The Legacy of Attack on Titan
One of the best manga series in recent memory is coming to an end
My relationship with Attack on Titan has always been.....interesting. In 2014, I binged the entirety of Death Note, and it was unlike anything I'd ever seen - a psychological battle that also dealt with complex questions of justice and morality, and I loved every single minute of it. I got all of my friends at school hooked on it as well, and we quickly started talking about it constantly, exchanging theories and geeking out over particularly memorable moments. Little did I know this would open the floodgates for all of us to seek out different anime, and in this vein, I was told that I absolutely had to watch Attack on Titan by two of my friends. I watched the first episode and was shocked and amazed at how bold the show was, and I quickly finished the first season. Attack on Titan was such a unique experience, even back then - the show was full of insane twists and turns that never let up, even well into the season. The animation was gorgeous, the voice acting was outstanding, and it was a fantastic show overall. I was very invested in the series and eagerly looked up when the second season would be released, only to find out that there was absolutely no news about it. This was the case for a very long time, and I eventually resolved myself to the possibility that I may never see it.
Then in 2017, it finally happened.
To say that I was excited is a gross understatement. I eagerly watched it week after week and wasn't disappointed in the slightest. Unfortunately, it only had 12 episodes as opposed to the previous seasons' 24, but the good news was that season 3 was immediately given a release date - 2018. I was mildly ticked off that we had to wait another year after only 12 episodes, but I figured that college would keep me busy enough until then. Little did I know that college would keep me so busy that I would completely forget to watch both parts of Season 3 as they aired; in fact, I only watched them after the premiere of Season 4. But when I finally finished the last episode and saw Eren solemnly looking at the ocean he had dreamed of discovering, I realized that Attack on Titan had become more than just a super entertaining romp and that it was surely heading towards becoming one of the greatest series of our generation.
On April 9th, the final chapter of Attack on Titan will be published. In celebration of this magnificent series, I thought it would be nice to look back on its eleven year lifespan and examine the highs and the lows, and why it will forever remain one of the most iconic anime to ever exist.
Attack on Titan took the anime world by storm in 2013, and its first season was met with a level of success that was extremely rare for any anime series. It was a perfect blend of several individual elements that made it an instant hit - an amazing opening song, unpredictable plotlines that led to frequent character deaths, and twists and turns that amounted to more than what most anime seasons accomplish in their entirety. Such was the popularity of Attack on Titan that it was responsible for the proliferation of anime as a mainstream medium of entertainment all over the world. While this certainly wasn't the first time that anime was accepted as mainstream in countries like the United States, it was the first time that it felt like anime was more than just a slightly different variation of morning cartoons. Everyone and their mother seemed to be aware of it and the amount of hype that each episode generated was immense - it seemed that the show would quickly etch itself in the annuls of anime history as it progressed.
However, the juggernaut came to a grinding halt after the end of season 1, with season 2 not coming out until 2017. Now, while it's perfectly normal for anime seasons to be delayed, this one hurt because of how widespread Attack on Titan was and how many people were clamoring for its return. The result of such a delayed season was that many people who started watching the show eventually lost interest in it, and started watching other things. This was reflected in the substantially lower hype that was generated by both Seasons 2 and 3 as opposed to the previous one. This was was a damn shame because it was during these seasons that the show started to get really interesting. Gone were the sharp twists that the first season offered - the show slowed down and became more measured, and an air of mystery and intrigue started settling around the world our protagonists lived in. With each episode, I found myself getting more engrossed in the world that Isayama had carefully built, and when I watched the final episode of the first part of Season 3, I thought I was looking at peak Attack on Titan.
Little did I know I was in for a humongous shock.
The second part of Season 3 was the best season of anime I had seen in a very, very long time. In just ten episodes, it masterfully wrapped up one of the best arcs of the story in a satisfying way; filled with jaw-dropping animation, both serene and pulse-pounding background tracks, and voice acting of the highest caliber, it was nothing short of perfection. However, what really makes it stand out is its last 3 episodes. The ending to this season will forever be etched into my memory simply because of how much it upended what we knew about the world and how it contextualized many of the plot points we had seen in the series so far. The persecution of Eldians inside Marley was brutal, as were the horrifying transformations of the captured Eldians into mindless Titans. Learning that the world was much bigger than their island was certainly a shock, but learning that they belonged to a group of people who are hated and feared because of something they can't control was heartbreaking, and it brought a new level of depth to the series.
What made this ending truly chilling was how Eren, the boy who was so excited to discover his freedom and see the vast ocean, was rendered emotionless at the confirmation of its existence because it meant that the unavoidable truth was that the entire world feared him and his friends, and wished for their extinction. The freedom that he sought for so long was just a faraway dream that could not be attained, because how could he be free if the world was terrified of his very existence? The last shot of the season will always remain in my head as one of the most hauntingly beautiful scenes in all of anime, and it was at this point that Attack on Titan went from being one of the best series in recent times to one of the best series ever written, in my opinion at least.
Almost as soon as I finished season 3, the fourth season started to air every week, and I quickly caught up with it before immediately starting to read the manga, which had been published up to chapter 135 at that point. At this point, the show was completely unrecognizable from the simple minded, action packed blockbuster that the first season was - it now dealt with complex themes of nationalism, militarization, racism, and the endless cycle of revenge. It flipped the status quo of the series on its head yet again and forces the viewers to look at the bigger picture and question what it is our protagonists are fighting for, and all the while, it still ekes out plot twists that would leave even the most ardent fans of the show confused on some level. A special mention has to be given to Eren here because he is by far the best character of this part of the story - Yuji Kaji brought his A-game to the table for the anime adaptation of the first part of the final season, and how we see Eren develop from a bright eyed boy to a man haunted by the past is some of the best character development I've ever seen. He stole every single scene he was in and it excites me to think about how the anime adaptation will bring him to life next year.
This brings me, of course, to the manga and the end of this amazing story. The end of any long running manga series is a special occasion - the story reaches its grand conclusion, the fate of many characters are set in stone, and you never know when you might see them again. Attack on Titan's end feels like saying goodbye to someone that started out as a loudmouth brat but grew up to be someone who is exceptional in every way. Of course, it's normal for stories to evolve over time; as more of a story gets told, different characters and settings are added to pre-existing ones and thus, a much deeper narrative is formed. However, the way Attack on Titan did it is particularly special because of how far we came from the original premise of the show, and how its characters changed so drastically, yet believably, from the ones that we were introduced to when the show premiered.
There's no telling how Attack on Titan will end; we did get a reveal of the last panel a while ago, but with all that's happened in the story since then, there's not too much we can do to properly contextualize it. However, no matter what, we can be certain that its legacy as one of the greatest modern anime ever made has been cemented. It was the series that propelled anime to almost mainstream status and gave it a chance to sit at the table alongside more established franchises. It held such a unique status among anime that I just had to mention Attack on Titan, and people would know what show I was talking about, even if they weren't anime fans. I'm glad that the final season of the show is getting so much love from fans all over the world, and while I am sad that one of the first series that I followed regularly is ending, I am also glad to have had the chance to grow and mature alongside it and experience everything the series had to offer as it was happening. Thank you, Hajime Isayama, for this amazing series.
Farewell, Shingeki no Kyojin. Thanks for everything.