With the fourth and final season half-finished and with the manga ending this month, I thought now would be a good time to review the first half of the final season of Attack on Titan. I still can’t believe the series is ending–it was one of the first animes I’ve ever watched, and I’ve even made a few friends through the fandom. But alas, all good things must come to an end. Before I discuss the first half of season four, however, I will first discuss the series as a whole.
The Attack on Titan manga began serialization in September 2009 and will end after 139 chapters this April. It was the groundbreaking debut of writer and artist Hajime Isayama. The series takes place in a medieval Europe-inspired world in which humans reside within walls erected to protect them from humanoid, man-eating creatures known as Titans. The series starts out very simply, with protagonist Eren Jaeger (Yuki Kaji) vowing to rid the world of all Titans after raiding his hometown and eating his mother right in front of him. As the series progresses, however, it gradually becomes more complex, as the main characters eventually learn that there are two races in their world: Eldians and Maryleans. They also discover that the Maryleans essentially created Titans to wipe out the Eldian race. Attack on Titan tackles serious themes such as racism, genocide, and indoctrination, particularly in its third and fourth seasons. The series offers something for everyone: social commentary, plenty of action, and a wide cast of entertaining and well-written characters. In addition to receiving a successful anime adaptation in 2013, it has spawned several spinoff manga series, video games, and a duology of live-action movies. The anime is adored by anime fans and critics alike, with several of its episodes appearing on IMDB’s “Best TV episodes of all time” page alongside other greats such as Breaking Bad and Bojack Horseman. The series has had a lasting impact on both Eastern and Western pop culture, as it has been referenced in other anime and American cartoons such as The Simpsons.
The fourth season picks up four years after the events of the third season. The first few episodes focus on the Maryleans, specifically Reiner Braun (Yoshimasa Hosoya), involved in the raid on Eren’s hometown, and Zeke Jaeger (Takehito Koyasu), who is Eren’s half-brother and shares very different ideals than him. We are introduced to several new characters as well, such as fan-favorite Pieck (Manami Numakara) and Gabi Braun (Ayane Sakura), Reiner’s cousin and one of the child candidates vying to inherit a Titan. These first few episodes are the calm before the storm, the storm being the episode “Declaration of War,” which is just as intense as its title suggests. The next episode, “The War Hammer Titan,” involves the Eldians launching a surprise attack on Marley, resulting in numerous Eldian and Marylean casualties. This is the inciting incident of the final story arc in the series. Eren believes that the only way to stop the endless cycle of racism and genocide is to eradicate the Marylean race so only the Eldian race remains. He plans to do so by starting a cataclysmic event known as the Rumbling, which involves thousands of Titans escaping the walls to trample and eat humanity. While this is undoubtedly extreme, viewers who have been invested in the series since season one will easily be able to understand his reasoning behind this horrible decision.
The next few episodes are incredibly action-packed, and it isn’t until the episode “Brave Volunteers” that the action grinds to a halt. Here we finally get some insight into crucial events that happened during the four-year time skip. We meet even more new characters such as Yelena (Mitsuki Saiga) and Onyankopon (Koji Hiwatari), who become unlikely allies to the Eldians. We return to the present in the 70th episode, titled “Deceiver,” where we learn that Eren has gathered a group of devoted followers who agree with his plans to wipe out the Marylean race. We also discover that Eren’s views have caused a rift between him and his former comrades, most notably his childhood friends Mikasa Ackerman (Yui Ishikawa) and Armin Arlert (Marina Inoue). These fractured friendships serve as a grim reminder that people change over time and that sometimes it’s best to separate yourself from them entirely.
One of the things that make Attack on Titan stand out from most action animes is that no character is “good” or “bad.” Of course, the characters believe their race is good while the other is bad, but the audience gets to view the story from the perspectives of both Eldians and Maryleans. Protagonist Eren Jaeger is less of a protagonist and more of an antihero, and even the more good-natured characters have blood on their hands from all the killing they’ve had to do. While some characters firmly believe that the crimes they’ve committed have been for the greater good, most are constantly questioning whether their actions will put an end to the twisted cycle of racism and genocide or just cause it to continue. The series excels at showing how easily people, especially children, can be swayed by nationalism. The most obvious example of this is the process of inheriting a Titan. Becoming a Titan shifter ensures that the shifter will die thirteen years after inheriting their Titan. This is something no sane person would want, yet Maryleans are told from birth that this is the highest honor they can do for their country. However, some characters subject themselves to such a fate so their loved ones can have a better life. The character that most comes to mind is Reiner Braun. In episode 62, “The Door of Hope,” we learn that Reiner is the illegitimate child of a Marylean man and Eldian woman and that he became a child soldier and ultimately inherited the Armored Titan so his family could live together happily. He eventually learns that his father wants nothing to do with him, but of course, by then, it is too late for Reiner to back out of training. The fact that Reiner belongs to both races adds an extra layer of complexity to his character and makes him even more interesting. Because he infiltrated Eren’s hometown and other Eldian villages, he is disliked by the Eldians, and because he failed to eradicate all Eldians within the walls, he is disliked by the Maryleans. Despite this, he holds a high-ranking position in the Marylean military, a position he finds himself unworthy of. He exhibits symptoms of depression and PTSD, highlighting the toll of war on one’s psyche. He also suffers from survivor’s guilt, as his comrades who helped him eradicate Eldian lives were killed or captured.
The first half of the final season is perfectly paced and almost every scene is animated exactly how it was drawn in the original manga, showing the staff’s immense respect for the source material. The voice cast is also very dedicated to their craft and it is clear they are giving it their all, no matter how few or many lines of dialogue they have in an episode. The voice performances that resonated with me the strongest were Gabi’s and Reiner’s. While Gabi is a new character to the series, voice actress Ayane Sakura has adjusted perfectly and is a welcome addition to an incredibly talented cast. Sakura expertly conveys Gabi’s personality, which is equal parts childish and aggressive. It is Sakura’s performance that helps fans remember that despite being a soldier, Gabi is a child both at heart and literally. Many fans have expressed that the fourth season feels different than the previous three due to its much darker themes, and I agree. Despite being tonally different than its earlier seasons, I’d argue that season 4 of Attack on Titan is its best as it feels less like an anime and more of a grim, albeit entertaining, study of humanity.
Wit Studio produced seasons 1-3 and the fourth is made by MAPPA, an animation studio known for producing other successful animes such as Banana Fish and Jujutsu Kaisen. Attack on Titan is painstakingly animated frame by frame. Given how action-packed the series is, it requires even more frames to be animated per second than the average anime, resulting in an overworked and overly stressed cast and crew. Sadly, some “fans” didn’t take too kindly to a different animation studio picking up the series and harassed the staff via the Internet. Some of these harassers even went so far as to send the staff death threats. When you are an animator tirelessly working on a series as action-heavy and popular as Attack on Titan, death threats are the last thing you want. While this unnecessary hate has seemed to have died down, both cast and crew are still incredibly stressed as they are currently hard at work on the second half of the final season, which will begin airing this winter. This goes to show that you should always appreciate animators, writers, actors, and everyone else involved in the entertainment industry, as they often risk their health for the sake of entertaining others. Don’t let Attack on Titan’s toxic fanbase discourage you from checking out the series, though: all four seasons are available for streaming on Hulu, Crunchyroll, and Funimation.
— Brittany Crosse, Blogger.
Brittany Crosse’s Bio:
Brittany Crosse is a senior at Lewis University who has previously attended Moraine Valley Community College. She is majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing, and hopes to one day make a career out of writing short stories, which has been a goal of hers ever since she was little. In addition to writing, she also plans to teach fiction writing at the university level. Her interests outside of writing include TV shows, anime, music, video games, and books, her favorite authors being Neal Shusterman, Stephen King, and Haruki Murakami. Brittany spends most of her time with her dog Cordelia, a.k.a. “Cordy.”