In its final season, Attack on Titan has flipped the script on its heroes and villains. Our once righteously vengeful protagonist stopped toeing the line in pursuit of his ideals, leaving the audience to ponder exactly who is the villain here?
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Nicky, I don't know about you but this month has been a pretty rough one. So I think we need give ourselves a break and cover something nice and simple. How's about a current big shonen anime? Those are usually pretty straightforward and easy to to joke about, right?
Well Nick, there's Nothing I love more than something big, dumb, – oh and lots of teeth. Perfect for crunching some popcorn! Everyone, take cover as we're about to drop-in with Attack on Titan The Final Season
It's raining some artistic approximation of men. Hallelujah?
But yeah, we're delving into the supposed Final Season of Attack on Titan, a series that's been running more or less since I first started watching seasonal anime. So it feels almost nostalgic to be back with all the characters we've come to know and love over the last 8 years. Like, uh...actually wait who are these bozos?
Attack on Titan: Now with Even MORE children committing war crimes!!
Though, the biggest war crime might be the one committed against Reiner's wallet there. (no it's not)
Oh hey, right, that's Reiner in the back. I didn't recognize him with the new beard and the faint glimmer of life in his eyes.
To pick up where we left off last season! Eren finally found out what was in the basement after HOWEVER MANY YEARS IT TOOK FOR THE ANIME TO GET THERE! And what he saw wasn't so pretty. Having inherited his dad's writings of a Nation across the sea called Marley and memories of his attempted insurrection, Eren finds his resolve. It's him VS the world! Now, we split off from the main cast to focus on Reiner and Co. four years later, in that very place.
It's a bold move to just drop us into the lives of a completely different cast who are, ostensibly, fighting on the side of our heroes' enemies from the last 60-odd episodes. But these new kids make a solid first impression. You've got the timid but optimistic young Falco just begging to have the light torn out of his soul, and of course:
It helps that Gabi is at the very least, very charming. Awww, who's a little tool for military violence? You Are!
Now, some may chafe at the idea of following what is, quite literally, a quirky ragtag band of child soldiers. But those people also stopped watching 7 years ago so it's all cool now, yeah?
These kids are doing everything they can to prove themselves as a class oppressed for the sins of their Titan forefathers, so it's pretty easy to sympathize with their scrappy earnestness even though they're objectively committing horrible acts. Like, trying to take out a tank with a couple of hand-grenades strung together before reinforcements come in with the Titan Bombs to crush an enemy nation for their land and resources kind-of horrible.
What I mean, basically, is AoT's
been walking this particular tightrope for a good long while, and yet somehow it keeps finding new ways to make itself look even more precarious. Like considering last season gave us this image:
It takes some massive creative cajones to make your fantasy show's relationship with militarism and nationalist propaganda MORE emotionally complicated.
Heck, even the opening is SUPER charged in how it intentionally pulls war imagery and with a grey pallete to invoke bleak historical footage. It's much different than the usual fanfare we would expect from the other three past seasons.
At the very least, I appreciate it for being as in-your-face as it is. If you didn't link the titan's to images to weapons of mass destruction as before, well you certainly do now.
And as the series goes on, I feel like there's even less room for nuance about it.
I have...let's say complicated feelings about Titan
's approach to conflating its convoluted fantasy story with real-world genocide, but if nothing else I appreciate this season throwing any pretensions of subtlety into a pit of magma. If you're gonna try to talk about fascism in your fictional work, don't be afraid to say its name.
Though I'm not sure if bringing Mads into this was necessary.
Oh yeah, I've definitely had my reservations about the series since the basement chapter came out and everyone started talking about it. I'm not really sure how to feel about how a story from Japan appropriates history and Imagery of others to navigate Japan's own history of being oppressors and being oppressed. At best It feels inappropriate and in bad taste and at worse it's downright offensive. For better or for worse, though, it's very provocative. Something most series just aren't.
Honestly this is neither the place nor time to get into the gnarled mass of bleeding entrails that constitutes AoT's attempts at allusion and allegory. But if nothing else I do appreciate how this show is approaching its subject with some degree of humanity and empathy. Plenty of stories try for the "war is hell" angle but few manage to make that hell feel as personal as this one.
Yeah, we're used to seeing lots Anime "both-sides-isms" but Attack on Titan
actually hits like a punch to the face.
Speaking of personal, the one character from this new cast we DO know is Reiner. And boy is it reassuring to see a familiar face and– hey wait Reiner, uh...doesn't seem to be doing so hot.
Reiner's been a long time friend and (somewhat) antagonist from his initial introduction and eventual betrayal, both loved and hated by fans, but until recently we haven't really been able to fully understand the full motivations behind his actions because we didn't know JACK SHIT about what lies behind the walls. So this season really kicks off by highlighting who he is and how he got to where he is. Starting from being born to a second-class-citizen mother and a Marleyian father to the attack on the walls and then leading the next generation down the same path of suffering as he did.
It's a fascinating bit of narrative reversal. We've always known Reiner and the other Titan Shifters as more-or-less adults, so it was easy to miss that when they broke down the wall in the first episode, they were just as young as Eren and his friends. And they've been living with that blood on their hands ever since.
In the seasons past we've always seen them as cool and calculated; here we see them for more what they are, just a bunch of sad kids brainwashed to fight in a conflict they didn't create.
Even the adults admit it's a bit nuts to believe that children could wreak so much destruction just because they've been emotionally backed in a corner their whole lives.
Note that they're only talking in terms of efficacy. The higher-ups give negative amounts of fucks about the whole child soldier thing outside of how some of them might be too young to be 100% tools of war just yet. Which they're right about, but also fuck them.
"Damn, if only our child soldiers could fly."
Pretty much every adult in this series has been awful so far, but, damn do they keep finding ways to get worse.
This is basically every Adult-Child relationship in this show:
It's fine. Just a random soldier who decides to befriend Falco for no particular reason. And has him sending clandestine messages for him. I'm sure it's fine. Falco's just doing his good deed for the day.
Falco's story is parallel to Reiner's as he shares many of the same ambitions and failings. One of these poor kids is gonna be Reiner's successor and he's betting it all to make sure it's him just so Gabi can continue being cute. Though, he's clearly outclassed.
Meanwhile, he's got a lot of the same motifs as Eren and the scouts, particularly "Falco -> Falcon" being in line with the whole "Wings of Freedom" bits and this is heavily highlighted in both the OP and ED.
I've seen some folks feel wary about this turn for Eren, and I get it: he's been our protagonist for years and we have been routinely invited to sympathize with his anger and damage. But the moment Season 3 ended with him staring dead-eyed across the ocean, asking nobody in particular if killing everyone on the other side would finally make them free, I've been expecting him to do basically exactly what he does here.
He also got literally injected with a big dose of his dad's revisionist juice changing his character completely and sucking out any hope he had for the world like he had before.
Yeahhhhhhhh there's that. Personally, I choose to believe Eren's breaking point was just witnessing the cyclical nihilism of warfare in those memories and just shattering until he accepted his place in it. Just a way more compelling take than magic dad juice brainwashing or whatever.
TBH this is where Titan has started losing me a bit. I get that you want to make this whole thing as complex as possible, with both sides ultimately being corrupt and violent yet still ultimately human, but by god do I not care about all this exposition to explain the mystery boxes surrounding the Walls.
I choose to believe that's the real origin for Santa Clause. And instead of Elves he just has an army of goofy-faced titans who make toys in the north pole.
Well, then you better watch out cause
Titan Clause is coming to town!!
But yeah there's a million implications to unpack from Willy's big speech. From the historical ramifications of an apparent peace built on ignorance and imprisonment, to the morality of OH WAIT TIME FOR A BIG FIGHT.
While the dude takes his applause Eren pops up out of the ground to eat the bait and all hell breaks lose, killing many innocents in the process. Y'know what they say? you are what you eat. And because Eren has eaten So Many War Crimes, he's now officially at a point of no return according to Mikasa with a nice short haircut.
Hammer Space Titan's pretty cool too though.
Oh right! Everybody from the Scouts is back! And they all have haircuts to show that time has passed!
Also they're all here to commit a whole lot of war crimes. Yayyyyyyyy.
And you can be a war criminal! And You can be a war criminal! Everyone gets to be a war criminal today!!
Yes, even potato girl can commit a little bit of war crime. As a treat.
Again, just a ballsy god damn move. Spend five episodes and who knows how many manga chapters with mostly new characters, then bring back the old guard only to have them immediately do the worst thing any of them have ever done in this show. And that includes the Poop Machine.
It's a little hard to know who we should be rooting for when every character just seems downright awful and yet the show consistently manages to make them look cool while doing it.
This isn't really the kind of conflict where you root for any one side, so much as you just hope your favs get out with as little trauma or blood on their hands as possible. But I think that ship sailed around the time Bert blew himself up.
Like even the rest of the cast don't want to be here, and you get the impression this is something Eren basically railroaded them into.
Yeah and we don't really have a full explanation for whats up with them yet, or what the solution to any of this would be, so I guess we just have to wait and see. Hope you like looking directly at explosions and walking backwards into hell, folks.
It's a lot, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel fatigued from what feels like two straight seasons of despair. But maybe that's to Titan's credit that I also feel as exhausted as every single person on screen.
At least, with the kids, this season is not entirely without levity. There's still a little part of me that wants to stick around just for the sake of these children.
Good point. For as harrowing as this all is I'm sure that nothing bad will happen with (what's left) of these kids.
Nothing at all.
Well, I guess we'll just have to stick around to find out. Thanks, so much everyone to everyone reading out there. I hope you have a better time than these characters will.