Shingeki no Kyojin: Attack on Titan

Attack on Titan season four visual (photo courtesy of

Warning: This article contains potential spoilers from seasons one through four of Attack on Titan

As one of the most popular and highly rated animes in the United States, it comes as no surprise that Attack on Titan’s (AOT) final season will significantly impact the anime community. The series centers around the existence of titans and the people of Paradis, who have been defending themselves against these titans for centuries. Manga artist Hajime Isayama created the manga/anime, and its first season was released on April 7th, 2013. Since then, the show has gained a lot of traction — enough to have the entire manga animated, leaving viewers with four total seasons. 

While AOT was Isayama’s first manga and anime, it is nothing short of impressive. From the very beginning, in season one, there have been multiple instances of foreshadowing that could not be understood until later plot points were revealed. The author is known to have planned out various aspects of the anime in advance, all the way from season one to season four. While most authors tend to create the plot as they go, Isayama differs in that he has already planned out the entire story, including the ending. Given this information, it’s unsurprising that the anime has few noticeable plot holes. Each character’s death is carefully analyzed and serves a purpose, whether it be character growth or the progression of the plot. 

Not only is the plot complex and well thought out, the character designs are as well. Each antagonist’s arc is premeditated and demonstrates deep and intricate insights into their character. To begin, Reiner Braun is one of the primary antagonists for the majority of the show. He is revealed in season 4 to be a brainwashed recruit for Marley, a country that despised the Eldians of Paradis, who viewers know to be the main characters.  Taught from birth that the people of Paradis were “devils”, Reiner wanted nothing more than to prove his worth and kill the people residing within the walls of Paradis. However, once he infiltrated their ranks, he began to realize that these people were not, in fact, devils, but human beings just like him. This marked the beginning of his deteriorating mental health as he developed a split personality. Stuck between what he was taught and what he has experienced, Reiner was the perfect character for revealing both sides of the story. 

In addition to Reiner’s trauma, his comrades Annie Leonhart and Bertholdt Hoover suffered equally. When they’re outed as the enemy, it’s from the viewpoint that they’re evil and violent characters when in reality, they were just children who were forced into a life of suffering and anguish. Throughout seasons one through three, little is given about their backstory, which makes season four all the more impactful, as it provided viewers with a look into the “enemy side.”

With that, it’s also important to note the ambiguity that Isayama provides. During season one, the Eldians live a secluded life on an isolated island, Paradis. The biggest threat that they had to face were the titans, and thus in their eyes, there is only one real enemy: the titans. However, as the plot progresses, it becomes evident that there is something more sinister brewing. In season one, the main character, Eren Yeager, is asked who he thought the real enemy was by his captain, Erwin Smith. At this point in the plot, only fifteen episodes in, the answer seems easy- the titans. But as mentioned, Isayama is known for his cryptic symbolism. The answer is never straightforward. And as usual, this question is answered with more ambiguity in season four. 

The newest season begins after a four-year time skip, and the first episode starts with the  Marleyan military fighting a brutal war. The characters show a clear hatred for their fellow Eldians who live on Paradis. Similar to Reiner, Bertholdt, and Annie, most of the Eldians living in Marley were raised to despise their counterparts across the sea. 

As viewers have been watching the show from the POV of Eren and the other main characters, this view from the Marleyan perspective was new and unfamiliar. Nevertheless, a new perspective also meant being able to sympathize with the “enemy.” Meanwhile, a traumatized Eren has begun plotting his revenge against the people who wronged him and his loved ones. Planning on trampling the entire world, this is where the line between evil and justice becomes blurred. One could argue that he could have taken a different route, yet it could also be argued that his actions are justified when considering all that the people of Paradis have gone through. This is yet another reason why this anime is equally as good as it is frustrating- there is no concrete idea of good and evil.  The only thing differentiating the two is perspective. 

Plot and characters aside, it is also important to take note of the opening credits. Compared to various types of music present in anime, AOT has one of the most conspicuous soundtracks. Tracks such as “Shinzou Wo Sasageyo” are widely known for its patriotic passion. However, the new season four opening credits are slightly different. While all the previous openings provided a sort of “upbeat” vibe as well as visuals that provide a glimpse into the plot, season four did no such thing. Titled “Boku No Sensou”, or “My war”, the opening song creates a darker, more ominous mood. The visuals only depicted smoke and marching shadows- no indication of what may happen plot-wise. As this season is loaded with twists and turns, the story will undoubtedly be filled with death, destruction, and pain- none of which can be spoiled by the introduction.

Additionally, there have also been many technical changes made to the show. Seasons one through three were all animated by WIT studio, but in spite of this, the deadline for the season four animation was too short, and thus it was dropped. Furthermore, multiple other studios also declined to take on the task, as they simply did not have the time and resources. Fortunately for many fans, MAPPA studio decided to take on the challenge and was given roughly six months to animate it. In contrast, previous seasons took around double that amount of time. Stakes were high, and as expected, criticism ran rampant. Understandably, the studio has turned to using more computer-generated imagery (CGI) rather than animation, meaning that many scenes have still scenes and are computer-generated rather than sketched. A notable example would be the transformation of the beast titan in season four, which didn’t show the entire movement and transformation process.

Provided that MAPPA is also undertaking other popular mangas such as Jujutsu Kaisen and Chainsaw Man, the usage of CGI is hardly an issue. Not to mention that WIT studio also utilized CGI when creating season three of the anime. With the animators being severely overworked, it’s a miracle the show is even being released, especially considering how record-breaking the new season is and will continue to be.

Moving to a new studio also suggests a new art style. Numerous fans have come to the consensus that the previous art style done by WIT studio was much easier on the eyes. However, the style that MAPPA has provided is closer to the manga’s art style, which is the original. When animating manga, the studio often changes aspects of the art to suit the animation, which WIT studio did with previous seasons. MAPPA has chosen to take a different route and follow Isayama’s art style. 

Despite having only released eight episodes as of January 31st, the anime has already taken the number two spot on the popular anime rating site, MyAnimeList. At a rating of 9.21, AOT is close to taking the spot of first place contender, FullMetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Taking into account all the work, ambiguity, and ratings thus far, the last season of Attack on Titan will unquestionably be thrilling and, unfortunately… traumatizing. That said, viewers are still left with one unanswered question: who really is the real villain here? The answer: Hajime Isayama.