Eren Jaeger’s received some flak for his depiction in the Attack on Titan anime, for being a simplistic, basic character. An angry, mindless protagonist who was depicted far better in the manga.
Well. Frankly speaking, that’s not true. Especially considering the release of Season Two, Eren’s actually been portrayed just fine in the anime, and I’d like to explain why.
As someone who avidly keeps up with both the anime and the manga, I’d like to provide some push back on the idea that Eren’s anime adaptation is badly done. Considering what we’ve seen in Season Two, I simply can’t believe that Eren’s that bad of a character.
His development in the anime has been just fine, and I’d argue, supports the theme of the anime EXTREMELY well. And today, we’re gonna be going through the entire series, tracking just how he’s been developed, and why Eren’s not actually that bad of a character.
Episodes 1-13: Establishing Moments
The first half of season one, many people forget, only covers two events: the training of Eren and his friends, and the battle at Trost. It’s a rather slow series of events, but it’s actually rather necessary to the series as a whole. Simply put, there’s quite a lot that has to happen, to establish both the themes of the story, as well as Eren’s character as a whole.
Eren, as we’re all aware, is an extremely angry individual. Even as a child, he has no remorse about murdering the unjust–as seen by how he saved Mikasa from her kidnappers. This anger is only further emphasized by the death of his mother, leading him to a broad, burning hatred of Titans in particular, that lasts throughout the series.
That being said, this anger is shown to have very evident pros and cons that will define Eren’s character growth throughout the series.
Most watchers of the anime will be very familiar with the cons of this anger, however; it’s why Eren gets eaten, part of why he loses control, and honestly, it does end up being rather repetitive. Eren’s rage is apparent at every juncture, but oftentimes, it does come off of as naïve, or lacking purpose. You can only hear “I’m gonna kill all the titans” for so long, before you’ve got to ask, HOW?
On the other hand, this anger is also a huge driving force for humanity. As General Pixis realizes, the willpower of humanity to succeed is what keeps them fighting, despite the losses. This fact is made clear with the reclamation of Trost: if Eren didn’t have his motivation, his angry, single-minded willpower, then that victory would not have been possible, even with his titan form. As Mikasa so eloquently notes, when she is saved by Eren in his titan form…
This rage hints at a running theme of Attack on Titan that will keep on being developed throughout the series—how humanity continues to fight for their freedom, and how they grow to be able to do so. The anger of humanity is their driving force, it is part of their desire to escape the cage that the titans have penned them in. And similarly, their anger is reflected in Eren. However, as the series develops, it becomes clear that it takes far more than emotional speeches and tantrums to achieve victory.
Episodes 14-22: Catalysts for Growth
During the Female Titan arc of the anime, Eren undergoes a considerable amount of growth, as his anger is punished, again, and again, and again. It’s during these episodes that it becomes clear, that the conflict with “the Titans” is a lot more complex than most initially thought. This conflict is one that cannot be solved with ideals alone, as Eren realizes more and more as these episodes progress.
First, of course, we have Eren’s interactions with Levi’s squad, as property of the Survey Corps. During his trial, to decide whether or not he lives or dies, Eren, being Eren, angrily shouts at the gathered people, to demonstrate his convictions, and ask them to trust him.
A naïve statement in and of itself, this angry outburst would have led to his death, had Captain Levi not beat him down in response. This section, combined with Captain Erwin’s cryptic warnings about “the true enemy,” demonstrates Eren’s growing realization that there’s more to humanity’s fight than meets the eye.
Second, Eren’s entire interaction with the Female Titan is indicative of two things: his overall naivety, which led him to trust his idealistic vision of Levi’s squad, as well as how his anger can very well be detrimental to his ability to help humanity. Throughout the majority of these nine episodes, Eren had grown to trust in those above him, naively thinking that such choices can be made consistently, with no adverse consequences.
Of course, this backfires, leaving an extremely mad Eren to face a wounded Female Titan. His anger allows him to take the Female Titan by surprise at first, but, as the fight goes on, the Female Titan reasserts her dominance. Despite having an advantage at multiple points in the fight, Eren wears himself out in his anger, allowing the Female Titan to take him out with a quick, decisive blow.
Something to note about this fight, is that Eren’s initial anger was not bad. Rather, it was his naïve faith in his ideals, and his tendency to completely indulge in his anger, that lost him the day. Annie was able to fight, knowing what Eren was aiming for, and taking advantage of it. Eren didn’t have a plan, and Annie did.
Lastly, we have the whole of episode 22, where Eren and the Survey Corps, beaten and defeated, return back to the safety of the walls, to criticism from the masses. Eren, angry and bitter, wants to get up and tell them off, as his anger would drive him to do, but instead, he just can’t. Instead, he cries tears of frustration, realizing that they HAVE been defeated—that there’s so much more to the Survey Corps than just admirable heroism.
This scene is huge, it’s powerful. It goes against everything that Eren has been shown to be since the beginning of the series. It is at this point, where Eren realizes that for all his passion, none of it matters if he doesn’t win.
Episodes 23-25: Angry, But More Knowledgeable
Of course, the past three events, as powerful as they might theoretically be, don’t mean much for character growth, if we don’t see it happen in the series. But luckily, as Season One ends, and even more so now that Season Two is out, we can see that Eren has indeed taken these lessons to heart. What’s more, we can more clearly see just how these lessons play into the themes of the anime.
In the last episodes of Season One, we get some very definitive moments of Eren’s character evolution, as well as a very clear theme that more or less defines his character growth. This theme, repeated multiple times throughout the last episodes, is that one has to become like a monster, in order to change anything.
Eren, as we see, struggles with this very much, as, for his entire life, he thought the TITANS were the monsters. For the first time now, he is forced to realize, very clearly, that humans were the real monsters he had to contend with. Especially considering Eren’s devotion to his friends, it makes sense why he’d struggle with confronting Annie for the first time.
However, as we all know, Eren did man up, and did what he had to do. Using his anger as fuel, he finally transforms, making the commitment to surpass his own ideals, and he faces Annie in combat once more. Thinking through his moves, he forces Annie into a lot more of an uncomfortable situation before being forced into submission. This is where he gets angry, taking Annie off guard, ultimately forcing her to retreat into her cocoon, where she would be untouchable.
Eren’s angry outburst at the end may have, to some, invalidated parts of his character growth. However, there are two details I’d like to note, that I believe makes it a lot better.
We must remember, that Eren’s Titan form represents something huge in the series: the rage of humanity. Knowing this, it’s also clear that the lessons learned from the forest–his fear of acting in the right way in certain situations–were almost certainly applied. Eren went in, careful, methodical, and once he was beaten down, he used his anger as a weapon, taking Annie by surprise, and winning the day.
Next, and just as importantly, Eren, despite his obvious, overwhelming rage, chooses to look at Annie before eating her. He takes a moment, stops himself from doing something potentially terrible for humanity, and I’d like to emphasize how huge this is, in Eren’s maturity as a character. It is true that Eren’s rage defines him, but even in the depths of his rage, having the cognizance to not follow through with his immediate instincts, indicates that he’s become a bit more aware that his rage isn’t the best response to every problem.
So, finally, we reach the end of Season One, choosing to focus on Eren eating food, as Armin narrates about what the next steps would be for the Survey Corps. A blatant contrast to the beginning of the series, where Eren refused to eat anything out of anger, we get some rather interesting insight into his character. He admits his emotional flaws, and his desire to express his rage, rather than live and fight.
He’s changed, however. He’s become someone stronger, more mature, and above all, more knowledgeable about what he wants. He knows better about where to direct his emotion, and acts with less hesitation because of it. And, of course, considering the second season of Attack on Titan, we see this more and more as the episodes go on.
Episodes 26-35: A Monster and A Warrior
The middle of the first season was where the seeds of Eren’s growth were planted. The ending, was where the seeds of Eren’s change were beginning to sprout. From there, the second season is where the fruits of change are grown, for us viewers to enjoy the (admittedly still angry) taste.
The first five episodes, as those who’ve watched the second season know, are quite uneventful, as far as the main characters are concerned. It is from episodes 31-35, where we receive some more definitive moments that show off Eren’s character. In particular, his interactions with Reiner and Bertholdt are rather telling, of how Eren has grown.
Eren is still Eren, don’t get me wrong. He still has his trademark rage, his trust in his companions, but he’s a LOT more of a problem solver now. So, when Reiner confesses his status as the Armored Titan, it makes so much sense now, that instead of being angry, demanding Reiner’s explanation, he backs off.
This is checkmate for the two enemy titan shifters. If Reiner and Bertholdt treat it like a joke somehow, they lose, and if Eren gets mad, then they would be stuck in the same situation regardless, forced to fight. Eren’s calmness was actually a rather smart thing to do, and also displayed his signature trust in others.
Of course, next then, we can look at Eren’s fight with Reiner, in which he blatantly shows off his ability to problem solve. With Reiner’s armor, Eren realizes rather quickly that standard approaches wouldn’t work at all. So, instead, by faking Reiner out with multiple angry roars, he reveals his plan, to wrestle him into submission. Afterwards, he actively retreats, strategizes, and listens to Hange, who informs him of the best route of action.
This action scene, apart from being undisputably BADASS, would not have been possible in the first season. Despite, at that point, Eren having the same amount of training, his emotional state would not have allowed it. He certainly showed signs of fighting prowess against Annie, but at the end of the day, Annie was just a better fighter, and Eren was, admittedly, less refined with his Titan power. Considering, however, that at this point, he had only willingly transformed into a Titan four times, this moment is rather telling of Eren’s mental fortitude.
And last, at least for now, we have Eren’s rather aggressive interactions with Reiner and Bertholdt in the forest, with Ymir. Relatively speaking though, Eren was EXTREMELY composed. For a full two to three minutes of screen time, Eren’s simply monologuing, thinking through his options. Even when he loses control, he’s a lot less aggressive about it, instead showing aggression through his words, not his actions.
I enjoyed this set of episodes a lot in regards to Eren’s character, simply because of how he tried to approach it. His anger is apparent, and if anything, is far more intense than before, But, unlike in the first part of season one, where his character was established, Eren waited before acting. Even in the most recent episode, where Eren was trying to beat down Reiner, there wasn’t much else to do, except provide a fight, and wait for the Scouts to arrive. It’s as Hannes says: “He’s not going to go down without a fight.”
But that said, Eren’s become someone who knows WHEN to fight now as well. He picks the fights when he can, and uses his anger to push through when he can’t. This is a blatant contrast to his status at the beginning of the series, where his mentality was “kill first, ask questions later.”
I’m not sure how the next two episodes will go, whether or not they’ll develop Eren’s character any further, but as of now, I’m rather content with how it’s played out. Hopefully, moving forward, we can continue to see Eren’s improvement in character, as well as the rage that drives him forward!
Eren’s…an interesting character.
Ultimately, I think Eren has become the quintessential Shonen anime protagonist. He’s an angry, determined guy, that acts stupid at times, but ultimately, you want to root for. Learning from his mistakes (at least for the most part) Eren’s growth leads to some stunning, awe-inspiring moments, even if it seems like half of what he’s doing is just screaming his head off.
There is a bit more depth to him than anger and angst–he’s a guy that’s lost companions, dear friends, and is driven by far more than just revenge now. Rather than simply being motivated by a hatred of Titans, he is driven by a desire to better humanity as a whole, a realization he makes quite clear after capturing the Female Titan. It’s a personal journey for him–and, despite being a rather simple character at heart, I personally appreciate how well Eren’s character has been done, especially considering Attack on Titan’s focus on the rage, and strength of humanity.
He’s a crazy, simplistic, and determined protagonist, for all the right reasons. And that’s why I think that Eren, despite lots of hate, was portrayed just fine in the anime. If you guys have any thoughts–points of contention, something I’ve missed, or otherwise, leave a comment, let me know!