I am a Political Science graduate, major in International Relations and Foreign Service, with an interest in anime, religion and philosophy
"The world is cruel, yet beautiful" is a line that encapsulates both the world of Attack on Titan and ours. With every episode, we see this theme recontextualized. However, "Sole Salvation" is an exploration on how the notion of cruelty and beauty are turned over their head.
Let us see how the storyboard by Masayuki Miyaji and direction of Mitsue Yamazaki and Yoho Ishikawa breathe life into the tragedy that is Zeke Yeager's life.
"Sole Salvation" is a look into how we leave behind an ever-damaged world that gives more and more reasons for children not to love life. How can we say "children are the future" if we have abandoned them in the present?
This is what the story of Zeke Yeager's childhood represents. Witnessing the full scope of Liberio from high above, Grisha tells his young son that they live within a birdcage. Soon enough, they meet a janitor, who responded to their sudden appearance with kindness until he saw their armbands and threw them away. Grisha took this as a grim reminder for Zeke to take in. This moment also shows that even normally decent people can be decent when they do not face those they label as "enemies" and it is a sad truth we see in real life too.
While we start the episode with an affirmation of Marley's racism, this was also a hint of the kind of world that Grisha wanted to show Zeke, a world without love and any reason to love life.
At home, Zeke is praised for his blood, to affirm his heritage. Yet throughout his childhood, he has to live two lives: to his grandparents and the public, the redemptive Eldian boy who wants to be a Warrior, and to his parents, the heir to a revolutionary ideology. Like Historia, Zeke was given roles in his life to satisfy the people around him but not once is he allowed to be himself.
This is compounded by his constant failures in his classes and training exercises, lagging behind everyone. His double life and his performance in class get him no friends, leaving him both isolated and hollow.
Even when he lacks any motivation in reciting repeated propaganda and Warrior training, he has "to play along" with what people expect of him, to be a gifted Warrior.
Even when Grisha and Dina viewed Zeke as special, not once did they regard his feelings and instead continued to pressure him when he performs poorly. This worsens when Zeke hides in his room as Grisha lashes out at Dina after both witnessed him fail a training exercise.
This feels like a form of abuse because they have barely given their child any time to play or form their identity. Most of all, Zeke was never given concrete, authentic love from his family. They only saw him as the Wonder Boy and invested so much into him as their future that they neglect him in the present. It is no wonder why he envies other kids who get to play with their parents.
Zeke's life changes when he meets Tom Ksaver, the Beast Titan, who happens to be a Titan Researcher. At first, they simply meet to play catch, something Zeke could never do with his own father. Even from one encounter and Tom's appraisal of Zeke's potential as a pitcher, Zeke found the first person to affirm for who he is, not for who others want him to be.
As Zeke finds comfort in Tom, he accepts his life in the Walls, knowing there are some good reasons to enjoy life. However, when he hears that his parents might get caught, he asks them to "stop doing dangerous things". Here, Zeke sees Grisha's anger at Marley for taking away his sister and for bringing him to this miserable point. So consumed was he by burning hatred and justified anger that he neglected to give love to his son, only living "for Eldia's restoration". If anything, this scene shows Grisha's humanity, how he started his story but, along the way, was lost in his resentment, unable to look at his child starving for love.
Afterwards, Zeke would inform Tom of what he knew and the fate he and his grandparents would face. In desperation, Tom asks Zeke to report his parents, who he said never loved the boy so that the rest of their family do not share the same fate. In doing so, Zeke disowns this part of his life and embodies the role he has chosen, to be a Warrior with Tom as his new father.
How Nihilism is Born
While playing with Tom, Zeke ponders about the Founder's abilities. Tom reveals that an Eldian king once used the Founding Titan to make his people immune to a plague. Beyond erasing memories, the Founder can alter the bodies of the Subjects of Ymir. Recalling the time he saw an ordinary janitor despise Eldians for giving birth to new life, Zeke asks if the Founder can make Eldians sterile, to prevent them from reproducing.
Shocked by Zeke's radical conclusion, Tom talks about his family, of how he hid his identity and formed a family with a Marleyan. Because of Marley's policies and racism, his wife killed her son, then took her own life. Losing his beloved because of his blood, he cursed his existence.
At this, Zeke vows to save the world from the Titan curse. As they form the euthanization plan, Tom imparts to Zeke the secret to circumventing the vow renouncing war, with him needing a trustworthy person as the Founder to enact their wish.
Soon enough, Zeke inherits the Beast Titan from his foster father and declares that he will find their hope.
The world rejected his right to life and seeing how the curse of the Titans has turned life for everyone into suffering, where there is no hope for love, he affirmed the hollowness he found throughout, that there was no point to living after all.
In learning about Eren and the fate of Grisha, Zeke seeks to "save" Eren and to reconnect with his lost brother.
During their conversation, Eren recalls Grisha destroying the Reiss Family to claim the Founder. Here, Eren renounces Grisha and affirms that their people will continue to suffer if nothing is done. As he professes that the only salvation lies in never being born, Eren calls Zeke "brother". For the first time in his life, he found someone he can love as family and be true to.
That Final Scene
Awakening on a rainy path, Zeke concludes that Eldia's salvation lies in their sterilization, to end the suffering of future generations. Hearing this, Levi goes to him, attempting to prevent his legs from growing back. Yet Zeke triggers the Thunder Spear latched to him, sending both of them away as an explosive fire decimates the scene.
This spectacular sequence was corrected and done by Takahiko Abiru, whose quality helps the Final Season flourish.
Love Someone, Give Them Hope
This is the message of Sole Salvation. Not of euthanization or genocide. If we are building futures, we must love our children. We have to bring meaning to their every day. Play with them and not pressure them to reach unmet expectations. Perhaps by raising a child full of love will we truly save the world.
© 2021 Mar Louie Vincent Reyes