Starting at about 17mins in and playing Guts’ theme in the background makes it even better…
IT FUCKING WORKS.
AND IT’S SO PERFECT.
THANK YOU FOR THIS DISCOVERY, YOU BEAUTIFUL PERSON, YOU!
There’s something incredibly satisfying about an enemy you don’t have to feel bad about killing.
The titans of SnK are exactly that—emotionless, brainless, and thoroughly unambiguous. Their only goal is to devour humans, grinning maniacally all the while. They are terrifying. That’s one thing everyone agrees on, both in-universe and in the fandom. Titans are some freaky-ass shit.
So when we see Mikasa cut down a whole slew of them, there’s no feeling of discomfort or unease. Just pure, unadulterated “FUCK YEAH!”-ness. It’s not like when heroes have to fight a human army, full of random red shirts who probably weren’t all that bad and really didn’t deserve a mace to the skull. We can revel in deeds of badassery without worrying about the consequences they would have in real life. Any angst or remorse or even real emotion is removed from the scenario.
And it’s escapism! We, the audience, get to remove ourselves from the messy and complicated world of moral ambiguity and bad guys who aren’t all that bad and just enjoy the battle. It’s why zombies and orcs and mindless evil mooks are stock characters in fiction. You need to let your hero go on a rampage without bringing up pesky questions about ethics, right?
The attitude the protagonists feel towards the titans is not all that different from how real-life people react to their “enemies”. In a time of war (or threat of war), people will do anything to reduce the other side into something subhuman. To use a few U.S. examples—the treatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, and how Muslims and Middle Eastern people are viewed today. One of the major fears of the modern era is terrorism, a crime that’s more prevalent now than it ever was before. Good horror taps into the deep, primal terror of a generation. As long as there’s a faceless Other, you don’t have to question anything. There’s Us and Them, and We are good and They are bad. End of story.
At first, that seems to make sense in the SnK world. There’s no indication that the mindless, people-eating monsters are anything besides… well, mindless, people-eating monsters. Even Eren’s transforming ability doesn’t seem to counteract this. He’s a shonen protagonist, right? Of course he’s special!
But then it’s slowly revealed that he’s not the only one. There are people who can turn into titans, or maybe titans that can turn into people, and they’re evil, but they’re out friends, and they hate humanity, but they saved my life—and suddenly, things get complicated.
Can we, the readers, really continue to view titans as nothing more than alien canon fodder? Can the characters? The difficulty of coming to terms with the fact that the faceless Other isn’t so faceless after all is shaping up to be a huge theme. We see characters struggling with disbelief, confusion, and reluctance to strike. And it’s on both sides! Reiner particularly is tormented by the fact that he actually cares for the people he’s supposed to slaughter. The protagonists and antagonists have spent years getting to know and care for each other, and it hasn’t been easy on anyone.
Perhaps more horrifying, however, is the realization that not only are the “special” titans human—but that they all might be. When Connie visits his village and finds a titan that is heavily implied to have been his mother—it’s one of the most disturbing scenes in the manga, and with good reason. What if the titans aren’t so mindless after all? Were they victims? Can they think? Are they more than unknowable monsters? The main characters may not be fully aware of the possibility, but the readers sure are.
The fact that the characters must come to terms with ambiguity and confusion where before they saw nothing but black-and-white is one of my favorite thematic elements of the manga.
Brilliant analysis. 100% agreement with you.
I can’t watch THAT scene without wanting to cry, scream and get angry simultaneously. I KNEW what was coming, I’ve re-read the manga recently, but…
When the piano started I was…
One day, I’ll gather the courage to go on.
Today is not that day.