Here’s a bit of history to set the stage for this review.
In regards to Attack on Titan, the rights to the series are divided among a few major companies. Kodansha owns the rights to the manga, Pony Canyon owns the music, NHK is the network airing the show, Dentsu did the advertising, and Production I.G. owned Studio WIT (the studio behind the original three seasons). This committee asked WIT to produce season four in time to release at late 2020. This happened around late 2019 or early 2020, it’s not particularly important. Either way, Studio WIT looked at their schedule and said: no.
So, the committee turned to other studios. Everyone they asked very reasonably said: no. That is until one stepped up to the seemingly impossible challenge and said: yes. And that studio was none other than Studio MAPPA.
You’d think that the committee would’ve pushed back the release schedule, given how long it took them to find a studio to actually tackle the project. Unfortunately, they didn’t. So, with an incredibly tight deadline now hanging over their heads, MAPPA needed to find a way to bring the final season of one of the biggest names, if not the biggest name, in anime to life as quickly, efficiently, and effectively as was possible.
And that’s dumbing it down by a lot. TL;DR: season four of Attack on Titan had a rough time of it from before production even began. So if you’re one of those people that attacked MAPPA and its staff because you were disappointed: shut up. Because you have no idea how hard they had to work just to bring it to you in the first place. Given how rough they had it, it’s a miracle that this season looks as good as it does.
Okay, now we can actually review the show. And obviously: spoilers ahead. I can’t exactly avoid those at this point.
Four years after the end of season three, we do not rejoin Eren and the others. Instead, we join up with a whole new cast of characters in the country of Marley, which had been the hidden antagonist up to this point. Our new characters, Warriors in training who are set to inherit Reiner’s Armor Titan, return home to Liberio after a long war. Soon after, a new threat to Marley emerges: the devils of Paradis, lead by the usurper Eren Jaeger, are supposedly going on the offensive! The final battle for freedom is about to begin!
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room: CGI titans. Yes, they don’t look amazing. But honestly? I don’t mind them! They look a helluva lot better than the Colossal Titan did in seasons 2 and 3, at the very least. Plus, they can look super creepy at times. They could have looked so much worse than they actually do.
Not to say that everything done in 2D looks spectacular. Some of the characters move pretty stiffly at times and there are some really rough looking shots sprinkled in there. Thankfully, it’s made less painful by stellar direction and use of lighting and color.
Also, this might me a hot take: I like the new character designs. Eren and Mikasa look great (friendly reminder that Mikasa is a soldier, she ain’t meant for fan service), Levi looks as badass as ever (Levi, on the other hand…), Armin has become oddly attractive (I ain’t gay, but…), and Reiner looks beautifully tired and depressed! Honestly, I kind of like these better than the old designs!
The music this season is also straight fire. The new OP is my new favorite (how can something so depressing be such a jam?) and the new ED is… okay. But the new tracks used in the show itself are great! Ashes of the Flame is my personal favorite; it builds this great sense of tension before exploding dramatically!
Visually speaking, this is definitely the weakest season yet. It doesn’t look horrendous, but it is definitely a huge step down from WIT’s work. Although the music is as solid as ever and the use of color, lighting, and solid direction make it more palatable.
Thankfully, the narrative is as strong as ever. This season has some of the most intense scenes in the entire series! And most of them don’t even feature any fighting! Eren’s chat with Reiner, Gabi (worst girl) being faced with the truth, the appearance of the severely-underused Warhammer Titan, the revolt of the Jaegerists, the table scene, Levi VS Zeke rematch, the list of intense and memorable scenes this season is huge!
It also does a great job of turning the conflict, which used to be black-and-white, into something morally complex. You’ve spent three seasons with the Paradis crew. Now spend some time with the Marleyans! Hey, look! They’re not the horrible monsters we thought they were this entire time! Suddenly, they’re the victims! The whole attack on Liberio is an incredibly clever twist on the attack on Shiganshina that started the series to begin with!
I do think that it doesn’t fully live up to its potential, though. As I mentioned earlier, we spent three whole seasons with the Paradis kids. Half of a season with Marley isn’t quite enough to make them root for them. As soon as the Survey Corps shows up, I’m like “fuck yeah, murder them Marleyans! Sasageyo, bitches!” It wasn’t until after the battle that I realized “Oh, wait, I do like these Marleyans!” Even then, I still couldn’t help but lean with the familiar characters.
The second half of the season is also very slow. Now, I personally don’t mind; it feels like the calm before a typhoon. But if you’re here to see titan action, it may be a little grating. Not only that, but it leaves off on a mid-season cliffhanger right as the action starts.
Although the action we do get this season is pretty dope! Levi gets to completely dismantle Zeke (again) in one of the most fun Levi scenes in the series! Eren pulls some of the most cold-blooded shit I’ve ever seen in an anime (oh look, a nutcracker)! Armin gets to drop what is basically a nuke! The battle of Liberio may not be extensive, but it’s definitely one of the best in the show!
Overall, this season is pretty strong. Yes, the visuals took a hit because of the poor production schedule (god bless MAPPA’s staff for working through that nightmare). But the writing is just as solid as ever.
And to think! We only have to wait… a whole… year… for… part 2…
Yeah no, fuck that, I’m reading the manga!