Humanity’s Kindest Soldier

"Green Birds" | Art by Marga F Donaire. Used with permission.

“Let me ask you something: as a Levi fan, why do you think the ‘courtroom scene’ is so significant to his character?”

I was decked out in full Levi cosplay (Wings of Freedom and all), and I was totally unprepared for this question. Maybe the fact that the person asking was Lauren Landa, the voice actor for Annie Leonhardt, didn’t help my composure.

In a trial for lead character Eren Yeager’s life, Levi intervenes at the last moment, brutally kicking the bound protagonist until he’s a bleeding, gurgling mess. It’s a stunt—one meant to save Eren from the custody of the Military Police—but I still cringe every time I see this scene.

In pondering a response to the question, directed at me during OMNI Expo’s 2015 voice actor meet and greet, a million answers raced through my mind. The scene definitely showcased Levi’s intelligence; it hinted at the brutality that characterized his thug days; it made viewers wonder if he was a decent human being. But none of these generic answers described what his actions in that moment meant to me and what they meant to Levi.

The Love of a Captain

Despite his ability to drop 15-meter titans like flies—a quality that makes him untouchable by lawman and layman alike—Levi strikes me as neither a reckless rebel nor a cold-hearted sociopath. However, his ability to grasp people’s inner feelings and empathize with them makes him willing to play the “bad guy” as the need arises. No doubt a part of that willingness stems from his lifelong hostility to the government, but also I believe Levi is one of the few characters capable of showing true, selfless love for others.

Sometimes that love appears masked by viciousness, dislodging molars and morals alike in the process, but that facade falls away to reveal Levi’s very palpable “human” side. This is a man who is willing to hold the bloody hand of a dying comrade and offer them words of hope.

Levi is one of the few to acknowledge Eren’s humanity and look past his ability to transform into a titan.

In a world where humanity is constantly reminded of its mortality—threatened by human corruption from within and carnivorous titans from without—Levi wants people to live and die without regrets.

In an iconic post-mission scene, Levi approaches a rebel soldier whose disobedient attempt to retrieve a fallen comrade resulted in a titan ambush. The soldier’s actions also forced Levi to dump numerous bodies from the fleeing supply wagons—including the bodies of his own squad. Rather than rebuke the teary-eyed soldier, Levi offers him words of consolation and presents him with a memento that Levi claims belonged to the soldier’s fallen comrade—a military patch. In reality, the patch belonged to Petra—one of Levi’s deceased squad members whom he cared for deeply, perhaps even romantically.

In a world without any photography or film to remember the likenesses of the fallen, Levi willingly gives up this priceless keepsake; he is selfless enough to realize that while Petra may be gone, another life stands to be “saved” in her place. Levi gives the disobedient soldier a lifeline—a way to survive until he is strong enough to do so on his own. He believes that by simply giving value and meaning to regret, he can help this soldier transform his suffering into action.

For Levi, personally, that “action” is an oath to survive, primarily for the sake of the countless comrades whose deaths were given meaning in his promises to eradicate the titans. Once the titans are revealed to be humans transformed into monstrosities, Levi is forced to reevaluate his beliefs and mourns his misdirected anger, but his M.O. remains the same—prioritize the humanity (and lives) of his comrades. They are not a means to an end—impending statistics to be manipulated and exploited—but individual, irreplaceable lives.

The Love of a Mentor

Shortly after the courtroom escapade, Eren is placed under Levi’s custody and given the chance to know “humanity’s strongest soldier” on a personal level. He’s shocked to discover that Levi isn’t the power-flaunting rebel he appears to be. Levi is one of the few to acknowledge Eren’s humanity and look past his ability to transform into a titan. Levi is even willing to step between Eren and the drawn blades of his own squad in order to convince them of it.

In the midst of a war that threatens to rip the humanity from the most innocent of its bystanders, Levi doesn’t allow the fight to transform him into a monster. He’s been there already—watching his notorious serial killer of an uncle fight for the family name, watching his mother sell her body to provide for him, watching inhabitants of the underworld fall victim to illness and crime whilst the upper world lives in ignorant peace. And he never wants to go back. Levi has been surrounded by monsters all his life, and while he knows their habits, actions, and words well enough to imitate them flawlessly, it’s as much an act as his courtroom stunt; mostly benign, with the smallest hint of disturbing familiarity.

Levi wants people to live and die without regrets.

I believe that Levi sees himself in Eren—traces of that monster from his early years, driven by hunger, fear, anger, hopelessness, and desperation. Perhaps that’s the real reason Levi so willingly takes charge of the protagonist. He knows he can teach the future saviour of humanity, a boy robed in the flesh of a monster, what it means to be human. And the key to that is empathy.

The Love of a Selfless Man

I’m so saturated with Hollywood and Hallmark that I sometimes forget the value of real, biblical love—agape love. It’s a selfless, “no matter what” kind of love that goes beyond concern and thrives on commitment to others’ well-being. It’s not about cute catchphrases, forced smiles, or warm fuzzies. Agape love is intense. It’s the love that put Christ on the cross. It’s the same love, I will argue, that makes Levi sacrifice so much to serve the needs of his comrades and subordinates.

“This is gonna sound a little weird,” I prompted Landa, finally ready to answer her question. “But, from my perspective, it’s because Levi’s the most empathetic character in the series. That scene in the courtroom is like a microcosm of Levi’s character; it looks cruel, but it’s an act of mercy, and it’s the beginning of his mentorship with Eren. From that point on, he starts to teach Eren what it is to be human.”

She paused a long while after our full conversation.

“I’ve never thought about him that way before,” she finally said.

And I’d never thought about agape love that way before, either. It’s not a comfortable kind of love. It’s the kind of love that isn’t afraid to “wound” others if it means saving them (check out Proverbs 27:6). It’s willing to go to any length to preserve another’s well-being. It’s the love of blood, sweat, and tears. It’s love in action—reaching out first. It doesn’t coddle—it convicts. It’s raw. It’s real. It’s Levi’s kind of love.

Casey Covel

Casey Covel

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
An INTJ and self-proclaimed connoisseur of chocolate, tea, and sushi, Casey spends her free time cosplaying, writing, gaming, philosophizing, editing articles for Geeks Under Grace, squinting at strange words, and watching Corgi videos on the internet.
Casey Covel