“Are you asking me why people eat potatoes?”
DISCLAIMER: This rewatch will include spoilers for seasons 1-3 of Attack on Titan. If you have not watched all 3 currently available seasons of Attack on Titan, I discourage you from reading further. Even though I am a manga reader, I will not be talking about spoilers for the upcoming season.
We get a breather in this episode, taking a break from the inescapable horrors of titans to comic relief amid military exercises. It’s also a convenient device to reveal the supporting cast. Isayama introduces so many characters at once that it becomes difficult to determine who will be sticking around. That’s why episode 5 feels like a gut punch — we lose half the people we were just introduced to. However, if you pay closer attention than I did my first go around, it’s easy to see who will be the main players (hint, they get individual introductions with voiceover in the next episode… characters like Thomas and Mina didn’t get that… and they quickly end up as titan food).
Like military action in response to an attack, there are those who experience it directly and passively. Those who prod Eren and co. for information seem gleeful at thought of hearing about titans, having joined for adventure or glory in the throes of war, ignorant of its horrors. It’s an interesting look at the motivations behind young soldiers.
You get enough of a glimpse of certain dynamics. Sasha and Connie are comic relief. Jean and Eren have a rivalry. Mikasa is deluded in her affection towards Eren, which is relatively unrequited. Ymir seeks out Christa/Historia, knowing her backstory as a royal outcast, although we don’t know that yet.
Along with character building, the episode does a fine job of world building without exposition. Through Jean’s desire to have a cushy life in the Military Police, we know there are multiple factions within the army, and the Military Police are considered top class, but have a safer, privileged existence away from the outer walls, near government officials and royalty.
When Eren and Armin talk to Reiner and Bertoldt, it is Bertoldt who recognizes that they are from Shiganshina, and questions why they came here to fight. During their discussion, Bertoldt states, “I don’t have any will of my own,” when talking about their decision to join — he’s speaking of his experience as a child soldier of Marley, although we won’t get that perspective for a long time now. We get a sense of the personalities they’ve invented to cover up their reality as sleeper agents.
Post-episode 38, we know that Keith brought Eren back to the shed after Grisha bequeathed him his titans (Attack and Founding). Keith was left unaware of Grisha’s exact intentions for his son other than to seek revenge for Carla’s death. Keith sabotages Eren’s belt, but Eren remains upright in training in spite of it. Feeling like a failure for the eleventeenth time, Keith gives into fate and accepts Eren as a trainee. “Grisha, today your son becomes a soldier,” is the only hint you have of this relationship by the end of this episode on a first time watch.
– There are lots of visual hints here that are only readable upon a second viewing of the series. When Eren says that the Armored Titan looked like a normal titan to him, the framing is on Reiner’s back.
– When Eren hits his head on the ground while training, it’s wrapped in bandages and steam is coming from it. Upon first viewing, the steam seems like an anime addition to convey the fresh wound, but on the second viewing, we know the steam comes from Eren’s titan ability to quickly heal and regenerate wounds.
– I love Sasha screaming, “Are you God?!’ after Christa/Historia gives her bread. Also just generally everything Sasha in this episode. Her initial interaction with Keith is a blast.