Shingeki no Kyojin: The Final Season Review

“The Road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions.” To live means to die. To be right, that means someone else must be wrong. To have peace means that first, there must be war.

Story:

Several years after the raid on Humanity within the Walls, we find ourselves within the country of Marley and watch how the supposed enemy fends off and conquers nearby lands in order to spread its influence. But, knowing the threat of Paradis Island, the home of Humanity within the Walls, is looming… Well, war is coming. Or rather, war is already here.

For an adaptation that started in 2013 as a somewhat gratuitous gorefest with giant naked humans as the main antagonists, I don’t think I ever imagined the series to evolve into the state it is right now. In a span of sixteen episodes, the story of Attack on Titan manages to expand well beyond the confines of the three walls that the show previously had before, worldbuilding the series into a more interlinked universe that has seen its fair share of conflict and bloodshed. Thanks to some previous groundwork established in previous seasons, we get a much clearer version the ‘other side’ and how Marley operates and functions. Bearing some nods to Nazi Germany as a part of its framework while maintaining its own identity as a militarized nation that subjugates those not born of the same blood, as much of the Eldian race can attest to that idea. Not only that, but this several year timeskip from the previous season lends this season to showcase some changes to Humanity within the Walls as well, noting vital events and changes that’ve occurred since the first time Eren has stepped foot in the ocean. All of this to say nothing of the drastic shift in tone and story direction now that the truth of everything: the truth about the Titans, the truth about the Walls, and the truth about who the people within the walls are, is all out in the open for everyone in the cast to see.

Compared to the hopefulness that came from previous seasons, the ‘Final Season’ feels bleak and sometimes difficult to watch. The rawness of the series’ showing of war and conflict paints a grim picture to the reality of the cost of freedom or liberation. While the series never had much of an ‘us vs. them’ mentality to it, this truly feels like an instance where there really isn’t an answer to anything. To a point that the plot feels more like a showcasing of how brutal conflict can be, as well as the metric tons of blood it costs to get anywhere.

That’s not to say that the story is comprised of only death and the effects that death. True to the name, this season feels like the series is coming to a sort of ‘finality’ as the now immensely diverse and wide cast of character diverges off into different groups with oddly enough, similar goals of ‘peace’ at the end of the day. The narrative juggling them in a way that feels good to watch and while it might be mildly confusing at first given how many perspectives there are, works in the end due to the commonality that every faction in the series seems to have. That being said, one sticking point that I have in regards to this ‘season’ is its ending and how it ends in a place that makes it obvious that it would be incomplete at the start. My gripes with this comes with the fact that they kind of end the season just when things are starting to ‘get good’ so to speak, with what feels to be a ‘last confrontation’ happening just before the screen cuts to black. It’s really unfortunate and it makes it obvious that the decision to chop the thing in half was made for presumably corporate reasons, but thems the brakes I suppose. Not only that, but the show somehow feels a little rushed. I think this is partly because the series has a timeskip, and the changes from the characters from the end of Season 3 to now are told solely through backstory which in and of itself is a little muddled with what’s happening in the present time.

Regardless, density is only a minor issue since the storytelling is competent enough to handle that level of depth and content. And all of the death and carnage is surprisingly enough to carry the story all on its own by showing what’s happening instead of just laying it on thick with monologue or reports. Which is something I can definitely get behind because with how much is shown as ‘setup’ vs. how much is told to help get the ball rolling, I can definitely get behind the former over the latter.

Characters:

It’s at this time where I also think that characters have begun to lose their individuality in a way and kind of get swept into the greater narrative. Much of what remains of the characters we knew of before are (understandably) shells of their former selves who have PTSD or have something missing in them as a result of so many years of fighting. Mantras and personal missions or goals effectively fill in the spots that these characters used to take up, metamorphosing the cast into a vast array of individuals who are barely holding on or seek something new as a way to be noble or serve the ‘greater good’. With a few notable exceptions like Levi, much of the original cast are hardly like their younger selves, and it feels harrowing to see what used to be a bunch of reckless teenagers grow up to be the kind of people they’ve had to become.

Much can be said about the many new additions to the cast, though to a much less notable degree. I’d like to say that the ‘effects of war’ are essentially the reason why these characters come out the way they do. New inclusions like Falco and Gabi not only have story relevance but also show the effects of racial divide and the supposed need for liberation. While much of the other groups that have stake in the future of the world manage to also show the audience both the best and worst of humanity, as well as the mantra that “The road to Evil is paved with Good Intentions”.

Which brings us to Eren, our once hot-blooded shonen protagonist who wanted to kill all of the titans. While his character changes are drastic to put it mildly, the shift in his character encapsulates so much of what has happened up until this point, and while at first I was confused at the direction, as time went on, I kind of understood why Isayama went this direction with Eren. And considering that in addition to everything else that we’ve seen up until this point, who Eren is now serves as a fantastic focal point for the series to beam down on as it’s clear that everything from all sides has clearly affected him in a way that feels impossible to return from. There’s a weight, a heaviness to his character that evokes a sense of hopelessness to everything that’s happened up until this point, contributing to the overall tone of the show that permeates every minute of the season. Which for character depth and development is a hell of a way to change things around. And I’m all for it even if him and a lot of the cast feel a lot more like loons than people I’d trust to hold a rifle.

Aesthetics:

The change from Wit Studio to MAPPA certainly is a big blow for the series, and it honestly kind of shows. The overall artstyle of the show hasn’t changed as much as I though it would, but there are some notable differences. The biggest of which being the CG titans, which previously were all hand-drawn and if they were CG, they were a lot less obvious with it. On top of that, the art quality itself has gone down a bit, but aside from that, there really isn’t much to say in terms of the aesthetic changes.

For me personally, I’m glad they kept the shading lines that Isayama uses and it’s frequent in all of the characters, especially in the close-up shots. I’ve always felt like it was one of Isayama’s hallmarks with the way he draws the series, and not having that would’ve felt wrong. So I’m glad they kept it. More than that, me thinking that Season 3 was going to be bloody was really giving this season not enough credit. To be fair, Season 3 did have a giant pile of corpses that Erwin was sitting on, but here we have chopped up bodies, squishing people like packets of ketchup, the whole nine yard with people being eaten, and beating up children or other people (but mostly children) till they’re battered and mutilated. There’s absolutely no subtlety with the body count in this series now, and every death, mangling, and bit of carnage this show has is showcased full force in the center of the frame with only mild censorship on a case by case basis. As I said, this show is raw. As in raw meat is spilled in every corner of the screen.

While most AoT OPs have sat somewhere on the ‘patriotic’ side of the spectrum by sounding like patriotic songs taht you would sing as you were heading out into the battlefield, “Boku no Sensou” by Shinsei Kamattechan is in a way the inverse of that. While it bears some very, very vague bars that sound similar to previous OPs that is where the similarities end. This song sounds twisted, dark, almost insidious in a way with how the normally patriotic bars of the previous opening are given these different meanings. Almost as if the patriotic songs give recruits the false sense of security that they’re going to war to fight for their country when in reality they’re just more blood for the slaughter as they face the reality of war. It’s a great OP, but works even more fantastically because of the show that it’s tied to.

When you compare it to Yuko Ando’s “Shock“, we get a very somber song. Like the dust in the battlefield settled and there’re only peaceful dead bodies as everyone who was a part of the fighting is free from the pain of war. It’s again a deep departure from the rest of the EDs we’ve gotten before, although this one is still on a somewhat similar vein to those other songs due to most AoT EDs sounding a lot quieter by comparison.

Personal Enjoyment:

Another year of waiting for the actual, actual finale of the series, eh? I mean if you’re calling the finale ‘part 2’ of the ‘Final Season’, is this one really the ‘Final Season’? I’m gonna keep nitpicking this because this trend is honestly really annoying and I don’t want to fall into the idea of “Season X is only like half of Season X. The other half will come later” being commonplace since the cut-offs are usually at either really awkward moments, or JUST as things are happening. Yeah good hook and all for next time, but it’s not a good look if you keep baiting the audience like this. Just give the staff enough time to make it all in one shot, will ya?

All of that aside, I’m again, really at a loss for words for a show that just kind of blew any and all expectations I had for it. Never did I think that Attack on Titan was going to ever elevate itself to this point, and I concede to Hajime Isayama for creating something that truly questions the worth of life and the worth of living. From what started off as a simple series about wanting freedom from captivity turned into a grander question of asking what it truly means to be ‘free’ and even more so what the cost of that freedom is. Every bit of the narrative has some kind of handle over the whole thing, the questions of which the show tackles being asked to both the characters and to the audience. By this point, I cannot tell you who is right and who is wrong. Beyond what’s presented, there’re so many additional layers that could be theorized to be built upon what’s been presented, smaller stopgates that hinder the march of progress towards freedom, all of which necessitate a toll of blood to be paid in order for those gates to be lifted.

And that’s what I love about this story. There is no right answer to the problem; only ones that others will see as wrong. And the only guarantees in battles like these are that friends and family in one way or another will be lost along the way. Weirdly enough, I’ve never felt this helpless watching a show before. I was so immersed in the narrative and the story that I was oddly enough at a loss for words at what could be done. Which is why I don’t really have that many quips for this show and why I’m anticipating the end of the series so much.

I do have a few other nitpicky details here and there regarding certain parts of the show, but there’s not a lot else that can be said without risking spoiler details. But I will say this: this series will most likely end up being one of the greats. And that’s not just because this show is unilaterally regarded as one of the best products of the medium. This show really does not pull any punches with what it wants to showcase, and does it at such a pace that feels even without only a few minor bumps in the road. More than that, it makes the audience think. Is it worth saving one life if it costs dozens? Is freedom worth it if we have to suffer to get it? Or is it better to survive but live in fear with your head down for the rest of your life? Is your life more valuable than another’s? Because no matter what you say as an answer, someone else out there will disagree.

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