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.
It feels like it’s been forever since we’ve seen a volume of Attack on Titan that is almost entirely devoted to fighting titans. The stakes are higher this time, though, as we know these titans. Most of the volume is devoted to dealing with Reiner and Bertholt, led by the Beast Titan, doing their best to wipe out the Survey Corps, followed by humanity. Our heroes, of course, are trying their best to stop them, and not only have Armin’s tactics but Erwin’s planning and Hange’s scientific genius. Attack on Titan has done ambiguity well in several past volumes, but there’s little of that here – though they try to portray themselves in a sympathetic way, there’s no doubting Reiner and Bertholt are the bad guys, and both seem to have accepted that, though we still don’t know the big ‘reason’ everyone has to die.
The most interesting thing here plotwise is the extended flashback we get to Marco, and how he died. Marco was killed off at the very beginning of the manga, but his picture appears in the cast list every time regardless, with a big X through it. This is for a reason – his death was very much a turning point. Now we find out it wasn’t just a turning point for the main cast, but for the secret Titan infiltrators as well. I still have trouble seeing the normally stoic Annie as emotional and panicky as she gets here, but Reiner is handled perfectly. We’ve seen before how he sometimes disassociates himself from the actions he has to take as a traitor, and that certainly comes through here. There’s also an astonishing contempt for Bertholt throughout the book – he’s always been a meek follower, but this just underlines that, with Reiner saying “I’ve never considered you reliable.”
It’s telling therefore that Bertholt’s big screaming confrontation is with Armin, who I think has also felt a bit weak at times, though unlike Bertholt he has the strength of his convictions. Bertholt’s ridiculous demands – give us Eren, and kill all of humanity – cause everyone to just stop and stare, and rightly so. Of course, humanity is not giving in so easily. Hange’s “thunder spears” are quite clever, even if they can also be extremely dangerous, and they may have actually dealt serious damage to Reiner. That said, he is a named character, and for all of Attack on Titan’s reputation as a dark and brutal series, named characters have done pretty well for themselves – Word of God said Sasha was supposed to die in the ninth volume but the editors asked for her to be spared.
That may change soon, though. Did we really see Hange killed off in the last page? Probably not, not in an offscreen manner like that. What about Reiner or Bertholt? And have we totally forgotten about the Beast Titan – what are his plans aside from letting those two try to destroy everything? This volume had a lot of noble fighting and impassioned screaming. I suspect next time may bring us a bit more tragedy.