If you ask any random person on the street when Attack on Titan was peaking, they’ll probably question what Attack on Titan even is before shuffling off in annoyance. Ask any random anime and manga fan, and you might get someone who says the early series until the whole debacle that supposedly resulted in multiple characters’ deaths being hastily averted due to editorial decisions. I tend to think otherwise.
Let me be clear here: I do not think that incident was necessarily good or bad. I’m always down for killing off a character or two. It is a war, after all; it makes sense for there to be casualties. But I can also understand how having a large chunk of the primary cast bite the dust there might have been a risky movie story-wise. However, the decision to not kill off several characters has no bearing on my opinion of Attack on Titan’s strongest segments. The series has always been good, able to tug at the heartstrings and truly instill a feeling of hopeless terror in its readers. And the earlier chapters with everyone trapped in the watchtower are some of the series’ best. However, I personally think the series found its own identity after that controversial editorial incident when it transitioned into more of a political intrigue storyline. The Survey Corps became fugitives while the government conspired against them by manipulating the general public. The Titans were still a threat of course, but the story began to show that humans themselves are still capable of further running humanity into the ground without the help of giant Funko Pop beasts. It was a nice touch of social commentary that helped flesh out the details of a world that had previously just been Titans vs Survey Corps (while everyone else just remains hopeless). Since then, the series has balanced politics with pure adrenaline, admittedly resulting in some fairly ridiculous plot threads but ultimately creating a tighter narrative overall. We seem to be shifting away from that aspect, and while the current battle has been a thrill ride, I’m hoping the series is not going to return to a dualistic view of humans vs titans. I don’t mind if we shy away from the political plotlines, but I do hope we encounter some more antagonists who are not part of the titan faction. The revelations of this volume give hope that there will be other opposing factions of humans beyond the ones we’ve encountered so far, but right now the main cast is firmly rooted in Human v. Titan territory.
In the previous volume, which I think is one of the series’ strongest despite being entirely fighting, Levi and Erwin battle against the Beast Titan with the majority of the Survey Corps while Protagonists.team takes on The Colossal and Armored Titans. In the face of overwhelming defeat, Levi urges Erwin to call for a mass martyrdom of the troops as Levi himself sneaks around to ambush the Beast Titan and its band of deformed minions. At the same time, Armin comes up with a reckless plan to allow Eren to take down the Colossal Titan. We see the consequences and sacrifices of these two victories(?) as the dust settles, and readers are ultimately left with a mixed feeling of triumph and despair.
The wonderful execution of the last volume is somewhat trampled on in Volume 21, however. Last volume we were reminded of the injection that could save a human from death by turning them into a titan, clearly a Chekhov’s Gun. It finally comes into play this volume with questionable execution. Without being too spoilerific, I’ll just say there are two potential candidates to receive the injection. One was somewhat obvious, and the fact that the other is still alive destroys the emotional impact of the victories. While there clearly needed to be some debate and conflict over who should receive the injection, almost a half-volume’s worth of people staring at each other angrily and engaging in sporadic flashbacks is overkill.
That’s not even my main problem at this point, though. I just want to know how many more of our characters are going to end up becoming titans. Eren, Ymir, Bertolt, Annie, Reiner…. I’m honestly expecting Connie and Sasha to reveal titan powers any chapter now. It’s getting kinda old, though at least it is more logical this time around. Speaking of… WHERE THE HECK IS MODERN YMIR?
The first half of this volume was spent resolving the injection predicament, while the second half finally takes up to the fabled basement (like seriously, I was beginning to question if it even existed). The audience is treated to an extended flashback (that continues into the next volume) showing the origin of the titans and the history of Eren’s father with them. I’m not going to lie – I’m confused. Revealed in a flashback within a flashback, the history of the titans (Eldians) and their opposers (Marley) is a bit…much. I’m all for the backstory, but this info dump (whether true or not) all comes a bit fast. What I gathered is that basically the Eldians under Ymir were Nazis and tried to eradicate everyone else, but they were eventually overthrown and imprisoned in essentially an internment camp. If that’s what I was supposed to get out of it, we’re good. If not, well, I guess I’ll be confused for the time being.
The more emotional and narrative portion of the flashback dealing more with Grisha and his sister is a good contrast to the history lesson. Grisha’s spiraling discontent with his bloodline’s situation is interesting, as readers get to see what I assume to be the beginning of the second titan takeover. Only time will tell. I do hope we get to see more of the two “guard” guys who caught Grisha and his sister watching the zeppelin. For how small their roles were, they were well written and compelling, so I do hope they will have more of an impact on Grisha further on in the story, though I can only imagine how old they are after the timeskip in the flashback.
This volume was overall a bit of a letdown after the peaking excitement, cunning strategy, and all-around despair of the previous one. I don’t mind that a character was practically revived, but I do wish the revival had not taken up almost two entire chapters. Not to mention the whole ordeal felt like a Glenn situation in The Walking Dead, where a character’s fate is used to toy with the audience. It’s nice that the backstory of the titans is starting to become unraveled, and I hope that Isayama can tie the threads together nicely in the next volume. I’m ready to get back to the present, though, so I hope this doesn’t turn into a One Piece flashback in terms of length, as good as those may be. This isn’t a bad volume at all, but it definitely has a few issues that keep it from being as solid as the last couple.
And now, to close, I present my final gripe: I just learned the Japanese editions have characters on the book spines. I’m so mad.
That is all.