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The key to a captivating main character isn’t their powers or skills; it’s what drives them. And Eren Yeager from Attack on Titan has a drive that quickly captures us.
[This article contains spoilers for Attack on Titan season 1 and 2.]
For 100 years, humanity has been living in a huge walled-off city to protect themselves from giant man-eating Titans—giant humanoid creatures. But that safety is destroyed when a Colossal Titan breaches the wall. After seeing his mother devoured by one of the Titans that entered the city, our hero Eren Yeager vows to destroy every last Titan. To do this, he joins the military to master the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment and the art of killing Titans.
One of the ways characters stand out in their respective works is their powers or skills. But, in order to make a character compelling, their mission needs to be easily defined and memorable. In other words, Eren’s ability to become a Titan makes him stand out, but his mission to destroy every Titan is what draws us into his story.
Destroying every Titan is a grand undertaking. Having such a large goal from the get-go keeps us vested in his character because we want to see him accomplish the task. Moreover, we not only hear Eren talk about destroying every Titan, but also see his desire in his expressions and body language.
This is important because seeing his emotions subtly reinforces what Eren wants to do. Being told Eren wants to destroy every Titan is entertaining, but when we see the anger in his eyes, or his body quiver when he faces a Titan, this shows us he’s ready to act on his goal. For instance, when he charges the Colossal Titan in the fifth episode, we see a glint of vengeance in his eyes. More recently we see his despair turn into anger when he learns the identities of the Colossal and Armored Titans. These visuals help reinforce why we want to stay with Eren throughout his journey.
But, if there’s any moment in the series that truly turns Eren into a captivating character, it’s between fifth and ninth episodes—the first time we see Eren transform into a Titan (though we don’t know it is him at the time). His wanton and primal destruction of every Titan he comes across illustrates beautifully his deep desire to kill Titans. Without overtly stating it, we actually see him begin to achieve his goal, even if it’s in a limited capacity. This gives us a taste of what Eren is capable of and keeps us wanting more of his story. Then, after showing us Eren’s desire, the ninth episode highlights his mission even further with a marvelous soliloquy from the character.
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Yet, the real beauty behind Eren’s mission is its simplicity. It stems from a visceral place of seeing his mother eaten by a Titan—or, in other words, vengeance. At first, Eren’s reasons appear shallow but come from a place we can all understand: anger towards someone who hurt our mother. Thus, it hits us in the very emotional spot of our love towards our mothers and has us rooting for Eren to avenge his mother. So when we strip away Eren’s power, we’re left with a character who runs on emotions we can easily sympathize with. And when we sympathize with the main character, they become captivating.
Making a captivating character isn’t all that difficult. It boils down emotional resonance and easily defined goals. Eren has both of these aspects going for him. And with a little added oomph from his gorgeous display of emotions, he easily becomes the most captivating character in Attack on Titan.