Spoiler alert: Contains spoilers up to season 3 and parts of season 4 of the anime
For majority of the fandom, Attack on Titan (or, Shingeki no Kyojin), with the entirety of its arcs, characters, and controversies, is and will remain, for lack of a better word, epochal. And it's not only because it was the first anime/manga for almost everyone who got into the rabbit-hole of 2D worlds circa 2013 and onwards.
What started as a typical Shōnen with a dystopia of human-preying titans and a band of swashbuckling, sword-wielding heroes has effectively metamorphosed into a complexity of world politics, bigotry, war, and characters who are all victims in their own rights. And the journey has never been disappointing, not at all, thanks to Isayama Hajime's genius, if not downright mad, storyline; subtle, chaotic, and undoubtedly merciless to his characters (and readers).
With the final chapter drawn and submitted, right on the protagonist's birthday, and #ThankYouIsayama trending, the excitement is reaching a fever pitch, thanks to the final panels from the penultimate chapter, and the deluge of fan theories isn't helping. As the story unfolded, the main trio of Eren, Armin, Mikasa – childhood friends, inseparable, embodiments of spirit, brains, and brawn – come to face the fact that the true monsters to be feared are, in fact, humans. Humans who feed into the cycle of bigotry and hatred while enclosed in a false reality, and humans who blindly believe in those with power to the point of defending genocide.
With the can of worms that chapter 138 opened, too many questions remain to be answered in 139; for sanity's sake I cannot include the volume, but it can be summarised in three words: who will survive?
While Attack on Titan has never been one for didactic plots, it did start out with strong Shōnen conventions, albeit with a lot more hopelessness than the usual, if the death of almost everyone is anything to go by. This staple breaks down when we realise that black and white don't exist in morality – only shades of grey with red in the cracks. Each character, main or supporting, has had arcs that are not only plot devices, but define what it is like to be in their world, be it through empathy, development, or coherence.
Take Erwin Smith, for example. Excellent leader, smooth and affable, yet ruthless enough to throw legions of lives away for his own dream. It's to Isayama's credit that his curiosity and the key to the truth are pitted against each other as a final seal to his fantastic development. As for Eren, our over-zealous protagonist with a violent streak, he hungers for the freedom of a world where humans don't live in fear of being crushed between humanoid teeth. Most of us dismissed his undesirable traits as stock Shōnen tropes, when, in fact, it was an ominous prophecy of what he is to become.
Was there any hope for Eren? There might have been, but the revelation in season 3 was enough to undo all the development and push him beyond the point of redemption. From his shoes; shoes of a child living in that reality, we see how he was created, how he fits in that world and why he acts as he does. But you can't overlook or defend his actions, not at all.
Is Eren the protagonist? Yes.
Is Eren the hero? Absolutely not.
As for the anime, the final season being split into two means another unbearably long wait, but at least it's not crammed into a movie. Dubbed "The Final Season", the Marley arc summarises the sheer contrast in the objectives of each side in the war in a single scene, with those from Paradis aiming to just survive, while their enemies aim to decimate those that have been decried as devils. MAPPA did an amazing job with every single one of the episodes, staying true to the original panels, never missing a mark in terms of realism and intensity as the story turns darker. Their art style is more suited to the grit and mood of this arc, especially the Zeke scene, a page straight out of Cronenbergian horror, and even the particularly emotive scenes, adding to the incredible job the VAs have done. The mid-season finale left off on a high note, with one final transformation, MIA characters (you can't spell Shingeki no Kyojin without Levi), and familiar faces on the verge of another battle to be fought, playing with the various roles and beliefs to question who to root for in this showdown.
Like anything with such a cult following, Attack on Titan has been the subject of immense discussion, especially due to its inclination to draw parallels to historical imagery. While Germanic themes were prevalent from the beginning, it wasn't until these allegories became glaringly obvious, and I'm talking armbands, salutes, eugenics internment camps obvious, that it skirted being problematic. But while depiction isn't the same as endorsement, the debate boiled down to whether the story's sympathies would lie with the oppressed-a group demonised for the sake of demonizing – or the oppressor – a militarist imperialist power that goes as far as to put children in the frontlines.
With the final arc, Isayama Hajime veered into reconstructing this fascist imagery into a story that shows the same group pitted against each other in a sick play of war and power. In the struggle against the institution fuelling the subjugation, the main characters face off their own allies, and the encounter with new faces reminiscent of skins they grew out of. Maybe it is through this chiasmus that we're shown that there's always a choice: between Eren and another character with a pretty similar degree of tenacity, we see her breaking free from the cycle of hatred, whereas our MC fails to grow past his rejection of common humanity.
With less than a day till the final, and leaks floating around somewhere, it's perhaps the last time we can speculate on how it ends. Perhaps the ending will be truly tragic and hoard us straight off to therapy, or maybe there's a final twist hidden somewhere. Its unpredictability, ambient horror, and a little too humane characters are what has made it so phenomenal, after all.
Reality is disturbing, and Hajime Isayama brushes on social and political philosophies in his magnum opus to create a fractured world that's cruelly thriving off the will to live, shrouded with grief, and is yet so, so beautiful.
With that said, Shingeki no Kyojin may just be one of the best animagas ever made.
Sarah Wasifa sees life as a math equation: problematic, perhaps with a solution, and maybe sometimes with a sign to tear off a page and start over again. Help her find 'y' at email@example.com