The significance of Mikasa leaving behind her red scarf in Attack on Titan
Mikasa Ackerman is one of the most popular characters in Attack on Titan, and her red scarf is equally famous, or infamous, depending on how fans look at it. It holds significance, for both the series and Mikasa, beyond being a token of protection.
However, in the second episode of Attack on Titan Season 4 Part 2, Mikasa leaves the scarf behind as she goes to fight the Marleyan invaders to save Eren. There is more to that one moment that meets the eye, though.
Why Mikasa leaving behind her red scarf marks a change in Attack on Titan
Since the first Attack on Titan episode, when Mikasa was a child, she has worn a red scarf. She wore it throughout her Cadet Training, and it later became a part of her Survey Corps uniform.
History of Mikasa’s red scarf
Mikasa, born to an Asian mother and an Ackerman father, was kidnapped aged nine after her parents were killed and was set to be sold at a high price. Eren Yeager, son of her family’s doctor, Grisha Yeager, saved her by killing two of her kidnappers.
Eren then encouraged her to kill the third one, which awakened her Ackerman genes. Afterward, Grisha adopted Mikasa, and Eren wrapped this red scarf around her to keep her warm and symbolize acceptance.
Mikasa’s attachment to it
It is important to understand that this scarf is more than just a symbol of Eren’s care for Mikasa. The latter, always aware of the world’s harshness that looked at her with discrimination because of her cultural heritage and Asian features, has always longed to belong.
The red scarf signified home, a place where people cared for her and accepted her, a family. The fact that Eren gave it to her endeared it to her even more because he was the first person who believed Mikasa to be capable of fighting for herself.
And in that process, Mikasa had learned to fight for others as well.
The red scarf stays with Mikasa even when she goes to retrieve Eren from Liberio in Attack on Titan Season 4 Part 1. Even when she can no longer understand Eren or reach him, she holds on to this scarf.
One might say she is obsessive about it, both with holding onto a long-gone past and an image of Eren that is both incorruptible and naively idealistic.
Why she leaves it behind
However, that image of Eren, and by default, her image of herself, is shattered when he tells Mikasa that her protectiveness and care for Eren comes from the obedience implanted in her Ackerman genes. Failed experiments as they were, the Ackerman clan was created as a host of superhuman soldiers bound to obey the king.
Eren implies that when he gave Mikasa the “order” to fight back when she was kidnapped, Mikasa’s Ackerman blood awakened and considered Eren a superior, someone to protect.
It was not out of her own free will, nor was it a conscious choice on her part that she followed Eren all these years. Eren is harsh about it and repeatedly reiterates that he finds Mikasa irritating and overbearing, even suffocating at times.
This entire incident changes Mikasa’s perception of herself. Shocked, she rethinks her whole life through the lens of what Eren had told her. As a result, the red scarf, which had symbolized hope and home for her, becomes a shackle instead. It was not a connection between her and someone she loved any longer. It now symbolized her subordination to someone she was bound to serve.
Interestingly, even when she doubts her entire life, Mikasa never once doubts that the words Eren told her might be lies themselves. She is surprisingly aware of it and chalks it up to her Ackerman blood as well.
In Attack on Titan Season 4 Part 2, Mikasa agrees to save Eren from the Marleyans but does not believe it to be her will but rather her compulsion. As she gets ready, Mikasa leaves the red scarf on the table.
When Louise asks her if she is not going to take it with her, Mikasa replies after a pause,
“I am leaving it here.”
What does that signify?
It is evident that it signifies emancipation. Mikasa is disillusioned, both with Eren and her place in his life. Clearly, only Armin seems to still believe in Eren out of all of them.
Mikasa has distanced herself from Eren. She finally sees that he can be wrong, that protecting Eren might mean endangering everyone else. While she is still going to do it, the concept that she might choose the world over Eren becomes more and more possible.
However, it also signifies a conscious choice. Mikasa is choosing to leave behind her connection to Eren and, by default, her link to what she considered a place where she belonged.
While it is a saddening development, it is also an empowering one. It gives Mikasa a certain freedom, a certain agency, which staying by Eren’s side for so many years did not provide.
[SPOILERS FROM THE MANGA AHEAD]
What role does the scarf play in future episodes?
As foreshadowed in the opening theme of Attack on Titan Season 4 Part 2, Mikasa re-wraps the scarf around her again. As Attack on Titan manga readers will know, she understands that Eren wanted her to be free of him, which is why he said what he did.
But it’s debatable if his goal justifies his harsh words.
The scarf essentially symbolizes freedom, not Eren’s, but Mikasa’s. by keeping it with her in the end, Mikasa both embraces the warmth Eren gave her, as well as the agency she has over herself.
It is debatable if this is consistent with her character development or if this takes her back to the point from where she started.
Some people have pointed out that the scarf turning into a bird in the ending theme symbolizes the freedom both Mikasa and Eren attain through the latter’s death. Indeed, they are connected through this scarf, and when Mikasa says her final “thank you” to Eren in Attack on Titan manga, she reaffirms this connection by touching the scarf.
The red scarf is almost like the red thread of fate, connecting Eren to Mikasa, but it is one of their own choosing. Eren chooses it when he wraps it around her, and Mikasa picks it as well when she wraps it around herself.
Hopefully, the significance of the red scarf will be translated appropriately to the Attack on Titan anime.