Season three of Attack on Titan has proven to be all about family. I don’t think Hajime Isayama foresaw that it would be this way, but the animators, judging from that amazing opening that focuses on the past and present, knew that would be the connecting thread this season. And in episode 43, a number of the issues presented through these families—particularly Eren’s, Mikasa’s, Levi’s, and Historia’s—start to fold into one another.
As the episode begins, Eren awakes and finds himself chained up in a cavelike structure filled with columns that are glowing white-blue. He encounters Historia, who introduces her dad, Rod Reiss, to him. The father and daughter touch Eren’s bare back, and through the power they have, reveal to Eren past memories he’d forgotten, including a shocker to anime viewers: Grisha Jaeger is dead. He was eaten years ago by his son. Meanwhile, Mikasa and Levi are on the move to rescue Eren, but to get to him they’ll have to fight off Kenny Ackerman, who shares a last name with Mikasa, as we find out they’re both from a family that once protected the royalty and have special resistance to the crown’s ability to erase memories. She also apparently shares that surname with Levi, as its inferred that not only did Kenny raise him, but he’s literally Levi’s uncle.
Of course, these relationships are all kinds of messed up. Kenny is a murderer who only days prior tried to kill Levi. Eren’s dad was MIA and hiding titanic secrets from his son. And Historia is very quick to accept Rod Reiss’ explanations, despite some awful, awful parenting by him in the past and present. I can’t help but feel for Historia, though—her past is traumatic, and she was rarely shown the love she needed as a child.
Our parents mess us up sometimes, too. For some, its in smaller things that we’re able to overcome as we grow. But for others, family histories tell of drug addiction, abuse, or neglect, deviant behavior which might always affect us, that may even trap and destroy us. It becomes too hard to forgive our parents for their actions; in some cases, we don’t want to forgive, nor do we feel they deserve our forgiveness.
In Clannad, a story in some sense as fantastical as Attack on Titan, there’s a more realistic, damaged parent/child relationship (spoilers ahead). Tomoya lives with his dad but doesn’t get along with him—his father is an alcoholic and unable to hold down a job. He has also been physically abusive in the past. Tomoya eventually moves out, but even then, his father’s actions impact him; Tomoya loses a promotion when it’s discovered that his father has been arrested.
Tomoya is bottled up with rage throughout the entire series, but eventually forgives his father. There’s a reveal that happens, but the context for why he forgives his father is maybe more important. Tomoya starts to act much like his father, even worse in some respect; eventually, he comes to realize this. The realization leads to humility, which helps Tomoya do that which he never thought he could—forgive.
Forgiveness is an unusual thing—it’s sometimes impossible to give, and other times it is all we want and desire. Held back, it can destroy relationships; given, it can restore when hope seems impossible. The grace it requires is ultimately what binds family together—successful families aren’t only built on treating each other with love, they are built on loving each other even when things go wrong. And in families that fail, of the many things that are lacking is grace.
Family is complex—Attack on Titan takes that to the extreme, but many of our own situations demonstrate as much. Grace, on the other hand, is simple, but it has the power to unravel, unchain, and restore. If it’s lacking in your family now, my hope is that one day, grace will enter in and change everything, your parents’ lives as well as your own. It can happen—grace is that powerful. It’s a hope worth seeking, a hope worth looking forward to.