Arguably considered one of the most formidable characters in Anime, Mikasa Ackerman often exhibits a calm, cool, and collected manner when showcasing her “god-tier” skills.
On the surface, Mikasa seems fairly straightforward as far as a character goes, but there is much more to Mikasa than just a stoic, skilled Titan-killing machine. Mikasa is a complex and fragile character that hides behind a stone-faced mask. Having watched through Attack on Titan twice, and watching some episodes multiple times, I’ve spent a lot time to getting to know her character.
Let’s start off with young Mikasa: she is bright, energetic, and all in all your pretty average child. It’s not until we get a few episodes into the series that we get a true understanding of Mikasa’s past.
At a young age she notices how the strong prey on the weak; however, being an overall happy child causes her to push these thoughts to the back of her mind. We discover that she’s half-Asian, her mother being the last known Asian woman of that time. This makes Mikasa unique and her family a target during the series. Mikasa’s family is attacked and her parents are brutally murdered in front of her by slave-traders. She is then taken as their captive to be “sold” on the black market as her Asian heritage will bring a high price. The unfolding of these events is where the development of her character happens. Trauma does damage to one’s psyche. It changes a person in ways in which you can’t even imagine; thus, Mikasa completely shuts down, and shuts off. She is left in a state of shock and has given up.
Enter Eren Yager.
Eren seemingly “rescues” Mikasa in more ways than one. He manages to trick the slave-traders into letting him in the house where they’re keeping Mikasa and kills two of them, but then is taken by surprise by a third kidnapper while untying her. While the kidnapper has his hands around Eren with every intention of killing him, Mikasa is frozen with fear with a knife in her hands. Having given in to her thoughts of the strong preying on the weak, there’s no hope for her.
Then, Eren’s words give her a new meaning in life: “FIGHT. If you don’t fight, you don’t live! FIGHT!” A fire burns in Mikasa now – she is electrified with his words and gathers her courage to save Eren from his attacker. Thus, a new bond begins that Mikasa treasures more than her own life.
Some may argue that Mikasa’s perceived dependency on Eren doesn’t make her a strong character, that it in fact makes her weak and, by extension, annoying. Let’s unpack this idea: I will agree that Mikasa is somewhat dependent on Eren, she even states “Eren, as long as I have you I can do anything.” I don’t necessarily see this as dependency, but as an association between two people. Later, when Mikasa suspects that Eren is dead, we are presented with a powerful scene.
The scene in question I consider to be one of the best in the series: Armin tells Mikasa that he witnessed Eren get eaten by a titan. To those around Mikasa, it seems as if she isn’t phased by what has happened, except to Armin. Armin is someone who has known her all of his life, and he sees Mikasa losing her will to live and putting her life in harms way, after what is believed to have happened. He sees her forgetting her responsibility for the lives of the soldiers she had taken upon herself to lead. Mikasa then goes into a blind fit of grief, slaying every titan in her path until she runs out of energy and falls in an alley. Here is where we witness another dramatic change of character within Mikasa.
Mikasa—in a sense—is back in that cabin, lying on the floor, completely giving up on life. She has lost everything that matters to her. She reverts back to her dead, sorrowful eyes—eyes that can’t shed one tear because she’s just too broken to do so—she’s already dead. She’s on her knees in the alley as a titan comes up on her, his hand outstretched to grab her, before she slices his fingers and hops out of the way. She is perplexed by her actions, thinking that she has nothing to live for. She then hears a familiar voice say the only thing she needs to hear: “Fight. If you don’t fight you don’t live.” Eren’s words ring in her head. She curses herself, disgusted that she nearly gave up. Mikasa realizes that if she dies, her memories of Eren die with her.
My hope is that you see Mikasa in a new light. She is one of my favorite characters—not just because of her badassery (that’s a word now), but because of her strength of character in realizing that there is always something left to fight for no matter the situation. And that’s something that we all need to remember in our times of sorrow. To find one last glimmer of hope in an impossible situation takes immense strength of character. To continue fighting through the pain, to keep moving forward—that is something that we all can relate to. That is something that makes Mikasa formidable. It makes her strong.