Jean Kirstein is one of the most popular Attack on Titan characters. However, his character development and the abilities he has shown throughout the span of the story are criminally undermined. It is his comedic purpose that has often been highlighted by fans.
But Jean’s evolution from a self-centered young boy to an aware and responsible man with a sense of purpose is something that is worth noting. In this article, we shall take a look at this very unprecedented character development. Read on to find out!
WARNING: The following article contains spoilers from Attack on Titan manga. Read ahead at your own discretion!
When first introduced, Jean Kirstein serves his role as the ideal arch-rival for protagonist Eren Yeager. This is due to his concept of self-service and his less ambitious outlook on life. Jean wanted to join the military police for comfort.
Hence, it makes sense why a hot-headed Eren would get ticked off by Jean’s honesty and disregard for saving humanity. However, Jean is the constant reminder of the reality of the situation when Eren’s determination gets overbearing.
Though Eren taunts Jean as a “defeatist” because of his more objective view of humanity’s stance against titans, Jean’s arguments made perfect sense. The cost at which one titan is defeated is too high, and “hope” alone can never yield the results the survey corps wanted.
Despite his disregard of the survey corps, Jean ends up enlisting. This solidifies Sasha as well as Connie’s choice as well (more on this later). Seeing the death of a comrade who placed so much faith in him despite his stuck-up persona triggered Jean into realising the gravity of the situation. He couldn’t bear seeing another comrade die alone; their bones disintegrated with no identity.
The death of Marco made Jean realise how much he cared about his peers, though he came off like he never did. His reason for joining, at the end of the day, wasn’t due to “hope” for humanity after the Battle of Trost. It was his willingness to risk it all to make sure his comrades don’t become titan fodder.
As mentioned above, Marco plays a big role in making Jean introspect. Marco finds Jean admirable and leader-like, as opposed to something trivial like being “scared”. Marco teaches us a valuable lesson through Jean’s example, that being scared is not a disadvantage. It makes you more susceptible to other human beings and become alert, which would allow one to make the most accurate choice.
This is precisely what Jean did when he lead the cadets to the HQ. Though horrified at the thought of using the death of his comrades for his survival, Jean understands that he had no other choice- sacrificing some for the survival of the greater is how life works. This is the first of the many instances where Jean shows the leader within him.
Even during his first encounter with the female titan, Jean takes the lead to come up with a plan. No longer being self-centered, this change even surprised Reiner. He made decisive conclusions with Armin on a lot of things, from Erwin’s secret plan in the 57th Scouting Expedition or hypothesizing the theory of the “coordinate”, showing his intellect.
His physical strength and sharp brain made Jean the perfect candidate for leadership. The fact that he becomes a Commanding Officer during the time skip is proof of it.
Jean becomes more aware and appreciative of others and their strengths as the story goes on. He doesn’t place himself above anyone, a stark change from his initial days of trolling and insulting his peers. He places greater trust in Armin’s plan, as seen in the Return to Shiganshina Arc, where he breaks it to Armin that their fate ultimately will land in his hands, and not his own. Before that, he explains to Eren that its up to him whether those who died to save him from Reiner, died in vain or not.
Jean definitely had a very progressive and consistent evolution throughout. He teaches us how circumstances can change one’s way of thinking and hone them into the individual they are today.
The Return to Shiganshina Arc only further stresses on just how valuable Jean is to the team. Though himself distraught at the thought of killing Reiner, he whips Connie and Sasha into shape. He also calls out Hange for their unusual behaviour when they get ready to strike Reiner down.
Another great asset to Jean is the stress he places on lives. Though knowing that survival will come at the cost of some lives, he still tries his best to never gamble with the lives of those around him. This shows when Jean struggles to shoot a member of the Anti Personnel Control Squad that ambushed Squad Levi. He couldn’t fathom fighting humans, a concept that actually comes naturally to us.
In his eyes, killing other humans would not result in solving the conflict, as seen with his refusal to throw Gabi and Falco down the blip even when Gabi shot his best friend, Sasha, dead. Jean is a breath of fresh air from the constantly violent characters who charge with no regards, and provides us with a different perspective to look things at.
He too, like other characters, suffer the consequences that come with Eren going rogue. Despite losing his best friend due to Eren’s gamble, he manages to remain level headed and focus on the next task at hand, which highlights his consistency. Compared to other characters, Jean is the only one capable of doing so.
This is particularly true when compared to Armin and Mikasa, who were visibly shaken and misguided by their beliefs on Eren, while Connie becomes a completely new person. Jean is also the first one to conclude that Eren is starting the rumbling to protect his friends, and ultimately Paradis, from the rest of the world by destroying it.
Yet, Jean’s suffers in silence. His one aim in life was to live a comfortable, peaceful life. By joining the corps, he willingly let go of this. However, this desire of his remained in the back of his head, only to haunt him with the onset of the rumbling.
Though given the offer to join Floch and the Yeagerists with the prospect of living good, he plays decoy and willingly says goodbye to the only way to get his dream fulfilled by escaping on the Cart Titan along with Onyankopon and Yelena.
This shows his resolve and how seriously he takes the promise he made to himself about not letting his dead comrades down by placing his needs over the rest of humanity. It doesn’t help that he learns the truth about Marco’s death soon and we see Jean finally lose it. Despite so, he collects himself and next morning, is ready to collaborate with the others to stop Eren.
It is again, important to highlight how even when he does let personal feelings get in between the conflict, he manages to push them aside. Unfortunately, characters like Hange and Armin have succumbed to their inhibitions and feelings, but Jean never allowed his feelings to direct his course of action.
In the story, Jean comes out as the most level headed character. He has been instrumental in guaranteeing the Corps’ and then the Alliance’s success in the most crucial moments despite all of it coming at a great personal sacrifice.
His character development is consistent and a pleasure to read. At the end of it, his development is just him shedding his own idealistic inhibitions of life, and accepting who he truly is. This allowed the Jean we know today to take charge and become an important factor in the story.
While it can be said his quick and impartial thinking is a result of him not being as close to Eren as Armin is, his state of mind is praiseworthy, regardless. In Chapter 136, he breaks it to Mikasa that she will have to kill Eren, bringing up a possibility that everyone was trying to avoid. By Chapter 137, it is Jean himself who blows the nape of the Founding Titan, hence playing an instrumental role in stopping the rumbling.
It is Chapter 138 that signifies just how important Jean is to the story. Now met with an inevitable end by titanisation, he accepts that he will never be able to live the life he wanted, but if he dies, its with no regrets because he did his best to save he world.
Connie highlights how it was Jean’s decision to switch to the Survey Corps during the cremation of their comrades 5 years ago that gave him and Sasha the strength to join the corps too. He also credits the ability to save the world to Jean.
It is a tragic, but fitting ending to Jean’s character. Despite being an unsung hero who’s tale is frequently forgotten, one can’t help but feel proud of how far he has come.
Lastly, Jean teaches us a valuable lesson- being vulnerable can become a strength. His “weakness” is why he made it so far. It is okay to be in touch with your emotions, but never letting them hinder your path.
In that sense, Jean is a relatable character that contrasts the insanity of Eren Jeager. If Chapter 138 did truly solidify his end, we have truly lost a gem of a character. So long, Jean-bo!