Gun-metal eyes, a personality that seems more intimidating than a towering height and a titan killing record that sends shivers down your spine. It’s none other than Levi Ackerman, who is arguably the most popular male character from Shingeki no Kyojin– better known to the world as Attack on Titan. The stoic expression that graces his face, along with the discipline the corporal carries has led to him being boxed in the “scary mentor who secretly cares for the characters” trope.
While there is no denying that Levi’s relationship with most of the 104 Training Corps is a typical tale of deep care and a cold stare, some fans seem to love characterising him as someone who is “toxic” or “coldhearted”.
Here is why Levi Ackerman fits neither of the aforementioned adjectives- and how he breaks through the boring unemotional heartthrob cliche.
Understanding how Levi is different from your average “cold guy” trope!
The trauma Levi has suffered throughout his life has stunted his ability to express himself fully, even during emotion-heavy situations. In the main anime series, we get an insight to Levi’s underground life through Petra Raal. Eren is surprised knowing about Levi and the importance he puts on discipline despite being from the underground.
It is very easy to presume that Levi’s roughness is a trait credited to poor environment, but it’s Season 3 which unfolds Levi’s sad story. We see that not only did Levi lose his mother at a young age but also his father figure (Kenny) too.
At a tender age, Levi was forced to face the harshness of the world and fight his way through.
In the “No Regrets” OVA, Levi ends up saving young Isabel, and a heartwarming bond is created.
Levi very well knows that the world is a cruel place, but not once has he left someone innocent to suffer. It is very easy to assume that a battle-hardened, pragmatic man like Levi would shrug off the death of comrades and call it “survival of the fittest”. He does not let his OCD stop him from holding the bloody hand of a dying soldier; it doesn’t stop him from wincing when Kenny coughs blood up on his face either.
Throughout the series, it has been made evident that Levi deeply cared about his comrades, and was horrified at the thought that Titans could possibly be humans. In Season 3 part II, he screamed out to his comrades “No casualties, don’t you dare die!”
While Levi can scoff at the face of death, he is aware others cannot.
That, however, has never led to him losing his goal- during the 57th expedition, he twice talks about how retrieving bodies is of no use. While this makes his subordinates question his humanity, it becomes obvious that while Levi mourns the death of the fallen (we see him take the insignia for memory’s sake), he attaches no symbolic sentiment to bodies– which might be a nod to the death of Farlan and Isabel.
He doesn’t want members of the survey corps to go through the horror of discovering body pieces of their best friends and go into a frenzy.
Similarly, he allows Eren to make the decision of either transforming or trusting his comrades- the latter statement eerily similar to the one Isabel said to Levi. Levi suffered the consequences of trusting his close ones, but the same trust has allowed him to work with his present colleagues- from Hange, Erwin to our favorite trio.
Another thing to be noticed is how his emotions, and the other side of his personality, is written off by not a few fans but characters as well. In episode 24 of the first season, Levi attempted to make a conversation with Eren. When the younger states he was being quite talkative, Levi replied that he has always been talkative.
This hinted at the possibility that Levi has things to say- but because of his exterior and reputation, no one approaches him. Similarly, during the Uprising Arc in the anime (season 3), Levi again started a conversation, this time with Nifa, attempting to tell her that Kenny Ackerman raised him. Nifa looked visibly appalled and brushed it off as a joke, further highlighting the fact that no one wants to listen to Levi, until its not on the battlefield or something related to a plan.
His attempts to blend in and converse like an average human being have been shut down many times, which is why he might find comfort in the bond he has with Hange- though she does most of the talking, he knows she sees him like a simple person rather than a beast-like everyone else.
Levi’s face, contrary to popular opinion, is not expressionless.
Levi cried in “No Regrets”, his eyes widened in shock and surprise multiple times throughout the series, and we see him smile at the innocence of his new squad. Moreover, what can you expect from a man who has suffered through so much?
Even hot headed, passionate Eren becomes sombre when the weight of his trauma becomes unbearable! Levi longs for friendship, happiness, and a future without pain like anyone else. It’s a well known fact that Isayama-sensei stated that Levi would like to open a tea shop after everything is over.
We see Levi showing his “humanity” in subtle ways: he apologises to Eren for thrusting decisions on him, he listens to Armin and Eren’s banter on the sea the night before they leave for Wall Maria, and heartbreakingly tells Erwin to give up his dreams and die.
While he got criticism for letting Erwin die, it was very crucial to understand that letting him die was the only way Levi could free Erwin from being a “slave” to his dreams- Levi understands suffering.
A typical, coldhearted character would not pay heed to his comrades, and would value the future over the lives of the fallen. The latter part of the statement is something we see Levi complain about to Erwin multiple times; while Erwin fully understands why the deaths are almost inevitable, Levi’s sensitivity to the matter fails to let him share the same perspective with Erwin.
In conclusion, Levi is a complex character layered with emotions and hesitancies. He remains a stark reminder of what trauma does to a person and definitely deserves to be praised for the emotional aspect rather than just his good looks and an insane amount of badassery.