This is the first in a series of essays about Attack on Titan. This essay is about Episode 1, which I recommend you watch (for free) here before reading.
In some sense, the title of this episode “To You, 2,000 Years in the Future - The Fall of Zhiganshina (1)” explains the lion’s share of the plot. This will be a history of what happened, and what is happening now is the return of some ungodly monsters.
This is the “getting acquainted” episode, so let’s list what we got acquainted with:
Titans—big muscley babies
that apparently like eating people.
3D Maneuver Gear—
a very fancy way of getting around when you’re fighting big babies.
Given how complex these things are, we expect them to be important strategic tools.
Eren Jaeger—A heard headed curious young man, who won’t be told what to do!
He wants to join the Survey Corps, which explores the outside, but has apparently met with little but defeat.
He’s the son of Karla Jaeger (who was giving him a concerned look two images above) and Doctor Jaeger
who’s apparently a pretty big deal. Saved the entire city from a pandemic, and maybe has a cool sex dungeon?
Don’t worry, Eren’s not always that 2D, but you’ve got to get the basics down, right?
Mikasa—Sibling (step-sibling? something is off) of Eren. I mean it with 100% sincerity that thing I most empathize with in the 1st episode is the dead look in Mikasa’s eyes when she has to deal with Eren’s shit.
She does all the work and keeps things in line.
Okay so, the walls haven’t been breached for a hundred years—but what happened to them? Were the Titan’s organizing? Why did they stop if so? Something is weird.
The walls that the kingdom, and more locally Zhiganshina safe are really big and sturdy. They’ve even driven a religious kind of worship:
But apparently humanity does know squat about Titans. Nor are the guards involved in frequent enough conflict to actually be ready.
How did the walls get built, then? Are the Titans a recent phenomena? Did technology used to be better? There’s a mismatch in technologies, and the government has declared interest in the outside is taboo, but is funding a very expensive branch of the military to go out and look for stuff, so something must be going on.
For me the biggest disconnect is Eren’s non-stop comparison of humanity to “cattle”. Sure, he’s an adventurous young man who wants to explore, but humanity’s situation isn’t really that cattle like? Can you imagine how scary it would be if cattle (or maybe more accurately hamsters) built up fortresses that were significantly taller than most humans, couldn’t be destroyed, and created a civilization within?
Humanity might have seen better days, but there’s clearly some sense in which they have the upper-hand, and yet the Survey Corps at least claim to know nothing. How did this state of affairs come to pass? And why is there suddenly one really, really big Titan that can knock down the walls? And why now?
We don’t see any answers, and the questions are still nebulous, but AoT begins to show what it’s really all about with the final scene of the first episode, Karla is stuck under the Jaegers’ now collapsed house and she’s no fool. She knows the Titans are here, her legs are crushed, and there’s only one chance for her children’s escape: for her to be left behind.
That’s when our boy Hannes, the unprepared soldier, is going to take down the monster and save everybody:
Then he sees it:
And then he knows:
See, Hannes isn’t an idiot. He admits right from the start that they’re not prepared for a real breach. The only reason he tried in the first place is because of the debt he owes, but he’s aware of the scale of things.
Organization is all about the scales of things. The scale of conflict, as determined by supply and demand of resources needed for people to achieve power and manipulate their environment. There are two true heroes in this episode, and Hannes is the second one, because when faced with a problem he can’t solve, he decides to find a different problem, that overlaps with the first. It’s easy to write about never giving up, and it’s very hard to give up a little bit for the sake of everybody when you’ve been telling yourself stories like that. In the back of his mind, Hannes knew this was a possibility, because all of his training was based around events he had no direct acquaintance with. The spirit of humanity is to solve the problems you can till you get to solve the problems you want, and keep a pocket in your heart for the unrecoverable casualties that occur along the way.
The first hero? That would be Karla.
There’s nothing sexy about laying down and dying, but Karla is so on top of her shit that she knows she can’t stop herself from screaming out and covers her own mouth:
That is, perhaps, the best metaphor for the resource allocation game humans are automatically entered into: we can’t control ourselves completely, but we must use the parts of ourselves we can control to deal with our environment and ourselves.
Things only get stickier when that environment has other people in it who are trying to do the same thing.