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Tear Jerker: Attack on Titan
Any time a soldier dies. It's another dose of hopelessness to an already bleak situation. Even worse when the Scouts in question have received just enough development to make people care about them.
In the first episode and chapter when the Survey Corps came back, and the mother was given her son's arm. It was made worse when she asked if her son made any help. The commanding officer broke down saying all of their missions in the past hundred years has been a failure, all they done is lost men with no results. It really sets the tone of the series.
The commanding officer remains solemn but calm when the mother asks for her son. But then it quickly shatters when the mother asks if her son was useful. His gut reaction is to say yes to comfort her, but he immediately confesses that the excursion was a complete failure, blaming his own incompetence for the lives lost, arguably having a worse breakdown than the mother!
After their mother spends the last few minutes desperately trying to convince Eren and Mikasa to leave her behind before all three of them get eaten by the oncoming Titan, she first seems relieved that at least her children will be safe as Hannes carries them away. Suddenly though, she has a flashback to how happy they were as a family. Her last tearful words before the Titan picks her up?
"...Please don't leave me." Even more heartbreaking because she covers her mouth so that the children don't hear.
It was pretty sad seeing Armin crying over his grandfather's death, who was the only one looking after him as well as Eren and Mikasa. In order to solve a food shortage crisis, the central government drafted 250,000 refugees, including Armin's grandfather, to reclaim Wall Maria from the Titans. Only 100 men survived. The last thing that he gave to Armin before he departed was his straw hat, and we seeArmin crying into it after receiving news that he did not survive the campaign.
Early on in the barracks, Armin talks about why he wants to become a soldier instead of living in the landfill: despite being physically weak and utterly lacking in confidence, he says it's because he just can't sit there and do nothing. And then he goes on his first real mission, and is so terrified that he freezes on the spot, wondering how in the hell he can just sit there, watching his friends be eaten. He's just plain unable to move, even when a Titan picks him up and drops him down its throat.
Mikasa's past, she was living happily with her parents. And in five minutes, her parents were killed right in front her and she was kidnapped. After she was saved, she says, "I need to go home, where should I go. Now I have nowhere, nowhere left to go"
Hannah and Franz, whom Eren told seemed like a couple. In the battle of Trost, Hannah is shown giving CPR to Franz. Armin finds her, pauses with a solemn look on his face, and tells her to stop. The panel pans out and we see Franz cut in half. And Hannah just keeps on trying to resuscitate him...
The scene is much more powerful in the anime - you can hear Hannah's panic and see her slowly crumbling mental state, as well as an already distraught Armin trying to get Hannah to see what had happened.
In episode 7, one of the soldiers trapped in a building surrounded by Titans decides it is better to die than be eaten, and kills himself. While this is upsetting by itself, it's made even worse by the fact that just a little while afterwards, the other trainees make it to the building to help them, and Mikasa, Connie, and Armin bring Titan!Eren with them to take out all the Titans - meaning that if he had waited a bit longer, he would have been saved.
Armin and Mikasa have the exact same reaction to Eren being devoured. They lose control of their bodies; the difference is that Armin is too horrified by the grim reality of what he knows is happening to move; Mikasa is so detached she can't suppress her survival instinct and razor-sharp reflexes enough to let herself be eaten. It serves both as an elegant illustration of their character types, and as a heartbreaking show of closeness.
Chapter 10 While Eren was in the Titan's stomach, he was thinking of his life and why he lost everything. It gets better.
Additionally, a random female soldier inside the Titan's stomach is still alive and cries out for her mother in her last moments. It's even sadder in the anime.
Even sadder in the anime: they added a flashback of Eren as a child, smiling happily with his mother, and you can his voice trembing with despair and fury as he wonders why they have to suffer like this and vows to kill the titans with his hands. The music in the background doesn't help.
During episode 12 after Eren can't control his Titan form and it appears that the mission has failed one of the soldiers says that they should fall back, but Ian refuses to, still wanting to attempt to carry out the operation despite all evidence that it will fail. Why? Because the situation Humanity is in is so bad that throwing thousands of lives away at opportunities that have a slim chance of working at the very best is a practical option. It says a lot about the conflict with the Titans.
When Jean discovers the body of his best friend, Marco during the clean-up operation in Trost. His vacant stare and the quiet way he pleads for someone to tell him what happened are heartbreaking enough, but the medical officer is correct when she tells him there's no time to mourn and she is relieved that at least this body can be identified.
Related to the above: Annie's whispered apologies to what seems to be Mina's mangled corpse, during the same clean-up operation. She repeats it in shock, until Reiner speaks to her and reminds her that apologizing won't accomplish anything. All they can do is mourn and then move on. That they were the ones responsible doesn't make it any less heartbreaking, as it's clear just how horrified they are over the reality of their actions. What makes it even more heart-breaking: we often saw Annie sitting next to Mina at the cantina. It could be that the two were friends.
Episode 16, at least two of them. Which both involves Marco. Just as Jean is deciding which region he's joining at the Meaningful Funeral, he imagines seeing Marco, echoing his opinion that he'd make an excellent leader. As if that isn't heartbreaking enough, as soon as Jean declares his change of heart to join the Survey Corps, he bursts into tears. Major tearjerker there.
And when Eren finally learns Marco died, with nobody there to witness and tend to him as he was dying in pain. And on top of that, he sees Marco's spirit, too, this time wearing the special Scouting uniform, as if saying he'll always be by his friends' side.
The beginning of Eren's return home after his first mission with the Survey Corps in the anime. At first the scene seems so light-hearted and triumphant, as he learns about how several of the members of the elite Levi Squadron actually pissed themselves on their first mission. Gunther gets everyone to finally calm down, but not without adding that he in fact did not piss himself. And then the traitor shows up and kills him...
And then in the next episode the rest of the squad engages the Female Titan. At first they seem to be on the winning hand, but then Eren remembers Levi's words, emphasized by Vogel im Käfig playing in the background. Before he can aid them, all of them are killed. And then Eren gets eaten... again... just as Mikasa arrives.
The scene in itself was heartbreaking. Anywhere from Eld dying before being able to realize what is going on, to Petra's incomprehension of the situation in her final moments and Oluo's horrified expression as he witnesses her die. The worst part of it all? Eren watches it all unfold in front of his very eyes, the very people who accepted him among their ranks and asked for his trust, gone, and he can only scream in horror. As the music grows louder, he completely loses it andfinally transforms into his Titan form once more.
And then we have Levi dashing through the trees, silently passing by the bodies/remains of his comrades. What makes the scene extra powerful is that his expression is deliberately obscured until he's found every one of them to be dead. The look on his face is absolutely heart-breaking. The whole scene is made even worse by the fact that a few chapters before, Levi explained to Eren that sacrificing a potentially large number of lives in the progress of combating Titans had become a normality for the Survey Corps, advising him to not let it affect him too much.
Despite everything the female titan did, it's still hard not to feel the tiniest bit sad when it shows her crying. The fact that the human pilot crying causes the titan to cry as well overall has a tragic feel to it. Plus, loking at it from Annie's POV, you might take pity on her for feeling she had failed the one thing she was supposed to do despite all her effort, practically tripping on the finish line.
Episode 22 seems to exist solely to rip out the hearts of the audience, adding roughly half an episode of extra material just to rub salt into the wound.
The montage of the loved ones hearing the soldiers are returning, eager to see Eld, Oluo, and Gunther come home safely when none of them survived. The audience gets a slap to the face along the lines of "In-Universe they weren't just Badasses soldiers, they were people with hopes and dreams". Thank goodness everyone was spared the scene where some poor schmuck had to actually break it to them that their beloved fiancée/sibling/(grand)child didn't make it back.
Jean and Armin discussing their eventual deaths, while loading bodies onto carts. Connie and Sasha discussing dying, and whether it's right to celebrate being alive when others died.
Levi looking over the wrapped bodies of his squad.
Dieter and his failed mission to reclaim the body of his fallen friend. This forces the abandoning of all the retrieved bodies in order to escape a horde of Titans. Levi having to declare his squad's bodies are "nothing special", and then watching Petra's body be tossed away. Later, he comforts Dieter by giving him a patch from a uniform, telling him it belonged to his friend. It was actually one he took from Petra's uniform.
When Eren wakes up, you can hear the despair in his voice. You can see he feels like a failure for letting the Female Titan get away and having Mikasa rescue him again.
Plus the material from the corresponding chapter of the manga (the return of the Expedition).
Which is Eren coming back and seeing two children admiring the Survey Corps like he did. He breaks down crying.
Another addition in the anime is Annie's memories of her father resulting in Broken Tears when she's about to be captured. What's more, when titan!Eren sees her crying, his previous frenzy suddenly halts and he can do nothing but stare at her in shock (and possibly pity).
Connie discovering what remains of his village and the slow, horrible realization that something is very wrong. The way in which everyone desperately attempts to present him with false hope is heartbreaking enough, without the bonus implications that all the Titans they've encountered so far are/were his family and friends.
Reiner pitching himself out of a window to take out a Titan, even if he doesn't actually take the plunge. If he'd actually done it, he'd be forced to either reveal himself as the Armored Titan, or actually die in the fall. He's Becoming the Mask; given Ymir and Krista's conversation about choosing to die an unnecessary but heroic death so that you'll be remembered well, it's even more heartbreaking in retrospect. Despite being a Titan Shifter, some part of Reiner really does want to be true to the friends he's made among humans.
For that matter, his Villainous BSOD is difficult to watch. It becomes clear just how precarious his mental state has been for quite some time.
Chapter 43: Eren's rage at the traitors, Bertolt and Reiner. Additionally makes the past scenes with the two harsher in hindsight...
Mikasa wakes up after the Colossal Titan fell on Eren only to find out everyone was knocked out by the attack and Reiner and Bertolt were able to kidnap Eren and Ymir, 5 hours ago. Mikasa breaks down how she never gets what she wants, to be with Eren.
Chapter 46 reveals that Reiner's guilt over his actions caused him to quite literally go insane, and flee into the false identity of a human Reiner to escape. He briefly lapses back into this persona, and is genuinely confused at Eren's hostile response to him. For bonus tears, we also learn that this whole time Bertolt has been helplessly watching his best friend go insane, and as a result they were unable to share any kind of emotional connection.
In chapter 47, Ymir demanding to see Krista while on the verge of tears, because she's certain that it will be her last chance. And talking about how much it meant to her that Krista could smile for her, even knowing what kind of horrible person she really is.
Plus Jean and Connie trying to talk Bertolt and Reiner down by reminding them of how they're all True Companions and promised to grow old together.
And on top of that, the mention that they knew Bertolt's sleeping patterns so well they joked about predicting the weather by them. There's no better proof that the Shifters' plan put both sides of their conflict in close, vulnerable proximity to each other.
Chapter 48: Ymir's tearful plea to Krista, and Bertolt finally breaking down when confronted by his former comrades.
Specifically, his cry of "Who do you think actually wants to kill people?" Remember that they were eleven when they attacked Wall Maria, and judging by their bond with the rest of the 104th, they're both genuinely decent people at heart. Not to mention the fact that they know that Titans are people. Whether they realize it or not, he was calling them hypocrites.
Chapter 50: Hannes died, in the most gruesome manner yet.
It's even worse that Erwin and his men are surrounded, Armin fends off a titan with an injured Jean in his arms and Krista, Connie and Ymir continues kill much titans as they can. Believing that this is the end of them, Mikasa thanks Eren for everything that he had done for her back then.
Ymir choosing to leave Krista behind, after everything she'd done for her. After Krista's declaration that they would live for themselves from here on, and swearing that she won't fear anything as long as they're together. After everything, Ymir gently caresses Historia's hair in Titan form and mumbles an apology to her, before running off to help Reiner and Bertolt. Historia's heartbroken expression as they ride off just makes it worst.
Chapter 51: Connie is... not happy about the fact that the Titan on his house is his mother.
The revival of the Levi squad has Eren remember the original squad and their deaths.
Levi processing the thought that every Titan he killed was an innocent human victim.
While the members of the 104th being made into a new elite squad for Levi IS pretty cool, when you stop and think about it for a second, you realize exactly how many Survey Corps soldiers have been slaughtered since the Battle of Trost and you realize that even the best of Humanity are only hanging on by a thread now if they've been pushed to using teenagers who have been part of them for less than a year as their elite unit.
Chapter 50.5, a bonus epilogue included in Volume 12, is nothing but tearjerker moments. Having failed in their mission, Reiner and Bertolt are exhausted but try to get Ymir to escape so she at least will be safe. She refuses, expressing that she's grateful to them for saving her from her "eternal nightmare" and stating that she's the only one that can understand their circumstances. They're all people that weren't able to do anything with their own power, and she decides "playing goddess" (the selfless actions she used to criticize Krista for) isn't so bad. Reiner just looks plain exhausted, while Bertolt alternately apologizes to her and thanks her while crying.