The “Attack on Titan” series finale is a masterpiece worth watching and rewatching
Disclaimer: This review contains heavy spoilers ahead.
I’m no anime connoisseur, but having watched almost a hundred anime since I started in 2017, I think it’s safe to say that Attack on Titan is not just another anime you can binge and forget. Its haunting, gripping and utterly life-changing narrative is unlike anything I have ever witnessed. Future generations will wish they lived in the same era as this legacy of an anime. I can talk endlessly about how much Attack on Titan has accomplished, from its incredibly intricate world-building, gorgeously executed animations and heart-wrenching musical scores to its impressive character writing. Attack on Titan ticks all the boxes. So after 10 years in development, the finale takes us back to the heart of it all to answer this very question: What does it mean to be human in a cruel world?
The other side of the sea
The cruel world of Attack on Titan
The world of Attack on Titan is pretty dark—no, scratch that; it’s extremely dark. From the moment we watch the walls of Shiganshina fall and Eren’s mother getting devoured by a Titan (who is Eren’s dad’s wife from outside the walls???) in the first few episodes of season one, the gore only gets gorier. Then just when you think the madness stops, you’re introduced to the horrid origins of Titans, the war-obsessed people beyond the walls, the far-from-free world across the sea and everything in between. I could go on and on about what makes Attack on Titan one of the darkest worlds in anime history, but the selling point is not just its ability to make the world look as dark as it is but is its ability to make you feel like you’re a part of it. This immersive quality of the Attack on Titan world is one of its strongest features, much like what I think is the Harry Potter world in the non-anime sense. The intricately woven plotlines, geopolitical struggles and history arcs are what make the Attack on Titan world come to life, but if there’s anything about the world of Attack on Titan that I’d like to emphasize, more than the structures of the world itself, are the people in them.
Nothing impresses me more than characters who hold agency as they build onto the story through the actions they choose to make, and the characters of Attack on Titan do just that—and I mean every single character, no matter how big or small. It's this agency that characters exhibit in their choices that makes them feel human and turn comical circumstances into soul-gripping experiences that make you feel things, real things. And for a moment, we’re living with them. Whether it’s experiencing loss, betrayal, regret or even those tiny moments of joy, we rode the wave with them. And so the finale culminates this decade-long journey of joint struggles and hardships with the ultimate act of character agency no anime can match: Eren Yeager.
Our guilty hero
Eren Yeager’s coming of age
We put a lot of emphasis on the perfection of a character, but what makes Eren the perfect protagonist (and antagonist) is his utter lack of perfection, which is revealed in the finale. Eren has always been far from perfect, let alone likable, but who could blame him? The world he grew up in showed him nothing but cruelty. And left with no other choice, all he could do was fight—no, kill. The cycle of facing death head-on and killing for survival was commonplace. And so, what else do you expect from a 19-year-old boy who grew up constantly fighting for his life and witnessing the fragments of his reality bend and break before his eyes? To grow up a mess, of course. That is, if he’ll even have the liberty growing up at all.
So many times, stories lead us to believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing character, someone who can pull his shit together and make all the right choices. But what makes Eren a compelling character who drives real emotions right out of us is that he isn’t perfect, and his acceptance of that in the finale elevates his character to a whole new level of coming of age that nobody saw coming. In his state of confusion, fear, anger and the experience of raw human emotions, we see a break from Eren’s façade of maturity. Suddenly, despite the time gone by, we remember that he’s only 19.
We remember that he’s still the same kid who wants to explore the world beyond the walls with his friends and reclaim freedom—whatever that means; he doesn’t know either. And it's in this state of not knowing, this state of brokenness and pathetic desperation, that we see Attack on Titan for what it is—not a world of fantasy, but a world that we can resonate with.
Eren is human, and his experience isn’t alien to ours after all. Every death he brought onto someone else was hell for him, and unlike typical anime fashion where the protagonist brushes it off like it meant nothing, Eren grieved. So, as we witness our guilty hero crumble in the arms of his best friend for the first and last time, we catch a glimpse of what it means to be human in this cruel world—fragile.
The Rumbling’s end
To be human is to be fragile, and that’s freedom
The ultimate visual of human fragility in the world of Attack on Titan is the Rumbling itself.
I don’t think anybody truly grasped the gravity of what the Rumbling held until it was shown point-blank on screen. Hopeless and defeated, the world had nowhere to turn to and had to face its doom one way or another. But oddly enough, it was in this hopelessness and acceptance of defeat that humanity found its own sense of freedom. This fight for freedom is something the world of Attack on Titan explores on a tangent, an undertone that defines every decision made in the series, especially Eren’s. And somehow, the Rumbling was his way of bringing that sense of freedom to life, but was it the kind of freedom Eren wanted for himself and his friends?
Eren’s death is something we all saw coming, but how it would play out was the real question. And I cannot emphasize enough how satisfying and meaningful his death was for the culmination of Attack on Titan. Eren’s death was his freedom, and the only one who could take him there was Mikasa, whom Eren freed years ago. To me, Eren received the best possible conclusion to his story, and so did Mikasa. In finding a sense of freedom that came with embracing their own forms of defeat, they became human. All their dreams of the future died together in that moment, but so, too, did the war and the years of fighting that fallen comrades and fellow scouts gave their lives for. Nobody died in vain, and everyone was free in some sense of the word. This may not have been the freedom Eren imagined, but it was the freedom they were given, and their acceptance of it proved to be the ultimate act of Tatakae.
Every anime must come to an end, but Attack on Titan’s legacy will last a lifetime. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to rewatch it from the start for the nth time.
Words Vanessa Tiong
Art Macky Arquilla