I’m a skeptic, especially when it comes to the “goodness” of humanity—even how it’s expressed in anime. When Nile, struggling with himself about what’s right and wrong, chooses to side with Erwin in doing what he’s feels is right, I almost harumphed. In Attack on Titan‘s fascist society, I felt it would be almost impossible for a soldier to side with “right” over where the power stands.
Episode 42 continues what will be a season spent invested in conspiracies, theories, and the exploration of humanity and social structures in Attack on Titan, as Erwin comes to trial before the “king” and a ruling group of men who are trying him for treason, saying he put his own personal benefit, specifically through the actions of keeping Eren safely away from the government and killing Dimo Reeves, above the country.
Erwin, however, conspires with other military leaders to set up a fake emergency. A soldier bursts into the trial with a fake emergency, declaring that the Colossal Titan and Armored Titan have returned. The rulers react by showing their true colors, declaring that they had to protect the government and not the people, at which point the military turned on them. Erwin also reveals the secret that the “king” was just a fraud.
I wanted to say that none of this was right. I can live with the conspiracies and unrealities of this anime world. I can live with the dual natures of Pyxis and Darius. And I can certainly live with the possibility that there is a man in a high position who is trying to do right. But I had a hard time believing that a people in a society where terror reigns, people are misinformed and ignorant, and ardent nationalism (more of this later on) and fascism reign, that leaders and underlings alike would choose to do right, to choose the people over those in power.I don’t have to further than Germany to consider what happens in a similar state, where normal people choose to be bystanders as evil encapsulates everything.
But actually, I think Attack on Titan got it exactly right. The waters in this series have always been a bit muddy, and they’re getting more and more difficult to navigate for those involved, as demonstrated by Darius, who has selfish motives; Pyxis, who could just have well seen Erwin executed; and Erwin himself, who is unsure that what he did was right. The press, too, is in a weird place, with the editor having to be convinced to publish the full truth; and the media and people are unsure of who to believe—they need convincing one way or another, with truth seeming hardly to matter.
In the end, the choice to keep Smith alive and to reveal the truth seems mostly right, but it didn’t happen because it was just. It happened because the power shifted. Erwin held a wild card in his hand that, when revealed, turned the gun around—once aimed at him, it moved directly in the path of the faux royalty. And as mentioned later, the soldiers followed their commanders, who followed the power. If the government officials had been any type of competent, they wouldn’t have fell for the ruse, Erwin would have lost his bet, and life would go on as it has under continued lies and secrecy.
Unfortunately, our hearts are all too often bent this way. In some countries, Nazism or something similar can rise as our hearts move away from good and toward where the power is, even in “leading” countries that are not third world (look no further than the rise of racism and antisemitism in some western nations). The story of Attack on Titan feels strangely close sometimes, which begs the question—as our stories unfold, are we ready to avoid luxury, convenience, power, money, and comfort, and do what’s right, even when the gun turns—even when it’s pointed at us?