The week this article is published, Attack on Titan’s final chapter will have released, concluding one of the most popular and significant fantasy stories to ever come out of Japan. The anime series based on the manga is also rapidly approaching its conclusion. Despite the “final season” moniker, this is only part one of two, with the second and final part debuting sometime in December. With sixteen episodes, this could technically be coined “The Penultimate Season” just to be correct, but anime has never been known for its naming conventions.
Attack on Titan: The Final Season picks up four years after the end of season three with worldwide conflict brewing. The Eldians, descendants of Ymir and inheritors of the Titan blood, continue to be oppressed by the country of Marley. Within the ghetto of Marley’s capital, rebellion is on the horizon, with the center of it all being a reformed and radicalized Eren Jaegar. In a series where good and evil was once easy to tell, now everyone is fighting for their own selfish reasons and the distinction of who to root for and who to deride is as muddied as can be.
Much like the second season, these 16 episodes can be divided into two halves with the former being among the best anime episodes I’ve ever seen, and the latter being great but a little more inconsistent.
RELATED: Attack on Titan Season 3 Review
The season starts with a focus on Reiner, one of the villains who attacked Eren’s village at the start of the series and set off everything. He is a member of Marley’s military, using his Titan powers to help his family become honorary Marleyans and escape the ghetto. Returning home, he is made to train the next generation of Titans who will work for Marley, and with this comes an arc that is slow, focusing on the effects of war on everyone involved. Reiner’s PTSD and suicidal impulses become an emotional core around which you find yourself feeling sorry for a guy you wanted to see dead a few seasons ago. The way these episodes slowly build to the massive action set piece at the center of this season is masterful.
This battle is Attack on Titan’s best action sequence yet, offering a perfectly paced, ever escalating confrontation. Just when you think you can’t get any closer to sliding off your chair, there’s another reveal or another epic piece of the series' patented hardcore violence that has you riveted and begging for more.
But after all this excitement, everything slows down. With many gaps to fill in the four years between seasons, Attack on Titan focuses more on flashbacks and getting the viewer to understand why characters like Eren have become completely different people. These reflections don’t slow the pacing down too much but they were the most boring portions of the season. This is a series that shines when it deals in forward momentum and political/military machinations; it’s never been strong in explaining its past.
Another strength to mention is the world itself. Now that we have an expanded look at what is happening beyond the walls of the early series, it’s interesting to see the integration of World War I era technology in battling Titans. The first episode is a protracted battle serving to show how trains and more modern cannons are used in dealing with the giants (much more efficiently than the ODM gear and swords of the Expeditionary Forces). That modernity juxtaposed with the renaissance-like world within the walls adds another layer to how this suddenly massive plot plays out.
A new studio took the helm for The Final Season and you can immediately see the difference in style. MAPPA has never been known for their strong art and while the season does look good, it also sometimes looks cheaper than previous iterations with especially facial expressions being less powerful than when Wit Studio was in charge.
Episode sixteen ends with the kind of cliffhanger that was expected but a little frustrating. It’s typical for studios to split seasons in half and have a six-month gap between airing. Maybe all the buildup of the last half of this season would have been more satisfying had we gotten a big battle at the end. I think Attack on Titan will be an even richer, more enjoyable anime once it’s complete and can be watched from beginning to end. The author never lets you forget that he has a vision and he knew what he was doing from the start, mentioning minute things in the beginning that only make full sense till much later.
And that's one thing I love most about AoT. To have an anime this long, lacking any filler arcs, never feeling like it’s flying by the seat of its pants, is an extreme rarity. The fact you can binge this without ever feeling like it is biding its time or just wasting your time with something pointless is really something special.
I also appreciate the way the series has aged with the audience. Over the course of ten years Attack on Titan went from being a teenage-centric shonen falling into the trappings of that genre to becoming a monstrous military fantasy utilizing real world events to discuss issues of racism, jingoism, and revenge in mature and often tense ways. You may have come for the giant monster people punching each other at 16 , but at 26 you're staying for the characters, the world, and the themes.
...Okay, the giants punching each other into gory bits is pretty great too.
Attack on Titan's final episodes can’t come soon enough and regardless of your opinion on anime, love it or hate it as a medium, Attack on Titan is well worth a watch, especially as the finale nears.
Attack on Titan: The Final Season, as well as previous seasons, can be seen on Hulu, Crunchyroll, and Funimation streaming apps.