There's been some discussion on Mikasa in the sub lately, both positive and negative, and it's led me to think a bit more about her character. In particular, I've been thinking about her character flaw, what it is exactly, and whether or not she's developed past it – and if she has, what that means for her in the final arc.
Isayama once said
that Mikasa is a character who 'expresses herself via actions and facial expressions quite a lot'. I sometimes feel that that's why a lot of her personal story gets overlooked – because she's not loud about it, and nor is anyone else. She's one of the most reticent characters in the manga and, more importantly, deliberately
written that way. It's intentional on Isayama's part for Mikasa to mostly 'express herself via actions
and facial expressions
', and so, as difficult as it might be to follow, that's mostly how her personal journey is told.
Because she doesn't say much, talks a lot with her fists, and is the team's natural and aggressive protector, it's easy to assume that there's nothing more happening there. Isayama clearly doesn't mean for readers to overlook her, but some inevitably do because she's not as obvious and outspoken as other characters. She's not like Eren, whose dissatisfaction with the world drives him to continuously push back, or like Armin, whose self-doubt and fear of responsibility constantly battle with his natural intelligence and sense of duty. She doesn't outwardly appear to suffer from the neuroses that afflict a lot of the others in the main cast.
As a result, her development as a character isn't easy to track. Where does it start? Where does it end? What even is it? It's fair to ask, in Mikasa's case, whether she even has a character arc to begin with. What changes about her? Does she actually react in any way to her experiences and evolve as a result of them, or does she remain the same from beginning to end?
Fans' opinions on Mikasa's character are often based on her feelings for Eren and the actions she undertakes to protect him. It irks some readers that Eren is Mikasa's priority, and that her life seems to revolve around him. Because they consider this her character flaw, they expect that her character development is going to rectify this flaw; that she'll move away from Eren, whether physically, emotionally, or mentally, and find something else to live for.
In a 2016 interview
, Isayama said: 'Mikasa's growth probably involves separation from Eren'. People generally stop at that and go from there – they either believe that Mikasa can't grow as a person unless Eren stops being important to her, or that a Mikasa who isn't separated from Eren (emotionally, mentally, or physically) is inherently a flawed character. Isayama's explanation of the 'separation' he means is never usually discussed, even though he actually does go on to clarify it: 'Mikasa's growth probably involves separation from Eren. By separation, I mean she might be able to return to that ordinary girl that she used to be in childhood
If the all-important 'separation' for her growth is about Mikasa returning to the 'ordinary girl' she used to be, it's worth asking what isn't
ordinary about the girl Mikasa became, and when that change happened. And once that 'non-ordinary' quality about Mikasa becomes apparent, it can be identified as Mikasa's flaw; the deficiency in her character that we can expect her to overcome.
Mikasa loving someone or wanting to protect them isn't in itself a flaw. It's a fairly ordinary, reasonable thing, and it's something plenty of other characters already display in the story: Franz wants to protect Hanna; Ymir, Historia; Eren, Mikasa; Kenny, Uri; Levi, Erwin, and so on ad infinitum. There's a reason that Mikasa's love for and general protectiveness towards Eren never changes. It's because it's not something she was ever meant to 'grow past' or 'get over'. It was never her flaw.
Her flaw is fear.
protectiveness of Eren is what isn't 'ordinary', because it's connected to her deep, abiding fear of loss. Her desire to constantly stay by him is pitiful because, above all else, it represents her fear and her mistrust of the world. And it's why her 'separation' from him is about more than just 'Mikasa finds something else to do apart from care about Eren'; it's a return to her being 'the ordinary girl of her childhood': a normal girl who isn't constantly fixated on how the people she loves can die at any moment: https://preview.redd.it/gpraaqxt1sq51.jpg?width=750&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=dbcb1a366ae0b26f287143aa4d7e916d1c7b3c49
This fear Mikasa has for Eren begins at a very particular point in the story which we build up to from here: https://preview.redd.it/wew8y69v1sq51.jpg?width=358&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=a3553545737dfbe82fddbd216d02e9c9012d0d82
Mikasa and Eren's first significant spat is over his wanting to join the SC. She thinks it's too dangerous, and her fear is understandable. Our first view of the SC's return is cuts and blood and gore, and we – and Mikasa – watch a mother receive the paltry remains of her son: https://preview.redd.it/w0e8lhdw1sq51.jpg?width=385&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=c1ca4c2324a3f9d937da166bd33a29e40151edd6
Cuts and blood and gore are already how Mikasa lost one family: https://preview.redd.it/ey7zvf3x1sq51.png?width=2156&format=png&auto=webp&s=37af830088a887a60f13a66438140080be678776
And it's what Eren puts himself in danger of by going out into the world with the SC. Mikasa is afraid of losing him to the violence of the world, and she sees that fear reflected in Carla: https://preview.redd.it/5kxvb23y1sq51.jpg?width=205&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=7257c665371ff0f5c86edb1e122bfa449d71a213
Mikasa has already seen how Moses' mother lost her son. And if, like Moses, Eren goes beyond the Walls with the SC, Carla might also eventually find herself holding nothing of her son but a single hand. So Mikasa makes her a promise: https://preview.redd.it/n192vswy1sq51.jpg?width=550&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=d29af3c6425155a4b01b7199c9ee3050f30240a8
But it wasn't Eren she needed to worry about after all. https://preview.redd.it/rhrw60qz1sq51.png?width=754&format=png&auto=webp&s=333ea1b54f2544bff0a8b8f757903dcfa7ee0ff9 This
is the point at which Mikasa's fear begins.
Because all she has left from the carnage is Eren, Mikasa will never let happen to him what happened to her parents and to Carla. She is his protector. That is a role that she's chosen, and, to some extent, been given. This protection is built on her love for Eren, but also powerfully informed by her fear of the world; the world which hurts, maims, and kills people. The result of this fear is Mikasa's inability to trust anyone or anything with Eren, not even himself. She believes that she is the only one who can stop bad things from happening to Eren; that if she's not there, he will die. https://preview.redd.it/i5829j232sq51.jpg?width=550&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=6404374e9a6239d474f2b01891e194fbd239eb9d
So when Mikasa is pushed into a situation where she thinks Eren will be in danger, she prioritises Eren. Other considerations are pushed aside in favour of her one true goal: making sure she's there to keep him alive. https://preview.redd.it/myi13tg42sq51.jpg?width=644&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=ecf0e5cf8e1a25ca2b3c64462006e63d54ad0065
And, in the world of the SC, Mikasa is challenged on that immediately. Not just by Eren, but also by what happens in Trost. Mikasa saves innocent citizens from Reeves' greed and cruelty, and from titans. She gives Reeves a lesson: that his life is not more important than the lives of all the people he's endangering. It's something she had to be reminded of by Eren, and a conclusion she reached herself when she watched her comrades die for the sake of the evacuation. https://preview.redd.it/1hht9hw52sq51.png?width=1436&format=png&auto=webp&s=1a80931917f4cd81f489a00816e557912723785e
Mikasa being confronted with things that are more important than Eren happens fairly often to her. She also pretty consistently allows space for these 'other things', sometimes to her own surprise. The first time she's made to realise this about herself is in the Female Titan arc, when Levi points out that maybe she had 'selfish desires' for which she wanted to kill Annie.
That whole incident with Levi in Chapter 30 is significant for Mikasa's development in a few different ways.
- When Levi says they'll focus on one objective and that won't include outright killing Annie, Mikasa's one objection is: 'How many of our comrades has she murdered?' Mikasa has no problem being straightforward with Levi. If her first and only consideration was Eren, she'd voice it. She'd even get away with it, because they all need Eren at this point. But instead, she reveals that she has a separate, personal desire: avenging their dead. Mikasa wants to kill Annie for her own reasons.
- Levi states that their goal is to retrieve Eren. He gives himself the main role of 'slash[ing] away' at the titan, meaning that he will be the one to actually save Eren, who is in the titan's mouth. And he gives Mikasa the job of distracting Annie. Mikasa accepts a secondary role in a plan that is specifically to rescue Eren.
- And when she does break from the plan, it's not so she can go and get Eren herself. Mikasa risks the objective of the mission – and Levi, and Eren – by going in for the kill. Mikasa risks the plan to save Eren by acting on her own desire to kill Annie.
Two important shifts take place here for Mikasa. One, she entrusts Eren to someone else, as demonstrated by her action
of allowing Levi to take the lead. Two, her focus stops being, even for a short while, Eren – as confirmed by her facial expression
when Levi challenges her on it, because she doesn't seem to immediately realise she's even capable of that: The objective was: Forget killing the Titan. Rescue Eren. And Mikasa, for no matter how short a time, lost sight of that.
The fearful, overprotective aspect of Mikasa's relationship with Eren is beginning to change, because her relationship with the rest of her world is beginning to change. With his rescue of Eren in the forest, Levi proves to Mikasa that other people are just as capable of protecting Eren as she is. And if she happens to take her mind off Eren for a bit, it doesn't mean he'll die.
This is where the 'separation' begins. Mikasa starts to accept distance between herself and Eren; the distance of being able to trust others with him, of not needing to constantly be with him and personally oversee his safety. And it leads to this watershed moment in the Uprising arc: Mikasa. Whilst Eren has been kidnapped. And all they know is that he's inside a coffin with some random undertaker at some random inn. Maybe.
In Chapter 4, Mikasa couldn't handle Eren being in a different part of the city from her during a mission because of how afraid she was that he'd die without her. In Chapter 30, she let Levi take the lead on getting Eren back, and was shocked when she realised that, even for an instant, she'd prioritised something else over him. In Chapter 57, Eren's been kidnapped, no one's been certain for two days
about where he is or what's happening to him, and Mikasa is, well, as pictured above.
The debilitating fear that used to tie Mikasa to Eren is gone for good. She's finally let Eren go, and discovered that it doesn't mean she'll lose him.
Post-timeskip Mikasa is in a good place, and long past the fear with which she faced the world as a young girl. She's with Eren, working with the Volunteers, and she and Armin are excited about the possibilities of the widening world. Then Eren effectively betrays the SC for reasons they can't fully understand, and, once again, Mikasa's world begins to change in alarming, unpredictable ways. https://preview.redd.it/y4f97ksi2sq51.png?width=346&format=png&auto=webp&s=a17a0410c8f25e97ee450b57d9636e5fc147b874
For the first time in a long time, she loses someone she loves.
Eren's in jail and Mikasa remains by Sasha's grave, pondering the old words that bind her and Eren together: 'If we don't win, we die. If we win, we live. If we don't fight, we can't win.' Ironically enough, Sasha is the only character in the entire manga to have said those words apart from Eren and Mikasa themselves. And she's now dead as a result of Eren's fight. So what exactly is Eren fighting for, and what does winning that fight entail?
This is the first time in the manga that Mikasa begins to doubt Eren, and the first time their bond has ever really been threatened. And not by the world, titans, or murderous kidnappers, but by Eren himself. The idea that there is beauty where cruelty also exists has informed Mikasa's perspective on the world since Eren wrapped his scarf around her. He showed her that it is possible for the two things to co-exist; for there to be human cruelty as well as human kindness, cold as well as warmth, life as well as death. But Eren is now showcasing the exact cruelty that Mikasa used him as a beacon against. What he's done is undoing what she believes in; it's not just that it's shaken her view of Eren – it threatens to undo Mikasa's whole world-view.
In that same 2016 interview
, Isayama spoke of Eren and Mikasa's eventual separation being ideological
: 'If I were to draw the separation of Eren and Mikasa . . . Mikasa would have to endure the strain of being stuck between Eren and Armin. Even though she can sympathise with Armin, who considers things from a ''globalism'' perspective, it’s possible that she can't just let the more self-focused Eren go'. This ideological separation begins the moment Eren defects from the SC. It's from this point onwards that EMA's paths truly begin to diverge, and Mikasa in particular is presented with a choice that she's never had to face before. Of the two people she loves most in the world, does she choose the 'self-focused' Eren or the 'globalist' Armin?
The choice she makes will most likely conclude Mikasa's character arc once and for all, and it's a choice that's been building since before the time-skip, represented by her interactions with two characters in particular: 1. Mikasa and Floch
At the award ceremony in Chapter 90, Floch points out something interesting about Mikasa in what is otherwise an easily overlooked moment in the manga. Although multiple people were present on the rooftop during Serumbowl, he is the only one to explicitly draw attention to the fact that Mikasa let go
. She resigned herself to losing Armin because Hanji convinced her that Erwin was more important to humanity and Mikasa's grief at losing him was something that would pass. https://preview.redd.it/oqjfh2gk2sq51.png?width=584&format=png&auto=webp&s=f13d8f9a80608e4ac8a85c30d3ddc79b751ad1dd
Floch sees this as maturity, but the realisation that she was willing to let Armin go for the sake of humanity is something that Mikasa is shocked by. It makes her falter, and let go of Eren
. Mikasa has always defined herself as Armin and Eren's protector; she's presented in the story as such, and she styles herself as such. She's the one who keeps Eren and Armin safe. But Floch's words make her realise that, on the rooftop, she was able to step away from that role – because her world has expanded beyond Armin and Eren. It has expanded to include Hanji and Levi and the other Scouts – and humanity. Mikasa is capable of making choices that hurt her deeply for the sake of a greater cause. 2. Louise and Mikasa
Louise meets Mikasa on three occasions. The first time, Louise tells Mikasa she likes her because Mikasa saved her, and gave her something to strive for: 'You can't save anyone without power. It's okay for us to fight against unjust violence. That's what I learned' (109). In the same way Eren 'gave' Mikasa a motto to live by, Mikasa gave one to Louise.
The second time, Louise tells Mikasa that she's happy to be by her side again, fighting for the same goal. Mikasa is ambivalent towards her. And she leaves her scarf behind, choosing to go and fight the titans without it.
In between the second and third meetings, Mikasa talks to Armin. She asks him if he's really going to tell Connie to give up on his mother and let her remain a titan; Armin says yes, he is. When Mikasa asks what should be done about Eren, Armin replies that there's nothing to be done; he's a lost cause. After Armin leaves, Mikasa notices that the scarf is missing, and goes to retrieve it.
The third and last time they meet, Louise is dying. She tells Mikasa that Eren wanted her to throw the scarf away, but she thought that she could take it to be close to Mikasa. Though she appears to sympathise with Louise's plight, Mikasa demands the scarf back from her. She walks away from Louise even as Louise tells her that she had no regrets, because she chased after Mikasa, devoting her heart.
Each meeting between Louise and Mikasa mirrors, in an abbreviated way, the different stages Eren and Mikasa's relationship has gone through. 1: Louise's initial love and gratitude, and her taking Mikasa as an inspiration; 2: their fighting side by side as equals; and, finally, 3: their literal separation as Mikasa chooses to walk away.
Louise reminds Mikasa of what Eren means to her. Mikasa never seeks to stop Louise from talking about her feelings; instead, she listens. She might not reciprocate, but she does understand. And her understanding Louise's love reminds her of her own. She walks away, but she takes the scarf with her. Despite what Armin said, and what Louise told her about Eren and the scarf, Mikasa chooses to keep a hold of it in the way she keeps a hold of the hope that Eren can still be brought back. Mikasa is capable of holding on to the person she loves even when he's gone too far. Mikasa Chooses . . . Mikasa
Despite the apparently binary choice, Mikasa doesn't have to choose to side with Eren (allow the Rumbling to go ahead) or with Armin (kill Eren to stop him). She said it herself: there's a third option. Her way. Eren's wandered so far down his path that he's lost sight of Mikasa and of Armin; of what connects him to the world. Mikasa chooses, not to support him or to believe that he's a lost cause, but to remind him that walking away from his humanity doesn't mean that he can't turn around and walk back.
Kruger said 'Anyone can become a god or a devil. All it takes is for someone to claim it for it to be true' (88). But if there's someone to challenge that belief, then the possibility remains of breaking the facade and setting the story straight – thereby freeing that person from the role they've either taken on out of necessity, or been assigned. It's something we've already seen happen. All it takes is for one person to question it, and the goddess falls apart to reveal an empty, unloved young girl, or the devil's mask cracks open to show the boy still grieving for the world he's lost. Ymir knows that Historia's faking it; Mikasa knows that Eren is kind. Each of them challenges the story that their loved one is telling in order to keep going: Historia to survive, Eren to achieve his dream.
It took Mikasa years to truly overcome the cruelty she had seen as a child. Despite everything, she did, in the end, go back to being that 'ordinary girl'. She came to acknowledge that cruelty exists, as does death – but life must nevertheless be lived, people loved, experiences had, and faith kept. Seeing the beauty in a world that is inherently cruel is, and always has been, Mikasa's greatest strength. It's something she is capable of offering Eren, who no longer seems to believe in that duality, or in his own humanity. She can show him what he showed her; that the world isn't black or white, cruel or beautiful, dark or light. It's both. And it's possible to live with that.
Mikasa is no longer fighting to protect Eren from the world; she's fighting to protect the world from Eren. She's the person best suited to do that not only because she's his family, but because Eren's despair and anger at the world is what she
might have ended up with herself. If any character was dealt a crueller hand by the world than Eren, or could have become as bitter about the world as him, it was Mikasa. But he stopped that from happening because his kindness showed her that the world, as bad as it was, had good in it.
Little by little, Eren's abandoned that view of the world himself. He no longer sees both its beauty and its cruelty, but has confined himself to seeing - and acting on - only one. When they fought Annie in Stohess, Mikasa had to remind Eren that the world was cruel, because Eren had lost sight of that truth. Now, Eren's lost sight of another, equally valid truth; that the world, as cruel as it is, is also beautiful. That he, as inhuman as he thinks he is, is also kind.
If Mikasa manages to 'bring Eren back', she'll have come full circle. She started off as a little girl who was seeking something, anything, to hold on to. She needed a saviour, and she got one in the form of Eren. In this scenario, she'll end as a saviour herself, someone who is now able to pass on the light that she once received. Her fear of the world and of losing her loved ones subsided; she managed to find the warmth she needed to carry on. She doesn't need Eren's scarf anymore – but he might need hers.
My perspective on Mikasa is that she's not a very obvious character when it comes to development, and so she sometimes appears static. And because so much of her drive is Eren, a lot of fans look to her relationship with Eren to change for proof that she's somehow developed. But Mikasa's obstacle, her personal flaw, isn't Eren
himself, and never has been. Her flaw has always been her deep and debilitating fear about losing the people she loves – Eren and
Armin – and her inability to really trust or love anyone apart from them.
Mikasa's separation from Eren = her beginning to trust the rest of the world not to stab him in the chest, almost behead him, or eat him alive whilst she's not there. It's good for her because it means she stops being so terrified that she'll lose Eren, not because it means she'll stop loving him or wanting him to be safe. And she reached that point of separation a long time ago in the manga. It was fully realised the moment she decided to trust Levi during the Uprising arc, despite the fact that Eren was literally gone from her side and she had no way of knowing whether he was dead or alive.
The final confrontation is where Eren and Mikasa's ideological separation, the one discussed by Isayama in the interview, will/won't occur. It – and its finer details – can unfold in a number of ways, and each one could mean something different for Mikasa's character. But her choosing to face Eren in this way is a natural culmination of her development until now. I've no concrete theories on what will actually happen once the Alliance reaches Eren, but I'm fairly certain that Mikasa is central to the resolution of this arc. And what with the way she's been written by Isayama so far, that's no bad thing.
So, to finally end this ramble, I hope that this post at least offers people a different perspective on Mikasa's character and how it's changed over the course of the story. I look forward to reading any other observations/thoughts on Mikasa's development that people might have. Many thanks for giving mine a read!