I am a Political Science graduate, major in International Relations and Foreign Service, with an interest in anime, religion and philosophy
Trigger warning: The content you are about to see is not suited for young audiences or the squeamish. Reader discretion is advised.
"Assault" is Season 4's cleanest episode to date. The polished CGI Titans and unique approach to ODM gear combat are in full display. However, the episode will be remembered for horrifying its audience with the brutality of war. From the open displays of violence to the direction of scenes, "Assault" is a grim reminder of the cyclic nature of violence and how it affects everyone.
Reinforcements and Retribution
The episode continues where it left off, with the Levi Squad assaulting against Porco. However, they would be overwhelmed by the arrival of the Cart Titan and her Panzer Unit, their guns taking out the flying Scouts. Indeed, the Scouts could not manage this much firepower from the heavy artillery of Pieck's squad, leading Jean and the others to hide out. Zeke's arrival encourages Marley's counterattack, leading to a more brutal battle, where bodies and lives are thrown in the open streets.
The squad gathers, with Zeke and Levi both acting as commanders for their respective troops offering immense battle power, Pieck as the brains and providing firepower and Porco as the vanguard.
The episode finally shows us MAPPA's full implementation of the ODM gear. Seamlessly combining 3D models for both Scouts and Titans with a mastery of camera techniques, we get a clear view of the action on display. The staff take complete advantage of the 3D models for some surprisingly gory action, with some of the Scouts being shot down by heavy ammunition and even losing some limbs along the way.
I would especially commend the animation done for the first fight sequence after the opening credits. It was a long 10 second tracking shot that puts us in the perspective of one or two Scouts, who fly around all three Titans (Beast, Cart and Jaws), giving us excellent angles of the massive CGI Titans that blended well with their more lit environments.
The Colors of War
The direction of the whole episode was amazing from start to finish.
Storyboarded by series director Yuichiro Hayashi and Jun Shishido, the latter directing the episode, "Assault" feels like the climax of the Marley Arc's thesis on war, at least on a visual level.
Color usage directed the mood for the episode. Dominant reds for Armin's blast and scenery, blinding yellow explosions giving the wrecked Liberio its clearer hue for the battles, glass crystal over Lara showing her body and damaged state, and Reiner's depressing purple sinews keeping him both contained and isolated from the situation.
The way scenes are directed play a role in how we feel about them. Within the episode, we get a look at how the Warriors take in the sudden threat posed by the Paradis Scouts. While they were overwhelmed, they had home field advantage. There was no exit for the enemy.
A ship spots someone hiding under the cover of darkness, in a dingy that seems out of place.
That would the last time they saw light again.
A light that overtook Marley, both their military strength in the sea and the shock of how much was lost. To Marley, thousands, maybe more than what Eren took, perished. To the army, it was a military advantage stolen from them. To Porco, it was Bertholdt, a friend he could have saved.
Even Armin saw the damage he inflicted. He could not believe the despair he brought with one transformation. And with one look, he accepted the evil he had committed in order to deter Marley's advance, give his group a chance to flee and ensure that Eren's actions did not waste them anything.
A Violence No One Should Want
Another area where Hayashi's overall direction captured was in the devastation captured through the character's expressions.
Falco felt betrayed by Eren and blamed himself for the deaths the Scouts caused.
Horrified by the violence against her home, Gabi took a gun and searched for revenge.
One by one, Pieck lost her fellows in arms, shot down by a random assassin, fearless and undeterred by her massive stature. To her, those men who idolized and relied on her were friends and the girl, Sasha, stole them from her.
And Porco, whose arrogance was shattered by the Scouts, rushed in to assault the one responsible for this misery, Eren Jaeger.
At first, Porco damaged the Attack Titan. However, he soon finds himself defenseless after losing his limbs to Mikasa and Eren. He was denied any means to do anything, becoming a spectator watching himself be used for the performance of a lifetime.
Made into a tool by Eren to destroy his country's last hope, Porco begs for mercy, possibly his own end. Yet with Porco's unwilling aid, Eren breaks the crystal covering the War Hammer's user, shattering her to drink her blood and gain her power.
The gulps were in our throats. The fear in Porco's eyes were clear. The brutality of it all was in front of us. Hayashi and Shishido's storyboard in this scene was done masterfully. In the manga, this was a brilliant move by Eren made through a simple observation. However, the framing of every shot was done to accentuate the horror we feel.
Some call this the "Nutcracker" scene and a number find some enjoyment in seeing an arrogant fool get a dose of his bitter medicine. However, we cannot deny how different it feels from any other victory committed by Eren and his friends.
When he fought Annie in Season 1, Eren experienced the thrill of violence as he had a chance at fighting back against the Titans. In Season 4, Eren mastered his powers and learned the truth of the world. His knowledge made him more aware of the implications behind what he does. Eren was willing to do this and the fact he has done it and could do it to anyone is a lot to take in. The disgust I felt in this scene was an expression of how effectively the season presented war. Even if it was done against evil people, it would never feel right or human.
Marley Moving Forward
It is clear by this point, from Armin's regret to Porco being brutalized, that Hayashi's direction points us to the ugly nature of war. Episode 1 gave us a grim atmosphere of hopelessness and death. Episode 3 revealed how far delusions and pride can take people. The fight for the War Hammer Titan was more than vengeance and strategy. Eren's attack on Marley was a consequence of Marley's self-destructive desire for violence and the enslavement of the Eldian people. Yet this consequence bred a new monster, one where violence itself revealed its true face.
I thank Yuichiro Hayashi, Jun Shishido and the staff at MAPPA studio for presenting the best episode of the season so far and executing probably the most horrifying scene of the series to date. It gave us a new Eren to fear for and be afraid of. The season reminded us that war is hell and it brings people to an unstoppable path of bloodshed, where peace is both uncertain and far too difficult to earn.