I am a Political Science graduate, major in International Relations and Foreign Service, with an interest in anime, religion and philosophy
Daisuke Tokudo directs this episode as a demonstration of MAPPA's high quality and usage of both rotoscope animation and attentive camera work to create more movement among characters in dialogue than most anime would have.
Some would call this episode "experimental", others "daring" or "impulsive", with characters putting off movement we do not normally see in anime. A number of scenes were also redone to give a different effect from the manga, some of which we will get into. Is this episode an example of high-caliber animation or an overworked mess?
How the Marley Arc Was Brought to Life
From some observations, MAPPA may have given its earliest episodes the most polish and "movie-level" detail. From the first scene alone, there was clear direction with the military meeting, demonstrating both Marley's arrogance and emptiness as a military culture.
After the opening, we immediately see Zeke's mouth holding a lit cigarette, to create a personal touch with the character we could not receive. The camera pans to the whole scenery as Zeke and his protege Colt go through laundry racks to look at a setting sun. The transition from the calm, light morning of the meeting to uneasy yellows as Zeke informs Magath of Marley's own sunset through the unknown threat of Paradis' Titan and Ackerman advantages. While minimal in detail, particularly on the science of the Ackerman lineage, we still get a fairly decent exposition scene that mostly lets viewers experience a full appreciation of the scenery and characters. A demonstratory scene, in short.
The Colors of Displacement
MAPPA's color direction tells as much story as Hiroshi Seko's script of Isayama's manga chapters. Series director Yuichiro Hayashi always pays attention to the moods set in and highlights color direction as important for any scene.
In this case, Reiner awakens to a scene draped with the sunset, as new characters, the Jaw Titan Porco and Cart Titan Pieck, enter the scene with their distinct personas. We recall that Ymir offered herself to save Reiner and his friends from punishment. Now Porco carries her Titan. It is through him that we see tension, with Porco frustrated by Reiner's fake persona reminding him of his brother. He does not realize what we see. This "brother persona" was a means for Reiner to project his inner feelings and protect his broken self from utter confusion of his place in the world.
And as Reiner explores the conquered area, now coated in dusky crimson hues signalling the day's end, he sees in the Warrior Candidates his past self, with the friends he joined into their mission in Paradis.
His face, taking the spot of the dying sun, recoils in paralysis of where he is right now, a place he could not believe he returned to but never felt right with, now that he has lost the home he found in enemy land.
A Bittersweet Homecoming
A train sets off, celebrating Gabi's insane achievement as a rookie.
As if reacting to his experiences, Reiner zooms his vision to Falco's naive face, imparting words of doom over their 13-year curse that would take away Gabi's optimism. She has no idea that the high of her victory would be nothing but another stepping stone to a path she will be forced to keep taking.
The steam from the train engine covers the tracks, as we enter a new city.
Instruments lull us to a mood of delight as Gabi exits the train cart with all the zest of a teen who won their first game.
The instrumental version of "Memory Lane" brings us through a landscape both new and familiar. This is Marley and our first touch of it was already familiar. The ghetto where Grisha and Faye tried to escape from last season. Except it was more than a childhood that passed by.
Now we look through different eyes.
The immaculate track tugs at our heartstrings as soldiers returning from certain death embrace their loved ones, kept in concentration camps and away from the citizens outside. The victory the Marleyeans praised in their newspapers came at the cost of these men and now they could come home. One by one, we see faces of surprise turn to relief. The inverse of the Paradis Scout's homecoming, where relief at their arrival turned to surprise, as those who were expected to return from certain death were revealed to have certainly died.
There was no music filling their hearts with the warmth of yesterday's embrace, only unceremonious silence and unrestrained grief.
But even in this harmony of glad tidings, there were still ugly reminders of last episode's terror for the Eldian dogs of war. A single jeer was enough to take them back to the horrific explosions of the trenches, left alone and forgotten as a stepping stone to Marley's militaristic expansions.
Nostalgia vs Shock
The anime and manga have different takes on this scene.
With the manga, we see flashes back to Reiner's time with his fellow Cadets.
But the anime has none of that and people, myself included, have complained about it.
Except in rewatching the scene, I get why and it was a good thing the mental shock of this immersion of memory was more highlighted than our nostalgia with Reiner.
Reiner recalled how Sasha gave a small portion of her potato to the Commandant and calls every encounter he had with the people of Paradis a nightmare.
And in a way, he was being truthful. But like when he outed himself and Bertholdt as Warriors, he was not aware of what he said
You could feel in the pause Reiner makes as he opens his eyes mentally. He stops to see his family's shocked reaction to what he says...and even as we do not see it, as they respond in denial to the humanity of those in Paradis, Reiner himself is caught off-guard by what he had unloaded.
Flashbacks could have been great to remind us of who he meant. But Hayashi's restraint since Episode 1 was clear. The old world of Paradis cannot be shown yet. Most of all, for this scene, we could not cut between Reiner's flashes of what he meant. We know what he is talking about. This scene was for his family, who could not visualize what we could, the faces of happy fools who also enjoyed happiness like Gabi and her family did when they met up again after so long.
Reiner's confession was a storm to the walled Eldians of Liberio. They could not take in this idea of a world where the "wronged" Eldians are the same as the "wrong" Eldians of the island of devils, slamming shut any window to see that approaching storm's effect on them.
A New Morning
This episode was an immersion into this new world, through the familiar eyes of Reiner but also in the new eyes of Falco, and Gabi.
Apart from constant character animation, the best part about the episode is the vibrant color direction we will see for the rest of the season. Hayashi sets the mood for a scene with specific colors, sometimes using them to tell time or distinguish layers of a place. Most of all, the episode's story summed up why Marley's change of perspective was needed for the audience to experience.
How was your first taste of Marley through this episode?