Attack on Titan Season 4: The Changes that Set This Season Apart from the Rest

13 Min Read

R E V I E W – A N I M E

Munima Mahmud

This review contains spoilers.

If we kill all the enemies out there, will we finally be free then?

– Eren Yeager, Season 3, Episode 22

Attack on Titan season 3 ended on a grim note, pointing that even after the Survey Corps discovered the secrets of Eren’s basement and found the ocean, a whole new world outside of Paradis Island waited to be found. Through Eren’s words, we now know that it’s not titans versus humans anymore. It’s humans versus humans — it always has been.

AoT passed the subpar shonen anime stage long ago; the plots slowly started to unveil from season 2. Politics both in and out of the Paradis island, moral conflicts, bigotry and racism (Marleyans’ hatred towards Eldians), building up the situations towards a grey area from black and white, and, most importantly, the grim fate of humanity — are the driving components. With season 4 beginning from the Marleyan perspective, Isayama gave us a message of not choosing sides, because there is no right or wrong side when it comes to war. There are jarring changes in season 4 concerning the previous seasons: Parallelism between characters, a foreshadowing of events, CGI animation of the titans, and more focus on moral conflicts and plot. However, devoting so much attention to the plot and subplots results in poor character development. Overall, a good season with a few weak points here and there.

Parallelism between characters and events

By drawing parallels between characters and events, the writers make it clear that the Eldians of Paradis island and Liberio are on the same page. Both sides are fighting for what they believe is right, and it’s wrong to just blindly take sides without hearing both sides’ stories. Eren and the others find themselves in the same shoes as who they consider being their enemies and vice versa. 

A parallel can be drawn between younger Eren and Gabi based on their actions. After witnessing the gruesome death of his mother, losing comrades left and right, and being betrayed by his friends, Eren was sent into a state of constant agonising rage. He perceived titans as his enemies, and Gabi goes through a similar stage of blind fury. Being dubbed “devil” and mistreated her whole life, Gabi perceived the people of Paradis Island as her enemies, irrationally blaming them for the condition of her people in Marley. After seeing her friends and people murdered in cold blood, she goes through the same stage as the young Eren’s. Both are ready to do whatever it takes to achieve what they believe is right. Younger Eren showed his resolve to fight titans many times in the previous seasons. Gabi shows a strong resolve as well by getting on the Survey Corps’  airship and killing Sasha and Commander Lobov.

The parallel of Reiner and Eren is the highlight of the season. Both have fallen from grace and have been given less than ideal options, resembling the main theme of this season — there are no cut and clear villains. Reiner and Eren came from humble beginnings with each having similar goals. Eren wanted to avenge his mother and kill titans, while Reiner wanted to make his mother proud and protect his family by becoming a Warrior and retaking the founder titan from Paradis Island. If we further analyse the consequences, we will understand that both of them were seen as titans first and humans second. Reiner was the honourary Marleyan only because of his titan shifting abilities and Eren was valued and used by the military because of his abilities as well. Both faced betrayals in turns by each other and lost a part of their humanity, becoming the villains they were set off to become from the start due to their surroundings. They both fell into a cycle of invading each other — in the first part of the season, Eren is repeating what the Marleyans did to him as a child, and in the later parts of this season, Reiner attacks Paradis island once again.

They show us that invading each other’s lands and becoming villains each time will never stop the endless cycle of war.

Reiner resembles the tragic hero archetype and we see these traits in Eren as well. Both characters mirror each other so well that it resonates with Attack on Titan’s new-found philosophy — everyone is a villain if looked through the right lens.

Eren and the survey corps’ invasion of Liberio mirror the attack on Shiganshina by the Warriors (Reiner and Bertholdt). The Warriors destroyed Wall Maria and Rose and killed civilians by letting in the titans. This is how Paradis Islands’ cycle of hatred of titans began. By attacking Liberio, the survey corps find themselves in the same place as the warriors, they also have to kill civilians to follow through with Eren’s plan. In one scene, Armin asks Bertholdt if he had witnessed these deaths as well, and by doing so he draws similarities between the two events. So who are the good guys and bad guys, and who are in the right and wrong? 

The show wanted to convey that both sides have now dirtied their hands and are constantly doing things to one-up the other, and the message gets through loud and clear.

Change in the overall plot

The overall plot of AoT is by far incredible, including the simultaneous world-building of Paradis Island and Marley. Our focus has been on the world of Paradis Island all this time, and now the world of Marley and its components have been merged as well, bringing in elements of political complexity and racial oppression, as well as nuanced subplots. As we are thrown into the Marley arc, we question everything we have known upto this point. Season 4 recontextualises the plot and reveals the hidden narrative of why titans and some special titans exist, why humanity was pushed inside the walls, and why the world sees Paradis Island as a threat to humanity. 

From the Island’s residents’ viewpoint, it was the outer world full of titans that were the enemy, but after this season, the narrative has been subverted as we learn that it is the Paradis island inhabitants who are seen as the enemies by the rest of the world.

If we look at where we began in season 1 and where we are now, we will see the transition from the concept of secluded humans fighting titans to the concepts of political warfare, racial segregation, and hatred between Eldians and Marleyans. The overall plot was tied together piece by piece by each subplot of this season — it’s not just about killing titans anymore.

Poor character development, more plot-building

To establish such nuance among certain characters and events and mirroring them, more time was spent to build up plots, resulting in less time to do other things. As a result, many characters didn’t get depth to them. Thus, their actions beg questions, most importantly Eren’s. 

After the 4-year time skip, Eren has gone from a hot-blooded protagonist acting with nigh-suicidal recklessness to a cool-headed, cold-hearted strategist. The old Eren might have never agreed to Zeke’s Euthanasia plan, or proceeded to attack Marley on his own; so a convincing subplot was necessary that would explain exactly how Eren’s character development took place.

He started with the more humane purposes of avenging his mother, killing titans, and thus saving the world. But now he has been killing civilians, eating titan shifters, and is on the way to become a “Villain” or “Anti-hero” protagonist. Surely, his goal of choosing the path of freedom hasn’t changed but the means of achieving his goal have.

It was disappointing to bring back Historia, an integral character in the previous seasons only for a few moments to make her choose between inheriting a titan and beginning a breeding cycle and becoming pregnant to avoid that fate. We don’t get to hear her thoughts or opinions like the other old characters’ either. Other important characters of this season like Yelena and Floch could’ve gotten more screen time for character development. Floch was a suicidal soldier who wanted to throw away his life in the battle of the Survey Corps against the beast titan, so it is perplexing to see him ending up as the leader of the Yeagerists. It is hard to understand Yelena and her actions; we get that she is a devoted follower of Zeke and Eren and eliminates allies who don’t act according to her intentions, but what caused her to end up with such strong motives in the first place? We were never introduced to her backstory and therefore, her character was introduced only for the service of the plot resulting in getting poor character depth.

Changes in use of 2D and CGI titans and animation

It is no new news that WIT studio hasn’t been successful in using CGI titans on screen. Compared to WIT, MAPPA does a better job by seamlessly using 2D and CGI titans in the fighting scenes. More use of 2D titans than CGI titans results in a more realistic animation of the titans. The rotoscoping animation of MAPPA is more suitable for the dystopian world of Attack on Titan, where everything is more blended-in and darker in tone. 

Overall, the shifting of focus from Paradis Island to Marley and pulling it off so incredibly that it never felt out of place was Isayama’s biggest feat. We were focused on one side of the whole plot whereas a completely different world was left to be discovered. Sewing it back perfectly so that it was consistent with the established plot was not an easy task. The negligence towards character development was made up for with an intriguing plot, stellar animation, and development of nuanced subplots. There are still a lot of parts of the story left to be discovered, and it gives us all the more reasons to look forward to part 2 of season 4. 

My ratings:

Plot: 9/10

Animation: 7/10

Character development: 6/10

Soundtracks, OP, and ED: 8/10

Overall: 8.5/10


Munima is constantly seeking out new philosophies of life but never applying them, reach her out at [email protected]


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