Rylan Schaeffer

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11 April 2021

Why the ending of Shinjeki no Kyojin was abysmal (Part Two)

by {"name"=>"Rylan Schaeffer", "email"=>"rylanschaeffer@gmail.com", "twitter"=>"RylanSchaeffer"}

The final chapter of Shingeki no Kyojin was released last week. I had been very disappointed with the last few chapters, but I promised to withhold judgement until the final chapter, trusting Isayama to masterfully end the story. Instead, in my opinion, the writing crashed and burned. I want to explain why I felt like (almost) every character and the story were butchered. In this Part 2, I’ll cover Reiner, Falco, Gabi, Pieck, Connie and Jean.

Warning: Major plot spoilers below for Shingeki no Kyojin.

Reiner

Regardless of how readers feel about Reiner, I think we can all agree that his plot line is featured prominently. Chapter after chapter, he survived situations so ridiculous that readers renamed him the “Plot Armor” titan. We knew his inner thoughts intimately. As a warrior candidate, he was desperate to prove himself. His recklessness led Marcel to be eaten, and he demanded Bertolt and Annie continue the mission to recover the Founding titan. Once on Paradis, he lived with his enemies and realized that the people he killed were completely innocent. He returns to Marley and is wracked with guilt so deep that in Chapter 97, he almost commits suicide, and in Chapter 100, he begs Eren to kill him. But time and time again, Isayama refused to let Reiner die. Why?

The answer is nothing. Reiner’s character is abandoned. There is no redemption. There is no resolution. Nothing of significance happens. Reiner serves as a tank against Ymir’s titans and later Hallucigenia’s titans. In the final Chapter 139, we have three panels of Reiner, in which he says:

  1. “Eren… What a man you are…”
  2. “Mother, I no longer have the power of the armored titan.”
  3. “Historia’s handwriting is so beautiful… I can’t stop looking. It even smells nice.”

All three statements are cringe inducing. They honestly approach the piss-poor quality of Game of Thrones Season 8’s writing, being comparable to Jon Snow’s “I dun wan it” and “Yur mah queen.” So much invested in developing a character that fades into irrelevance.

One redditor defended Reiner’s ending, writing, “Reiner Is portrayed as a tragic character, and similar to Eren. Both began as idealists that adapted to the brutal world by “keep moving forward”, which eventually turned them pragmatic. By a point in their arcs, both wished for dreams that could never be true to them […] Reiner wished to be a hero, and eventually wished to die for his sins, yet he would not get either of them. It’s a poetic tragedy that the two are destined to be nearly exact opposite s of what they desire.”

Yes, I agree that Reiner is set up to be an amazing foil to Eren. But you know what’s missing? The consequences of Reiner’s failures. Reiner is perfectly set up to be a tragic failure. He never gets either of his wishes (to be a hero or to die), and it turns out his failure has no effect on him or anyone else at the end. To be a tragic character, the ending needs to be bad. Jason from the Argonauts is a tragic character because after all his success, he dies abandoned and alone, before being killed by his rotting ship that symbolizes how everything in his life has fallen to pieces. Daedalus is a tragic character because his son literally dies and he contemplates killing himself before going into exile. In comparison, how does Reiner handle his failure? He calls Eren a chad, says hi to his mom and sniffs letters. What would have made Reiner a truly tragic character? Driven by his repeat failures, he falls to his knees and shoots himself in the head. Or he exiles himself as penance for all that he’s done.

Ass-Pulling is Bad Writing

I despise deus ex machina endings. I think a bare minimum for high quality writing is that the rules of the universe must be consistent. The author can set up whatever rules she or he wishes, but once those rules are established, they stand. There can be no deus ex machina. Without this constraint, anything can happen, there’s no more predictability, and impact of whatever does happen is cheapened.

The trope of pulling material without justification when necessary to advance the plot is called an ass pull. In my opinion, ass pulls are a hallmark of bad writing. The problem in Shingeki No Kyojin is that so many new rules are introduced in the final chapters. Each on its own might be plausible, but when so many happen back to back, and ever single one is necessary to reach the ending, it strains uncredulity.

Falco

What Isayama does with Falco is an egregious ass pull in two different ways. First, throughout the entire series, we are repeatedly taught that titan shifters have specific powers, and yet somehow, Falco’s Jaws titan comes with the power to fly. We’ve never seen a flying titan, and yet somehow the Jaws titan is the one that comes with wings. People will argue that there was foreshadowing (“Look at his name - Falco!”), but that doesn’t excuse violating the established rules. There’s even shoddier handwaving by Falco in which he hypothesizes, “I drank Zeke’s spinal fluid so I inherited some Beast-like powers!” How convenient for the alliance. I also have trouble buying that handwaving since not one Eldian in Ragako village or Levi’s squad in the forest show any beast-like qualities after injesting Zeke’s spinal fluid. In my opinion, there is no justification for arbitrarily granting exactly one titan the ability to fly at the exact right moment necessary to advance the plot.

Second, Falco masters his titan shifting abilities the second time he transforms (not counting the time when he’s a pure titan). In earlier chapters, we watched how hard Eren worked to master control of his titan and yet somehow, Falco transitions from being completely out of control in his first transformation (Chapter 129) to being a master capable of flying long distances (Chapter 135) and nimbly dodging at least 10 (yes, I counted) Warhammer titan archers (Chapter 136) on his second transformation.

Gabi

I’ll discuss Hallucigenia and the Chapter 138 titanization in a later post, so setting that aside for the time being, I think Gabi is handled well. I especially like her throw of Falco after the two are reunited.

The one nit I have, similar to Falco, is how Isayama moves the plot forward by granting her godlike shooting accuracy. I understand that Gabi is a trained warrior candidate, so I completely buy that she can shoot a predictably moving Eren’s head at five meters (Chapter 119) and can shoot a titan with her rifle down its throat (Chapter 124), but how the hell does she snipe the exceptionally agile Okapi titan from Falco’s back in Chapter 137 as he dodges the archer Warhammer titans? How does she have enough hands to aim her rifle while also holding onto the netting on Falco’s back? Also, let’s not forget that Armin is inside the Okapi titan’s mouth, so if Gabi’s shot is a half meter off, she’ll kill Armin, guaranteeing the Alliance will be unable to stop Eren and humanity will perish. Under those conditions, would a reasonable character risk taking the shot? Not a chance in hell.

I don’t mean to turn this post into a comparison with Game of Thrones Season 8, but in my opinion, Gabi’s shot is less believable than Euron sniping one of Daenerys’s dragons. Euron at least had a stable relatively platform and a big target with no collateral damage to worry about.

Someone on Reddit is adamant that her godlike shooting accuracy is well established, writing “She picks up a rifle, and hits two KIAs with near perfect precision, and would have hit a third if it was not for Falco. This established that she has godlike accuracy, and is part of her character.” This is horseshit. The targets she hits are at short-to-medium range, from a stable shooting position, with predictably moving targets (or stationary, in the case of Sasha) and no possibility of collateral damage. I don’t agree at all.

Pieck

As with Falco and Gabi, Isayama pulls something out of nowhere as needed. Looking back at Chapter 104, Pieck’s titan is injured. Falco and Gabi pull her from her titan body, but Pieck isn’t able to regenerate. Falco asks, “Her body isn’t repairing itself fast enough… Why doesn’t she have the power of the titans?” Gabi replies, “The cart titan isn’t as tough as some of the others. It’s not like the armor…” Ok, so we have clearly established that the Cart titan can’t take a beating. Skipping forward to Chapter 136, Pieck is now able to transform as many times as she wishes, boasting “With the Cart’s endurance, so long as they don’t take me out, I can fight until we win.”

Some might draw a distinction that in Chapter 104, Pieck’s human form was injured whereas in Chapter 136 her human form is not injured. Fine, but again, I despise that this distinction is introduced exactly when the plot needed it. Additionally, this new ability is inconsistent with her previous combat appearances. Marley uses her at long distance, with a cannon attached to her back. If the Cart titan really is such a powerful up-close fighter, why do they place it at maximum distance from the fight? I’m not saying that this ability of the Cart titan is unbelievable, but too little has been done to establish this ability such that the timing of this surprise ability’s appearance is unbelievable.

Mikasa

I’ll have a lot more to say about Mikasa’s character later, but while we’re on the subject of violating his own rules, in Chapter 138 and 139, Isayama writes Eren as altering Mikasa’s memories, despite the repeatedly established fact that Ackermans are immune to the Founding titan’s memory alteration powers.

Connie and Jean

Again setting aside Hallucigenia and the Chapter 138 titanization, which I’ll discuss in a later post, I have no complaints. I never expected Connie and Jean to survive to the end, and the parallel with Ragako was unexpectedly cruel. Their deaths in Chapter 138 were masterfully delivered.

tags: 2021 - book-summaries - random