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Attack on Titan Final Season THE FINAL CHAPTERS Special 2 Anime Review (Series Finale)

17 min read
So is Attack on Titan ruined? It’s really hard for me to believe that at this point.
© Hajime Isayama / Kodansha/ Attack on Titan Production Committee

Bye-bye, all of ATTACK ON TITAN.

What They Say:
Eren, as the Founding Titan, advances on Fort Salta with countless other Titans. Appearing before the refugees, who stand on the brink of despair, are Mikasa, Armin, Jean, Conny, Reiner, Pieck, and Levi, who narrowly escaped from the rumbling. The battle between former comrades and childhood friends with Eren concludes here.

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
We finally live in a post-Attack on Titan world. Sure, the manga ended years ago, but now the series is truly over in every form. The anime took over a decade to complete, meaning my ten-year retrospective just barely didn’t get to cover the complete series. It took three years just since the “Final Season” began, with three false finales before we finally got to the real one. Now, with the self-satirically titled “The Final Season: The Final Chapters: Special 2” even having its own “Final Chapter” within the special, it’s all over.

I’ve been anticipating this moment with some amount of dread for the past two and a half years, as I’ve heard nothing but disdain for the end of the manga in that time. That has always seemed so impossible, because all of the Attack on Titan anime up to now has been very good at worst and among the best anime and television of all time at best. In fact, the first half of “The Final Season: The Final Chapters” was easily among the best of the series, and all of anime. How could it possibly all fall apart in only one more episode? Sure, Game of Thrones had a similarly disappointing ending after most of its run being among the best of television, but at least that had an entire mediocre-at-best final season.

From what I’ve heard, it was literally just the very final chapter that ruined it all for so many, so since this special has a full volume to cover, it’s not surprising that it starts off without much cause for concern. It’s an action-packed spectacle for a solid half-hour, not the finest Attack on Titan has to offer in terms of the nuanced storytelling it has showcased in tender character moments and warfare alike, but probably the longest continuous sequence of pure action. This series has reached such an enormous scale that it demands a truly epic climax, and in the action department, this first sub-episode largely nails that.

Final Season director Yuichiro Hayashi naturally takes on the finale in collaboration with some others, notably bringing back Arifumi Imai, action animation director and star key animator of the Wit Studio seasons, to co-storyboard the episode. I don’t have the specifics, but logic would suggest that Imai, an action specialist who defined the battle style of the Attack on Titan anime, was responsible for this first section. He even contributes some key animation for one last time, and while the color design and compositing of the MAPPA seasons haven’t been nearly as aesthetically pleasing to me as their Wit counterparts (especially for fully constructing the look of these intricately animated sequences), his skill is unquestionable. It feels poetic for him to be back for the finale when so much of the staff changed for the Final Season, and it has suffered from the lack of both his supervision and personally animated cuts.

The one big name that has remained consistent throughout the series is Hiroyuki Sawano, though there are some qualifiers to that claim. By the nature of scoring, especially for long-running anime TV series, the first three seasons left behind a large catalog of tracks to use in the Final Season without Sawano having to actually compose anything new. What little he personally contributes to this season are mostly just new arrangements of his existing work anyway. Along with that, credited first on music throughout the Final Season is Sawano’s protege Kohta Yamamoto, and the soundtracks for the season indeed consist almost entirely of Yamamoto pieces.

However, this final big battle is set to all of the classic Sawano music we know from early Attack on Titan. I think Yamamoto’s original compositions for this season have been largely phenomenal, but for whatever reason, it seems that the team decided that a sonic landscape more in line with earlier seasons was most appropriate here. At any rate, it’s always a key component to making these massive battles effective, and this half-hour of heart-pounding action utilizes Sawano’s finest work to great success.

So far so good, right? As we move into the metaphysical space of the Titans’ Paths, more opportunity is introduced to explore some of the core messages the series is trying to address as it wraps up. Right off the bat I can say it has nothing nearly as incisive to say here as it has about the nature of humanity, war, and fascism before this point. This sequence opts for a more simplistic outlook, noting the value of mundane pleasures as a means of human connection in contrast to the endless desire to multiply. Of course, the correlation does exist – companionship serves a practical function for reproduction and survival – but it’s equally true that humans and many other lifeforms seek out connections with no quantifiable benefit.

Given all the back and forth between various conflicting ideologies in this series, usually with far more complex philosophical depth being debated, it feels a bit weak to think that all Zeke needed was someone to say “But hey, wasn’t throwing that baseball fun?” for him to decide to fight for the Scouts’ cause. There’s something to be said about touching upon a universal phenomenon amongst humankind with enough vulnerability to strike the empathy of another and make them think differently about their outlook, but it seems like a stretch to imagine that this brief appreciation of frivolity would be what broke down Zeke’s brick wall of a worldview. It feels more like the series was approaching its end and it needed a convenient way to turn the tables and capitalize on Armin’s strengths in diplomacy over physical prowess.

© Hajime Isayama / Kodansha/ Attack on Titan Production Committee

It doesn’t take long to return to the battle, which continues to excel in showmanship, but the more it progresses outside of the realm of pure Titan action, the more convoluted it becomes. Most of this remains surprisingly coherent from an action perspective, but the scenes unfolding within the minds of the characters and the weirder components of the fight begin to create a messier element to deal with. So much of Attack on Titan has been centered around mysteries with revelations that are so far outside the realm of possibility that nobody could ever predict them, so when the time comes to try to apply logic to all of that for a final battle with a conclusion ending, there are naturally going to be issues with conveying everything in a way that makes sense.

While some of the actual final action sequences feel less like the proper final battle and the misleading “It was all a dream” sequence feels somewhat incomprehensible at the time, it wouldn’t be Attack on Titan without harrowing despair and abject tragedy, which we get a healthy dose of before things can resolve. The Rumbling continues to operate as the greatest expression of fear and destruction, and the hopelessness of the situation is palpable, especially when it seems like all attempts were in vain.

Attack on Titan is often very painful to watch, and that’s usually a good thing. At a certain point it can feel gratuitous, which can be particularly egregious if it comes across as unearned and therefore just emotionally manipulative. Just as a series full of giant action has to give us the biggest action for its climax, a series that has shown us such suffering for so long must feel a certain obligation to achieve the most horrendous sense of defeat. Maybe we’ve reached a point where just piling that on without any specific commentary on reality doesn’t serve that great of a purpose. These scenes have usually worked because they address real-world themes and concepts. Now they mostly just serve a narrative predicated on magic that doesn’t mean that much on its own.

A major component of this showdown has been Mikasa’s conflict over how to approach Eren, as she still harbors strong feelings for him but knows he has to be stopped. She naturally becomes a central figure in this final confrontation, assisted by the convenient special properties of the Ackermann bloodline, and realizes a defining turning point in her character arc through her struggles. Mikasa has always been a conflicting character herself, a paragon of strength but eternally subservient to her love for an increasingly psychopathic monster. Her vision, her resolution, and her conclusion to the battle all reflect upon this contradiction in a way that lets her stay true to both aspects of herself, even if some of it feels awkward.

Overall, most of the clunkiness in storytelling feels like symptoms of having to wrap up a story that has introduced so many wild ideas that a neat resolution becomes almost impossible. This final battle has been built up for so long, and it has an unwieldy amount of bizarre concepts to try to smooth out while also raising the stakes, making it all work together, and forming a conclusion that can feel satisfying without undercutting everything that the series has explored thus far.

All of this brings us to the final chapter of this final chapter, adapting the actual final chapter of the manga that led to such controversy. It’s a strange piece for sure. We return to the metaphysical, wallowing in exposition within a vision even further disconnected from reality than anything in the Paths. It’s a rather contrived mechanism to allow Eren to finally unload his manifesto and reveal his motivations for his actions, after everything is essentially over. In some sense it follows what I expected for the entirety of the Final Season, but it’s an exceptionally naive, myopic, and downright nonsensical take on that concept, such that it’s difficult to imagine Eren could’ve ever thought it would’ve been the right thing to do.

Stranger still is the attempt to inject some humor into this sequence where it does not belong at all. Not only is it tonally inappropriate, but it also introduces characteristics of Eren that have no business coming out after all this time when there had been no hint prior. The theme of love is meant to weave these disparate topics together, but instead it feels clumsy in each. Instead of a virtue that saves people, it seems to be used as an excuse for unforgivable atrocities.

Even if Eren’s motivations were still in line with helping his friends as expected (even if extremely misguided), the staunch insistence on fatalism is a problem to go unchallenged, obviously for free will in general but especially for Eren’s own obsession with the concept of freedom. He couldn’t be any more contradictory. Armin had started to comment on that prior to this finale, but the fact that he still comes away with that conclusion and is mostly unchallenged in destroying the world implies that nothing really mattered and he was basically right and got his way. He even notes that he basically just wanted to flatten the world to nothing on pure sociopathic instinct inherent to his being.

Despite the scale of death that Eren achieved making everyone else’s efforts nearly fruitless, the more personal stakes among the few surviving Scouts are resolved so quickly that the drama around them only minutes before seems entirely wasted. If it was all going to be undone so quickly, it probably didn’t need to happen in the first place. The convenience of the closure to the Titan problem doesn’t feel as contrived as it once would’ve, thanks to the absolute power over all Titans and Eldians that has been so solidly established throughout the season and the series overall, but it’s all pretty abrupt given the buildup.

The fact that, even after all of the tragedy and the end of the core cause of Eldian discrimination, there’s still hatred and war is unsurprising and more realistic than the reverse would’ve been. The specifics of it seem to imply that the very genocide that was carried out didn’t actually solve the one problem it was meant to solve, instead of giving each side the number to be able to kill each other more equally. Maybe that’s an appropriate note of cynicism to leave it on, but it feels more like it’s crediting Eren’s decisions than denouncing them.

I’ve said since the beginning of the Final Season that we need at least one more Linked Horizon song to finish off the series, and indeed we finally got one for this last installment, albeit one of a very different style than their themes for the prior seasons. I would’ve liked to have heard one that really tied together all of the motifs used in their previous songs, but that doesn’t seem to be the intent here. Having a full opening or ending sequence would’ve helped with that as well, but it wasn’t in the cards for this.

Instead, the imagery we get with the credits seems very bizarre and out of place for the series, especially as such an insignificant little aside in the corner of the screen. I suppose the point is simply that war always continues which, again, is a downer to end on but much more realistic than pretending war could be ended forever. It seems like Eren is being constantly praised while all of his actions are proving to have achieved nothing in the grand scheme, only having wantonly murdered nearly all of humanity for childish rationale.

It’s good to have an ending that doesn’t spell everything out for you and gives you some ideas to chew on and come to your own conclusions. This has some components of that, but it’s also such a mess of sloppy half-ideas and contradictions that it’s difficult to think that it has all that much value, especially in comparison to what the series has explored in the past. With more time, maybe some of these concepts could have more time to breathe and develop into more interesting discussions, but as it stands, it’s all over the place with more questionable choices than compelling thought exercises.

To understand the context of the uproar over the ending, I read the manga after watching the anime. I’ve had the end of the manga for ages, but had only read up to where the anime had covered at any given point. Now I was finally able to read the ending.

The anime doesn’t explicitly change the ending in any way, but it does make major improvements over the final chapter. It simply adds quite a bit that makes it function much better. For example, everything around Armin and Eren arguing over Eren deciding that he had to kill all those people was new to the anime. These are major character moments that make much less sense to not be present at all. Even beyond that, the manga version just felt even more rushed and nonsensical in general, so the anime smoothed that all out to at least come across as somewhat coherent, even if still very misguided.

© Hajime Isayama / Kodansha/ Attack on Titan Production Committee

I think this has been something the Attack on Titan anime has always excelled at. I give Isayama all the credit in the world for creating such a complex plot, seeding in ideas way ahead of time, and weaving everything together for shocking but believable reveals at key moments. But his actual execution, from storyboarding to artwork to tone to pacing to dialogue, often comes across as a first draft that needs much more refinement before it can work. The anime has always been great at polishing those rough ideas into the masterpiece his potential showed.

Given how expertly Isayama has been able to plot out story and, arguably even more importantly, explore meaningful themes in the process, it’s shocking that his final stretch would seem so amateurish that it feels like bad fan fiction with almost nothing to say. But making a satisfying ending is exceedingly difficult, infinitely more so with each wrinkle added to the plot going into it. Isayama may have written himself into a corner in a few ways. Not only was there no way to bring this all to an ending that would be satisfying without betraying the themes he had explored with such care, but the level of expectation for such an ending became too insurmountable if there was a great option. I think he just succumbed to the pressure and fell apart under the threat of deadlines in the eleventh hour. When George R. R. Martin has writer’s block, he can go fifteen years without releasing a book. Isayama needed to crank out 50 pages of content every month, and if he hadn’t concocted the perfect resolution that would take a writer’s room a year to figure out, that means he has to scribble down whatever comes to his mind. Furthermore, everything about it feels incredibly rushed. I don’t know why he felt like he had to end it at this point, whether he knew he couldn’t come up with the right ending and gave up or something about the anime announcing the Final Season too early sped up the timeline, but the final chapter feels every bit like he just ran out of time and had to try to cram as much as possible into it.

As with Game of Thrones, the disappointment was so profound because the expectations were so high. This story was barreling toward its conclusion with excitement that gave it every chance to be one of the greatest stories told in its medium, so I can see the frustration with waiting a month for each new installment only to be left with nothing but this incomprehensible mess of ideas that fly in the face of everything previously established without time to explain what any of it is supposed to mean. A mediocre story wouldn’t inspire such outrage; it’s only because Isayama has been so deft at telling these stories and exploring these themes that ending with this mess was so appalling.

So we anime viewers have a few advantages. We’ve been hearing about how disappointing the ending was for years, so our expectations were on the opposite end of the spectrum from those of manga readers at the time. This special, while released many months after its predecessor, has a great deal of other content, much of it pretty strong, before getting to the real problematic parts, instead of waiting a month and getting only that. And of course, the aforementioned changes to improve upon many of the most egregious weaknesses of the final chapter absolutely made it a better experience even if simply just binging one medium or the other in a vacuum.

For those factors, I’m grateful. At Anime NYC last year, Isayama was very remorseful about his ending. He doesn’t seem happy with it, and he did work on the anime finale’s new scenes. That’s great, and I know it was always too much to expect a series with this profile to make any more significant changes to its ending. For that matter, I don’t know that Isayama could’ve even come up with his ideal ending after all this time. But it does feel like we’re going out on a low for a series that achieved such incredible highs.

In Summary:
Attack on Titan is, really and truly, finally over. After spending the past decade extolling it as one of the greatest series of all time, I’m finally forced to come to face to face with the infamous Attack on Titan ending that has enraged manga fans for years. Before getting to that point, we’re treated to a monumental spectacle of action on a scale that even this series has never quite achieved.

All efforts are made to create the perfect climax for a series that deserves it so much. Isayama has written so much brilliance into the nuanced fiber of this story, and the incredible staff of the anime, both past and present, have used their skills to the fullest to polish that into the best possible execution in anime form. In this finale, nothing about the latter changes. The direction, animation, and music are all phenomenal. The writing is even improved dramatically from the manga. But at the end of the day, this staff is still at the mercy of Isayama’s original source material, and if he falters, that’s going to be reflected. We’ve just been fortunate that he was an artist who so rarely ever faltered in a capacity significant enough that the anime couldn’t just smooth it over. But plot-centric serialized storytelling often lives and dies by its ending, all the more when so much of the series has a forward momentum building toward a conclusion.

Isayama, for all of his strengths, found himself in a position where some combination of mostly unknown factors – probably among them an overly complicated plot to resolve, pressure to deliver in tight deadlines, and some motivation to rush it all at a certain point – crashed down upon him and resulted in an ending that few were happy with, least of all Isayama himself. Despite this, the manga is the bible of most anime adaptations, so even with the best efforts to add new scenes and nail the direction to make the ending infinitely more comprehensible, the core of it must remain unchanged. This time, that core happened to be so diametrically opposed to the masterful plotting, thematic nuance, and deep character work that Isayama always delivered that what we end up with is an attempt to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear that just doesn’t have that much to give.

So is Attack on Titan ruined? It’s really hard for me to believe that at this point. I’ve invested so much of myself into it for the past decade, and it’s hard to believe that a bad 20-30 minutes is enough to tank a series with nearly a hundred fantastic episodes. But it definitely hurts to see it go out like this, even if it’s a lot better than it could’ve been, a lot better than a lot of manga fans may have felt at the time. It’ll take a lot of time, a lot of thinking, a lot of rewatches, to fully understand how I feel about this ending overall and how much impact it has on the overall quality of the series. I wish we could’ve gotten the perfect ending here, I really do. That perfect ending probably doesn’t exist, and maybe that’s the greatest contradiction of the series; everything we’ve loved so much about it has resulted in the impossibility of a satisfying ending. But it certainly could’ve been better.

Grade: C

Streamed By: Crunchyroll, Funimation, VRV, Hulu