Why One Shot From 'Attack on Titan' Anime Haunts Me to This Day
I promise you that it's not one you might expect.
In addition to being one of the most widely popular anime around right now, Attack on Titan is also anime at its most gruesome, horrific, and bleak. Yet, it’s a beautiful show in many ways, from its glorious musical score to its stunning action sequences and beyond. Soldiers utilize weaponized zip lines to fight humanoid giants hell bent on devouring them, placing Attack on Titan at a strange middle ground between Kaiju and zombie horror.
Limbs are torn and heads chomped off on the regular, but weirdly enough, the weather is always astonishingly beautiful, as if nature itself ignores the misery of humanity. It almost never rains, and if there is a clap of thunder, it’s only when a Titan Shifter transforms into their Titan form.
The nudity of the Titans doesn’t do the show any favors when it comes to presenting absolutely bizarre imagery. At times, the still shots even look like something that might have emerged from the Rennaissance.
Early on in the series, when protagonist Eren Jaeger as a child watches his mother get ripped apart and eaten, the scene is set against a gorgeous, partly cloudy sky at sunset. The glowing sunlight backlights the gruesome scene, and both Eren and viewer get an obscured but totally comprehensible look at what’s happening. This may be the first glaring instance of the contrast between beauty and violence in Attack on Titan, but it’s far from the last.
The stark juxtaposition between the two is part of what makes the show totally bizarre, but it’s also an evocative and compelling design choice that’s tacitly led to its overwhelming success.
Even though the Season 2 finale offered some of the absolute best examples of this troubling juxtaposition of imagery, there’s one particular shot from one of Season 1’s final episodes that has stuck with me all this time.
And it’s this:
Some Attack on Titan fans refer to this as “Random Cat” or even “Random-Ass Cat,” and it’s with good reason. The show depicts very few animals outside of the horses that get used — and abused — by military expeditions. There’s never any explanation given, but it’s apparent that given food scarcity, overpopulation, and limited physical living space, pets might just be a luxury that isn’t possible.
The shot above is perhaps the only example of a pet in the show, and it’s so startlingly out of place and poignant that on my first watch, I had to pause the episode to take it in, partly because it was the emotional climax of the entire season.
The shot comes at the end of Episode 24 in Season 1. After a failed sting operation to capture Annie Leonhart, an enemy Titan Shifter, she transforms into her Female Titan form and begins wreaking havoc in an inner part of the city. In the ensuing chaos, Eren is so frustrated by Annie’s betrayal that he can’t bring himself to transform into his own Titan form to fight her. By the episode’s end, the dead bodies number in the dozens (perhaps even hundreds) and Eren himself is crushed and impaled by rubble.
Attack on Titan brings the viewer to an unimaginable low point only to present an emotional resurgence, and this random image of a cat is presented right in the midst of that to remind viewers that nature doesn’t give a shit about what’s going on.
There’s Eren’s close friend, Mikasa, getting knocked down in battle. Then Eren soaked in blood, screaming in rage. With a crack of thunder, his transformation is complete. People throughout the entire city look up in awe. The sky is beautiful; so is an untouched river arcing through an untouched part of the city. And then, there’s a tan and white cat sitting quietly on a step with a stray piece of rubble only a foot away as a large pool of blood oozes towards it.
Watch the full sequence here:
Cats may be common pets, yes, but they’re still stereotyped as being apathetic to humans, or at the very least indifferent to the conflicts humans have with each another. This relaxing feline, then, carries a special symbolism. There have been more subtle symbols on the show, but Random Cat is still a reminder of something very important on Attack on Titan:
Nature itself could care less about the struggles of humanity.
Attack on Titan Season 3 is expected to premiere sometime in spring 2018.