I am a Political Science graduate, major in International Relations and Foreign Service, with an interest in anime, religion and philosophy
"Assassin's Bullet" was the only way Marley could properly close. For all of the violence and divisiveness carried by the series' change of POV and MAPPA's direction of the franchise, the fanbase found more unity in the event that took place this episode. Both anime viewers and manga readers connect over a loss that seems to tug at the heartstrings.
More than adapting the eponymous chapter with incredible respect to the content, the anime opened the flood gates for one of the most stirring discourses of the series and it is over the character responsible for the tragic death of Sasha Blouse, Gabi Braun.
A Clean Prelude to a Messy Storm
The episode was handled by directors Hidetoshi Takahashi, Lie Jun Yang, and Yōsuke Yamamoto, with Studio Cygames having participated in its creation. The staff for the episode did remarkable work with improving the already impressive content from last episode and polishing the work on the ODM gear scenes and Titans.
The brief skirmish between Reiner and Eren was quite polished, mostly applying 2D animation while employing CGI strategically for quick action sequences and the fall of their respective Titans. The CGI blended so well that it was barely indistinguishable from the 2D.
MAPPA continues to excel in its presentation of the ODM gear, this time adding more realism to their movements. What was not fully shown in the last episode was how well-proportioned the Scouts appeared as they hung from high places. The staff knew how to present the real situation they would be in by making the models feel weighted, rather than float on the air. Vercreek's work on Jean's squad escaping the Marleyean soldiers was an excellent contribution to the compilation of great ODM scenes.
The early highlights serve as another example of how much quality was on full display in spite of the hectic production schedule.
Mikasa and Eren return to the airship, where Armin greets them with hesitation. This was a lifelong friendship overshadowed by the burdens they each carry.
Levi greets Eren with a swift kick and a look of condemnation. Their words and the looks given by Mikasa and Armin made it clear that Eren had gone too far. Hange would later point it out with much frustration that Eren has always been rescued at great expense. By provoking Marley to attack, he had put the people he was supposed to protect in danger.
Some would argue there was a need to strike, whether to fulfill some form of justice or to prevent a war of attrition. Hange and Levi would disagree. Jean, in contrast to the nationalistic Floch, felt the loss of six comrades and more to come. Even when we learn that part of their mission was Zeke's retrieval for the Rumbling to happen, the cost was too much for both sides. The episode makes it clear that no justification is enough and our attempts to take sides will hurt us a lot more
They Are the Same
By this point, it should be clear that Gabi suffered a similar tragedy to Eren. Eren was part of the cycle of conflict, a victim of Marley's desire to end Paradis. Through his mother's death, Eren's desire for freedom grew into an unquenchable flame. Gabi renewed her idealism to restore the image of "good Eldians" as she assaults the airship with a rifle ready for the kill.
However, Falco's encounter with Eren allowed him to see that he and Paradis suffered because of Marley. "I am the same as you," Those words would echo in Falco, driving him to stop Gabi's self-destructive path. Yet she was not there to see it. So has Falco. He had nothing to change her mind.
Regardless, she saw her target, the woman that two episodes ago, stole help from her. Sasha was a monster to the girl with a rifle and, seeing all the "devils" gathered together, fired a shot straight through her chest. Deafening silence and surprise gave way to rage as the two kids were mauled by the grieving Scouts.
A Grieving Fandom
The death of Sasha was the end of an age for many fans.
She was our innocent Potato Girl who, in the eyes of her comrades, loved food and wanted to reclaim the land from Titans to grow fertile crops and breed farm animals for people to partake.
This shocking event resulted in grief, denial, and rage. Connie opened the door to inform everyone of their loss. The impact of its opening alone sent shivers as I watched. He was at a loss for words as he imparted Sasha's dying message.
Eren looked to the time Sasha stole meat from the officers and chuckled. It was not of delighted nostalgia or sadistic humor. He knew this would happen and it was so laughable that he had allowed his friend to die because of his actions.
Assault on Gabi
In their mournful rage, Floch and his men assaulted Gabi and Falco. But we, as an audience, know that while Gabi killed Sasha, Falco did not want this violence. And yet he received the brunt of the consequences.
In joining the assault against the hated Gabi, we ignore that others suffer for it. Whether it is Falco or the message of the story, which so happens to be embodied in the boy's experience.
Isayama understands human psychology well. Sasha was framed as a bubble of hope that was burst in front of our eyes. The death of innocence gave birth to unspeakable, sometimes atrocious rage.
Yet that brilliance comes in different layers, as through Gabi's eyes, we see Sasha's own ruthlessness as she took out Gabi's friends. It is all the same cycle.
As the airship flew by and we mourned with Armin, Mikasa and the rest, we should ask ourselves in silence if we have truly learned anything from the carnage that culminated in the loss of our Potato Girl.
The Right Conclusion for Marley
We see in all eight episodes that there is no beauty in war. Through the depressing atmosphere of Fort Slava and the bittersweet emotion in the return to Liberio, we saw men and women with families endanger themselves on the battlefield to give meaning to the continued existence of Eldians in Marley. Their oppression and utility as Titan bring more dignity to them than their actual existence. The arrival of Eren intensifies the cruelty behind it. We see characters we have grown to love return in a darker form, taking down soldiers without mercy. This is war.
It is the power of perspective that allows the series to sow its messages deep into our hearts. We have seen Eren and Reiner's journeys, with both being so understandable that we could have started with the latter and the character explorations following that would have been just as incredible. Now we find ourselves with Gabi and Falco, losing people and homes to Eren and to the Scouts, including Sasha. At this point, the series is telling us over and over how cruel the world is to anyone and that, as Bertholdt said, they would accept playing along because they have no other choice.
Perhaps Eren's desire for freedom, even when done through terrible means, might be their hope.
© 2021 Mar Louie Vincent Reyes