Attack on Titan, Vol. 16

By Hajime Isayama. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

There is a term that has become popular, particularly with the rise of TV tropes, called ‘The Woobie’. It is a character who you are meant to feel sad and sorry for, sometimes to the breaking point of plot and characterization. While the entire cast of Attack on Titan has, at times, fallen into this category, I’d argue the two biggest woobies in the series are Eren, who got the cover of the last volume staring in dull surprise and Historia, who gets the cover of this volume staring in dull surprise. (It is possible that the reader who still has to keep up with Isayama’s art qualifies as a woobie as well.) The suffering the two of them go through is meant to be complementary, and most of this volume discusses what might happen if Historia takes over Eren’s role in the story, by literally eating him.

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There’s a lot of backstory questions answered here (though the story posits new ones as well), with Historia’s family, Kenny Ackerman, and Eren’s father all getting closer and more disturbing looks. Kenny in particular gets more depth, though he’s still really unlikeable no matter what he’s gone through in the past. That said, though, only Historia can make the final decision, a decision that her family has made over and over again. She correctly wonders why her family has simply let the Titans roll right along, and realizes that just having this godlike power does not necessarily mean she will keep the compassion to use it.

And so she rebels, and it’s wonderful, as she tells everyone who’s attempting to show her how to live her life to get lost and saves Eren, even if he’s not particularly wanting to be saved at the moment. (Notably, it’s Ymir’s advice in a flashback that’s the tipping point.) Luckily for her, the struggle she just went through has been juxtaposed with the rest of the cast attacking the secret underground cavern, showing off how unstoppable they are in battle (well, OK, Hange gets hurt, but I’m sure she’s fine), and showing up in time to allow Historia’s choice not to be in vain, and to allow Eren to finally stop feeling pathetic and make his own choice to protect everyone.

This is not a perfect volume. There’s more torture, which I still loathe, even if it doesn’t actually succeed in getting information this time. The flashbacks are very dispassionate, not carrying the emotional load of the main storyline, even when they should. And I’ve already bashed the art, but I can’t help it – sometimes the desperate, tormented faces we’re supposed to see, particularly Grisha and Kenny, merely look hilarious, and distract from the tragedy we’re supposed to be witnessing. Still, overall more good than bad, and we’ll see if Historia et al. can escape from here and try to take on a giant Titan. Wow, fighting Titans, it seems like forever since we’ve done that.

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