece, just filling space between the discovery of Eren’s ability and the explanation of it.
That’s not to say that it ruins the story by any means. The shift in focus from mere survival to unity and sacrifice gives a much-needed optimism to the story, and gives me hope for the future direction of the series. My hope is that it will more fully explore Eren’s dual identity as human and titan, which could bring in a lot of scriptural ideas, particularly passages which emphasize “and such were some of you” (that is, wretched sinners).