Shingeki no Kyojin, also known as Attack on Titan, concluded the first part of its third season earlier this month, bringing an end to 12 weeks of electrifying action, a thrilling conspiracy, and one of the bleakest animated shows out there. The midseason finale left fans with plenty of answers to long-asked questions and just enough material to theorize about the future. Then there was that mic drop of a mid-credits tease that’s straight out of a horrifying Lynchian nightmare.
Spoilers for Attack on Titan follow.
From the moment the season starts, it’s like the show wants us to know we are in for a very different ride than what we were used to. Even the opening theme is quite a departure from the epic call to arms from the first two seasons, as “Red Swan” by Yoshiki and Hyde features more vibrant and colorful visuals and a more depressing song. It’s not supposed to energize the audience before the episodes, but to be a gut-wrenching reminder of the simpler and better days each character has seen, accompanied by images of innocent Eren, Armin, and Mikasa in their town before the destructive arrival of the Colossal Titan.
Storywise, the first big change is the near-total lack of Titan this season. The very first episode provides our heroes with a different kind of enemy: The torturing of a priest at the hands of the Military Police leads to his death and throws the Scouts into the middle of a political conspiracy leading back generations. It’s a bold choice for a show that sold audiences on the idea of humanity having to fend off giant man-eating beasts to suddenly turn into political intrigue – but hey, it worked!
Most of the season is then devoted to the mystery involving Historia – who we found out last season was somehow important – and how she plays into the history of the walls. Attack on Titan has always had a liking for mystery and plot twists, but this season kicks things up a notch. There are huge revelations involving Eren and his father, and the entire government and history of Paradis Island. And this is without even mentioning all the major bombshells, like how, in the middle of conversations, someone casually drops that humans are able to acquire a Titan’s power (think the Armored or Colossal Titans) by consuming a Shifter’s spinal fluid while in Titan form. The rest of the story deals with a government conspiracy to hide the true monarchy and to keep humanity in the dark about the origin of the walls, causing the Scouts to lead a coup d’état.
This season is a pivotal moment in the story of Attack on Titan, as it marks the first time the show makes us question the morality of our characters and who is in the right. Because this season didn’t focus so much on Eren, we got to see the story through other characters’ eyes, shifting the story and allowing us to see that outside of the Titans, there aren’t really any heroes in this world – only people with different beliefs.
It’s a testament to the show’s pacing that they can cram as much information in as they do without it being overwhelming. There is an incredible amount of world-building that changes the entire dynamic of the show going forward. Where Game of Thrones started as a gritty and grounded show about politics that slowly introduced magical elements, Attack on Titan started as a brutal fantasy show about giant monsters, yet this season introduced enough backstory and political intrigue to make us reconsider who the real monster is. That being said, the season’s weird non-linear structure became a bit too convoluted at times. There are quite a lot of scenes being cut and shown in later episodes for no reason, and flashbacks on top of flash-forwards that make your head spin.
That’s not to say this season was not action-packed. In the season premiere, we were introduced to a new antagonist – and one of the year’s most badass characters – Kenny the Ripper. Kenny and his Anti-Personnel Control Squad are as dangerous and merciless as any Titan. And the battle between them and the Scouts in the second episode is one of the most electrifying scenes in the entire show. Sure, we have seen 3D maneuvering gear in action before, but never like this. The animators at Studio WIT really outdid themselves, as the versatility and agility of the choreography in this scene is simply breathtaking. And then there’s Rod Reiss’ Titan form. The image of Reiss climbing up the wall with his face completely sheared off, just before his gaping stomach makes all of its intestines fall off and drape the side of the wall is one of the most morbid things the animators have ever pulled off.
Beyond world-building and incredible action sequences, this season of Attack on Titan also managed to do wonders with its characters. Despite Eren not being a huge part of the season, he has come a long way since his mopey days. In episode 9, Eren basically confesses to viewing himself as the “main character” in the story, explaining his whiny behavior whenever he doesn’t achieve something at first try, as he believed he received his Titan powers for some divine reason. Yuri Kaji, who voices Eren, does an excellent job at portraying Eren’s journey and maturity as he comes to terms with other people being more important than himself and gets rid of the weaker and more arrogant Eren that we knew.
The same goes for Historia. If you didn’t care about her before, this season definitely changes that. Attack on Titan is full of sappy backstories and complicated family relationships, but one episode knocks it out of the park as we find out just how tragically sad and messed up Historia’s childhood was. Then, in the span of a couple of episodes, the show turns her character upside-down, making her into one of the most rounded characters with deep motivations. Her disturbing backstory gives context and new meaning to her actions and behavior throughout the show, and it all pays off tremendously once she finally does something for herself and not only gets, but earns, the crown.
And then, there’s the mid-credits scene. For 11 weeks (they first played the ending song in the second episode) we have hummed along the end credits music, and right in the middle of it, the screen “glitches out”. The music fades, and what I can only describe as the sound of a thousand screaming souls in hell accompanies the screen as it begins to fast-forward to some pretty disturbing images that will make your heart sink to the floor while you keep mumbling, “What the hell is happening?” to yourself. It’s the ballsiest movie ever pulled by this show, a bold departure from their usual endings, and one hell of a way to tease the horrors to come! A burned body? Eren’s key? Dead Scouts? Mikasa trying to kill Levi? “You guys…Do you have the faintest damn clue what you’re doing?” indeed.
Things sure look bleak, but what is Attack on Titan if not soul-wrenching? One thing’s certain, next season sure looks like a return to gory, visceral action!