Home MoreAnime ‘Attack on Titan’ Final Season Part 1 Review – Where Complex Characters Meet Grand Themes

‘Attack on Titan’ Final Season Part 1 Review – Where Complex Characters Meet Grand Themes

by Joe Aranda
Eren Yeager, protagonist of Attack on Titan, holds out his hand, a cut gashed down the palm

Spoilers for Attack on Titan Final Season Part 1 follow!

In recent years the demand for the deconstruction of traditional hero storytelling has increased, seen by the popularity of The Boys, Watchmen (2019), Zack Snyder’s take on the DC Universe, and the newly premiered Invincible, among others. Audiences are intrigued by the idea of protagonists pushed to their moral limits because, as the stakes get higher, so does the emotional investment. On that note, if you’ve ever wondered what would happen if Breaking Bad‘s character complexity was crossed with the grandiose thematics of Game of Thrones, look no further than Attack on Titan Final Season Part 1.

Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin in Japanese) is a dark-fantasy action series. Produced by Wit Studio in its first three seasons followed by MAPPA in its final one, it’s based on the manga of the same name by writer and artist Hajime Isayama, originally published in the Monthly Shōnen Jump magazine by Kodansha. The series is set in a world where humanity lives inside cities surrounded by three enormous walls that protect them from the gigantic, man-eating humanoids referred to as Titans. The story revolves around Eren Yeager, a young man who vows to exterminate the Titans after a Titan brings about the destruction of his hometown and his mother’s death. Eren’s joined by his childhood friends, Mikasa and Armin, as they enlist in the war against Titans for the survival of mankind.

After the anime’s third season finished airing, it was revealed that Wit Studio, who had brought to life episodes 1-59 of Attack on Titan, would no longer be producing the anime. This caused some tension among fans as it was immediately announced that MAPPA would be the new production studio. While MAPPA has produced high-quality anime such as Yuri!!! on Ice and Kakegurui, the anxiety that the quality of a universally loved anime would start to decline was apparent. Completely changing the look and feel of an anime as its end approaches doesn’t sound particularly ideal but, as the final season premiered, fans found that it couldn’t have been more perfect.

the Jaw Titan, a titan with a bone face, large teeth, and a mane of blond hair, holds a railway track in his teeth, with smoke around him, in Attack on Titan.
Jaw Titan in ‘Attack on Titan’ courtesy of MAPPA

The final season starts four years after the events of Season 3, this not only causes the characters to age but it’s a decision that also allows their world to show its true colors. Attack on Titan always had a cruel tone but the way that MAPPA showcases the manga’s ugly and rough nature is excellent. The animation has a genuine impact on the viewers, the grittiness in the air during scenes where characters discuss war crimes and the more nihilistic moments weave tension and eeriness onto the screen. MAPPA beautifully illustrates the roughness that just four years can have on a war-stricken world.

It’s all about perspective, the characters we saw on the beach at the end of Season 3, laughing and enjoying life because they finally realized that the world they knew inside the walls was not the end-all-be-all, are not the same characters we get reintroduced to. In fact, the final season introduces new characters we had never even heard about. We’re introduced to these new characters from the focus on Marley, the country on the other side of the sea that we initially learn about in Season 3, but in a way that is a bizarre reflection of what the audience was introduced to all the way back in Season 1.

This intentional mirror serves as an entry point for the audience to relive previous experiences with the knowledge they gained over 59 episodes of the anime. Where is the line between revenge and justice? Is the loss of human life worth the discovery of knowledge? How far can trust be spread until it breaks? These are just a few of the many questions Attack on Titan asks in its final season. Where a different show may attempt to answer these questions, Attack on Titan instead allows its morality to remain grey, there is no right or wrong answer, there’s only the conclusion that each viewer comes to for themselves.

The characters this season are pushed psychologically and philosophically until they reach their limit, it’s there that the story reveals whether their resolve was their own or merely a product of someone else’s rhetoric. Whether it’s Eren’s hatred for Marley after his hometown was attacked by their warriors or Gabi’s effort to please the world so that they can see Eldians as good people, we see just how strong someone’s will can be and how it profoundly affects the people around them. Though there were times when character faults are shown, a prime example of which being Eren confronting his oldest friends, Mikasa and Armin, who break down as they both lose all sense of reality. Seeing a moment like that adds to the already impressive list of shocking moments that Attack on Titan has become known for.

Gabi Braun, wearing a helmet and uniform, speaks to Falco Grice, who has bandages on his head, in Attack on Titan
Gabi Braun and Falco Grice in ‘Attack on Titan’ courtesy of MAPPA

The scale in tension that the story has ramped up for these 16 episodes is a level far and above any other anime, there’s never a sense of safety for the characters. At times, there’s almost a sense that the creators have something personal against their viewers, getting them attached to something or someone before they rip it away. From the visuals of Armin coming out of his Titan to the score during Eren transforming under the stage, there was rarely a moment that fails to inspire awe. Episode 16 may end in a cliffhanger, but it’s sure to be something that people talk about regularly as it was setting up another huge action piece that is sure to raise the stakes even further.

Though the anime is wrapped up for now, fans won’t have to wait long to see what happens next as MAPPA announced via their YouTube that Part 2 for the Final Season is set to arrive this coming winter. For fans of the manga, this came as no surprise when comparing what’s been adapted to what’s yet to come. The announcement was released simultaneously with the premiere of the final episode of Part 1. 

All in all, Part 1 of Attack on Titan‘s Final Season did everything right to faithfully adapt chapters 91-116 for Hajime Isayama’s manga, especially considering the extreme conditions that were put onto the production studio. From introducing new voice actors to the cast, evolving the voice of the returning actors in both Japanese and English, beautiful animation that recreates (and reimagines) the panels from the page, to character writing that pushes the limits of philosophical implications, MAPPA delivers a must-watch anime of the year that has become revered by many and ranked Number 2 in the popular website MyAnimeList‘s “Top Anime Series” list. With an adaptation this good, you’ll be wishing that you could see it again for the first time as soon as you finish.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Attack on Titan Final Season Part 1 is available to stream on Crunchyroll and Funimation

Follow writer Joe Aranda on Twitter: @JoeySpielberg

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