Season one was a rollercoaster. Season two was a compelling mystery. The first half of season three was a political thriller. Each one had their own strengths and improved upon the last.
The second half of season three doesn’t do this. Because it does all three at once.
After Historia takes the throne, the Survey Corps prepares for their next big mission: to retake Wall Maria once and for all and reach Eren’s basement. In order to accomplish this, they’ll have to face off against Reiner, Bertholdt, and the Beast Titan once and for all. Does the Survey Corps stand a chance against this seemingly insurmountable threat and discover the truth behind the biggest mystery of the series?
This arc is the single most tense and unpredictable story arc I’ve ever seen in any anime. You genuinely have no idea what’s going to happen next when you watch it! Every single character is on the chopping block and they spend the entire story walking the line between life and death. At any moment, with any decision they make, they could meet with a horrific end.
It doesn’t pull its punches, either. This arc features not one, but three of the most gruesome scenes in the entire series. The casualty count here is off the charts. Not a single one of these deaths is pleasant.
The tension is further heightened by all the difficult decisions our characters need to make. This isn’t a story where the cast only need to choose between a more or less painful option. They are faced with monumental decisions that a) have extremely heavy consequences going forward and b) carry extreme emotional weight for the characters making that choice.
This leads to some of the most memorable scenes I’ve ever seen in an anime. Erwin’s final speech and charge. Bertholdt’s realization. Armin’s sacrifice. Levi’s choice. These aren’t the most action-packed scenes in the series. But they’ll have you sitting on the edge of your seat, terrified to find out what happens next.
Which leads me to the big one. The moment we’d all been waiting for since the first episode of the first season. Here, at long last, we reach the basement.
But that begs the question: was it worth it? Were the secrets we were promised as grand as we had hoped?
Oh, fuck yeah they were!
The revelations in the basement are absolutely genius. They completely change everything we thought we knew about this world, recontextualizing every piece of information we’ve gathered so far while simultaneously shedding light on every single one of them. At the same time, it sets the stage for the rest of the story going forward. In one scene, everything that came before and everything going forward completely changes.
Remember when you thought this was a simple story about a kid killing giant monsters? Oh, when things were so simple back then.
But that’s not my favorite scene. Not even close. That honor belongs to the final scene at the sea.
When the series first started, we all thought Eren and the gang reaching the ocean would be the grand finale. After a whole show of heartbreak and gruesome deaths, our heroes would finally reach the sea. It was supposed to be this big dramatic final moment. One last tear jerker to bring the series to a heartwarming and satisfying conclusion.
Instead, it’s the precursor to an even grander and more terrible conflict. It isn’t a grand victory. What should’ve been the moment of ultimate triumph has become one of pure sorrow and dread.
On top of all of that, we’ve got some of the most intense action scenes in animated history. Every single battle, from Eren’s rematch with Reiner to Levi’s complete dismantling of the Beast Titan, is a beautiful display of gruesome animation. We’ve got all-new tech which makes for all-new strategies which makes for all-new kinds of sakuga! We’ve still got human Beyblades! And now we’ve also got missiles and people in barrels and all kinds of fun action set pieces! It’s a joy for the eyeballs!
Even if you’re too busy having a heart attack to appreciate it.
It isn’t totally perfect, though. The CGI Colossal Titan stands out like a sore thumb, even more than he did back in season 2 (yeah, CGI titans were around well before season 4, MAPPA haters). The model looks rough and its motions are stiff. It’s understandable why they used this method, so I’m not pointing hateful fingers at the poor animators. But it does come at the cost of visual quality.
As for the music, well, it’s as good as ever. My only real problem is that it doesn’t introduce more than one or two new tracks to the mix. Instead, they reworked and revitalized older tracks to give us even more dramatic and impactful versions. This is a perfectly fine approach, but I do wish we got a few more to add to the playlist.
Also, hot take: the OP is kinda weak. Like, it isn’t bad. But it’s about as memorable as OP 2 from season one. Which is to say: not very.
The second half of season three is definitely the strongest of the lot. It’s the payoff to so many seasons of buildup. And, unlike so many others, it actually manages to pay it all off in an incredibly satisfying way! This was the season that made it clear that Attack on Titan would be a modern anime classic!
Even if the first half of season four was a little rough around the edges.