With all due respect to the current “Big Three” of shonen anime – My Hero Academia, Demon Slayer and Jujutsu Kaisen – Attack on Titan is the true modern-day king of the genre. While Hajime Isayama’s dark post-apocalyptic fantasy may not match its contemporaries’ mainstream popularity, it far outstrips them in terms of mature storytelling and its willingness to barrel past boundaries in brutal and bloody fashion.
In a nutshell, Attack On Titan is set in a world where humanity lives inside cities surrounded by three enormous walls protecting them from the gigantic man-eating humanoids called Titans. The story follows Eren Yeager, a boy who vows to exterminate the Titans after they bring about the destruction of his hometown and the death of his mother.
After one of the most shockingly gruesome pilots in anime history, Attack on Titan has only gone on to up the ante in the seasons since. While the series did occasionally stutter in its early seasons – with repetitive beats and Eren’s incessant crying dragging momentum – its later seasons have continually subverted expectations, the show managing to one-up itself at a frenzied pace.
While the show began as a simple survival horror – humans good, Titans bad – Attack on Titan has grown significantly more complex over the years. From division of ideologies within the military and government behind the walls, to the revelation that the Titans are actually controlled by a technologically advanced nation beyond the walls called Marley who are intent on keeping the Eldian populace of Paradis in isolation, the show constantly challenges viewers’ ideas of who the “good” and “bad” guys are.
This final season has particularly spent a great deal of time exploring the “enemy”, as it delves into the lives of the citizens and soldiers in Marley – which we learn had been subjugated in a series of genocidal conquests by Eldians, whose unique genetic properties let them transform into and control Titans, for thousands of years.
It also details the consequences of the latest atrocity, this time perpetuated by our “heroes”: Eren and Paradis’ Scouts, who murdered Marley’s political brass and scores of innocents in their sneak attack on its capital in retaliation for the horrors they’ve suffered, and in their quest for liberation. There is so much blood on everyone’s by now that hopes for peaceful resolution are virtually nil: As part one of this final season left off, Paradis’ leadership is left in shambles after Eren stages a merciless coup d’etat to take control, while Marley’s forces have launched a reprisal invasion – using both Titans and their advanced weaponry.
We’re now two episodes into Attack On Titan‘s final stretch, picking up immediately from some huge cliffhangers: namely what happened to the severely injured Levi, the assault on Paradis, and the latest round in the never-ending blood feud between Eren and Reiner Braun. While Levi may not be as dead as Hange claims (she refuses to let people see his body), he does appear to be irreparably mangled, meaning his badass fighting days may be sadly behind him.
In contrast, Zeke is “rebirthed” from the belly of a pure-Titan, emerging from a mysterious astral plane where a girl rebuilt his limbs. This celestial world is reminiscent of the “Paths” that were explained back in season three, and will no doubt play a huge part in the lore of the Titans later on. Most concerningly, Zeke’s own noble yet diabolical plan to neuter the entire Eldian population (thereby saving future generations from suffering and ending the conflict forever) appears in full swing.
Meanwhile, we’re plunged deep into the violent chaos of combat in Paradis as Marleyan forces attack from all angles, Titans and paratroopers dropping from airships both wreaking havoc on Yelena’s defenses. From the epic aerial visuals of massive Titan-on-Titan brawls to the intensity of troop firefights on the ground, new animators MAPPA (taking over from previous studio Wit, to the early concern of some fans) has come out of the gate swinging to deliver furious action sequences, both in 3D and 2D, that hit hard and look dynamic.
The most compelling aspect of the show though, remains the rivalry between Eren and Reiner. This latest fight between them isn’t just exciting – it also serves as the physical and emotional culmination of 77 episodes worth of character-building for Eren. The whimpering kid we met in season one is now a wrathful one-man army: a ruthlessly skilled fighter capable of controlling multiple Titan powers at once and fending off three Titan shifters single-handedly. In a long-gestating heel turn, Eren’s monomaniacal thirst for revenge has made him the show’s true monster. We’re no longer sure who to root for, and neither do many of Eren’s allies and longtime loyalists in the 104th regiment.
Much like Ronald D. Moore’s version of Battlestar Galactica, Attack On Titan is a relentlessly savage and bleak anime that pulls no punches when depicting the exhausting hellishness of never-ending war and the resulting psychic trauma. The series doesn’t revel in blood and gore so much as use it to paint a horrifying picture of what this dystopia truly looks and feels like. What began with the question of “how will humanity survive?” has transformed into the much more profound question of “does humanity deserve to survive?”
Charging forward with stunning animation, complex character dynamics, mature storytelling, incredible action and a fascinating mythology, Attack on Titan’s final run of episodes is shaping up to be spectacular and satisfying.
Attack on Titan: The Final Season, Part 2 is now streaming on Funimation, Crunchyroll, Hulu and Netflix