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A Love That Can't Help but Fail: The Strange Relationship of Eren Yeager and Mikasa Ackerman

Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.

Courtesy of Wit Studios

Courtesy of Wit Studios

Spoilers for the Manga Ending of Attack on Titan

The manga for Attack on Titan ended with the death of the protagonist-turned-antagonist Eren Yeager at the hands of one of the closest people to him, Mikasa Ackerman. Disturbingly, she kisses his severed head, indicating that there was no malice or retribution in the act and that she did indeed love him. The extended version of Volume 34 has her continuing to come to Eren’s grave long after he’s gone, despite what some fans interpret as her having moved on to someone else to have a family. (It's a whole thing with some saying no and others saying it was with their mutual friend Jean. The creator however never confirms either, except to say that Mikasa’s greatest wish was to be with Eren.)

Many fans were not happy with the ending turning out to be some low-key love story when the entire series, till that point, seemed to be about surviving the threat of the titans. A common euphemism among fans was that, “If you’re expecting a happy ending in Attack on Titan, you’re gonna be disappointed.” And this has been pretty consistent objectively speaking. Everyone else who had a love interest in the series ended bitterly with one of them dying. And Eren and Mikasa are no different really. Yet I do find something fascinating about their relationship as I look back at the series.

"We all get that you love him but try not to act crazy!"

— - Levi Ackerman after rescuing Eren from the Female Titan

Loyal to a Fault

Mentioning the names Romeo and Juliet in a sentence usually implies a doomed relationship. Same with “star-crossed” lovers. Eren and Mikasa most certainly fit this bill because it wasn't just a doomed relationship, but a completely fucked one.

For most of AOT, both the audience and characters within the series know that Mikasa loves Eren. It’s impossible to miss, from her saving his ass every time he got in a fight, to her visibly audible despair whenever Eren was taken or thought dead, to her murderous intent on protecting him from any and all potential threats. This extreme love can easily be mistaken or confused with extreme loyalty, as it doesn't really kick into high gear until the Battle of Trost saga. Eren was eaten by a titan on the first day of the assault and everyone thought he was dead and rightfully so.

Though Mikasa holds herself together for most of the battle, she completely loses it when Eren emerges from his recently-revealed titan form for the first time, revealing to his comrades that he was a titan shifter. Her crying looked like a release of both joy and pent up pain. Since then, she is always at his side or trying to be at his side, refusing to be away from Eren for any lengthy distance or time, or post to another unit.

Eren during this time sole focus is the annihilation of the creatures that killed his mother. Though he is aware and loyal to his friends as well, one can argue that his real loyalty was to his vengeance. Thus he seems completely oblivious to Mikasa’s feelings for him. In his defense though, with the exception of one instance where she is about to confess her love to Eren and kiss him before being interrupted, Mikasa never opens up to Eren about her feelings either. Possibly because she was unsure of them herself at first. And later she was afraid he would push her away. Yet she was content to be by his side at all times and not be left behind.

Courtesy of Wit Studios

Courtesy of Wit Studios

All that said, there are also moments where Eren seems to be aware on a subconscious level of Mikasa’s feelings, noting her out specifically during his first battle with the Armored Titan as she was the only one hell-bent on assisting him. Moreover, though Mikasa develops a loyalty to her small cadre of friends who survive the training and Trost, she is usually aloof and introverted, never showing much emotion with the exception of her attempt to kill Berthold when he was about to kill Armin, and assaulting Levi Ackerman when he was going to pass over, Armin for healing via titan serum.

Yet that's all this seems to be for most of the series. Implication and hints with no consummation. By the time the war with Marley begins, Eren is a completely different person, having gone AWOL from the Survey Corps to scout out his homes’ true enemy. Mikasa is at a loss of words seeing the person she loved more than anything, now openly killing civilians with no sense of remorse. And even more so when he does the very thing she was afraid of, verbally abusing her to push her away.

It is not until the releasing of the Colossal Titans from Paradis’s three walls and the beginning of the apocalyptic Rumbling that readers finally start to get concrete evidence of Eren’s feelings. Mikasa recalls when during a mission to Marley, but before he left the Survey Corps, Eren asks her point blank what he is to her. Years of innuendo have led up to this point and a surprised Mikasa falters before saying he’s family. Eren seems disappointed somehow and the rest is history.

Yet Mikasa, watching the Rumbling begin, is somehow aware that that moment was a turning point of which way Eren would go. Wondering to herself that if she had just told him her true feelings then, if things would have been different.

Her suspicions are then later confirmed by Eren, now on a genocidal rampage to protect his friends and Paradise Island. He shows her a vision of that moment with Mikasa, where she instead told him her true feelings and they decide to run away together from the Survey Corp, their friends, and the war with Marley. The couple lived out the rest of Eren’s years in solitude until his death, where it then resets to the current timeline.

Courtesy of Wit Studios. It is revealed by the end of the series that there were multiple timelines for how the Attack on Titan story plays out.  One of them is the OVA Lost Girls.

Courtesy of Wit Studios. It is revealed by the end of the series that there were multiple timelines for how the Attack on Titan story plays out. One of them is the OVA Lost Girls.

Damned If You Do

And this is the crux of it. It’s been said that Eren would not have gone through with his plan had Mikasa told him the truth. While this is confirmed, it is also implied it wasn’t the best choice in a world of bad choices. Their brief happiness was Paradis’s destruction along with its people. Eren and Mikasa had their time together in this alternate timeline, but it came at the cost of everything else.

There’s a case for this elsewhere as the AOT OVA story, Lost Girl, also takes place in another timeline where Mikasa’s parents never died. Here, she still meets and falls in love with Eren. Eren is still headstrong and set on going beyond the walls, but not the vengeance-driven child we know him for. Again they form a bond and he offers Mikasa a chance to go with him and Armin to take a balloon to go over the walls. Only to turn out that Mikasa was late, running into a soothsayer whom many interpret to be another version of Mikasa telling this version that she cannot save Eren. She runs into Armin, who in despair tells her that Eren died while trying to cross the wall, with just enough time to save him. Mikasa goes into a state of shock, and then the timeline is seemingly reset once again.

So there it is. As much as I like Eren and Mikasa together, it's a toxic relationship that is both doomed to happen and doom to fail, no matter what option is chosen (unless you follow the timeline where they watch AOT as a movie and debate its ending in peace). There's inevitably to it. One way or another, the two were going to meet. A bond was going to unite them. People were going to die. Eren was going to die. The only choice the two really had was how they wanted to spin the limited amount of time they had before the end. And like a strange story from the Twightlight Zone or Doctor Who, they had both.

That’s why I call the relationship a toxic one. Its toxicity that crosses time and space and is unavoidable.

Courtesy of Wit Studios.  The dye is cast.

Courtesy of Wit Studios. The dye is cast.

Damned If You Don’t

Fans are still arguing over why Mikasa should be so dedicated to someone who either ignored her, barely acknowledged her half the time, and was emotionally abusive towards her at one point. Armin’s first fight with Eren literally expresses this fan sentiment verbally. They feel the character should move on from Eren, find happiness with someone else, like most popularly among the fans, Jean, though there seems to be no basis for that relationship to build off of.

Or that Eren should have had a relationship with Historia Riess. Whom many felt he had more in common with regarding their own shared history with titans and the royal family. There was certainly more of a foundation to build off of if this route had been taken.

Other fans like/prefer the idea of Mikasa being dedicated to Eren, even after his death. Choosing to remain single till the end of her days because doomed or not, they were soul mates. This idea has a pretty solid basis as well I think, given her previous demonstrations of love/loyalty to him, even when she defied him.

In fact, the timeline where they lived together ended with Eren telling Mikasa to move on and forget about him. Yet Mikasa openly refuses to do so when she decides she is going to kill him. She will never forget him, always love him, no matter how much of a monster he becomes. And even if one were to include Vol 34’s extended ending, the fact that she’s still going to his grave after she supposedly moved on says much.

How many of us had relationships where our partners kept going back to their ex’s house?

If she did move on with someone else, then they were just a placeholder, or second best to her dead love. Or that if she never moved on, that her friends still supported her despite her choice of singleness out of their own loyalty or pity towards her.

"I want to her to think about me and no one else for the rest of my life! Even after I die..."

— - Eren Yeager, confessing his feeling for Mikasa to Armin

A Match Made in Damnation

Similar to the German Scfi series Dark, I think that in a twisted way that while Eren and Mikasa were on some level toxic, they were also perfect for each other. Going with the aforementioned alternatives, if Eren had gotten together with Historia, it would have failed because she was still an optimist. She has a history with Eren and to some degree understands the burden that a titan shifter has, but not to the point where it consumes Eren. To where it would eventually drive a wedge between them, as was seen when Eren does talk to Historia about his plan and she is disturbed by it, with Eren wiping her memory. And this is to say nothing about her would-be-relationship with Ymir, who had sacrificed herself years earlier for her.

Regarding Mikasa and Jean, there are even more holes. While Jean has had feelings for Mikasa and been very protective of her, he was also too much of a simp. If Mikasa had a point where she was considering other partners, Jean wouldn’t have been on that list because she’s drawn to head-strong, intensely-goal focused men. What’s more, it's important to keep in mind how Mikasa acted around other people besides Eren. Often quiet, though loyal. Introverted without much emotional expression that isn't deadpan or near-expressionless. And if she didn't know them, she could be a total asshole.

Armin says to Eren during their final vision-conversation while chastising him that Mikasa could easily find another man and deserved to be given how Eren treated her. And he’s right, but the question was never is she able to, but rather would she choose to. Eren and Armin are the only ones where Mikasa has truly opened up to, and of the two, only Eren so completely. And though she’s friends with Jean, he just never developed that kind of relational depth with Mikasa.

If Mikasa did move on with someone else, she would have to have become a radically different person to be open to other possibilities. And again, given that she was still going to Eren’s grave decades after his death, I just don’t see that change happening. And of course, it doesn't help that any relationship she may or may not have had was never actually confirmed in volume 34, rather instead being left up to interpretation of the reader.

Either way, the strange and ill-fated relationship of Eren Yeager and Mikasa Ackerman, and its role in the Attack on Titan story, makes it for me the most unique element of the story.

© 2021 Jamal Smith

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