Controversy or compromise? Why ‘Attack on Titan: The Final Season, Part 3’ will be the anime event of 2023

Regardless of how it ends, the final arc of ‘Attack on Titan’ will doubtless be a source of anticipation, dread and heated debate. **Spoilers for ‘Attack on Titan: The Final Season, Part 2’ below**

For fans of Attack on Titan who’ve never read Hajime Isayama’s manga, Sunday’s finale to The Final Season Part 2 must have come as a shock (if you haven’t watched it yet, turn back now to avoid spoilers). Many viewers assumed this was it for the hit series, which hadn’t announced any follow-up season; they likely expected episode 87 to wrap up the saga’s many plotlines, culminating with a thrilling final battle between Eren and his rampaging Colossal Titan army against Mikasa and Armin’s small band of international allies.

Instead, what fans got was a low-key, contemplative field trip that flashed back to a key moment between seasons three and four that catalysed Eren’s deranged decision to wipe out most of humanity.

Entitled “The Dawn of Humanity”, the episode takes us back to the Scout Regiment’s first reconnaissance mission beyond Paradis into the continent-nation of Marley. Crossing the sea undercover on a commercial steam ship, our heroes’ maiden encounter with the advanced civilisation beyond their isolated island is riddled with some much-needed comedic levity, ranging from the kids’ first taste of ice cream to Hange’s utter amazement when she sees a “mechanical horse”, or a car.

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Importantly, this trip shakes Eren’s conviction that everyone outside of Paradis is an enemy when he witnesses the persecution of an Arab immigrant in Marley’s bustling market. The Scouts save this impoverished boy caught for pickpocketing, and are welcomed by his family into their refugee camp for a merrily drunken supper. Eren sees the suffering and kindness of people displaced by a totally unrelated war, and realises that the world is far bigger and more complex than he ever imagined.

But when the Scouts later attend a meeting of potential Eldian allies, their disgustingly racist rhetoric reinforces Eren’s stance that drastic action must be taken to break humanity’s cycle of hatred and violence. The world’s political systems are too broken, Eren believes, and people’s prejudices are too entrenched by generational trauma and countless centuries of war (much of it perpetuated by Eldians themselves). Eren wants to wipe the slate clean so that kids like him, and the Arab boy he befriended, will never again be made to pay for the sins of past generations. Ironically, in trying to break humanity’s cycle of violence, Eren himself becomes the latest in a long history of leaders who justify great evil in service of the greater good.

Part 2 ends by jumping back to the present to show the genocidal consequences of Eren activating “the Rumbling”, the awakening of millions of Colossal Titans to literally stomp out most of humanity. Not exactly the resolution that most viewers were expecting, but as readers of the manga could have told you, a single episode could never have done justice to the story’s epic conclusion. The anime has thus far been very faithful to the manga, which ran for 139 chapters. Part 2 in particular has been careful to cover roughly one chapter per episode, meaning that its final episode only caught up to chapter 130.

So it wasn’t a full-blown surprise when the episode ended with an post-finale announcement that Attack on Titan will be concluding – for real this time! – with The Final Season: Part 3 next year. There had been widespread speculation that the anime would wrap up on the big screen with a feature film, fuelled by the recent success that AOT’s animation studio MAPPA had with Jujutsu Kaisen 0: The Movie. But condensing the final nine chapters of the AOT manga into a two-hour movie would have been a travesty. The emotional complexity and gigantic action of the climactic arc should not be rushed, which is why one last television run was the right call, offering the perfect amount of time to flesh out the manga’s mammoth conclusion.

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The length of Part 3 won’t be fans’ primary concern, though – it will be the content. When the manga ended in April 2021, it was met with significant backlash. Suffice to say, Isayama’s cynical take on human nature endures all the way to the climax of his magnum opus. Every thematic beat feels earned thanks to the consistent writing, but the conclusion is undeniably depressing, eschewing the feel-good fanservice that typically accompanies the ending of most shonen (or seinen) titles. No wonder it has drawn flak – and a Change.org petition – from fans hoping for at least a little light at the end of this relentlessly bleak tunnel.

The divisive climax has also spawned furious debate – is it nihilist? Imperialist? Pro-war? A warning about what happens when humanity refuses to learn from history? Debating that question may end up being a pointless exercise in the context of the anime, as it is entirely possible its showrunners may tweak Isayama’s finale to avoid fan backlash – which will be a contentious move in itself. Whether Attack on Titan will make a compromise or embrace the controversy is just one of the many intriguing questions fans will grapple with going into what will be the anime event of 2023.

Attack on Titan: The Final Season, Part 2 is out now

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