Reaper's Reviews: 'Attack on Titan S3'
Format: 22 episodes
Release: July 23, 2018 – July 1, 2019
Truth to be told, I was very worried for the third season of Attack on Titan.
It was announced immediately after the conclusion of the second season, but with the promise to return exactly one year after the fact, unlike its now-infamous predecessor’s development hell that lasted almost four years. So that was a positive point.
I personally refrained from watching the season in its original airing, opting to binge it like I did with the second season. And so twelve weeks in 2018 passed with me hearing generally positive feedback. But that’s when red flags were raised.
To everyone’s surprise, Attack on Titan S3 went on to an unexpected seven-month hiatus out of nowhere. Wit is a talented but small studio, and so it felt (and as far as I’m aware, it was correctly assumed) that they ran into production and funding issues, coupled with lack of manpower to continue the series.
Thankfully, however, my fears ultimately proved to be unfounded. I sat to watch Attack on Titan S3, and in two days, I finished the series with a shocked, pleasant expression on my face. Attack on Titan is back to reclaim its throne.
And so, let me explain in my review for the 2018-2019 sequel series based on the manga from Hajime Isayama, directed by Masashi Koizuka with supervision from Tetsuro Araki, script-written by Yasuko Kobayashi and produced by Wit Studio: Attack on Titan S3.
Story & Setting
In the aftermath of last season’s clash with the newly revealed villains Reiner Braun (the Armored Titan) and Bertold Hoover (the Colossal Titan), Eren and his friends search for more information about the origins of the Titans as well as their link to humans, but this research has to slow down as different winds blow inside the Walls.
Right from the get-go, Attack on Titan S3 changes from the horror-mystery story it was in the second season to a full-blown conspiracy-filled thriller that focuses on the fragile inner-workings of the Walls’ government. The Titans take a back seat as some long-concealed truths about the world are unearthed.
Yes, if you want more of the titular monsters, then you'll have to wait a few episodes as Titan S3 introduces a new potential enemy for the series: humans. Specifically, humans adapted in the 3D Maneuvering Gear.
This presents an interesting conflict alluded in previous seasons; the idea of fighting your own kind and possibly injuring or killing them. Many of the characters at this point have already killed several times, but those were the mindlessly carnivorous Titans, not humans with actual sentience and emotions.
While there are certainly some truly vile and corrupt people in Titan's world, the show is not above declaring that killing is a nasty, even disgusting, act and that the person standing in front of you is still a living being with their own interests, dreams and feelings. While this theme does take a bit of a backseat a few episodes in, it comes back with a vengeance in the season's climax, and ties to the larger narrative wonderfully.
Tying up and connecting every single thread shown, mentioned and alluded to throughout almost 40 episodes and then some 20 more is perhaps Attack on Titan S3's greatest accomplishment.
Key scenes, certain character interactions, seemingly forgotten plot points and even some specific lines that appeared to have no significance are all brought together in a triumphing manner that pours down gently in both the overarching story and the series’ world and mythology.
A particular amazing case is a monologue boasted by one of the main characters back in the second season during one of the series’ biggest scenes at that point. Seemingly irrelevant wording at the time, after watching the third season I went back to that scene and my jaw fell to the floor as the lines made a lot more sense now.
And this is really just one example out of several dozens, ranging from minor events like Eren’s gear training to the actual identity of Krista/Historia and the Titans in the walls. Not all of them are flawlessly executed or foreshadowed, but they end up revealing just how intricate and insightful is the series’ writing as a whole.
But back to that later. For now, let us focus on the story itself, known by fans of the manga as “the Uprising arc”.
As I mentioned earlier, the Uprising arc is like nothing else in the series. Attack on Titan changed from an action-horror show about man-eating monsters to a character-driven mystery, and now to a sharp and intense political struggle story. With superpowers and ancient conspiracies to boot.
As far as other political thrillers go, Attack on Titan S3 is fairly simple, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It doesn’t present half a dozen factions and parties outwitting each other in increasingly convoluted ways, but still presents compelling conflicts in the characters, both internal and external.
Truth to be told, the issues are solved remarkably fast in the season, but it’s enough time to flesh out the lives inside the inner wall a little. It’s also appropriate given how the leadership of the Walls is - surprisingly - not the focus of the arc. At the half-point mark of the Uprising arc, Attack on Titan S3 becomes a desperate chasing mission to stop an incoming threat to the Walls, and it’s fantastic.
This (first half of a) season also ends in a shockingly bittersweet manner that reflects on the lies told to the greater population and the reasoning behind it, as well as delving into the backstories and mindsets of both the protagonists and antagonists. There is a sense of an emotionally mixed vibe to the ending, but also a genuinely happy touch that the characters can get some rest for now.
And then the second half happens, and Attack on Titan S3 matures into a series that stands heads and shoulders above most other anime sequels over the last decade.
After twelve amazing episodes that resolve the bulk of humanity's internal conflicts, come ten excellent episodes that serve as the explosive culmination of almost fifty preceding episodes. And it's absolutely glorious.
Without delving into spoiler-sensitive details, Eren, Mikasa, Armin and their friends realize that they have the rare chance to change the tide and deliver a sledgehammer of a victory to humanity. However slime the chances to win are, they obviously decide to take on the opportunity, and the result is one of the most heart-pumping and unforgettable story arcs that I've ever seen in a shounen.
Everything the series and the characters experienced and learned through the years comes along in an almost literal blaze of glory. From risky yet effective tactics refined with knowledge to ironic and often somber echoes, the season excels in executing a large-scale battle filled with emotion and drama.
The battle for Shiganshina is a non-stop extravaganza of desperate struggles, harsh moral conflicts and edge-of-your-seat action. Both sides of the battle are pushed to their absolute limit, and this story arc constantly challenges everyone’s convictions, from our main heroes Eren, Mikasa and Armin, to our antagonists, to supporting cast such as Levi and Erwin.
How far would you go to accomplish your mission? For how long can you continue hiding in your own hypocrisy? Will you sacrifice everything for the nation, or your friends and family? How deep can cruelty run in people, and is it a person’s natural state, or an acquired one? Many of these questions are either answered or interpreted by the season, with harsh, bold responses.
And just when I thought this season was done and over with, the final two episodes managed to turn the entire setting upside-down with ambitious yet thought-out and well-foreshadowed revelations about Attack on Titan’s world and history. And the ending itself is a surprisingly gentle, somber yet hopeful conclusion to a six-year story arc.
Even if Attack on Titan: The Final Season will fail - which I personally doubt will occur, but we’ll see - Attack on Titan S3 might serve as a good stop for the series. It offers so much on the table, and leaves out plot threads and overarching narratives open for a continuation, but it still ends on a very satisfying note.
Between its main protagonists and its supporting cast, its villains and tragic figures, and even a slew of relatively minor characters, Attack on Titan S3 finds the balance to expand on previously-established characters and elegantly write new ones.
Back in my review for the second season I said that the main characters of Attack on Titan - Eren, Mikasa and Armin - leave something to be desired, and are more akin to tools used by the plot instead of believable characters in their own right. And for the most part, Season 3 rectifies this issue.
Eren himself gets a much needed refined character arc, which delves into the origins of his Titan powers as well as the resulting guilt of his power source. Some people may call him annoying to watch due during the first half of his development, but I feel like it makes for a more vulnerable yet relatable protagonist who takes an important step forward.
His relationships with several characters is also touched upon. Whereas his friendship with characters like Mikasa and Armin either felt a little superficial or was downright non-existent, Season 3 deepens his bond with his life-long friends to the point of being the season’s heart while also seeding new ones such as Historia.
And his portrayal in the second half showcases a more mature Eren, emotionally and mentally. His wrath feels a lot more managed, and he continues to refine and improve everything he learnt through his life. And in times where he breaks, it feels genuine and earned.
I feel like Mikasa got the short stick out of the three, but to her credit the season takes glances at her abilities and blood relations. She also comes off as far more expressive and human than in previous seasons; from generally cute interactions with her friends to sporting one of the most beautiful shy smiles, Mikasa finally acts less as a machine and more like a fellow living being.
And Armin was simply sublime. From the very beginning, Armin was always the most dynamic out of the trio, going from a spineless and cowardly kid to a relatively confident tactician, but Season 3 rumps this up by shading light on his personal desires and goals, as well as his unbreakable bond with Eren.
The same golden-haired crybaby we came to know years ago have graduated to a bold, sharp commander and strategist that rivals the likes of his superiors. He is still wary of fighting and violence, but is willing to fight until the bitter end for the sake of his hopes and friends. And it’s saying something when he ends up doing one of the riskiest and deadliest feats in the series.
But this newfound depth doesn’t stop at the power trio, no.
Captain Levi was easily one of the most popular characters in the series back in the first season in spite of being relatively static, but had very little involvement in the second one. Season 3 goes out its way to flesh him out into a full-fledged main character.
We get to know him much better, from his uneasy background, to his inner conflicts with killing and morals, to his friendship with both Erwin and Hange that echoes the bonds of the main trio. He can arguably be considered the main protagonist of the first half with an intriguing character arc and intense rivalry, and even in the second half doesn’t disappoint.
The other main protagonist of the first half is -surprisingly - Historia. The previous season already hinted that there is far more to her than just a pretty face, but this season ups the deal with revealing her entire story and emotional baggage. While unfortunately pushed aside during the remaining ten episodes, she is the heart of the season’s first half.
Now without her beloved Ymir, Historia has to deal with her heritage and her conflicting loyalties between her friends and family. For much of her screentime, she is in doubt over what she has to do, but when the time comes - it comes with a bang. Also, Historia dropping her nice girl act and acting more aggressive towards people is just generally funny.
Outside those five, a good deal of Titan’s characters get either considerable amounts of development or just enough screentime to establish surprisingly believable, if not outright compelling characters.
Kenny the Ripper is perhaps the standout character of this season despite a fairly limited screentime. His introduction is one of the best villainous entrances I’ve ever seen in an anime, while his insane, cowboy-like demeanor and hammy voice make for a memorable and distinctive character.
He also has interesting ties to Levi’s life, and their relationship can be best described as remarkably tragic. In one of the best examples in the series, he is also turned out to be considerably complex as a person. While a ruthless killer with a smile on his face, he is not completely monstrous, and possess a handful of virtues.
Sadly - and this is one of the few faults I find within this season, he doesn’t get utilized to the fullest. This is actually a problem with several lesser characters and factions, including Kenny’s henchmen, where they are executed well in the show but it feels like Titan doesn’t use them to their full potential.
Kenny’s team and employers have some great character moments and are presented as people rather than pure evil villains, but the limited time means some corners need to be cut. And so in the end, those new characters are a little more than cogs in the greater system that is the series’ narrative.
I’m also disappointed that Connie and Sasha’s roles this season were reduced, and this is after an exceptionally great time in the previous season. Jean too, but his role is slightly larger and he gets a handful of moments and development in comparison. I just hope to see more of them in the future.
Frankly I can just go on and on about how great the characters are - and seriously, this season brings most of them to the best they’ve ever been - and how a lot of new characters (or alternatively, previously minor characters - I could talk for hours about Eren’s father Grisha) have just the right amount of screentime to become memorable and lively, but I’ll finish with four characters.
First, let’s talk about Reiner and Bertholdt, who once again steal the show whenever they appear. It’s still hard to believe that this duo are villains thanks to the wonderful execution of their betrayal last season, but to be honest, calling them villains is undermining their multi-layered personalities.
I love how humanized the two of them are. Despite being literal killing (meat) machines, the show still reminds the viewers that no - they are not nearly as bad as the protagonists depict them to be. Both Reiner and Bertholdt are two child soldiers thrown into a vicious war where they had to backstab their friends and kill thousands, and while the show bluntly declares them to be murderers, it doesn’t shy away from giving them sympathetic qualities.
In particular, a scene when Reiner - up until that point was relatively stoic - freaks out by his opponents’ new weapons; in the English dub he even shouts he doesn’t want to die. It’s those tiny moments like this one that make the viewers realize the big bad Titan they’ve watched smashing through people is still no more than a mere child.
In contrast, the normally nervous and meek Bertholdt gains an unexpected wave of assurance and confidence as he accepts his uneasy position. It’s such a sharp change, but no less heartbreaking as he is forced to grow up one final time. And when all this confidence and brave bravado is shattered, you can’t help but feel for the young man.
The actual main antagonist of the season (and the show thus far), a man simply known as Zeke, is quite an interesting man. Unlike his associates, Zeke feels like a man driven by technicality rather than by emotion. He is seemingly laid-back, but also extremely ruthless and sometimes even cruel.
We actually get to see a little of his backstory, which actually does a neat job at explaining (or at least hinting at) how he became the man he is now. Despite how seemingly casual he is about slaughtering his fellow men, there are also hints about more beneath his calm demeanor; at one point he even gets uncharacteristically mad at what he considers reckless, idiotic moves on the Scouts’ part.
Finally, I want to finish with Erwin Smith, the commander of humanity’s Scout regiment. Erwin, in one word, is phenomenal. In twenty episodes, we get to what can be best described as a character study of Erwin.
I won’t go into spoilers, but when I say that Erwin had the best character arc in the entire series thus far, I hope you’ll take my words and recognize the weight behind them. Erwin went from a rather shrewd and one-dimensional commander character archetype into one of the most tragic figures in the show, with a genuinely bittersweet conclusion.
Oh yeah, and before I move on: Floch is a garbage character and a stain on the series’ good name. Seriously, I can’t stand the guy.
Animation & Sound
Looking back at the first two seasons, Wit have done a wonderful job bringing the world of Attack on Titan to life and keep it engaging with bombastic set-pieces and visual flair. But it is in their third outing with the show that Wit proves themselves to be one of the most promising studios in the anime industry.
Titan S3 boasts its fair share of stylish and grandiose action scenes, ranging from a frenetic cat-and-mouse chase involving captain Levi to a brutal one-on-one duel between two Titan Shifters. Those who really just want more of Attack on Titan’s iconic action scenes and memorable set-pieces will not be disappointed.
Wit continues its brilliant animation and art techniques and you can see that a lot of money was poured into making Attack on Titan S3 a visual marvel. Dynamic camera angles, rich backgrounds filled with near photorealistic scenery, striking lighting effects, almost seamless usage of CGI animations to convey fluid and kinetic shots and subtle details make Attack on Titan S3 look spectacular.
While a few shots may appear a little wonky and clumsy, I’d say that even outside the action, Attack on Titan S3 maintains a consistent look without resorting to frequent still frames or off-model moments. Hell, I’d say that some of its quieter moments are among the best in the series, showing small expressive movements and attention to body language that sometimes convey more than words.
About the only thing that doesn’t land successfully is the Colossal Titan. Once again, he is rendered in CGI. It’s junky, it’s ugly and it doesn't fit with the rest of the scene. Now what’s worse is that they revert back to 2D animation when the show zooms into the Titan’s face… and it’s just so jarring - even worse than just using the CGI model. Pick one style, not both.
Now frankly I was a little disappointed by the soundtrack, mainly because a good chunk of it is either music from the first two seasons or remixes and rearranged pieces of existing tracks. Don’t get me wrong, the soundtrack is fantastic from start to finish, but having some newer pieces would have been more than welcome.
That said, there are a couple of new pieces that at the very least are a welcome addition to the already hefty list. “K2” is a chilling, evolving track that serves as the personal theme of Kenny the Ripper, while “Zero Eclipse” is a fantastic song about Historia that captures her struggles wonderfully.
Okay, and yes, some remixes/rearranges are pretty solid, like the “Vogel im Kafig”-inspired “Apple Seed”, played out during one of the most awe-striking Titan transformation thus far.
As for the opening themes, I have to admit I didn’t like “Red Swan” by Hishiki and Hyde, and consider it the first actual flop for the series in terms of opening themes. Its slower, more inspiring and melancholic tone just don’t mesh well with the series.
On the other hand, Linked Horizon’s third opening for the series, "Shoukei to Shikabane no Michi", is a fantastic tribute to the series as it combines previous opening songs to a slower-moving but still empowering song that sets the tone for the second half.
Meanwhile, the first ending theme, “Akatsuki no Chinkonka”, is a beautiful song that begins as an almost 1980's-style theme before intensifying with some march-like beats. Interestingly, it’s also by Linked Horizon but feels remarkably different than their previous contributions to the series. I also love “Name of Love” by Cinema Staff, a quiet, somewhat somber ballad that ends the third season beautifully.
Finally, the English dub is just as great if not more than what it was in the second season. Bryce Papenbrook’s performance of Eren gets stronger from episode to episode, Josh Grelle and Trina Nishimura continue to do their best as Armin and Mikasa respectively, Bryn Apprill steals the show as Historia and Matt Mercer gets to show off his vocal skills as Levi.
And then you have J. Michael Tatum and Jessica Calvello doing stellar jobs as Erwin and Hange, Phil Parson’s joyous performance as Kenny, Robert McCollum’s emotional work as Reiner and Jason Liebrecht as the enigmatic Zeke. Also rather surprisingly, David Matranga is the one to dominate scenes as Bertholdt.
Attack on Titan S3 is one of the greatest anime sequels ever made, which is almost unheard of when it comes to already-rare third seasons. It takes everything introduced and established over the course of the previous two seasons and nearly perfects it, with its own unique flavor to boot. It tells two distinctive yet equally unforgettable sagas filled with intrigue and tension while multiple plot points and character arcs dating back to its 2013 beginnings finally get payed-off in a big, explosive way that seamlessly connects to the larger story.
There is simply so much quality and talent poured into this season, from its restless story to its bold direction, that even its few flaws don't dare to stand in its way. Attack on Titan S3 turns its world upside down, shakes it down to its very core and mutates into a new show with such a well thought-out writing and clever foreshadowing that presents a whole new layer of possibilities. Quite frankly, Attack on Titan S3 has it all: an ever-evolving setting, compelling characters, stellar action scenes and an intelligent, jaw-dropping story that doesn't shy away from risky plotlines - unlocking its long-awaited potential to the fullest.
- Writing: Intelligent story that ties everything up beautifully with satisfying build-up.
- Uprising arc: Suspenseful, intriguing, plays with fantastic set-ups.
- Battle of Shiganshina arc: Ten episodes of fantastic plot developments and resolutions.
- Characters: Finally come into their own with some phenomenal development.
- Presentation: Wit studio sets an incredibly high-bar with its high-flying action and immersive artwork.
- Imperfections: Minor technical issues or limited screentime, barely hold the series back.
- This season in general: Easily the best installment in the franchise and one of the best anime of 2019.
© 2019 Raziel Reaper