Attack on Titan: A Modern Masterpiece

*This article is spoiler-free*

In the last two decades, anime has evolved. Outside of Japan--specifically in North America--anime was a niche that few loved, and many saw as glorified foreign cartoons. Compared to the ’90s and early 2000s, only a few shows aired throughout the year, and it was nearly impossible to watch all of them with English subtitles, let alone English dub. However, as anime's global audience grew, the anime industry grew as well.

Since the early 2000s, there has been anime that seemed to define the time. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, there were the big three: Naruto, Bleach and One Piece. For many anime fans, these shows were their first anime and the gateway to anime and otaku culture; they are beloved classics.

Approximately seven years ago, although I watched dozens of anime in 2013, one stood out the most to me: Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan. At the time, that was all anime culture could talk about. Any and every anime fan watched it: They dressed up in survey corps uniforms at large conventions like ComicCon, and for the first time, Attack on Titan introduced so many international non-anime fans to the medium.

Needless to say, at the time, the show felt like a typical Shounen (action) anime that fell into the genre's tropes. However, over time, Attack on Titan became so much more. Many compared it to large Hollywood productions like Game of Thrones due to the uncertainty of the characters’ safety.

Now, Attack on Titan is airing its final season, and I want to reflect on how this show turned the anime industry upside down and became a modern classic.

  1. 1. The storyline and its pacing

    In Attack on Titan, mankind lives within three walls that protect it from giant man-eating, human-like beings called titans. The story follows its main protagonist Eren Jaeger and his friends Armin Arlert and Mikasa Ackerman, who dream of joining the military and venturing outside of the walls. However, their lives turned upside down one day when titans invaded their hometown. Now, they must fight for their survival, so they join the military. This gives them hope they can one day take back their village.

    In season one, the storyline is relatively simple: The man-eating giants serve as the conflict against Jaeger, a teenager who wants to free humanity from the wall's confines. The conflict is black and white; there exists good, and there exists evil. Season one depicts infinite action-packed sequences that are visually amazing and absolutely thrilling, and upon the first watch, that's all it appears to be.

    The show throws in curveballs and surprises here and there, and when watching it for the first time, they seem cheap. However, as you continue to watch, you realize nothing is random. Every detail, every action and every surprise serves a purpose to further the plot — whether you realize it or not.

    Although season one is so fast-paced, it keeps you glued to the edge of your seat, hungry for more action, wondering what’s to come next. If I had to describe season one, it would be a roller coaster that travels and ends so quickly you cannot take the time to fully appreciate it, so you have to ride it again.

    In my opinion, the following seasons initiate that same type of addiction, but in a different manner. Instead, season two and season three move at a slower pace, but the conflict keeps your eyes glued to the screen.

    As the show progresses, the conflict becomes more complex. Instead of believing there is purely good and pure evil, the line between the two begins to blur with each season, leading to the debate about moral ambiguity in the currently airing season four.

  2. 2. The emotional depth and detail in its characters

    Attack on Titan follows most of its characters over seven years, documenting their growth and experiences in the military. In season one, the show mainly focuses on its main three characters: Eren, Mikasa and Armin. However, there are notable side characters whom you grow to love.

    With season two and three's much slower pace compared to season one, you get to know these characters more. You learn their stories, where they came from and what they want to do with their lives. You want them to live and survive to accomplish these dreams, but nothing is certain because of this cruel and titan-infested world they live in.

    Instead of just focusing on the main characters, Attack on Titan heavily details and builds these characters' lives, making you realize these are human beings with their own needs and desires, but all of it could be meaningless because, at any moment, they could become titan food or fall victim to other tragedies. 

  3. As soon as you begin the first episode of season one, the first words to the band Linked Horizon’s "Guren no Yumiya" instantly shout at you like a battle cry, perfectly setting the tone for the season. The song itself is iconic in the anime community and is one of the most instantly recognizable anime opening songs in history.

    With each season, there is a new opening song to begin each show, and they become better than the last. However, I suggest watching each season's opening sequences while watching the series because they reveal numerous major spoilers for previous seasons. 

    Not only are Linked Horizon's opening numbers absolutely incredible, but the score by composer Hiroyuki Sawano is also a work of art itself. The background music perfectly sets up the mood, whether it's hyping you up for an action-packed battle sequence or inducing anticipation for climactic scenes. Needless to say, many of them are perfect for your study playlist if you need extra motivation.

  4. 4. The world-building

    Though this may seem like a small detail in Attack on Titan's existence, it elevates the show to another level: In the beginning, the anime's world feels small and cramped as it is limited to walls' confines. However, slowly, the world begins to grow.

    As the Survey Corps, the military branch that the main characters join, begins their expeditions beyond the walls, the Attack on Titan universe begins to expand. You feel free, and, like the characters, you feel as if you are beginning to understand the world outside of the walls little by little. 

    As the plot continues, you learn that there is so much more to the “Attack on Titan” world than just the territory beyond the walls.

  5. 5. The animation

    Since 2013, Attack on Titan has continued to be visually stunning. Its first studio, WIT STUDIO, spent years creating the first and second seasons. WIT animates Attack on Titan in a highly contrasted and epic art style that highlights the series' action sequences and elevates each character's movements beautifully, dramatizing each moment. Throughout their nearly decade long work on Attack on Titan, WIT STUDIO created some of the most epic and iconic action sequences in anime.

    However, to ensure the final season arrives on time, production has shifted to MAPPA. Compared to WIT, MAPPA's art style is breathtaking in another way. The animation is more accurate to the manga's art style, further expanding Isayama's vision into motion. Although WIT and MAPPA's styles are different, both helped craft a modern masterpiece.

I started watching Attack on Titan when I was 11 right before middle school. Now, I'm finishing it off as a freshman in college. I began the anime, believing it would just be another 12 or 24 episode series I could quickly binge and move onto watching another show. After following this series for almost eight years, as I rewatch it, I become addicted all over again.