A Review of Attack on Titan, Season Three

How in the hell did Attack on Titan Season Three, Part 2 become #2 on MyAnimeList’s all-time top anime list? I was already a little surprised when Your Name dropped to #6 after Hunter x Hunter 2011 (makes sense), another iteration of Gintama (meh), and Steins;Gate (how have I not watched this yet?). However, for Attack on Titan to take #2, particularly in its third season? Now that threw me for a loop.

Granted, I’m not pretending this list is the be all end all, as it is merely determining the best based on the average score given by the users who have rated it on their lists. None of these shows are perfect. Both Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood and Your Name are arguably overrated and flawed, even if I think they are great. However, this list does give a sense of the nature of certain show’s fanbase and the cultural discussion surrounding a work.

I’ve never seen Gintama, nor does it look that interesting, but for this show to consistently score this highly tells me that the fanbase must be one of the most committed ever. Likewise, Hunter x Hunter 2011 is one of the most highly scored Shonen’s out there. Steins;Gate to me is the equivalent of that popular Emmy nominated show everyone says to watch but that I’ll take years to sit down and enjoy. The list says a lot more than just which anime is the best.

As such, my goal today is not to argue whether or not Attack on Titan is deserving of this status, but to understand why the fanbase is reacting so strongly and now of all times. Especially because, to me, season three is the weakest of three admittedly solid seasons.

It bears reminding that the third season was split into two, the first coming out in the Summer of 2018 and the second this past Spring. I was lucky enough to see the premiere of part one in theaters when Funimation did their fun little event. At the time, I couldn’t have been more excited.

Season two was really special to me and still stands out as the best in the series. It consistently offered some of the tensest and memorable “fuck yeah” moments and developed the supporting cast a lot more than previous, in only 12 episodes. Coming off of that, I couldn’t wait to see how Studio Wit would adapt what was to many a divisive arc in the series.

Part 1 – Uprising

The uprising arc follows Levi’s squad (basically all the main characters) confronting the shady government conspiracy that has been built up since season one. As such, there are very few actual titans in this arc and instead a lot of political intrigue.

Every premiere for each season or half-season has always had me hooked, no matter what. This particular premiere started off with some HUGE visual foreshadowing, followed by some much-appreciated levity with the 109th cadets. Seeing the whole cast together being goofballs again was a really nice callback to season one and we get a few of those throughout part one and two.

The premiere built up slowly to an incredible cliffhanger that hurt more only because I had to wait several more weeks until after the theatrical event for the show to air. Even without many titans, the action did not leave me wanting. The human adversaries this time around are awesome and have some truly brutal weaponry to counter the Survey Corps’ Maneuver Gear.

Kenny is introduced as an old mentor of Levi’s and arrives on the scene in a manner befitting of such a status. For only playing a major role this particular season, he leaves an impact for these action scenes, with a backstory that gets more interesting the more you chew on it.

He also brings to light certain familial connections between Levi and another character… do I even need to worry about this being a spoiler? Either way, the characters themselves barely dwell on it, so neither will I. If you were part of the fandom at its peak, you likely already put two and two together.

The Survey Corps are being hunted as criminals as the government attempts to cover up their secrets. This prompts the Scouts to go guerrilla on their asses in an attempt to put Historia on the throne, seeing as she is the rightful heiress.

This time around, the cadets have to fight humans now and more importantly, they need to kill other people for the sake of their mission. It leads to some compelling discourse between characters like Armin and Jean, but other than that the goings-on of the 104th cadets aren’t as memorable as the other happenings.

Meanwhile, Hange tries to get proof of corruption and get people on their side while Erwin tries to stay alive upon arrest. It all culminates in a trial around the midpoint with some big clever twists presented in a dramatic way typical of the series. It’s kinda hard for Erwin to raise the bar after all the cool shit he did at the end of season two. Besides, the baton of coolest character has been passed to another.

Historia is the MVP of this season. Her story with Ymir in season two was tragic and beautiful and made great use of a previously forgettable character. Now that she is alone, this season completes her arc beautifully, confronting her family past and pursuing her own ambitions with the power afforded by her bloodline.

From her in season one to this? Wow.

In fact, Historia’s story might just be the best thing to happen to Eren. In season two, he was arguably the weakest link, having been kidnapped for half of the proceedings and not doing a whole lot else save for the fight against the Armored Titan. But compare their two stories and you see an interesting dichotomy.

Historia was always someone special who yearned for a life of just being normal, but her desire to help people and do good made that hard. Over time, she learns to accept that she isn’t normal and that she should, as Ymir put it, “live a life [she] is proud of.”

Eren, on the other hand, was just a normal kid who put it upon himself to be a badass and kill all the titans. The reveal that he was a titan shifter seemed to gel with that idea that he was the hero of the story, but over time, he begins realizing he may be wrong. The show is aware of Eren’s weaknesses as a character but makes those a part of his arc, causing him to transcend the lowest points of his characterization.

Both Eren and Historia have to face the dark histories of their families and how they intersect. All of it leads to a stellar conclusion to part one where I honestly had gotten over how lame Eren had been up to that point because it was clear that he was never supposed to be what he or the audience wanted him to be.

Looking back on part one, it’s sorta weird to think there were a full 12 episodes telling this story. There were some cool antagonists, a beautifully animated final battle and some great character moments. Then again, there is a lot of negative space in my recollection of the show that wasn’t as memorable beyond a brief “oh, yeah.”

The last two episodes or so were mainly falling action and resolution for the arc, accompanied by flashbacks. This is a trend that will continue in the second half as well, albeit to better effect. There isn’t a whole lot wrong with these final episodes, but for how big they were in regards to particular character arcs, they haven’t stuck in my memory all that well. Your mileage may vary.

The first opening of season three is weird. It is a good song and in retrospect, it is a lot more well done than some give it credit for. However, given that this is Attack on Titan, it is unusual for the opening to be so… slow. It bears rewatching to give the opening another chance, but its either something that grows on you or that you hate.

Part one’s greatest strength is that even with some forgettable moments and weird presentation, it still got me pumped to see what happened next. This time, in particular, the show got me hyped in a way that still gives me chills each time. Just make sure you watch the episode 12’s end credits all the way through.

Part 2 – The Battle of Shiganshina

And here we see a more traditional opening, yet perhaps worse than Red Swan because it is too derivative. Go figure.

After six years, the series brings the action back to the city where everything began for a ten-episode conclusion to season three. As usual, the premiere was excellent and put all the pieces in play for a multi-episode battle that had the potential to rival the battle of Trost from season one.

Does it though? I don’t think it necessarily does, which is not to say this part’s battle is robbed of merit. However, it has problems holding it back which speak to how the series has changed over the years.

After the cliffhanger setting up the battle, the following episodes are bogged down with an overabundance of exposition. Attack on Titan is no stranger to this I know, but in other arcs like the Battle of Trost, the course of events allowed for downtime. Characters were spread out along the city trying to recover from the damage dealt and things were given the chance to quiet down. Here, there isn’t a lot of diagetic down time, so the time spent talking feels a lot more wasted.

It’s a shame because the strategies and weapons used to face off against the titans are clever and entertaining. There are even some really great moral dilemmas that face the characters. The quandary of how to persevere despite the costs has always been one of this show’s strongest points and the reason Erwin is so cool. And I’ll give this arc credit that it conveys the sense of doom very well.

At the end of the battle, another even more monumental dilemma takes center-stage. A choice that divides allies because it is one of the few moments in which the fate of humanity is entirely within their hands, but neither choice is without costs to those who have to choose.

The characters have always had a weird allure to them, even when half of them didn’t get further depth until season two. Even then, I’ll admit I’ve never understood the fandom’s insistence on defending Reiner or Bertholdt, since… you know, they ARE mass murderers. The important thing is that the good outweighs the bad in regards to characters and produces great drama like the above-mentioned. There is one character whose introduction was not welcome though.

I couldn’t find any other place in the review to put this, but one character I did not like at all was Floch. I already know he is going to play a big role in the story’s final arc and I already hate him. In a show full of cool characters with shortlived screentime, this guy comes in and just kinda shits all over important scenes with his existence.

It’s hard to explain why I hate him without getting into spoilers, but his characterization is almost pseudo-antagonistic. I know that he will reject – and get in the way of – progress made by the main characters out some stupid ideology or grudge. They are the types of characters that feel like they only exist to get in the way.

While on the subject of characters, Armin’s arc was arguably a bit mixed. Truth be told, everything after part one of this season was uncharted territory I hadn’t read in the manga. And I quite enjoyed the steps Armin took towards maturing, even if it was a bit darker than the best boy deserved.

In part two, I feel like his characterization takes a bit of a step backward if only temporarily before he once again proves that he is the best strategist in the series. But see, THAT is another problem. Armin has undoubtedly saved countless lives with his planning, yet the story at times tries to argue that he is less qualified than others. It plays a role in some of those moral quandaries I discussed earlier.

Keep in mind this is one of the only things holding back those conflicts from a writing standpoint. Plus, the tension of those scenes was already built upon conflicting motives from characters trying to balance emotion and reason.

In simpler terms, the frustration I felt is excusable because the context is steeped in such a complicated premise. Never have the themes of Attack on Titan‘s human conflict been put more center stage than in this season. It’s just a shame that the way that story was told fell short of what I fell in love with.

I quite like Tetsuro Araki. The man gave us thrilling dramas like Death Note, batshit nonsense like Highschool of the Dead, and – of course – season one of Attack on Titan. He has a skill for composing cinematic flair applicable to many genres and often pairs with great composers and studios to produce highly memorable shows.

So when season two was in production and it was revealed he wasn’t directing, I was a bit cautious after the already long wait between seasons. Of course, I ended up loving the sequel, so I naturally thought less of the potential risks as time went on. However, now I’m wondering how big of an influence he had on what season one became.

The official director position was changed to Masashi Koizuka, who was an Assistant director during season one and has been in some form of directorial position through every season. Araki is still credited as a chief/ executive director for the rest of the series, whatever that entails. With how vague the distinctions are between directing roles, it’s hard to tell how involved he was beyond season one.

When I started writing this review, I was working under this theory of mine that he wasn’t super involved and that the loss of his directing led to some of my biggest problems with the series. However, without knowing the exact extent of his involvement, I’m drawing blank. I’m beginning to think the problem is more complicated.

I’m of the mind that Hajime Isayama’s artwork in the manga is not particularly good, or at least not a style that appeals to me. The shocked facial expressions, of which there is a limited range, are perhaps my biggest issue with the series. Generally, characters just look creepy, even when they aren’t necessarily supposed to.

In the wake of this revelation, I grew to appreciate Wit Studio’s work on the series even more, as they have conveyed the story in a way I think is far more compelling. The key is in how the biggest emotional moments were always given rich character animation.

Eren screaming as his mother was eaten, Mikasa crying as she held the unexpectedly alive him in her arms when he burst from the titan, or- hell- even the reveal of Eren’s titan form. I felt like the biggest moments I remember stood out because they were dramatic interpretations of the source material brought to life rather than just adapted to look exactly like the manga.

The term “moving manga” could be applicable, though I wouldn’t want to pretend the series is not capable of offering beautifully animated moments. Effects animation has always been an underappreciated feat and the titan and 3D Maneuver Gear fights are still impressive. Most notably, that chase featuring Levi I linked earlier in the review.

My point is that the visual presentation could have benefited from more creative license similar to what was done in directing season one. I rewatched episodes from then under the theory that maybe the style wasn’t too different but I truly believe the artwork and direction were better earlier on.

The differences are subtle and this is just comparing two to three.
Perhaps a more accurate representation of what I’m talking about.

I am might be the minority in this and this may not hinder other people’s enjoyment. That being said, the artwork was a component most integral to my enjoyment of the series previously. I can’t ignore the differences I see in these newer seasons. Especially when the newer style is a lot less consistent.

Back to the story itself, another issue that has become more questionable as time has gone on is the writing. I’ve mentioned in past reviews of the series how the comedy can be a bit odd, but sometimes I think Hajime Isayama doesn’t understand how humans talk to one another.

On the whole, if the writing was “bad” I wouldn’t have stuck with it, but there are puzzling exchanges throughout the series even outside of comic relief. Whether it was Reiner’s apparent dual personality, Connie’s random laughing at terrible timing or other “quirky” character moments. The writing of Attack on Titan can be a head-scratcher for sure.

What has always made such quirkiness bearable was the melodramatic, almost theatrical heart beating throughout. In that regard, there were some very big reveals this season that answered questions present since the very beginning. Time is given to flesh out these answers through an unexpected flashback with many surprises.

It’s a slower end, but one that is committed to giving answers to questions of which the wait for reply had become a worn-out meme before season two even aired. It was an incredibly different direction for the series to take and that will affect others differently.

For me, it could have been paced better. However, the intent to create unease and set up the true villains of the story through a tragic tale of rebellion came through well enough that I was happy to sit through it.

And so ends Attack on Titan Season Three, in its entirety. It had issues with pacing, a debatable downgrade in presentation, and other quirks of Isayama’s writing. Yet, it also doubled down on the core themes of the series and placed its characters front and center in a season that answers about every question I had (except maybe what the fuck is going on with Annie).

I want to briefly address a… puzzling article from Polygon regarding Attack on Titan. For a while now, people have brought up some kind of fascist agenda present in the series, but as season three was wrapping up, it came back around a bit bigger than usual.

I’ll try to be as respectful as possible when I say that this article seems to make a lot of leaps in it’s analysis of fascist themes in Attack on Titan. I can believe that he put in fascist, but the paints the heroes of the story we have been following for years as the victims of that fascism much in the same way jews were victims of it. We are supposed to root for the victims and their fight to defeat the oppressors, aren’t we?

I find it hard to believe that Isayama is writing a story meant to apologize for the actions of the nazi’s while making the antagonists of his story evoke very similar genocidal practices. I’d be interested in delving into that article deeper in the future with a more spoiler-filled analysis at a later time. For now, I wouldn’t pay much mind to those decrying the series as propaganda.

Is this the best season of Attack on Titan? Not to me. But for those who can look past the faults in storytelling and focus on the narrative alone, you will find a lot to be satisfied and moved by. The fans who are still loyal to this franchise after the long wait we all suffered through are likely here because that story was important to them. Of course, the technical aspects always help.

It is an ever-impressive battle for Hiroyuki Sawano to one-up his own work and it’s potential repetition but the energy is still there. I only wish there were more tracks this season that stood out from the rest. Season two had some sleeper hits that were incredible upon a second listen so here’s hoping season three’s soundtrack sticks with me more after a rewatch down the line.

I’ve already addressed animation briefly, but I do have more positive things to say. Despite my desire for the overall style of the show to take more liberties throughout, the animation still delivered the “fuck yeah” moments I craved. Wit is a capable studio, as proven with Titan and flaunted further in works like Kabaneri. It’s hard to imagine another studio taking over… which reminds me…

Next year, 2020, Attack on Titan will come back for one last season. The really weird thing is that at the time of writing, they have not confirmed if Studio Wit is still working on it. It would make sense, but there have been rumors that they might be parting ways with the series.

The only possible advantage I see from this is that we might get to see more of Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. Although, as much as that idea excites me, Attack on Titan is their pride and joy. I’m not sure anyone else can do this adaptation justice unless someone like P.A. Works or Mappa go out of their way.

Either way, it is speculative, but with the mixed things I’ve heard of the manga beyond the point in the story, I’m a bit concerned. Given my few issues with season three and the uncertainty going forward, I think this is the first time I’m not super excited for a new season of Attack on Titan.

Maybe it will be worth it and I know I’m kinda reusing the joke from the end of my season two review but it’s not like I’ll have to wait four years to figure it out.

Attack on Titan Season Three is available for legal streaming on Crunchyroll and FunimationNow.

Leave a comment below telling me what you thought of season three and let me know which season is your favorite.

Coming up soon I’ll be reviewing all of Bungo Stray Dogs, including season three. I also plan to review Dororo and Shield Hero as soon as I can finish them, as well as one of the most underrated shows of 2017 (You’re gonna love this one). All that and more coming soon! Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time.

2 thoughts on “A Review of Attack on Titan, Season Three

  1. Of course everyone’s preferences are different, but for me in terms of story and character development and sheer bloody anguish, I thought the two parts of Season 3 were by far the best of Attack on Titan, Eren even grew up! I do agree with your comments on the animation though, but that still didn’t detract from overall experience I found.

    But even though I disagree, great review!

    Liked by 1 person

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