After a fair amount of controversies, a “Final Season” that lasted almost three whole years, and a polarizing manga ending, the anime adaptation of Hajime Isayama’s iconic saga gets an epic, feature-length finale that brilliantly encapsulates why this story became so popular and gives it a satisfying and thematically resonant closure. Wrapping up almost 100 episodes of intense action, brutal deaths, and enough plot twists to leave M. Night Shyamalan slack-jawed with awe was no small task, but what is arguably the defining anime of this generation has come to a fantastic end that pays off spectacularly in nearly every way.
The Epic Finale
The final episode begins right where the last one left off, with the surviving Scouts and Warriors jumping out of a plane and onto Eren’s massive Founding Titan. The time for negotiation is over, and the only choice is to kill Eren before he kills all of humanity. What follows is essentially an hour-long fight scene, with the rest of the 84-minute runtime devoted to an epilogue. It very much feels like Attack on Titan: The Movie. Seeing the characters fighting more Titans than we’ve ever seen before on top of a colossal monster hundreds of meters tall – while an ocean of Colossal Titans trample the world below them – feels epic in scope. Even outside the main action, the finale cuts away to scenes of the Rumbling annihilating humanity across the globe, including a soul-crushing yet visually imaginative scene featuring a baby that pays homage to Schindler’s List.
Studio MAPPA has struggled to keep up with the production demands of this final season of Attack on Titan, but both specials in The Final Chapters more than delivered on the level of visual quality fans have come to expect. Whether it’s the dynamic and fluid 2D ODM gear scenes or the detailed and kinetic clash of Titans, this is the best MAPPA’s Attack on Titan has looked. Seeing all the resurrected Titans, and the vast variety of designs – which somehow also pays off the season 2 opening with all the Titan animals – is very metal. In fact, the entire Battle of Heaven and Earth is just wall-to-wall hero moments for all, with every character getting a cool and memorable glory shot – even Pieck – while Hiroyuki Sawano and Kohta Yamamoto’s score pays homage to the 10-year history of the show with nostalgic music cues, even bringing back Linked Horizon for a fantastic final theme song.
After keeping Eren’s thoughts and motivations at arm’s length for the entire Final Season, the finale finally has Armin and Mikasa confront him. Yuki Kaji cements his performance as Eren as one of the all-time best voice performances in an anime, with the finale showing the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen him, and the most emotionally raw Kaji’s performance has been. But he’s not alone, as Yui Ishikawa and Marina Inoue also do some of their best work as Mikasa and Armin, respectively. There are plenty of big twists – not just about the hero-turned-mass-murderer, but also regarding Ymir and the nature of the Titans themselves that provide fascinating context about Attack on Titan’s conflict.
Most of all, the finale makes it unequivocally clear that Eren Jaeger was wrong. There is no justification for violence and murder, nothing that can make the killing of children right. So, in the end, was it worth it? If war is meant to continue, the characters are doomed to fail, and humanity is almost destroyed for nothing, what is the point? Well, for one, Attack on Titan has always been a rather grim and hopeless show about how fear drives us to unspeakable violence and hatred, so there’s no surprise that the ending matched the dour and vicious beginning. But what makes the finale so resonant is that it reaffirms what has always been true about this story: No matter how dark and desperate things get – even in the face of unspeakable horrors – we can find things to be hopeful for and reasons to smile, and keep moving forward as long as we can live free of fear.
As a standalone episode, the Attack on Titan finale does suffer a bit from awkward pacing, as it is 80% fights and 20% epilogue, with plot threads from earlier in the story dropped unceremoniously (seriously, was that all Historia was here to do?) and some brief scenes of clunkily written dialogue. Still, none of that lessens the impact of what takes place on the screen, especially when it’s taken in the context of the previous special, which shows the calm before the storm.
As an ending to a saga, however, this is the quintessential encapsulation of why Attack on Titan has captivated audiences for a decade. A show as thrilling, shocking, and violent as this one couldn’t satisfactorily end any way other than with a bang.