“There weren’t any devils. On this island… There were just people.”
The end of Attack on Titan is closer now than ever before, and with “Judgement” and “Sneak Attack”, it is impossible to ignore the thick air of finality that permeates through all of the blood and bullets and bombs that are tearing Paradis to shreds. This, of course, is to say nothing of the Titans that are ripping each other apart in the streets of the city. When Attack on Titan last left off, Reiner, Porco, and the rest of Marley’s army had arrived to take revenge for the destruction of Liberio, with Eren left to hold off until Zeke could arrive and enact their master plan. As I detailed in this Winter’s Preview Guide, “Judgement” is mostly concerned with following through on that cliffhanger and establishing what truly feels like the End of Days on Paradis Island. As the opposing armies wage what will likely be their final war, Eren’s friends and former allies are left to wonder who they can trust, and how any of this madness can possibly end without ruining everything that the Eldians on Paradis have fought their entire lives to protect.
For the first time since Eren attempted to sever all ties with his old comrades, Armin and the other anti-Jeagerists have time to take stock and hash out just what in the hell Eren is thinking, and it’s here where Armin suggests a possibility that we ‘ve all been debating for the better part of a year: Is Eren truly lost to his and Zeke’s radical vision of the future, and is he really willing to commit genocide against his own people with the Eldian Euthanization Plan? Or, as Armin so desperately hopes, is Eren hiding his true intentions his in an attempt to play Zeke and the Jeagerists for fools? While I don’t know how well AoT will be able to sell a last-minute redemption for everything Eren has done, it sure does seem like that is where the story is headed, especially when you consider the lyrics for “The Rumbling”, SiM‘s new theme song for this season’s OP: “All I ever wanted to do was do right things/I never wanted to be the king, I swear/All I ever wanted to do was save your life/I never wanted to grab a knife, I swear.”
We’ll have to save a deep dive into Eren’s true intentions for a future review, though, because these two episodes honestly don’t have a lot of time to interrogate Eren’s convictions and motives; he’s too busy fending off vicious attacks from the Armored and Jaw Titans to worry about exposition. To the show’s credit, the action scenes are so spectacular that it is easy to put the more narratively focused questions on the backburner, at least for now. I never really minded the way that MAPPA used CGI animation for the Titan battles, but this season still looks to have stepped up the game in that regard. The models are blended well against the environment, and their animations are fluid and heavy. Also, while AoT has never shied away from the gore, the Reiner V. Eren fight is a goddamned horror show; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything so violent and visceral from the series, and in this particular instance, that’s a good thing. It makes sense for the battle to be so heavy, too, since Reiner and Eren are so far past the edge of their ropes, and every single hit they land is for keeps.
Eren and Reiner both get their usual character beats during the battle—Reiner is sick and tired of the fighting, and Eren simply doesn’t know how to quit—but the most interesting character stuff happens on the ground level. Attack on Titan has always been a weird hybrid of survival horror and grand military epic, and the “military epic” half of the equation is more apparent than its ever been. Everything is utter chaos on the ground, and characters from both sides of the conflict have to scramble to figure out what to do. Some of these instances are surprisingly funny, such as Yelena’s absolutely nightmarish reaction to Armin declaring his allegiance to the Jeagerists, or to the darkly comic moment where we remember that the entire Braus family has just been chilling in the dungeon with the crew, waiting for a moment to speak up and ask about the nearest exit.
Other moments are grim and humanizing, like when Nile of the Military Police goes out of his way to reunite Falco with Gabi and his brother, telling them, “This is no place for a kid. Go home.” The lynchpin of this entire two-episode set, though, is easily the quiet and devastating scene where Gabi realizes that Sasha ‘s parents her are genuinely concerned for her safety her, even as Kaya mutters about how much she ‘d like to kill Gabi herself. Malice and grace, in equal measure. This is where Gabi, at long last, utters those words that I quoted up above, and sheds the last vestiges of her bigotry her for the Eldians in Paradis. It’s even more heartbreaking when Falco takes the opportunity to confess both to helping Eren with the assault on Liberio and also to being in love with Gabi. These are just a pair of scared and confused kids whose lives have already been shattered by this awful war, like so many other children before them (never mind the fact that Falco’s tainted blood could turn him into one of Zeke’s Titan slaves at any moment) .
Attack on Titan remains a messy show about messy people fighting within a messy series of systems and machines, all of which seem specifically designed to snuff out the light of hope and decency. Episodes like these do a good job of showcasing how well the series has done to keep its focus trained squarely on its characters’ humanity, as beautiful and broken as all of them often are. Scenes like Gabi and Falco’s reunion make it clear that, whatever else we may have to reckon with when it comes to AoT‘s allegories and themes, this is a story that recognizes how war will push its victims and its perpetrators to the very brink of the best and worst versions of themselves, only to chew them up and spit them out indiscriminately in the end. There are people worth loving and people worth despising fighting for Marley and Paradis both, I have no idea what “victory” could even look like for any of them. Whatever it is will almost certainly demand its price in blood. As for whose blood will be spilled, and whether any of it could possibly be worth it, we’ll just have to wait for the end and see.
Odds and Ends
• Before I forget: Levi’s alive! Well…technically. Hange’s with him, and both of them are on the run, but I’d be lying if I told you that Levi didn’t look like a mangled-up action figure that got strapped to the wrong end of a firecracker. Still, I do n’t think the show would go through all of the trouble of confirming his survival his if he did n’t have something left to do in this story, so… hooray?
• Am I dubious about what the lyrics of “The Rumbling” portend for Attack on Titan‘s endgame? Yes. Am I definitely one of the people that has been blasting the new OP on repeat for the last week? Also yes.
• I have been told by some manga readers that, given the pace at which these episodes are adapting material, it seems likely that MAPPA plans to save the real ending of the story for a feature film, instead of capping it off with The Final Season Part 2. All I can say to that is that MAPPA and Kodansha both better have a game plan for when its fans inevitably charge them for all of the anti-anxiety medication they’ll need to be taking if they end up having to wait a whole extra year or two for that movie to get made.
• ICYMI, all eight of Attack on Titan‘s Original Animation DVD (OAD) episodes are streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation for the first time as of last December. I highly recommend checking them out, both as a fun blast of nostalgia, and to fill in some gaps in the AoT narrative. You can check out my review of the OADs right here.
Attack on Titan The Final Season Part 2 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.
James is a writer with many thoughts and feelings about anime and other pop-culture, which can also be found on Twitterhis blog, and his podcast.