Eren Yeager, hero and protagonist of Attack on Titan, is a determined, tenacious, and righteously enraged young warrior. Those oft admirable qualities, however, were overwhelmed in Season 2 by Eren’s repetitive bad habits. Though he’s been fighting Titans and helping his war buddies for quite a while now, he’s still the most likely to crack under pressure. Though on a human level, his sensitivity is excusable, it makes him a difficult hero to follow, especially in a hysterical, high-stakes anime.
While Eren’s journey is one that demonstrates how crippling mental illnesses like PTSD can be, it’s Eren’s unwillingness to grow and the show’s inability to show us anything new with Eren that can sometimes make Attack on Titan itself a really frustrating viewing experience.
Eren was powerless to save his mother and watched her die very early in the series; that trauma left him angry at the world and the Titans inhabiting it, but he’s far more angry at himself for being powerless to stop it.
But long before Eren went through the trauma of losing his mother, he was already a hothead that would pick fights with groups of bullies that stole bread from Armin. He’d even toss punches at soldiers like Hannes that tried to stop him. Eren was always foolhardy and reckless, and those sort of tantrums might be permissible in young children, but how long can they be tolerated in a young adult?
It was admittedly Eren’s propensity to act without thought that allowed him to successfully help Mikasa defend herself against home invaders that killed her parents. His resolution served him well there, but the trauma he goes on to experience arrested his emotional development and left him forever a wrathful child throwing temper tantrums and lamenting his lot in life.
As the story progresses and he gains an incredible amount of power as a Titan Shifter, humanity relies on him more and more, and he literally gets the kind of power he needed to save his mother those years ago. But he lets his guilt be a burden that prevents him from acting at times. He struggles to rise above his own inadequacies and grow into the hero that his friends and comrades need.
Thoughout much of the series, he will fail miserably in some aspect — usually, it’s performance anxiety that renders him unable to transform or he loses control of himself in Titan form completely. Then, miraculously — oftentimes accidentally — he will rally and claim victory in some impossible way punctuated by epic music.
At least once per season, a character like Commander Erwin or Captain Levi will say something like, “Everything depends on your ability to do this, Eren. We’re really relying on you.” Grim, resolute, Eren will blink out of shock before grinding his teeth, growling out another promise to wipe every Titan off the face of the Earth.
But how many times can we watch Eren fume with rage, feeding into that hopeless side to his character that renders him unable to act? How many times will he scream at someone rather than do something rational? How many times will his immediate reaction be to attack even when he’s doomed to lose?
At every turn, Eren is outmatched by enemies with more self-control and greater talents, like Annie’s Female Titan (Season 1) or Reiner’s Armored Titan (Season 2). Each functions as a foil to Eren’s increasingly frustrating character, both in and out of his Titan form. He has great power as a Titan, but their control and unique abilities only serve to frustrate Eren much of the time. Even the ultra-talented and utterly devoted Mikasa, of all people, is a foil for Eren’s more human role.
Eren is a hothead who, without the lifelong devotion of his friends Armin and Mikasa, would alienate every single person in his life. If they hadn’t been there to vouch for him after he discovered his Titan Shifter powers in Season 1, he wouldn’t have made it as far as he did.
In the desperate, all-or-nothing moment in the Season 2 finale when Eren triumphantly punches at the Smiling Titan and activates the Coordinate, it’s not a capable hero valiantly and courageously defeating his enemy that we see.
Much like the very first time Eren “died” and activated his Titan Shifter powers, it’s just an angry child fucking up and accidentally triggering a miracle that saves the day. Remember in that scene he was rushing out of anger to attack the Titans when he lost a few limbs and was eventually swallowed whole.
Eren unlocking the power of the Coordinate is a triumphant moment for the series, but it feels like yet another of Eren’s blunders. Let this be a lesson to Eren and Attack on Titan as a whole that both need to start taking the war seriously if they’re to keep the story compelling.
Hopefully, Eren will be able to grow up when Season 3 arrives sometime in 2018.