AOT | Graphic by Arden Reimer | The Wright State Guardian
On Saturday, Nov. 4, the action-packed last episode of the end of the highly anticipated “Attack on Titan,” or “Shingeki No Kyojin” as it is known in Japan, finally aired. How did the highly controversial manga conclusion work on the big screen? (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
Overview and anticipation
“Attack on Titan,” created by Hajime Isayama, is a Japanese manga series that has captivated audiences worldwide. The story unfolds in a world where humanity resides within enormous walled cities to protect themselves from gigantic humanoid creatures known as Titans.
The fourth season took a dramatic split from the straightforward human versus monster narrative, as did other preceding seasons, with the final and fourth season exploring themes of racism, war, genocide and the grayness of morality.
Part one shifts from Paradis Island to their mysterious neighbor across the sea (Marley), who seemingly hates them for nothing more than their race. It explores the militaristic struggle and the cast’s infiltration into the country.
Part two sees plans formed and carried out as characters must decide between an unstable “peace” with the threat of a partial “rumbling” (the release of colossal Titans across the world) or a full rumbling, which would erase the threat of invasion but devastate and complete genocide for the entire world.
Part three sees Eren Yeager choose the latter, with his friends and former enemies forced to fight against him as they choose to save the world.
The fourth season, split between parts between 2020 to 2023, had fans frustrated and excited for the epic 85-minute conclusion.
In this review, I will be exploring the ending controversy and storyline, character development, themes and symbolism, animation, pacing, soundtrack and the impact of such a long-winded yet influential series; however, I will never be able to touch on everything that needs to be said in this brief review.
A brief review
The manga ended in April 2021, giving plenty of time for manga readers to pick over and criticize the endings, causing anxiety for many anime-only watchers. The conclusion of many? The ending was bad and poorly written. The reasoning for this varied widely.
The reactions of manga readers leaning toward dislike had a lot to do with pacing and over-analysis. When readers are given only a few dozen pages at a time with the storyline not carefully polished and edited by animation directors, of course, the pacing is going to feel off and sometimes rushed to manga readers. And with such a long and beloved series, there is going to be some controversy over the ending whether it was lackluster or great just because so many eyes were on it.
Storyline-wise, one reason was that it was too dramatic of a shift for the series. Some viewers reflected that they were confused whether they were even watching the right anime and that they were expected to care and be interested in characters they had never met.
However, I believe this to be a well-done move on Isayama’s part. Viewers are forced into a perspective that is not the one they have been conditioned to expect, reflecting the real world in that it shows the world from all its angles. Much like the real world, we are forced to make untrue assumptions about these new characters that are once again proven untrue or skewed. They are not just enemies but people just like the cast we have come to know and love.
In regards to the final episode itself, the surprising controversy about the storyline came from the fact that Eren’s friends and former enemies come together to save the world. In any other anime, this may have been seen as an expected and even “excellent” ending as characters come together for a common goal.
This was not the case for everyone, however, as some fans believe that, by Eren not flattening the entire world, it completely kills the purpose of the show and leads to an unsatisfying ending.
I think that much of this disappointment stems from disappointment in Eren’s character arc. Eren Yeager simply was no longer the mysterious “alpha” type of character that many fans idolized. The final episode showed him as the 19-year-old kid he is: one who cried and was tormented by his choices. The shattering of this ideal of “pro-rumbling” fans shattered their view of the ending, steeling themselves against anything positive to say about it because they felt scorned by this development.
However, I think this is the near-perfect conclusion of Eren’s character arc before his death. He is shown to be human and capable of complex emotions. Despite his killing of eighty percent of the world, he is not some psychopath everyone would believe he is based on his actions.
And despite horrific actions, his friends still care for him and mourn his death, completing their own character arcs as they too are shown to be morally gray and complex. This hammers home the AOT theme that nothing is quite as it seems.
Despite this, I think there are a few things in the main storyline I would alter. During the final episode, the freed Eldians from the internment zone and the Marleyan military get into a minor scuffle, which they resolve by realizing that, simply, “racism is bad.” Years of indoctrination and racism are not going to go away overnight, making this aspect of the story unrealistic.
Additionally, I would have liked to see more of the main cast and the impact the story has had on them. One of the main themes of “Attack on Titan” is that conflict is cyclical and will never end, and yet we are only briefly introduced to the impending next war and its impact.
The characters also seem unrealistic in the fact that they all have happened to come together for one common cause and seem relatively unaffected by the conflict they have endured. To show the theme of conflict, it would be best to show internal conflict emotionally and external conflict among the remaining cast.
Overall, the epilogue at the end does show hope for the future and that maybe, someday, we will be able to come together as one. Until then, we must keep moving forward.
And, as someone who disliked a lot of the ending in the original manga, I actually think the final episode did a great job of wrapping up the storyline. The pacing is polished to fit with the action of the ending, and seeing the story from above as one rather than installations makes the ending more comprehensive.
Hajime Isayama himself has said that the anime is the “final vision” of the story.
The few changes made include embellishment of the impact of the “rumbling,” which shows a more rounded view of the conflict. There is also Armin’s reaction to Eren’s crime being much more visceral, showing more consistency to Armin’s character and obviously condemning the genocide while still mourning the loss of Eren as a friend. This change is probably the biggest alteration, as their conversation is expanded upon and themes and characters are made more clear.
The third change is Eren’s crying in the manga seeming much more pathetic in the manga, but the anime changed this to show he is complex rather than pathetic. In the epilogue section, one of my main criticisms of the manga ending was clarified more to show what the cast plans to do going forward and the current political stance of the island. Scenes in the anime were also slightly changed in order to help flow and not break from the story, which had previously left some fans feeling frustrated. This included the perspective of Queen Historia.
And my personal favorite change: the great expansion of the ending sequence in the far future. The ending theme shows Paradis as it goes through the decades and goes forward in technology but also experiences devastation and war. The cast has not wrapped up all conflict in the world with their sacrifice like most animes do. Conflict is cyclical just like in the real world.
And the final scene has fans left wondering for potentially years to come: Does this insinuate the Titans are coming back?
The animation and soundtrack were also excellent, making the final episode worth the wait. The music struck a careful balance between fan-favorites and new work in a way that was not overwhelming and only added intensity and variety of emotions. The singer of the ending theme being Mikasa’s voice actor was the cherry on top, an excellent send-off to the story.
The animation, especially the action, was expanded and sequenced much better than the manga. It made fans thankful to Mappa Studio for the wait despite their impatience. There was no jarring, sometimes poorly done CGI to take you out of the story like in previous seasons. It was a perfect pairing between story and medium.
Overall, I would rate the final episode 4.75 out of 5. As previously mentioned, I cannot go into what all influenced my decision in this brief review, but I hope all the viewers enjoyed it as much as I did.
But if you did not, check out the fan-made ending, “AOT no Requiem.” However, if you were like most anime-watchers, you are wondering why manga readers were so upset at such a great ending and will be joining me at the Attack on Titan afterparty with exclusive behind-the-scenes looks and anime dialogue never seen before.
Thank you to Hajime Isayama for such a thought-provoking story and the crew at Mappa Studio for such a great adaptation. I hope that I can continue to discuss the anime that crashed Crunchyroll servers multiple times and claimed the hearts of millions. Shinzou wo Sasageyo!