In anime years, Attack on Titan is an old dog. First airing in 2013, it quickly rose to the forefront of the cultural zeitgeist during its heyday, but has since been supplanted by My Hero Academia and Demon Slayer. Despite this, it steadily progresses through Isayama’s often problematic story and is rapidly approaching the conclusion that fans have been waiting for nearly a decade.
For such a long anime, you’d be forgiven for thinking the series had become routine. Instead, animation studio MAPPA, which took over the reins from WIT for the final season of Attack on Titan, suddenly gave us one of the most beautiful and poignant anime episodes ever released. with Night of the End. Note that this contains spoilers for the entirety of Attack on Titan through Season Four, Episode 25.
A Quick Catch Up For Those Fallen From The Attack Of The Titans: Eren Jaeger finally took control of the Founding Titan and used his power to free the thousands of world titans outside of Paradise Island during a apocalyptic event known as ‘The Rumble’. Eren’s goal is clear: he wants mass genocide of everyone other than the Eldians on his home island, and is willing to crush them all under the feet of his titans to achieve it. Eren’s old friends and foes, including Armin, Mikasa, Reiner, Gabi, Finger, and Hange, have all agreed to an uneasy alliance to oppose him and his murderous Jaegerist followers. This is where we find ourselves now.
The Night of the End feels like the calm before the storm. The new alliance has gathered in the forest to devise a plan, though they must first try to come to terms against insurmountable odds. After all, this group has been killing and fighting each other for years, and there’s a lot of bad blood on both sides. Magath of the Marleyan army is still held back by his chauvinistic hatred of the Eldians, while Jean and Conny both struggle to forgive their old friend Reiner for his betrayal as the Armored Titan that shattered their entire lives.
The entire episode is a melting pot for this group of old enemies. Alone in the woods, it’s a literal ordeal by fire as hard truths are told as the group tries to put the past behind them in the face of greater threat. But instead of presenting this through the usual anime methods of loud screaming and intense fighting, the episode uses subtle visual direction, “camera” placement, and shot sequencing to create something that looks radically different from anything Attack on Titan has done before.
For example, early in the episode, we see Jean’s dream of living in safety as a member of the Jaegerists with his “wife”, who is heavily implied to be Mikasa. This dream is cut short because he knows the right thing to do is fight Eren, and we are suddenly thrust into a dark barracks with Mikasa waving at him through the window. We are then given another jarring sequence with Hange, showing the heavyweight placed on their shoulders as commander of the defunct Survey Corps. We see the ghosts of deceased characters from the first season looming behind them.
While Attack on Titan dealt a lot with visions, memories, and lies, it never really did that kind of psychological exploration of its characters in such a visual way. We’ve never fully explored Jean’s desire to live a safe and comfortable life, but here it is in the bright, friendly colors that contrast so starkly with the destruction happening outside.
Then we come to the climax of the episode, where the alliance tries to have a meal together, hiding in the woods next to a bonfire. Despite the quiet music and lack of bloody action, it’s easily the most tense scene in Attack on Titan’s four seasons, and that’s thanks to the Mappa-inspired cinematography. Instead of following normal conventions like the rule of thirds, many shots frame the character alone in the center of the screen to show how alone he is in his decision and motivations to fight Eren. It’s only in moments when emotions flare that we see more than one character at a time, drawing the proverbial battle lines that could tear this ad hoc group of fragile allies apart.
And when those tensions rise, it’s not the music that changes – there’s very little in the whole episode – it’s the rhythm of the shots themselves. When Jaegerist Yelena, who has been unwittingly taken over by the covenant, mentions Jean’s old friend Marco who died in season one, the scene quickly flickers between different shots in utter, deafening silence. Instead of feeling the need to convey the spark of rage inside Jean through a musical sting or gasping character, Mappa does so with just a few quick, clean swipes from a bottle and a bowl of stew. well tight. It’s a family meal in the moments before an argument that triggers your fight-or-flight response, and it’s used to amazing effect here.
One of the big themes of the episode is how unnecessary revenge can be: it’s one of the first times since Reiner’s betrayal that characters like Jean and Conny have been able to confront him, and it’s not. It’s not a high octane fight that fans might have wanted. It’s a quiet, embarrassing fight near a campfire that ends with a little girl being kicked in the stomach. It’s messy and gross and nasty, with no catharsis to be found. But it was vital for the growth of these characters, and for us, an audience, as we realize that all the violence and death that happened before finally doesn’t matter now that Eren is ending the world. .
By the end of the episode, a new quiet understanding was found between the two parties. There is no forgiveness. Magath still hates the “devil” Eldians, and Jean bluntly states that he won’t apologize to Reiner for his brutal attack. But as the sun rises and the group sets out to fight the greatest threat the world has ever faced, it feels like something has been left behind by the campfire in this forest.
In a genre known for its frequent outbursts of emotion and book-consistent storytelling methods, Night of the End was a 20-minute masterclass in what anime could and should do. He played with music, tone, and camera just as much as he usually plays with animation and voice acting, and it stands out as not only the best episode of Attack on Titan, but potentially one of the best individual anime episodes ever produced. .
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