Anime of the Year Nominee Spotlight: Attack on Titan Final Season Part 2
Pure brutality, down to an art form
Since it first premiered almost an entire decade ago, Attack on Titan has been nothing less than an event; a momentous shared experience of anime, and one where its characters have seen growth and changes even more drastic than we have as viewers.
2023 will take us into the last steps of this unprecedented journey, and if Attack on Titan Final Season Part 2 is any indication, we may be on the threshold of the most gripping climax ever seen.
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Picking up on the war between the isolated Eldians and their Marleyan foes, the latest chapter was absolutely relentless. This back-and-forth game of oppression toward one another has played out much like a game of chess — albeit a very violent one where the most important pieces are enormous, horrifying monsters.
In the early days of this story we had clear, distinct impressions of who we should cheer for. Humans vs Titans appeared to be a cut-and-dry scenario; the little dudes with the funky backpacks, good. The ravenous behemoths showcasing a propensity for devouring all in their path, bad.
Over time, things shifted in unexpected ways. Reiner and Bertholdt, our hitherto stalwart allies, were unveiled to have been the instigators of the assault. Distant but dependable Annie; a turncoat who seamlessly blended in. It betrayed our sensibilities of who we could trust but it didn’t tarnish our viewpoint of what was really right and worth fighting for.
Until it did.
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Attack on Titan Final Season Part 2 is the culmination of years of broadening our understanding of this world and its value system. Where Paradis Island once seemed a haven worth protecting, it has now become apparent that its denizens are accursed wretches with the potential to destroy the planet. Where Marleyans were cruel, spiteful tyrants, we have since discovered a bloodstained history that put them on the defensive.
And Eren Jaeger, our conduit for Attack on Titan’s world as a whole? His single-minded determination has shifted him from devout hero to unhinged zealot with a terrifying truth: his goals are the same as they ever were, only our newfound knowledge paints them in a very different light.
This was a bold season in which the narrative’s shift would see unlikely members of its cast moving into the limelight. Series staple Levi received less exposure as a result of his life-threatening wounds, deferring in large part to his Scout Regiment troops — each of whom had been molded irrevocably by the atrocities they had seen and even more so by the ones they had committed.
It is rather jarring to see Conny Springer, the onetime comic relief alongside his inseparable chum Sasha, now display maturity and authority that belies his temperament. The tense scene in which he grappled with the prospect of rescuing his mother at the cost of a child’s life perfectly reflected the reality of war. As fantastical a notion as the Titans are, the conflict they represent is all too true; where our decisions fall into morally gray areas that we can only hope to justify in hindsight.
Those aforementioned Marleyan soldiers received extensive elaboration with Pieck and Porco proving to be notable highlights. In short order, they had shifted in the eyes of viewers from presumed villains to heroes whose fates we grew caught up in just as much as we had for the Eldians they were battling.
Even Gabi, whose seemingly callous assassination of a series favorite earmarked her as someone to be despised, would have her image rehabilitated as she displayed the kind of courage befitting of a protagonist. She will always be divisive to the fandom, but that is very much by intention as she is a microcosm of Attack on Titan’s greater point: such hatred and spite are merely based on which side of the coin you happen to land on.
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The sibling reunion between Eren and Zeke went to great lengths to spin our perspectives even further on their heads, suggesting that the fate of the Jaegers was set in stone long ago. Eren, who had once seemed a hopeless victim, was revealed to be the orchestrator of atrocities from the get-go, making his eventual season-ending transformation into the Founding Titan a sick, visceral revelation. Now, he greatly resembled all that he had hated, albeit with unbridled power at his disposal. Such considered symbolism is gratifying and special and it has evoked my imagination quite vividly.
Unraveling the truth behind the Founder Ymir’s tortured life of servitude deserves particular mention. It shook me, downright bothered me, in ways that rarely happen while watching fictional media. The path it goes down can only be described as exquisitely presented barbarity and disturbing perversity. This is a character who we’ve only really known as a legendary concept up to this point, and somehow, in the span of roughly ten minutes, you feel so deeply moved that you’d swear she was a staple from episode one.
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If you’ll pardon the cliche, each and every episode proved to me to be the textbook definition of an emotional roller coaster. I was repeatedly excited, gobsmacked, repulsed and distraught in quick succession. We’ve been so invested in these people that it feels a little harrowing to no longer know where you stand. It is cerebral storytelling that demands further discussion, likely for years to come after its conclusion.
For as compelling as the season’s narrative was, its visual impact was equally up to the task. MAPPA treated us to a tour de force of animation, expertly balancing 3D models against detailed, bleak landscapes. All of the destruction to property and body alike landed with a sickening crunch, and the long-awaited Rumbling surpassed our wildest dreams in its grandeur.
The color palette was applied with precision and restraint. Gone for the most part were the verdant fields of the earlier episodes, with Eldia’s locations now painted in grim, pale yellows and reds. It has its own unique, tragic beauty to it, covering the once familiar with a kind of malaise. We are well and truly reaching the boiling point now.
Ultimately, watching Attack on Titan Final Season Part 2 is a psychological affront that had very few winners on-screen. The moment-to-moment suspense and dread found in its expositional exchanges were amplified and punctuated by weighty, thrilling action sequences that rival any we have seen before. The showdown at the harbor between the Scout Regiment and the Jaegerists is simply unmissable, in every sense of the word.
Finally, and most importantly, this season yielded the horrifying event in which Yelena gave Armin a look so sinister it could kill. I’ve already praised MAPPA for their animation prowess, and yet this one shot is perhaps its most indelible image. Any anime that produces such a powerful meme is one that is worth celebrating.
I don’t really know if I’m ready for this story to end. I’m aware it has to, and I’m aware that it is about to. It is because of the strength of sagas such as Attack on Titan Final Season Part 2 that I will voraciously consume all that comes next, and I am so damned appreciative of the bounty of entertainment I have received.