It’s been a rough ride for Eren and his fellow Scouts, but after seventy-three chapters of black-and-blue heartache and falsified hope, he’s finally one step closer to that ever-elusive basement.
Whether due to my vivid imagination or my familiarity with the anime’s sounds, I often hear the Attack on Titan manga as clearly as I read it; chapter 73 is forebodingly silent, to be sure, with nighttime excursions led by lantern light, and only the solid sound of hoofbeats and the whine of ziplines breaking silence with the coming of dawn.
But the moment Eren steps foot on the wall and looks at his homeland for the first time in years, the sounds die completely: it’s a point of precipice—teetering between hope and despair—that allows Eren to have a god’s-eye view of everything he’s been fighting for. Understandably, Isayama dedicates a two-page spread to this single panel.
Themes of homecoming and oppression are inevitably linked in Attack on Titan: explainable, since it’s the oppression of the titans that gives way to humanity’s ultimate decision—fall into despair, or seek hope in the midst of it. It’s a vicious cycle, to be sure, and as the chapter opens, the omniscient narrator reflects on how humanity at first fell into helplessness, believing the titans would dictate their ultimate fate. The panels’ grim sights soon transform into images of hope, however, as the Scouts at long last embark on a journey to retake Wall Maria, and Eren sets foot in his homeland for the first time in years.
Reading chapter 73, I couldn’t help but reflect on a similar journey recorded in the book Nehemiah, wherein Nehemiah learns of the state of his homeland in Israel and goes on a mission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:17-18):
Then said I unto them, Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.
Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work.
When he first hears about the oppression of his brethren, Nehemiah despairs and grieves (Nehemiah 1:4), but the prospect of returning home to Israel strengthens him and gives him hope. The journey isn’t without oppression, and, during the operation, Nehemiah is literally forced to rebuild the wall while holding a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other. The possibility of open war on the half-built wall and unprotected workers is a very real threat, and enemies of Israel ensure those threats are enforced. All this time, though, Nehemiah is emboldened by hope.
Perhaps it’s because we inevitably come to the same conclusion: that living in despair is a sure way to die, that hope is the only way to live. The tricky thing about hope, though, is that it only makes good on its promises if the object of our hope is powerful enough to fulfill those promises.
For Eren and the Scouts, hope is worth pursuing because they believe in the agents of hope: they believe in one another to carry the mission through; furthermore, they believe that humanity has the right to hope: that hope is humanity’s long-overdue birthright. And that gives them courage, even while the agents of hope are composed of frail, mortal bodies.
For us Christians, though, hope takes on an even more timeless meaning in the person of Christ. We look to the promises of God, recorded in Scripture, and put our Faith in Christ to fulfill them, believing Him to be incapable of lying (Titus 1:2). In fact, it would be no stretch to say our beliefs hinge entirely on the hope that Christ rose from the dead and is coming back for us… to call us to our greatest “homecoming,” as it were. (Romans 5:1-2)
The moment of greatest hope always falls closest to the point of deepest despair, and homecoming often marks the apex of that intersection. In the Bible, we see the Prodigal Son returning home after he’s swindled away his father’s money, but putting hope in the knowledge that his father will accept him once more, even if only as a servant. Quite oppositely, his father is so overjoyed that he throws his undeserving son a feast to welcome him back.
Perhaps the greatest hope for Christians, the return of Christ, is prophesied to come only after a time of great persecution (2 Timothy 3). This might be foreboding news to those of us who follow the teachings of Christ, but we none-the-less speak joyously of Christ’s returning, knowing that this period of despair will give way to something worth suffering for.
If the final panels of Attack on Titan chapter 73 are any indication, things are going to get much worse for Eren and company before they get any better. I get the feeling, though, that everyone on the expedition has accepted this risk—and the impending deaths to follow—because they believe it’s more than worth the reward. And that’s hope at its finest.