Tuesday 2 July 2019

Anime REVIEW: Attack on Titan Season 3

Attack on Titan season 3
Attack on Titan season 3 is available in streaming form via Crunchyroll

It was only a few years that you couldn't escape from Attack on Titan. The success of that first season reached excelled beyond that of an average anime series, reaching a far wider audience as everyone seemed to want to talk about it. Even after its 25-episode run Hajime Isayama's manga series continued, and the series was also adapted into two live-action films as well as a comedy spin-off. However the years continued to go by with no sign of a second season on the horizon, until that finally arrived four years later. Though fans' patience had finally been rewarded, a shortened 12-episode runtime made it feel like the Titan hype train was beginning to run out of steam. Thankfully Studio WIT has freed up its schedule to ensure the wait for the next season wasn't anywhere near as gruelling, with Attack on Titan season three arriving shortly afterward for a full 22 episodes. The first 12 episodes aired in the summer of 2018, with the remaining ten following in spring 2019.

The fight against the titans continues as the Survey Corps plan to use Titan Eren's hardening abilities to seal the wall. However at the same time they also discover a conspiracy within the government to hide the secrets of the titans, just as Eren is targeted for his powers by Historia's own father.

From here the origins of the titans are slowly revealed, as well as the legacy of the Founding Titan and the ability to pass on the powers of these grotesque giants. As the Survey Corps once again showdown with the Beast Titan, along with Reiner and Bertholdt, soldiers make the ultimate sacrifice to ensure the wall is sealed and Eren is finally able to uncover the secrets in his father's basement. The information they find down there will change their lives forever.

If there's one thing that always managed to hold back Attack on Titan during its first two seasons it was its structure. The shortened episode of season two certainly didn't help matters, but the biggest frustrations came from its penchant to end episodes on big cliffhangers and then follow them up with episodes covering something completely. Some elements, such as what's down in Eren's basement, felt so forgotten by the show that they had practically become a joke at this point. But season three is where that all changes, as the answers we've all been waiting for finally arrive. The context and back story Attack on Titan had so fiercely avoided suddenly take centre stage and to begin with the series couldn't feel any more different. Perhaps most significantly because the first half of this season features barely any titan action at all.

Instead season three takes a look at the ugliness within the last vestiges of humanity, as the Survey Corps come under fire from within the very government they serve. The enemy is corruption and conspiracy, both of which lead back to the secrets of the titans. As well as finally shedding light on how deep the organisation of the titans goes, these episodes provide huge bits of back story on characters like Levi and Historia – the former having been out of action for a lot of season two and the latter having become a key part of the story during it. What action sequences there are come from human opposition such as the elusive Kenny Ackerman, while at the same time the internal affairs of the government and military take prominence. This means the plot is delivered at a much slower pace than the audience will previously be used to, but at for the first time it comes at a consistent and ultimately satisfying pace. For once flashbacks come exactly the times they should be delivered, and the show flutters between its various plot points in a way that doesn't let one overshadow the other.

However just because there's less visual violence onscreen doesn't mean Attack on Titan as suddenly lost its edge, because if anything the series suddenly dives even deeper into the realms of Eldritch style body horror. This season gives more insight into the titans’ twisted transformations than ever before, also throwing in a healthy dose of cannibalism along the way. While what it does show onscreen manages to be particularly visceral, the implications it suggests along the way prove to be just as unnerving.

Those put off by the first half's more exposition-led approach need not fret though, because the second half kicks off with some of the strongest action the show has ever seen. The battle to take back the wall provides ample titan action, with a specific focus on the significant ones rather than the monstrous hoard the show is typically remembered for. There are long-awaited rematches with both the Colossal and Armoured Titans, with the Beast Titan also taking point and continuing to become a more cunning alternative to the show's mindless creatures. Studio WIT's visual handling of the series continues to be as sharp as ever, particularly in the 3D Gear scenes which really convey the speed and urgency of the fight sequences. These episodes really do have it all, giving every character their moment to shine and providing a satisfying victory for our heroes, but not doing it without a cost. Over the course of the series both Armin and Erwin have repeatedly proven themselves to be two of the most engaging and integral characters in the fight against the titans, and here both possibly shine brighter than they ever have before. However this is a war and even though victory is usually assured for our heroes, it doesn't come without a price. One of the strongest action episodes the series has ever had is immediately followed up by one of its most sombre – one that pits the love for these two characters against each other in the most unexpected of ways.

This battle is only a prelude to what this series is really about though, and it's in the final few episodes that the lid is truly blown open on Attack on Titan. We finally get down into Eren's basement, and the secrets contained in Grisha Yeager's diary completely change the playing field of the series. Suddenly the world of Attack on Titan isn't looking as small or as primitive, as the setting changes to flashback in a world very different to the one we've previously seen. Suddenly the cyclic nature of violence becomes the crux of the series, and manages to take an even darker actions as the full tragedy of the situation is revealed.

It would be remiss to not briefly address the controversy that's surrounded these revelations since they were first revealed in the manga, however in terms of strictly the show itself these ideas haven't really fully formed yet in order to gain a clear consensus on them. The close visual parallels to Nazism and the Holocaust are perhaps a little misguided in their presentation, but the intent doesn't seem to be malicious. This could of course all change when Zeke Yeager begins to interact more with the cast and we get further insight into the Eldian/Marleyan struggle, but for now it just opens all a whole new wave of questions to be answered.

Given the potentially messy parallels the story is beginning to play with there's every chance it could bottle it in its final season, but right now Attack on Titan is the strongest it has ever been. Season three not only delivers the same full-force action fans have become accustomed to, but also the all-important answers those that haven't already resorted to the manga have waited the best part of five years for. With confirmation that season four will be its last Attack on Titan has now officially entered its endgame, and despite the rumours that it might not be animated by WIT for those who've stuck with the series anticipation has reached an all-time high.

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