The world of Attack on Titan is both strange and familiar. When you first start the story, it's easy to grasp the society the characters live in, a setting that is, if not set in, then based on the past. At the same time, they are subjugated by the wandering Titans, which start seemingly simple but grow more complex over time. There's a lot to take in, which is why the series slowly rolls out its major reveals — first we learn about shifters because Eren can transform, then we realize the other major Titans could also be characters we know. Titans themselves have special biology you learn about through Hange, and each of the special Titans have their own unique abilities, but eventually it all starts making sense in its own way. Then, right when you're accustomed to how things work here, you get thrown a curveball. The Beast Titan — a giant monkey that can actually talk and seems in full control of its thoughts and actions — appears. Not only that, but it seems to know the other antagonistic Titans, can create more Titans, and generally throws everything you thought you knew about Titans for a loop.
But the weirdest and most important part about the Beast Titan is that he knows what baseball is.
First of all, some historical context. The exact origins of baseball are of some debate, but it can generally be said that the game we know as baseball today began around the early 1800s. In Japan, baseball is actually the most popular sport, but didn't start being played professionally until a hundred years later, in the early 1900s. All that is to say, baseball is a well-known but relatively modern sport. Why is that important? Because to the audience watching Attack on Titan, a character knowing what baseball is would be an immediately recognizable anachronism, let alone a Titan throwing fastballs.
It might seem out of place at first, but as we later learn, the owner of the Beast Titan, Zeke, is not only from outside the Walls, but from across even the sea. And even later we learn that the world inside the Walls isn't actually representative of how far along technologically actually is in Attack on Titan — where Zeke is from, baseball feels like a completely natural part of the setting. In these ways, baseball actually serves as the first major foreshadowing of what we wouldn't learn until much, much later, when Eren finally gets to the basement and learns that the world is much larger than he could have ever imagined. A huge secret, all hidden in plain sight, in what might initially seem like an odd world-building choice or just a funny quirk of Zeke's.
Baseball's symbolic importance to the plot doesn't stop there, though. When we find out about Zeke's backstory, it's heartbreaking. Driven from youth to be a tool for his parents' personal crusade, Zeke spends much of his life only knowing how it feels to be used by other people. Eventually, he finds companionship with Ksaver — another person who feels like he has little autonomy — and they bond over playing games of catch. When you consider what these simple times mean to Zeke, his use of baseball in his Titan form becomes more meaningful, too. He uses it as one of his few forms of self-expression; he may be fighting someone else's war, but he's doing it on his own terms, something that proves to be more than bluster as his long-term plan is almost completed when he and Eren meet and combine their powers years later.
Speaking of his plan and Eren, baseball holds one more hidden meaning, this time to the dismay of Zeke. When Eren and Zeke meet at the hospital in Marley where Eren is pretending to be a wounded veteran, Zeke tries to use baseball to bond with his long-lost brother much the same way Ksaver did for him. They can't touch until their plan is fully set in motion, so to seal the deal between them, Zeke instead tosses Eren the baseball he has been idly playing with. Eren, however, doesn't manage to catch it — Eren likely hardly even knows what a baseball is, let alone has experience playing catch with one like Zeke did growing up. This metaphorically demonstrates the cultural divide between the siblings that would end up also being their ideological divide as well — Zeke's plan hinges on Eren sympathizing with him fully, something Eren would never truly do because they come from completely different worlds, hence Eren literally dropping the ball. Oh, and Zeke's catching skills end up being of great use when he needs to grab Eren's loose head.
From foreshadowing to character development, there's more than meets the eye when it comes to the use of baseball in Attack on Titan. Baseball's just one example in a series chock full of meticulously detailed and well-thought-out plotting. It just goes to show how nothing can be taken for granted in Attack on Titan. So the next time you're rewatching it, pay close attention to the small details; you never know what seemingly innocuous moment may have actually been long-term foreshadowing in disguise.
What’s your favorite small but important detail in Attack on Titan? Let us know in the comments below!
David Lynn can be found obsessing over Fate/Grand Order on Twitter @navycherub.
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