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REVIEW: 'Attack on Titan' is an anime masterpiece on the brutality of wars

By Jerald Uy Published Nov 06, 2023 7:37 pm

In a span of 10 years, the animé series Attack on Titan reflected the horrors of war, not far different from conflicts happening in the world.

The final episode eerily dropped amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas War, where children either became casualties or eventually, would get caught in a generational cycle of violence. While this might be a grim happenstance, this is the constant theme in the source material, the manga “Shingeki no Kyojin” by Hajime Isayama.

Let’s dissect every season of this Japanese animated series that has left an impact on a generation of animé fans that might be hard to match anytime soon.

The animé series Attack on Titan came to a close after a decade.

Season 1 (Rating: 9.5/10)

Just when we thought we’d seen every dystopian series ever made, here comes Attack on Titan, giving us a fresh take on the dark fantasy, post-apocalyptic genre. Helmed by Tetsurō Araki, director of another hit animé series, Death Note, the first season of Attack on Titan effortlessly played with the emotions of the viewers, where no character you are rooting for could survive an episode.

The story starts innocently enough with three friends, the feisty Eren, the quiet but skilled fighter Misaka, and the book-smart but clumsy Armin who live in a walled village. Their childhood ends when cannibal giants devour everyone in their village, leading them on a journey to become soldiers under the Scout Regiment.

Released in 2013, Attack on Titan sees Eren Yeager don an ODM Gear to avenge her mother’s death in Season 1.


The first season effectively builds the intrigue, evolving from being a gore fest to a whodunnit mystery. The conventional action scenes are there but what sets this season apart is the execution. The animation is spellbinding and cinematic. The dynamic shots immerse the viewers as if they themselves are the ones being preyed on by the Titans, or conversely, flying around and striking a Titan with their Omni-Directional Mobility Gear, more commonly known as the ODM gear. The animators applied cinematography commonly seen in live-action features in the animé.

The story and pacing for the first season are tight and cohesive—you won’t realize you’ve finished 25 satisfying episodes. The build-up to the second season might make you want to watch more, but don’t forget to hit the shower or grab a beer in between binge-watching the series. You are in for a gripping, layered storytelling and world-building, thanks to the series composition by screenwriter Yasuko Kobayashi, who also wrote episodes of Yu-Gi-Oh! and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.

Having a large ensemble of characters may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Be assured though that every character who gets a line is called by their names. Even side roles are also drawn with details often seen in main characters. At the time of its release, I surmised that these were the animé’s attempts to humanize them and show that every death on the show should not be thrown flippantly.

Season 2 (Rating: 10/10)

Season 2 is a textbook example of stories where character development does not need to take a back seat while world-building. While the story reveals more mysteries about the titans, the walls that protect them, and the secret enemies among their ranks, it also brings back supporting characters from the previous season that viewers might have deemed as throwaway characters. The series might have been killing off soldiers left and right, but it also does not waste them in the narrative.

Attack on Titan Season 2 gave second-string roles shining moments of their own.

Adapting the Clash of the Titans arc from the manga, the season’s only flaw is that it’s only 18 episodes long, making the viewers hungry for more. It feels like a detective story mashed with the mad science genre. By this time, Attack on Titan fans would also have been tolerant of watching titans eat humans, but nothing could prepare them for more disturbing truths about the giants.

Still chief-directed by Death Note’s Tetsuro Araki with then-newcomer Masashi Koizuka, Season 2 retains its fantastic realistic cinematography while providing plenty of opportunities for second-string characters to shine.

Season 3 (Rating: 9/10)

Season 3 is divided into two parts—the first 12 episodes focus on the rescue of Eren, while the latter 10 revolve around the Scout Regiment’s attempt to retake Wall Maria. Over the course of the season, it answers the long-running mystery of the titans as well as the secret origins of Eren’s bloodline and some of his batchmates at the Scout Regiment.

At this point, the series reinvents itself as a political dystopian thriller while it continues its fantastic world-building. It explores power politics, treachery, and deceit, likewise used by those on the side of angels. What makes the story interesting is that it is hard to point out who exactly is morally wrong. This dilemma is an ingredient of an entertaining narrative.

Attack on Titan Season 3 effectively prepares viewers for its final installment.

Still, the animation provides dynamic action to satisfy fans. The brutal fights become more fascinating because of the complexity of the characters. Forgive yourself when you doubt who to root for.

The flaw in the season is how conveniently the surviving characters were picked. This risks the viewers’ suspension of disbelief, which is essential in any work of fiction.

Season 3 shifts the series to being a political drama with human-eating giants. The reveal is much more brutal and inhumane than the gory scenes viewers may have been accustomed to since Season 1. This is brilliant storytelling in my book, where one finds another way to disturb you beyond images of carnage. As WIT Studio’s last hurrah in animating the series, this season gives a great set-up for the much-anticipated series finalé.

Season 4 (Rating: 10/10)

MAPPA, the studio behind Jujutsu Kaisen and Chainsaw Man, brings its A-game to the Attack on Titan: The Final Season, dropping four parts over the course of the pandemic years 2020, 2021, 2022, and capping it this year with a feature length’s worth of episodes, The Final Chapters. It’s ironic that while its characters started to get out of their claustrophobic walls, we watched them explore the world, quarantined in our homes. This is probably the reason why watching the series can be cathartic for everyone who followed the series from the get-go.

Now set four years after the revelation of their situation, Eren starts his path to revenge and villainy against people who chastised them as “devils.” The season, helmed by Yuichiro Hayashi of Kakegurui fame and written by Chainsaw Man’s Hiroshi Seko, adds young characters from both sides of the ocean who find themselves entangled in a never-ending war between races.

A noteworthy episode, Children of the Forest, co-helmed by original One Piece director Kōnosuke Uda, shows the unsettling reality of pitting the next generations of warring countries against each other. Prior to a revelation of each other’s natures, the two girls would have had a lasting friendship. Yet a number of them become child soldiers with a twisted sense of patriotism.

Watching Attack on Titan: The Final Season can be cathartic for everyone who followed the series from the get-go.

Even amid the brilliant exposition of the titans’ mythology and astounding action sequences in the last episode, it makes it a point that the children pay a heavy price in war. In a heartbreaking scene, an infant is passed around by a crowd falling on a cliff.

So who wins the war? Attack on Titan’s epilogue does not give straight answers. Even after the dust settles, there is a wrecking grief that scars its supposed victors. A credits sequence hints that war is constant and only the weapons change over time.

Still, this is what makes Attack on Titan an animé masterpiece. It confronts us with our aggressions and reminds us of the compassion we might have lost as part of the human race. It shows us the dangers of conflict instigators and fierce fanatics. It reminds us that someone who lives across the borders or has a different skin color is no different from us. It wants us to defy the inevitability of wars.

All seasons of Attack on Titan are streaming on Prime Video Philippines and Netflix Philippines.