I am a Political Science graduate, major in International Relations and Foreign Service, with an interest in anime, religion and philosophy
The Marley Arc is Attack on Titan's most unexpected arc, exploring the situation of the Eldians living under Marley, international politics, racism and the many colors of war. On that last part, it is fitting how the season's opening, "My War", combined muted gray characters and backgrounds with colorful explosions. As a game-changer, the Marley Arc allowed us to see the perspective of Reiner and his side of the conflict after three seasons of being stuck on Paradis.
It is indeed fitting, in some ways, that Attack on Titan would be adapted by a different studio, presenting a new design and production philosophy on the table. Studio Mappa appears to be busy with the Winter season of anime, thanks in no small part to manning the production of Jujutsu Kaisen, now a massive hit series thanks to the studio and team's ability to deliver consistent quality animation and splendid direction of action scenes. How would Mappa's iteration of the Marley arc fair in this regard?
Capturing the Essence of War
A lot of anime-only fans were confused by the events of the whole episode, even assuming it was a flashback and this was partly attributed to the way the episode structures itself around the figure of Falco Grice, whose presence accentuates the season's direction with regards to presenting the horror of war.
The direction of the episode and the entire season reminds me a lot of war movies. The first scene with Falco displays this as shown when his brother, Colt, drags him out of the battlefield while being caught in the crossfire. The blood splatters are more present, redder and their consistency becoming thinner, rather than the darker, thicker sludge we are used to in Wit Studio's handling of the series. Already, the episode does not hold back on its presentation.
An interesting change that the anime does in this episode is expanding on Falco a bit more, as shown from how he is the central character of the season's ending, "Shock". In the episode, he explains to his comrades that he saw himself "flying around and using swords" against Titans. According to the season's director, Yuichiro Hayashi, the scene was an addition requested by series author Hajime Isayama. This was a great way to connect the Paradis-centric storyline to that of Marley. Falco is becoming our new Eren, though that would change when we see Gabi Braun.
Gabi's characterization has been spot-on. She resembles Eren in a few ways but it is her drive to bring others forward that endears her to the audience. Her daring assault on the armored gun train with grenades showcased her guts and determination to reach her goal of being the heir to the Armored Titan. However, it is this willingness to fight and seek glory that contrasts so well with the upsetting atmosphere of the war they are on.
Highlights: Character Design, CGI and the Transformation Scene
Although the production of the series has gone to a different studio, Mappa has made certain to continue the style and approach of Wit Studio, since the latter defined the series' mainstream identity. Apart from using the eyecatches and preview cards, the season barely deviates from the art of the show. However, Mappa does modify a few aspects to suit the direction of the season, namely the character designs, color choices and CGI usage
Speaking of character design, one thing Mappa has nailed so far is the look of the characters. Characters are made cleaner and with less thick lines that is rather faithful to the later designs of the manga. Zeke and Reiner were among those that benefited from the cleaner art. Zeke's facial hair is more emphasized to show his age, weariness and status among the Warriors while Reiner's facial features were clearer and less restricted, in a way. Color and lighting were done well too. The anime also continues the tradition of detailed eye designs, as shown with Falco early on.
While not as present in this episode, Mappa follows a different approach to color. As mentioned earlier, much of the episode is muted and uses dusty colors, focusing more on brown and yellow hues for the battlefield.
Two of the episode's highlights were the Titan rain and Reiner's transformation. It was a good choice not to modify the audio for Zeke's screams, making it more natural and reflecting the skill of his voice actor. The Titan rain started with a zoom to the Titan in the center and zooms out to show the whole assembly of giant naked men falling down.
The season also begins to feature more usage of CGI models for the Titans. Some fans have complained about this when they clearly identified the Beast and Armored Titans being made from CGI. However, from looking further, these models are necessarily not off-putting and do blend together with the rest of the scenery, when compared to the implementation of CGI for the Colossal Titan in Season 3.
Nevertheless, the decision to use CGI was strategic, in that it allowed animators to have an easier time moving the Titans around the battlefield and ensured more flexibility from their work.
The other highlight of the episode was definitely Reiner's transformation. The Titan Shifter aesthetic has changed greatly from previous seasons, with the "cockpit" possessing a red glow and lacking the sinewy walls around. Apart from visual changes, the anime presented Reiner's frustration with his past life well, a hint for what is to come. It was also a good choice to hide the faces of the Scouts and blur them a bit, making it look like Reiner was seeing the flashback right in front of his eyes.
The transformation itself was a feast for the eyes, with his Titan form molded around his body slowly and consuming him. We could see Reiner cut his hand with the knife, the blood splattering as he looked at the walls he would land on with contempt. The episode used the music for the trailer and, in hindsight, was an excellent choice for the scene.
As Reiner charged though and destroyed one of the armored trains, another train with anti-Titan artillery severed his left arm, forcing him to use one of the trains he destroyed as a shield. The irony is not lost here. This was an anime original scene and fits well with the waning dominance of the power of the Titans that the episode's conclusion later explains. He would soon be assisted by the Jaw Titan, Galliard and the Beast Titan, Zeke. In spite of their help, Reiner's Armored Titan revealed its vulnerability to the enemy, proving that the anti-Titan artillery developed for the war against Marley was a real threat.
A Strong Start?
"The Other Side of the Ocean" is a fitting start to the new season overall. We get to see a different world, one that was developing at a faster pace than we were used to and would prove a clear threat to our characters back on home on Paradis. With hints for what is to come littered through the episode's art and the last scene, we are excited for the rest of the season moving forward.