Some Spoilers from Season 1 and Season 2 ahead!
The unique premise of humanity’s struggles for survival was what sparked Attack on Titan’s popularity back in 2013, but it never felt like the premise was expanded further enough, resulting in an exciting, but superficial series. Despite said criticism, I understand that the shallowness of its storytelling is the result of Isayama’s setup for the entire series, which in my opinion, IS Attack on Titan’s biggest flaw.
The prominent theme of the show is the mystery and mental strain of “battling against the unknown”. With that in mind, it is bold to assume that we the viewers are similar to humanity with how we don’t know anything about the titans. It is the core reason why I find moments like Eren’s transformation in the 1st season to be jarring . Of course the reason being because there was no logical explanation of why Eren would suddenly turn into a creature that he is desperately trying to eradicate, but if we assume that the viewers know nothing about the titans, then that particular transformation scene can be excused due to my lack of understanding of titans. In other words, I can’t blame Eren’s transformation from being contrived because I don’t know titans and their identity well enough. I think this can apply to many moments throughout Attack on Titan lifespan that felt too much of a plot-convenience.
In the third season, I can safely accept that Attack on Titan deepened our knowledge of the titans. Now I can look back at the “contrived” events in the previous 2 seasons and laugh at myself for being ignorant of the foreshadowing behind. The satisfaction of the reveal is obvious enough, but to reach that point after 2 seasons might not be welcoming for newcomers. And that is really my biggest gripe on the series as a whole, but now let’s move on to season 3.
Attack on Titan Season 3 took what many considered to be a fun one-dimensional hype series into possibly one of the best written stories in modern anime. It gave the fans and regular viewers of the answers that we all wanted since season 1, and its success in developing a cohesive history and lore that connects well with the events in the present upped the writing to critical praise. I myself highly enjoyed this season of Attack on Titan, and truly appreciate the direction the story has taken.
Season 3 is separated into two cours that are vastly different from one another. The 1st cour (sry for the poor image) is an intense political conflict that brings moral issues and corrupt power to the table, while the 2nd cour is a heroic confrontation of two races, both with their own fundamental flaws, and a grandeur reveal of humanity’s history. I think it’s unfair to talk about both seasons at once, let’s break this down into two. I will talk about the first part in this post or it will get ridiculously long.
Season 3 Part 1
Part 1 took an interesting twist from the usual titans fighting and nape slicing. It smoothly transitioned into a more political battle against humans with contrasting views of peace and order. The story is overall solid, it is loose and unpredictable, with multiple sides of humanity and their different ideologies. At first glance, different regiments might have different beliefs, but all of them lead to one goal – wanting humanity to survive.
While still being excellent at storytelling, it is mostly characterization. The main cast grows as they face off against humanity, and bought them into their morals crisis. In a world where giant naked people robbed them out of their freedom, humanity should be united to take back what they have lost, not inflict more deaths within themselves. Subtle changes in facial expressions indicate the cast’s loss of innocence, but they’re capable of grasping the reality of this cruel world. Correspondingly, we see them becoming braver and their lack of hesitation in doing what must be done.
I think what really struck me was how no side is morally correct over another, not even the survey corps themselves. Looking back, their priority since the 1st season was to explore further than the walls that caged them for decades. Being able to finally escape these giant concretes that prevented humanity to experience the beauty of Earth will no doubtably advance the human race to another level. If humanity were to continue living through such confined space, it will slowly rot them internally. Once the solution was found, humanity will come to a realization that life is not all about just trying to survive.
However, the survey corps’ actions will inevitably bring more risks to humanity, which explains why the officials and the higher rankings must stop them. Although they are treated as the antagonists this season, it does not make them morally incorrect. At the end, can you really blame them for prioritizing humanity’s survival over exploration?
Another lovable aspect of part 1 was recreating scenarios from the previous seasons to indicate the development that our characters went through. That scene where Eren, Mikasa, and Armin all sat down on the same set of stairs as in season 1 was emotionally devastating. Back in season 1, all they had in their hearts was hate and revenge, but in season 3, that hate turned into a desperation for freedom. This drastic change in beliefs really captivates all the painful moments they’ve experienced in their journey.
Part 1 was able to inflict many psychological emotions on why characters have certain sets of goals. Most of the characters are impactful to the narrative, even the side characters. The same amount of emotional impact is there for newly introduced characters such as Kenny. I think I don’t need to elaborate further on why the extensive care for the characters is Season 3 Part 1’s greatest strength.
As much as I appreciate the characterization and storytelling behind this cour, the direction, presentation, and action sequences are definitely at its lowest in the series. I felt like they took too much attention on characterization that they forgot how to write good action sequences, because they are actually terribly illogical and ludicrous. There was a scene where the main cast (around 10 people I assume) fought against 35 skilled police soldiers and retain victorious with next to no casualties. The characters being able to dodge gunshots despite not receiving adequate amount of training is ridiculous and it comes off as plot armour that shouldn’t be there.
As powerful as the story of Attack on Titan is, what made it to be one of the most successful series of all time was the exhilarating fights that left us enthralled. It is moments like Bertholdt/Reiner transformation and Eren’s fight with the female titan that transcend what animation can be capable of. Without such breathtaking actions in season 3 part 1, it really push this season back from being phenomenal.
Keep in mind that I don’t think every action scene is bad. Levi vs Kenny has some of the most fluid and beautiful shots I’ve ever seen, and that one titan battle in the series is beautifully directed. If they put the same amount of effort into the rest of the fights, then this cour would’ve been much more memorable.
My last complaint with part 1 is the amount of backstories and how they are presented. On one hand, the backstories themselves are very interesting and really connect the world’s history into the events in the present, but I think they lack emotional impact due to it being info-dumped by monologue with some minor issues with plot convenience (bloodline power was kind of whack). I also think the amount of information is excessive, and really prevents the story from being cohesive.
The problem magnifies when the entire story relies on a gimmick where the history is extremely crucial for the story to connect. Unfortunately, they didn’t present the backstories optimally, resulting in a rather disjointed story. If they had spread out the backstories more throughout the cour rather than introducing them episode by episode, then these plot-lines would definitely converge better.
Final Score and Conclusion:
Season 3 Part 1 is taking Attack on Titan into the right direction with its story and character work, but it fails to capture the essence of the series due to its mediocre directing and presentation. The approach to focus on human and political issues rather than the extermination of titans is an excellent decision that allows different ideologies to be established. These different ideals bring up the morality of the characters very well, and the show made sure that no side is evil over the other. In reality, the survey corps are the people who we should be cheering for, but the show’s excellent portrayal of beliefs convince us that they’re not really heroes of justice, but rather just following what they believe to be right.
The backstories are undoubtedly the most important section narrative wise, and they perfectly present each character and their motivations, including how everything ended up as the disaster it is in the present. As crucial as they are, the abundant of history can be overwhelming, and with better pacing, it could benefit from being a less convoluted mess. Of course, if you can follow the story well, it won’t really be a complaint.
With this cour’s beautiful ending, it transitions well into Season 3 Part 2 – taking the progress the characters have made in the past 2 seasons, and bring it into an all for nothing confrontation for humanity’s freedom.
That concludes season 3 part 1. If you haven’t start Attack on Titan yet (you shouldn’t be reading this), then what are you waiting for. If you are not a fan of season 1 and season 2, I guaranteed that you might change your opinion after checking out season 3. This is kind of personal, but here are some notes I took while watching Season 3 Part 1. They are nothing mind provoking, just want you to see what I’m thinking/feeling while watching anime. (Contains massive spoilers)
- overall good story
- not linear and unpredictable, different sides with different ideologies fight
- smooth shift of tone to a more psychological battle with the government rather than rekting titans and slicing napes
- main cast grows as they face off the police, they learn about their morals
- backstories are interesting and really help explain the motives of the villians/ side characters and how they relate to the main cast
- good at portraying how people can have different views
- Erwin’s ideology is a good contrast to the other generals like Prixis or the Royal Family
- I like how soldiers from different rigiments have similar views (some military police have similar views to the scouts)
- rasies question of morals (who is right? who is wrong?)
- levi vs the inner police in episode 2 was beautiful (not logically)
- eren development in general
- saddies’s backstory was simple but effective for eren’s character
- beautiful ending when the three sat down the stairs, bring back the moment back in season 1 that shows us the progress they’ve made
- Erwin’s game stepped up, one of the best characters now
- the last Erwin scream!!
- action sequences are cliche and not realistic (10 v 35 at the cave?)
- the cave fight in general was just awful
- questionable plot armor (hange still alive?)
- backstories are often infodumped by monologue, so not a lot of emotional outcome
- cheezy insert song when historia refused the syringe
- really not a fan of christa, too much of a into your face character
- a tell, not show mentaility which i’m not a fan of
- too characterization heavy, ignoring the action sequences making them half-assed
- amount of backstories can be overwhleming (bloodline power, kenny, jaegar)
- bloodline power felt convenience at times, the biggest whack in the story
- no consequences for the main cast (why they no lose once!) although it didn’t bother me that much
- presentation could be better (not using the medium as an advantage to tell a message, mostly expressed through dialogues)
- honestly the backstory are great, but the way it was presented could be better, slower pace.
- kenny entire’s character arc was dependent on his 12 min flashback, didn’t really feel for the guy (it didn’t end properly either)
- still not a fan of the brownish colour pallet