Attack on Titan The Final Season
by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Attack on Titan The Final Season ?
"There's no doubt that Eldians are the spawn of the devil. And there's no doubt that we're devils ourselves."
The opening scene of “The War Hammer Titan” flashes us back to Willy Tybur and Magath hatching a plot to sacrifice Willy along with countless other Marleyans to the attack from Eren Yeager that they know is coming. This naturally calls to mind the many conspiracies that have surrounded events like the sinking of the Lusitania, Pearl Harbor, and even the World Trade Center attacks of September 11th, 2001; all of these are tragedies that people have singled out as deliberate ploys by the U.S. and other powerful governments to instigate the fervor of battle in civilian populations and justify entering into costly and deadly wars. These are only the most famous, of course; pretty much any major military conflict of the past century has any number of secret plots to go along with it, all of which attest to varying degrees the secret doctrines that push and pull the average civilian along the bloody tracks of world history.
Maybe this is why this episode has me reflecting so much about the ramifications of political manipulation, conspiratorial thought run amok, and all the other factors that have contributed to the sense of political unrest and uncertainty that has been plaguing so many parts of the world lately. Just a week ago, here in the U.S., a violent mob attempted to usurp control of the democratic process in Washington D.C. These would-be seditionists were spurred on largely by bigotry, ignorance, and fanatical belief in dangerous propaganda that posited a vision of the world wherein the only path forward to their version of “justice” was violent insurrection. There've been all sorts of newspaper articles that try to paint pictures of the lives that the sad, misguided, and dangerous people have lived that have gotten them to this point.
None of this is what “War Hammer Titan” is about, obviously. Even when you take all of the historical parallels and possible allegories that we've been discussing for years now, I'd never suggest that Hajime Isayama was making specific commentary about events that hadn't even happened when the manga was being written. Also, I really feel the need to reiterate that the Eldians in Marley and on Paradis were victims of demonstrably evil acts of genocide and discrimination; the rioters at the Capitol were largely a bunch of misled, manipulated, and frankly delusional kooks/racists.
At the same time, though, as I watched Eren lay waste to the civilians of Marley and the newly-arrived War-Hammer Titan while the survivors on the ground shriek and cry and trample over each other in the chaos, I couldn't help but be struck at how much Attack on Titan is about the hatred and fear that acts as both cause and effect to the kinds of violent outbursts that make it feel an awful lot like war is on the horizon. Attack on Titan: The Final Season has been leading up to this incredibly fraught moment, which we've been told to expect ever since the series started advertising itself to the fandom. In switching perspectives to the Marleyans that have been subjugating our heroes for all of these years, we're being asked to empathize with a villainous nation, while the heroes we've rooted for since Day 1 are becoming exactly the kinds of monsters that got them started down the path of war to begin with. As Magath told Willy Tybur in the hours before Eren arrived to pass judgement on all of his enemies: If the Eldians are devils, then so too must the Marleyans be.
As a person of color, I cannot express how infuriating it has been the last four years to have folks ask me to “understand” and “sympathize” with the white supremacist and fascist goons that are actively trying to assert their dominance in my country. In a broader sense, though, that is exactly what Attack on Titan is having us do with its increasingly grey and nihilistic narrative. When Mikasa and the other members of the Scout Regiment make their grand entrance to help Eren stave off the Warhammer Titan's attacks, Mikasa sees in Eren a stranger and a monster. She reminds him that he has killed civilians. That he's killed children. That what he's done cannot ever be taken back. Later, after Gabi is forced to watch Udo and Zofia die in horrible ways right in front of her, she watches acquaintances like Mr. Gate Guard get their brains blown out by Sasha. Like the rest of the aged-up Scout Regiment, Sasha has come donned in a new uniform that makes her look like a member of a modern-day elite kill squad, and she is to Gabi a vision of death itself. I don't want the Scout Regiment to pass the point of forgiveness in their pursuit of justice.
For the record, this is why I'm not sure that I will ever be fully on board with this “both-sidesing” of the show's narrative. Sometimes, it is relatively easy to point to the side of a conflict that is inarguably in the wrong, and lacking any justification for their aggression. The Nazis were wrong. The “Stop the Steal” mob was (and continues to be) wrong. The way that AoT is currently trying to humanize the Marleyans and implicate the Eldians as the instigators of their own oppression hews way too close to some very real conspiracy theories for my comfort, because this line of thinking has been used to justify some truly heinous shit over the years. It would be like if someone tried to say that the Reichstag Fire was actually the work of Communist Jews, and that those Jews also had secret magic powers that made them terrifying monsters hellbent on destroying society. (And just in case anyone is behind on their World History lessons: It was the Nazis. The Nazis said that exact thing.)
While I still feel the need to drop the major caveats about the ways AoT reflects real history, I think the emotions that AoT is invoking do fit within the story it is telling and the paths its characters are taking, at least in the broad strokes. Also, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that “The War Hammer Titan” also falls into that old Truffautian paradox of an anti-war story being incapable of avoiding the inherent excitement that comes from depicting bombastic battles and feats of stunning heroism. This isn't a complaint, by the way; I think everything I mentioned above keeps Attack on Titan firmly in the territory of its anti-war ambitions, but goddammit if it isn't at least a teensy bit badass to watch Eren and Fine Tybur duke it out as the Attack and War Hammer Titans, all while the Scout Regiments fly about Marely so they can commit their own, littler war crimes.
I've seen some rumblings about how this episode reflects MAPPA's work with AoT's new art style and character designs, and while there are some parts where the art looks a bit rough and/or inconsistent, I think it would be stepping way out of line to say that “War Hammer Titan” looks terrible or anything. I've personally gotten quite used to new designs and the fully CG Titan models, and the moments where 3D rigs were used for the human characters looked fine, too. The battle itself is excellently choreographed and staged, and I loved the changeup of having Fine's Titan Core be hidden below the actual body of the WHT.
This fine line that Attack on Titan walks between spectacle and tragedy is going to become even harder to navigate as the renewed war against Marley becomes bloodier and more destructive. In order to have any “fun” with a traditional war story, you have to have a side that you're willing to root for, if not in full, then at least more than the other side. Though it may prove untenable for me in the long run, there is a part of me that is still struggling to fully disengage my sympathies from Eren and his friends, even now, as children and innocent bystanders are dying by the scores. Through no fault of their own, and specifically because of their treatment by Marley's past and present leaders, each and every one of these men and women were born and bred to kill Titans. As Porco the Jaw Titan begins to find out when Levi Ackerman flies in to even the odds at the end of the episode, the only thing more terrifying than coming face-to-face with the Devil himself is that moment when you realize the part you had to play in bringing him right there to your doorstep.
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