Attack on Titan: The Final Season has come to an end.
Shingeki no Kyojin, as it’s known in Japanese, began serialization in September 2009. While the manga’s final chapter hit Bessatsu Shonen Magazine in April 2021, the anime only aired its finale in November 2023.
By and large, the anime remains faithful to the manga, as it has throughout the story. The few deviations from the manga act to reinforce the story’s overall point rather than change it. Most importantly, the story reigns as one of the most daring and challenging stories in the modern era, making it something worth discussing for years on.
Attack on Titan: Massive PopularityThe first season of Attack on Titan’s anime adaptation aired way back in 2013. It immediately met massive acclaim,. The shocking moments drew in fans across the world. Its striking images even inspired the world’s biggest boy band.
With the acclaim, of course, comes expectations. Writer Isayama Hajime, himself a huge fan of Game of Thrones, summed up his reaction to Season 8’s offensively bad ending in a simple word: “orz.” (The word is a Japanese emoticon showing someone banging their head on the floor.)
Of course, the irony is that on the surface, Isayama’s ending follows some of the same beats as Game of Thrones did. Fortunately, however, he framed it correctly and foreshadowed it from the start.
Attack on Titan’s ProductionWIT Studio produced Season 1 of Attack on Titan. Despite the immense success, WIT actually waited four years to air Season 2, in part because they wanted to have enough material and the manga was ongoing. Again, Game of Thrones perhaps could have learned. WIT also created Season 3, which aired in two parts: one in 2018 and one in 2019.
After this, however, Season 4 transferred to MAPPA, known for hits like Yuuri!!! On Ice and Banana Fish. Known as Attack on Titan: The Final Season, it really consisted of four seasons within the “final” season. The first of four parts aired in 2020 and the second in 2022. Lastly, the final two specials aired in March and November 2023.
Attack on Titan: The Final Season’s StoryWithout giving too many specific spoilers, Attack on Titan: The Final Season offers a poignant look at human nature. This look is as much cynical as it is optimistic. Even in the most dire of situations, hope exists.
For example, in one key scene, titans push a mob of people to the edge of a cliff. As a parent falls, they pass their baby to another, who passes the baby along. Even as people fall to their deaths, strangers work together to save the baby. The animation colors the scene in black and white, except for the child, who wears a red blanket. No doubt this is an homage to Steven Spielberg’s classic scene in Schindler’s List.
Attack on Titan: The Final Season offers themes that fans can think about and debate rather than simple answers. If Eren’s pursuit of freedom drives him to the point of ignoring the desires of everyone around him, then is that true freedom? Can you have true freedom and live in a world with other people? Or is that extreme freedom just another chain, making Eren not even free at all?
In a world where many feel alienated and angry and helpless, people can relate to Eren. While it might be more comfortable to see Eren, or to see characters like Reiner, Annie, Bertolt, and the indoctrinated Gabi and Falco, as monsters from birth, the story makes it clear they were not. They were instead just lost children grasping for any hope.
In the end, monsters are just people, too.
Attack on Titan: The Final VillainDespite the story pitting every single beloved character against the protagonist, and even directly stating in text that the hero of the story was Armin Arlert, not Eren Jaeger, fans refused to accept this.
Hence, many fans expressed outraged that the manga was “justifying” genocide, even though it was clearly not. Other fans, predominately young right-leaning men, created a movement called Ao No Requiem, believing not only that Eren was justified, but the story vindicated them in their rage at society.
Fitting with Attack on Titan’s constant theme that the monsters are paradoxically everyone and no one at the same time, Eren Jaeger’s transformation into final villain also commented on fandom.
Isayama indeed intended angry young people to see themselves in Eren. They just didn’t realize that they weren’t supposed to be the heroes. Yet, the positive development of characters like Reiner and Gabi Braun, who start off she story similar to Eren, shows that Isayama didn’t intend to condemn so much as to explore. Eren’s admittedly whiny breakdown on the beach right before he dies, wherein he confesses his internal desires to Armin in a childish way, calls such fans to self-reflection.
Attack on Titan: Attack on Tropes
Attack on Titan has always deconstructed tropes. For example, while Mikasa and Eren share a typical “childhood friend pursues boy she likes” love story, the story never aimed to call the trope good or bad. Instead, like any good deconstruction, it aimed to show what was good about the trope, and what was bad.
Mikasa’s love for Eren had unhealthy, obsessive elements. In the end, she overcame these by killing him to save the world. However, there was beauty in her love for Eren, too. The fact that she loved him enabled her to live, and her love saved the world as much as her killing him did. It’s complex and designed to be discussed and pondered, something not often seen in modern media where morals are spoonfed to audiences.
Eren, of course, also deconstructs the “chosen one” trope.
Not A Perfect FinaleOf course, no story is without its flaws. Attack on Titan received quite a bit of criticism for its use of armbands for Eldians, a clear allusion to the Holocaust. Some in the Jewish community were offended, and understandably so. Still, the overall story condemns any form of genocide for any reason.
Another troubling plot line was that of Historia Reiss, who became one of the standout characters in Season 2 and 3. However, Historia’s plot line took a turn into… the weird after her girlfriend, Ymir, died offscreen. With an unexpected and unwanted pregnancy that was never elaborated on, it kind of seems like Isayama realized he didn’t have the chops nor the space to give her storyline its proper due, and more or less wrote it out.
However, The Final Season actually fixes one of the manga’s flaws. In the manga, Armin’s final conversation with Eren could be read as him excusing Eren for mass murder. Isayama himself stated that this was not his intention. The anime in turn changes the lines to make it clear Armin is expressing unconditional love for his friend, but also not excusing the evil Eren’s committing.
Attack on Titan’s English DubThe English dub of Attack on Titan: The Final Season’s final episodes hit Crunchyroll on January 9, 2024.
As for Isayama Hajime’s plans post-story, he may write another story someday. In the meantime, he’s spoken about the desire to open an onsen, or Japanese sauna. Considering the terrible and grueling deadlines manga writers work under, he more than deserves some relaxation!