Attack on Titan, Vol. 21

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

(As always lately, there are major spoilers for this volume here.)

Well, we finally get the answer of who will survive. It was obviously Armin at first, but then a soldier showed up with Erwin’s dying body and the whole thing devolved into an argument about “whose life is worth more during a war?”. If I recall correctly, the Attack on Titan fandom was arguing about these chapters as well, though for a different reason – storywise, it feels like a cheat to have Armin come back from the dead after such a nice heroic sacrifice. Also, I sense the Attack on Titan audience is getting tired of the only characters dying being minor ones like Marlowe. Well, no worries here, as not only does Erwin due when Levi mercifully decides not to save him, but in order for Armin to survive, Bertolt has to be eaten. He doesn’t take it well.

Leaving aside the 80 billion counts of insubordination that Eren and Mikasa commit here, which will no doubt be gone into in the next volume, the other big dramatic moment that comes here is finding and entering the Jaeger basement. This has been the Survey Corps’ goal for who knows how long, and the “when will they get to the basement” jokes were practically a meme. Needless to say, the moment itself is given all the drama and tension it can muster, including Eren realizing that the key he’s always had isn’t for the basement door at all (Levi solves the problem by kicking the door to bits), and the cliffhanger ending showing us… a photograph! Yes, it turns out humanity may not be as completely wiped out as we suspected.

What follows is a long chapter of tragic backstory, as we have Eren’s father discussing his childhood rebellion against the authoritarian regime, the loss of his sister, his joining a resistance force, and his meeting a Historia lookalike named Dina whom he falls in love with and marries pretty quickly. Of course, we know from the very first chapters that she’s not Eren’s mother, so there’s even more drama going on here – and so yes, they’re both betrayed by Grisha’s FIRST son, named Zeke. Attack on Titan has always been fairly serious and po-faced – what little humor there is tends to come from Sasha’s antics – but even for this series, this is depressing stuff. We see a flashback to the death of the little sister, who is ripped to pieces by military dogs (no, actual dogs), and Zeke betraying his parents to the fascists is just icing on the cake.

I get the feeling that this flashback is going to take up a great deal of the next volume as well, which is good, as we still need a few more answers. For the moment, though, Attack on Titan may not be fighting too many Titans in this book, but it’s just as deadly. It’s well worth a read if you’re a fan of the series, but be warned that sometimes the mind-numbing bleakness of events can make the reader as depressed as the characters themselves.

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