The terrifying nature of mankind’s struggle has been well defined by the first three volumes of Attack on Titan. Now, the story takes a step back to look at the training they’ve all gone through, which unfortunately costs the narrative a good deal of momentum.
When we last left Attack on Titan, Armin’s plan to have Titan Eren fill the hole that had been breached by the titans was looking like a miserable failure. Eren had turned into an uncontrollable monster, and subsequently knocked unconscious. When we pick back up with Eren, Armin is able to get through to him. Not just by appealing to his rage, but by appealing to his hope – to explore outside of their walls.
That bridges the gap between the present and the past. During our glimpses at Eren’s training – in which he is not a particularly talented soldier – we see a young man divided by two motives: to explore the outside world, and to kill the titans in a quest to avenge his family. One of these motives is filled with hope, and one with hate. It’s interesting that those two ideas are never presented as being in the least bit in conflict. The question I continued to have while I was reading this was, can those two motivations consistently exist within one person?
I think they can, if they are directed at the right things. For example, a hallmark of the Christian faith is hope in the midst of suffering, but we are also called to hate sin – an unfortunately neglected balance in the church today. Taken in this sense, Eren’s identity struggles, given his ability to turn into a titan at will, take on an almost Christian meaning. His very life’s purpose is in his hatred of the titans, and yet he is in some sense one himself. This is not unlike how the Christian ought to hate sin, and yet realize that he or she is a sinner.
In addition to the character development that Eren goes through, we also meet an ensemble of supporting characters. There’s the goofy “potato girl,” the infuriating Jean, and of course, Mikasa and Armin. But the new characters and training montages ultimately feel more likely unnecessary filler than anything. It puts the driving momentum of the story, and the urgency that was maintained so well in the first three volumes, at a maddening halt. The aforementioned themes that relate to Christianity are all great, but they belong in the forward-moving narrative, not a long break of backstory. To be fair, it is nice to get a break from the unrelenting bleakness of the story’s tone. But the way to accomplish that is not to make this one long setback, but to explore this back story a little bit at a time, or chronologically from the beginning. As it is, it takes readers out of the story, and makes the story tonally inconsistent, even if it is tied together thematically.
But even though this wasn’t a great installment in the series, it did bring some particularly compelling thematic elements to the forefront – elements that will hopefully be handled with greater narrative skill next time around.