*MAJOR SPOILERS FOR ATTACK ON TITAN AHEAD!! READ WITH CAUTION!!*
Bear with me for a second as I set the stage, would you?
It’s 2013. Attack on Titan’s first season is mid-swing. The hype is unreal. Everyone’s watching it, everyone’s talking about it. But for some reason, there aren’t many characters that people can actually remember. They remember Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Levi, Erwin, Hange, and Annie. But everyone else is just sort of… nebulous.
Except for Sasha Braus. Or as many people knew her: Potato-Girl.
Sasha wasn’t just memorable because of her potato gag, though. She was noticeably… brighter, for lack of a better word, then everyone else. In a world as horrifying and depressing as the one within the walls, Sasha was plucky, optimistic, and always smiling. She was a ray of sunshine in a sky full of clouds.
She continued to be this way for the following few seasons. Throughout all the struggles, no matter how bad, Sasha was always a bright and loyal friend. Someone that everyone liked to be around. Someone who kept them all safe. A character you can’t help but love.
Then this little shit shows up and puts a hole in her lung.
Gabi Braun is a very controversial character. Not the bad kind of controversial, mind you; she’s not a walking symbol of racism, sexism, homophobia, or anything stupid like that. Rather, it’s her personality and the actions she takes in the story that puts her on this divisive line. One that will undoubtedly lead to many a heated discussion between fans for many years to come.
Personality wise, you can go either way on Gabi. She’s incredibly energetic, loud, and full of herself. She’s competitive to a fault, eager to prove herself better than everyone else around her. However, she’s also selfless and heroic, willing to risk her own life to keep those on her side, whether they respect her or not, from getting hurt or killed. Her ego is the size of Jupiter, but she’s still caring for those around her.
This loyalty shines through the most in how she treats the people of Paradis, like Sasha and Eren and the others. She believes them to be monsters, devils that need to be exterminated, just like Marley taught her. Unlike Falco, who is confronted by the ambiguity of the situation when he has to sit in on Eren and Reiner’s conversation, Gabi never questions whether she’s in the right or wrong. She firmly believes that this situation is black-and-white, with her side being in the right and Eren’s being in the wrong. An opinion that is supported in her mind by the fact that Eren and the gang just attacked her home and killed a lot of her friends.
Thanks to her personality, she’s a divisive character. But the discussion around that wouldn’t be all that heated. It would just boil down to “I don’t like Gabi, she’s annoying” or “Gabi’s fine, I like her confidence”. Hardly an interesting discussion.
But then she murders a fan-favorite character.
The act of killing poor Sasha alone was enough to ignite a fire under the fanbase. That single shot, like many in both real and fictional history, led to a civil war. Is Gabi Braun the worst character in Attack on Titan, one of the most easily hated characters in anime history? Or is she a tragic figure that deserves sympathy?
Well, that’s where the controversy comes in. Which is also where Gabi becomes such an interesting character.
Gabi is a walking encapsulation of the themes at the center of AOT. She’s the embodiment of the endless cycles of hatred and violence perpetuated by history and marginalization. As such, you can understand why she is the way she is, why she does the things she does. On the other hand, Sasha has been around for three seasons; you’ve grown attached to her, grown to appreciate how she brightens the room. How can you sympathize with a character who just took away the light in the sky?
Believe me, I get it. It’s easy to hate Gabi for what she did. Trust me, I do. Shit breaks my heart. But you have to admit, this is what makes storytelling interesting. It presents the audience with a challenging dilemma that makes them think. It makes them ponder on the themes of the story and form an opinion.
Those opinions lead to discussions. And yes, many of them may break out into heated arguments; it is the age of the internet, after all. But writing like this is what makes a story memorable. This is what lay in the heart of a classic.
Unless the series really drops the ball sometime soon. Which I hope doesn’t happen. After how disappointing the ends to so many recent hyped series have been, I need one to hit it home.