Nobody can deny the significance and impact that Attack on Titan has had on the American anime fandom. After the disastrous Anime Crash of 2008, the cancellation of Cartoon Network’s Toonami block, and Adult Swim Action’s dramatic decline in popularity and relevance, the state of the American anime fandom looked pretty dire. Enter Attack on Titan in 2013, the biggest anime hit in America since Naruto and the title that helped kickstart the 2010’s Anime Renaissance in the United States. Yes, there were titles that preceded it that helped revive the fandom, such as 2012’s Sword Art Online, but for a major chunk of the 2010’s, Attack on Titan dominated online discussion, cosplay at conventions, and merchandise on store shelves. It was the king of the anime empire and the definitive gateway anime of the 2010s. Attack on Titan was responsible for bringing Adult Swim’s newly-revived version of the Toonami block, to ratings it had never seen before and caused a renaissance for the Toonami block as well as anime in general. The series ran a full decade, although with several long gaps between seasons, finally ending in 2023, and finally airing on Toonami in January 2024. Although several series have challenged its status as the most popular anime of the decade in the late 2010s, the ending of this series was undeniably a milestone, must see event for the anime fandom.
The finale came, and to say it was controversial would be an understatement. The series went through dramatic changes during what the anime dubbed “The Final Season,” a “season” that lasted thirty-episodes and several years (with several idiosyncratic divisions), starting in 2020. The major change was sparked by the reveal that ended the third season – that the mysterious creatures that were attacking humanity actually were humans themselves and that Titans were essentially weapons to wage war with the people who lived within the walls, people known as the Eldians. The series began to shift what seemed to be a supernatural horror story about fighting man-eating monsters into a war story heavily reminiscent of anime classic Mobile Suit Gundam. The series shifted studios from WIT Studio to MAPPA and the visuals were very noticeably different from the WIT seasons, with the majority of the Titans being depicted in CGI rather than hand drawn animation. Finally, the protagonist, Eren Yaeger, had undergone a major shift to villainy and wanting to wipe out all non Eldians in a disaster known as “The Rumbling.” The finale is about the rest of main cast attempting to stop this apocalypse.
The finale is a barrage of high-octane action as our heroes attempt to save the world. MAPPA successfully delivers a battle sequence that really feels Hollywood blockbuster scale, as the fate of humanity rests in the balance. After the drama that occurred in most of the various portions of “The Final Season,” the finale was mainly one really long battle scene with a controversial epilogue. The imagery of the finale evoked the type of imagery seen on an heavy metal album cover, with various creatures engaging in kaiju style battles. This is the largest-scale battle in the series’ history, letting the series end on its most exciting note and us getting to see Falco’s titan form in action for the first time.
The finale is worth seeing for the final battle alone, but the epilogue and resolution to the story, as well as the events that led up to it, such as Eren’s descent into engaging in omnicide, that have caused the controversy. Nobody expected a completely happy ending, but Eren successfully killing billions of people before our heroes defeat him was particularly grim. The series points out that humanity did get a common enemy in Eren Yaeger, but that common enemy did nothing to erase the hatred groups in humanity had with each other. “The Rumbling” was an event of death and destruction and there is no way to sugar-coat what transpired. The other controversial aspect was the fact that the finale heavily eulogized and had the characters mourn for their fallen former friend they just killed to save humanity. After all the death and suffering he caused, these scenes, personally, rung extremely hollow for me. The scene earlier in the finale showing a panicking mother and her baby about to be killed by Titans was a stark reminder of how horrifying “The Rumbling” was and how much death and suffering to helpless people it caused. As bad as the Eldians were oppressed, Eren’s genocide cannot be excused at all. The “moping for Eren” scenes drug on and on and seemed interminable. Most notably, anime fans have compared this finale to Code Geass, where the protagonist also wars on humanity in the climax and the fact that this finale has been done before was not lost on anime enthusiasts. The grim ending of this series divided fandom, and I really cannot defend it or defend any attempts to make us feel anything else but abject disgust at Eren Yaeger.
Does the finale taint the show as a whole? I don’t think so. The engaging mystery of the nature of the titans, epic action sequences, and unique worldbuilding made this series a modern classic, and its importance in anime history cannot be denied. Great television with disappointing finales is nothing new, from How I Met Your Mother to Dexter, and to future generations of anime fans, I would recommend Attack on Titan as a great watch despite its ending.