“Eren… In what way are you free?”
The special episode is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation.
The Conclusion Continues
After nearly a decade, Attack on Titan is once again in its final stages. It’s easy to understand the frustration of fans regarding the roll out and naming of the “final final” season and specials. Although this time around MAPPA leaves little room for disappointment with their animation. The studio splits the anime special into two parts. (The Rumbling and Sinners).
The series picks up where episode 87 (The Dawn of Humanity) left off almost a year ago! Eren’s unleashing of the rumbling continues to play out.
It’s not all talk either. The catastrophic event is visually supported by some of the darkest scenery in a show already riddled with themes of anguish and despair.
The special showcases some of MAPPA’s best-animated sequences, the dialogue surrounding Eren’s decisions and a gut-wrenching goodbye. Let’s get into it!
The Nature of Eren Yeager
The motivation regarding Eren’s decision continues to tear fans apart. Eren eases the debated in the first ten minutes with a flashback segment.
The opening sequence after the title screen appears follows Eren through the streets of Marley. The other side of the sea. On the surface, it would appear Eren is lost in thought, but it’s explained by an internal monologue.
Eren sees the families and society he is destined to trample in the future. The timing is uncertain but he makes it clear that all that’s to come is his will. He wonders what his mother would think. Just how much of this did Eren see when he kissed Historia Reiss’ hand seasons ago?
Eren eventually runs into a young refugee boy living in Marley named Ramzi. Ramzi’s misfortune plays out as he is harassed by Marleyans for his petty crimes. Eren thinks about intervening, but he asks himself what the point would be. Eren will still be responsible for Ramzi’s death months into the future. It seems he has enough self-awareness to know he shouldn’t play the hero here.
“I’m the same as you Reiner… No i’m worse than that!”
Early on in the first season, Armin described the outside world to Eren in a way that spurred equal parts confusion and motivation to seek life beyond the walls of Shiganshina. Armin spoke of fiery waters and fields covered in sand.
After four seasons, the characters we’ve been following have finally made it to this magnificent view. To Eren, only the free could obtain such views.
Eren high above the clouds speaks volumes on multiple levels. Is it freedom or has he risen far above into delusion? A child Eren speaks to a shocked Armin through the paths: “We’ve finally made it to this view, haven’t we Armin?”
This entire discourse surrounding freedom is juxtaposed by the grittiness and carnage of the rumbling. The anime is realistic in its approach to this catastrophic event. Some flee on foot and others try to hide. There’s a crowd that overthrows the driver of a car attempting to escape and there are those who would rather commit suicide than get trampled. But none of it matters. Death is knocking on the door for all.
The anime shows just enough to avoid relying on the shock factor. The directors slow down the pace with some heartfelt conversations. There’s the organic and ever-blossoming romance between Annie and Armin. It’s a buildup of Armin’s empathy towards her throughout the seasons. Armin was one of the few who understood she was a victim of circumstance.
The one-way conversations he had with her in her crystal form were key too. Annie admits she was aware of the visits he paid her even if she was unable to respond. But again it works in a way that allows the audience to buy into their dynamic. Annie remains unchanged and in a new landscape where everything around Armin is changing, it’s easy to see how Armin would retreat to her. This is the payoff of narrative seeds planted seasons ago.
There’s just enough into the mindset of other characters too. A few are shown to have regret towards prior decisions. How did one let the rumbling and Eren go this far? Others let the lament take a backseat for the time being and focus on a plan to stop the devastation. There’s no time for what-ifs anymore. It’s now a combination of Marleyans and Eldians united against a common threat.
The changing of studios from WIT to MAPPA at the end of season 3 continues to be divisive. A topic of debate has been the action-packed sequences that made early Attack on Titan what it was. It’s arguable that the source material itself shelved the action to push the plot forward. But even when MAPPA tried its hand at ODM action in season 4, it always felt like something was missing.
That’s not the case in this special. MAPPA brought their A-game to this episode’s animation. If you need a refresher on nostalgia, we’ve previously covered how it can benefit a series. Let’s see how it’s used here!
Nostalgia to AOT’s favor
The squad’s plan to stop Eren rests on retrieving a plane in a foreign dock. As luck would have it, the colossal titans are making their footsteps heard. Inching closer every second, Hange Zoe steps forward to attempt to slow them down. Just enough time for the squad to ascend into the sky.
The situation gives way to some of the best action animations AOT has seen. MAPPA blends CG and hand-drawn animation to perfection. It’s a pairing that is hardly noticeable because of the nature of ODM sequences. The movement is dynamic as much as it is fluid.
Hange tears through the sky and titan necks against the backdrop of a smoky sky. The anime established Levi Ackerman as humanity’s strongest soldier but Hange sure gives Levi a run for his money.
The segment’s emotional punch is elevated with the return of Hirouki Sawano’s Bauklötze. It’s a track last heard in season one. Early on, it was played in a moment that defined a teenage Eren. The scenario’s a bit different here. The anime often brings backtracks sparingly that are easily recognizable for their presence in pivotal moments. The nostalgic effect is just enough to resonate with audiences and tug on old and familiar feelings now repurposed.
As the vocalist sings of fighting until a “hot wind takes our wings”, the audience too sees Hange giving her all to slow down the titans. It’s a suicide effort that is successful in the end. As the plane flies away, the squad (and the audience) bursts into tears.
Could you ask for a more cinematic send-off? Rest easy, Hange.
This first part is only one side of the finale. The cliffhanger MAPPA leaves on screen shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. But if this coin is any indication of what the final battle will look like, it should be well worth the wait. Emotions fly at an all-time high and the quality of the animation follows its altitude. The pacing of the episode easily finds a balance that neither drags on or feels rushed.
MAPPA’s staffing team seems to be giving themselves the right resources and time. The perfect recipe for a finale that is sure to deliver.