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Attack on Titan returns, preparing us for the anime’s own endgame

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Before we see Eren Yeager’s basement, reflection

The Attack on Titan season 3, part 2, episode 1 is now streaming on Funimation Premium.

It’s been 10 years since the first issue of Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan hit the shelves, and six since the first episode of the popular anime adaptation first aired. It seems remarkable that on the same weekend that Avengers: Endgame wrapped up a 22-movie saga and Game of Thrones staged the highly anticipated Battle of Winterfell, the anime phenomenon would start the final lap towards the goal that was promised all those years ago: reclaiming Wall Maria and see what the hell is inside Eren Yeager’s basement.

We don’t get there, or see whether Armin is right about the idea of the ocean, right off the bat in Attack on Titan’s season 3, part 2 premiere. Instead, “The Town Where Everything Began” takes a moment to reminisce about the past and how much our young Scouts have gone through.

[Ed. note: this post contains spoilers for the Attack on Titan season 3, part 2 premiere]

The opening narration summarizes the story so far, how five years ago one of the three great walls that protect the remainder of humanity was destroyed by giant, man-eating Titans. “On that day, humanity remembered. The fear of being in control by them. The humiliation of being imprisoned.” The first words we hear way back in the series premiere echo through the opening of “The Town Where Everything Began,” a reminder that, on that fateful day, humanity realized they are “not meant to continue living” and absolutely cannot hope to defeat the Titans.

The undercurrent of Attack on Titan is that the good guys can’t win. While Game of Thrones shocks audiences by killing off main characters every once in a while, Attack on Titan obliterates its ensemble cast every chance it got. Don’t even bother learning the new recruits’ name, for they will soon be devoured by the mindless beasts that brought humanity to the brink of extinction.

attack on titan Wit Studio

That said, behind all its many horrors, Attack on Titan has always been about hope. Eren Yeager has always remained hopeful in his desire to eliminate all Titans and achieve freedom from them. While it may be awhile before we see some resemblance of a happy ending in this series, the newest episode dares hint at the possibility of a major win for our heroes.

Early in “The Town Where Everything Began,” we see Attack on Titan relying on nostalgia to show us that this will be the end of this chapter of the story. Eren, Mikasa, and Armin reminisce about the good days before the fall of Wall Maria, the hopes and dreams they shared back then. Even the opening and ending sequences are all about looking at the past, with Linked Horizon returning to perform the opening theme as they did in the first two seasons. The song “The Path of Longing and Corpses” sounds like a mix of every opening before it, and you can even catch little sound cues and lyrics from previous theme songs. Likewise, the ending theme by Cinema Staff accompanies a montage of scenes from the entire show, little moments that remind us of how far we’ve come and all the characters we’ve lost along the way.

The finale of the first half of the season, which aired back in November, ended with the citizens of Trost District shouting good wishes and thanks to the Scouts, the first time they ever get a send off like it. Goodwill is finally on the side of the main characters, and this hope for victory carries on to this week’s episode, which sees Erwin’s plan to seal the wall work surprisingly well.

Of course, this is still Attack on Titan, and despite the first half of the episode being used for emotional character moments, the episode quickly takes a turn towards the depressing and brutally violent that we all know, love, and question.

The animation is better than ever, whether it’s the aerial sequences of a hundred Scouts moving across Shiganshina District, Eren’s incredible Titan transformation – which gets an upgrade with new visual effects – or the episode’s only death and subsequent attempted murder of Reiner. Those afraid of Japanese censorship taking away from the story’s more gruesome moments need not worry; this episode is just as neck-slashingly bloody as it’s ever been.

This may have been just the set up for what’s to come the rest of the season, but “The Town Where Everything Began” already gave us pulpy moments that rival Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ ape dual-wielding machine guns while on horseback. More importantly, for a show that’s known for being soul-crushing and all about failure, this episode finally sets a sight on true victory. We may not know what kind of enemy is beyond the walls, and there is no way at least half of the Scouts don’t die in yet another suicide run. But for now we can almost see the end of the fight against the Titans, however tragic it might be for humanity.