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Attack on Titan Final Season THE FINAL CHAPTERS
Episode 1

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Attack on Titan Final Season THE FINAL CHAPTERS ?
Community score: 4.5

©Hajime Isayama, Kodansha/"Attack on Titan" The Final Season Production Committee

“Time will not turn back. But my sense of regret will never end.”

The first tears we see in this penultimate episode of Attack on Titan are Eren's, because the universe is nothing if not a sucker for bitter, cruel irony. He is a child again, waking from a very long dream, and still living in a world where the walls around his home stand tall. He can't quite remember what occurred in this dream, but it was enough to start the tears flowing down his face in earnest. Years later, in another land, so much further from his home than he ever thought possible, Eren finds himself sobbing again, except this time he is fully aware of the reason why. All he can tell the bewildered Ramzi is that he's so, so sorry for what is going to happen, for what he will eventually come back to Marley to do.

It would be easy to accuse Attack on Titan of trying to mine cheap and morally distasteful sympathy for a man who is willingly inflicting genocide on the entire world. One of the biggest hurdles that viewers have had to overcome in these Final Season(s) is AoT's insistence on portraying Eren as a complicated and conflicted three-dimensional character. We were meant to cheer him on for so many years, even as his actions and motivations crossed the line into the irredeemably monstrous. If the show were to ever paint his campaign of radical terror and slaughter as anything even remotely glorious or admirable, then this story might well and truly become indefensible. But The Rumbling permanently quashes any fears that AoT might attempt to fully redeem Eren or justify his actions.

What happens to Ramzi and the countless other victims of Eren's wrath is one of the most gut-churning things I've seen depicted in an anime, at least this side of Made in Abyss. Even then, Made in Abyss has always had the veil of grotesque abstraction to make its body horror more bearable. In Marley, the pain and suffering on display is all too human. Sure, you have the giant parade of Colossal Titans, along with Eren and Zeke crawling around as… whatever monstrosity they've become, but that doesn't change the fact that we've seen this particular vision of hell before. You can open up any photo history of modern warfare and find permanent documentation of what happens to the human body when it is crushed by falling debris, or burnt to ashes in a ruin of flames, or simply torn to shreds by concussive force.

If there's anything “cheap” about what we see of The Rumbling, it is in how the series exploits the gruesome deaths of children that we've come to know in order to drive home the sheer inhumanity of what is happening on screen, but at the same time, I understand the series' intent. In order for the audience and our remaining heroes alike to understand what is at stake if Eren isn't just stopped but put down, we have to see for ourselves what he is capable of. We have to know that this time, it really is the end of everything.

Does that mean that there isn't still some “twist” that the story will pull out to recontextualize Eren's actions at the last minute? Probably not. The episode makes a big deal out of the hole in Eren's logic, which is that the remaining Titan Shifters have not been stripped of their powers, even though Eren absolutely has the power to do so. Reiner is convinced it's because Eren wants to be stopped, and the psychic palaver that Eren initiates seems to support that theory. He is unwilling to stop “moving forward” with his destruction of every living soul that resides beyond Paradis Island, but he is also unwilling to strip his former friends of their own freedoms, and he even challenges them to stop him, if they can.

Based on the way that the surviving Marleyan brass have been conveniently positioned at Fort Salta to behold the Paradisans' final stand against Eren, my guess is that Eren's goal is to basically pull a Lelouch and provide the world a villain so monstrous that it would be impossible to hate the heroes responsible for defeating him. It's the same paradigm shift that Kiyomi describes to Annie as they flee the rumbling on their ship: A loss that is devastating enough to shock you out of your normal cycles of selfishness and hostility. In Eren's case, it is being blown up to the largest scale possible. It could be that his goal is to scar the world so badly that whoever survives to tell the tale can never forget the lessons learned from The Rumbling and has no choice but to live in peace. Time only moves forward. Humanity must either change for good, or it will be crushed by the weight of its regrets.

I haven't read the ending to the manga yet, so please don't feel the need to confirm or deny any of my postulating, but while there are definitely a lot of the usual problems concerning allegorical and thematic coherence that I could see popping up from such a conclusion, especially if it wasn't executed well, I will honestly be very perplexed if that is what got people up in arms so badly all this time. This is, after all, a show that has always been deeply concerned with the ways that empathy and human kindness become the first casualties of war, even as it indulges in the spectacle of battle. Attack on Titan has always been wrapped up in moral and thematic paradoxes of war fiction in that way.

How else could we derive so much pleasure from a special like this, even as it is awash in so much human misery? How else could we find Armin and Annie's blossoming romance so awkwardly charming? How else could we stand up and cheer for the likes of Onyakopon and his technicians, who risk everything to pull off a truly death-defying repair job on the “flying boat” the team needs to take down Eren? How else could we revel in the heart-stopping and supremely badass exit that Hange earns after deciding to relinquish the position of Commander to Armin and take on the unstoppable horde of Colossal Titans for as long as possible?

(Seriously, it's one of the single most exhilarating action sequences that MAPPA has ever produced for this show, the kind of epic, myth-making heroism that will live on in my memory long after the show is finally finished).

I think it would be too simple to say that it is “okay” to empathize with the Scouts because they are The Good Guys while Eren is The Bad Guy. Yes, what Eren is doing can never be condoned; he must die at this point. As Armin points out, though, they're all sinners now. They've each participated in the killing of soldiers, civilians, and children, and they did it all in the name of protecting their loved ones and securing peace for their home. They've betrayed everything they once believed in and are now working together to kill again, all in the name of peace. From a certain perspective, you could argue that the only real difference between Eren and the rest of the Scouts at this point is the number of zeroes attached to their body counts.

On a philosophical level, these zeroes mean nothing. Killing is killing, and the act of denying another living being its life—its “freedom”—is simply wrong, full stop. If Attack on Titan has been consistent with anything thus far, it is that there is nothing good about killing. Then again, it is equally impossible to deny that, on a human level, what Eren has become goes so far beyond the pale of what 99.9% of people would ever even be able to comprehend, let alone put forth into action. For the living survivors and the brutalized victims of Eren's final gambit, there most certainly is a meaningful cost to all of those zeroes that Eren is adding to his body count.

I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not actually trying to argue that there is some sort of moral relativism at play when it comes to committing war crimes. I'm of the opinion that war is a futile waste of life and resources, and that its continued existence is a blight on the soul of our entire species. That's easy for me to say, though, isn't it? I've never been put in a position where I have been made to believe, rightly or wrongly, that the future of my entire world is at stake. I've never had someone put a gun in my hand and tell me with absolute certainty in their voice that I might be responsible for the terrible death of everything I hold dear if I am too cowardly to pull the trigger. I'm a person that has the luxury of being able to treat war as some kind of abstract thought experiment to pontificate in my reviews of gory action cartoons, or as a costume I put on whenever I'm in the mood to power up my PlayStation and treat simulated murder as a convenient source of consequence-free entertainment.

I won't pretend that the time travel-fueled paradoxes make full sense to me, just yet, but there is one aspect of Eren's fatalistic perspective that I can still sympathize with. Even before the walls came down, even before Eren was born, his world was trapped in an endless cycle of conflict and bloodshed. What's happening now might not have been inevitable in the sense that there was literally nothing that Eren could have done to avoid The Rumbling, but these forces would have been at work regardless of whether the Jeagers arrived. It might not have happened in exactly the same way, and it might have taken another thousand years to manifest, but Eren's plague upon the world might just be one form of an inevitable symptom that was going to manifest because of a disease that has been killing the world for much, much longer than we could ever know.

There's a girl named Ymir who might have some interesting insights to offer on all of that, but she's not speaking much these days. That may be just as well. What else is there left to say? Perhaps just those words that the old horseman spoke, when the seals were being broken at the close of a different story: “Come and see.” I guess the ending of every story could be seen as a kind of apocalypse, of one form or another. This fall, with any luck, the wait for Attack on Titan's conclusion will at long last be over, and then we'll all be able to see what final revelations it has to share with us.


Attack on Titan Final Season THE FINAL CHAPTERS is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitter, his blog, and his podcast.

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