*Spoilers for Attack on Titan ahead! Don’t read if you haven’t read the manga!*
By the time this article comes out, the Attack on Titan manga will have released its final chapter.
That feels surreal. Attack on Titan has been one of, if not the, biggest name in anime ever since I got into the medium. It’s a show that I and many others have been keeping an eye on ever since it first started. Many people have gotten into anime because of it. To see it finally reach its conclusion feels truly monumental. We are watching a classic come to life before our very eyes.
Throughout its run, AoT has managed to remain at the top of the industry because of its ability to evolve. The story constantly grew in scale, complexity, and quality. Each issue audiences had was addressed and improved upon as the story progressed. Not only that, but all the improvements it makes manage to make what came before it retroactively better. It’s a story that has rewarded the audience for sticking with it through thick and thin.
And no aspect of the story encapsulates that truth more than its protagonist: Eren Jaeger. Or Yeager if you’re
wrong a manga reader.
Throughout seasons one, two, and three, Eren was my least favorite character. Everyone else was extremely likable and/or complex and down to earth. Meanwhile, Eren was always screaming or crying or whining. I and many others wrote him off as a one-dimensional reckless anime main character. Someone who was doomed to be outshined by his peers at every turn.
And now he’s my favorite character. All because I, like Eren and many others in the cast, came to an important realization.
Realization is a key factor in the story of Attack on Titan. Practically every character in this story is blindingly clinging to a lie of some kind. Whether that is that titans are monsters or that Eldians are devils or that the royal family will take care of everything, these characters are all prisoners to one falsehood or another. Realizing the truth of this is often the biggest moment for any given character’s arc in the story.
No one embodies this more than Eren. In the beginning, he’s the most naïve and foolish character in the entire cast. His mindset is simple: humans = good, titans = bad. Kill all the titans = freedom. Freedom = good.
But as the story goes on, Eren’s innocent naivety is slowly stripped away. Several of his friends betray him. He learns that his father, the man he admired the most, did something horrific and then thrust the consequences upon him. That the titans are more than just mindless human-eating monsters.
Most shattering of all: that freedom is not what is waiting beyond the ocean.
When Eren learns the truth of the world from the basement and his father’s memories, all of his innocence completely dies. The gruesome reality of how horrible the world truly is crashes down on him all at once. In an instant, the innocent, reckless, and headstrong moron that we came to knew is gone. In his place stands a man whose only options were tragic and horrific.
Which leads us to the time skip. This is where Eren truly became my favorite character.
As soon as we reunite with Eren after the four-year time skip, it’s obvious that he’s a changed man. His eyes are hollow and dark. Rather than being loud and reckless, he’s cold, quiet, and calculating. It’s only when he’s sad or angry that we see him displaying any emotion.
On top of that, his motivations have taken a seemingly sinister turn. Suddenly, Eren has become a city-invading, child-slaughtering maniac. His goal: to awaken the titans sleeping within the Walls and turn them loose on humanity. Our protagonist just transformed into the antagonist! He even attacks Armin and Mikasa, the two people he loves most in the world! He’s straight-up evil now!
Except it’s not that simple. Not by a longshot.
Eren doesn’t want to do all these terrible things. We see this in a flashback scene where Eren breaks down into tears and apologizes for the atrocities that he knows he’ll commit. But he can’t see any other way out. If he doesn’t act, then all the people he loves and the home he’s fought so hard to protect will eventually be wiped out. If not that, then their freedom will be taken away from them again, which, for Eren, is an even worse fate.
We can see just how much he cares when Sasha dies. Up to that point, time skip Eren has shown almost no emotion. But when he hears of her death, he breaks out into nervous laughter, as if he can’t believe that what he just heard was true. Then, when the reality of it crashes down on him, the pain is obvious on his face. One of his most precious friends, the people he committed these atrocities to protect, is gone now.
Eren hasn’t been lying and hurting his friends because he’s gone full-evil. He’s doing it to push them away. He’s hurting them to spare them the pain of what he’s going to do. Sort of like when someone planning on committing suicide gives away their stuff and stops talking to their friends/family. Just replace the suicide part with starting a mass global genocide.
For god’s sake, just look at his face before his final conversation with Armin and Mikasa! You can tell that he’s heartbroken over what he’s about to do!
Eren’s story is the ultimate tragedy. The entire story breaks him down, bit by bit, chipping away at his innocence until he’s left a depressed, heart-broken husk of his former self. He doesn’t believe that he’s a hero; he believes that his actions, horrible as they are, are necessary to save the people he loves. He’s a kind man broken by the reality that he has no choice but to become a monster.
All he ever wanted was to be free. To see the ocean with his friends. But in a world as cruel as this, something as simple and innocent as that could never be.
It’s incredible just how incredible Eren’s arc really is. In the beginning, he’s so naïve and simple that it’s easy to write him off as boring. But as the series progresses, the layers of complexity surrounding him are slowly peeled away until he starts to look like a completely new man. One that you can’t help but pity.
See you later, Eren. We’ll never forget you.