Final seasons are full of bold narrative swings and bittersweet farewells, but the concluding episodes of Attack on Titan operate on a whole other level. The series’ courageous characters are all pushed far past their limits as casualties mount, allies transform into villains, and society descends into a darkness that’s more depressing than ever before. For once it truly feels as if the sun may never rise on the murky gloom that’s fallen over Attack on Titan.
A lot of emotions come to the surface for all of Attack on Titan’s characters, but it’s also been an incredibly cathartic experience for the voice actors that have brought the anime’s icons to life for nearly a decade. Every episode in this final season feels like a new apex for the series’ storytelling, but there are some earlier moments from the anime’s run that continue to stick with its voice actors and remain raw sequences. Eren and Mikasa have experienced an insurmountable level of loss since the start of Attack on Titan. However, a pivotal confession and moment of reckoning between the characters back in season two’s finale, “Scream,” feels like a true catalyst for the performers.
“At the end of season two, Mikasa and Eren are in the worst possible position,” Bryce Papenbrook, Eren’s English voice actor, says as he sets the scene. “People are dying, the world is kind of in slow motion as these things are closing in on them, and Eren has just watched someone very close to them get eaten. He starts to break down and he has this weird emotion where he’s crying, laughing, and just breaking.”
Eren’s moment of helplessness is a turning point for not only the characters, but also his mental state. “Being able to go through that with him was really difficult, but I’m proud of what we were able to capture in that moment,” elaborates Papenbrook. “It definitely stands out as a moment in the series that’s just really special. I always think of that particular moment in the show as being one of the most intense and interesting.”
The intensity of this moment is even beautifully echoed through a similar breakdown that Eren experiences when he watches another friend get mortally wounded during the height of the final season. The scene hits much harder because this low point for Eren in “Scream” reverberates through Eren’s passivity. Papenbrook’s raw performance sets an emotional precedent for the growing darkness and increasing casualties that consume Attack on Titan’s subsequent third and fourth seasons that follow the gutting finale, “Scream.”
Eren’s pain becomes palpable in “Scream.” However, the sequence is so successful because of the counterbalance that Trina Nishimura’s Mikasa provides. Nishimura’s performance and how she “pulls Eren back” is just as important.
“In real life, Trina actually did pull me back,” Papenbrook says. “I left the recording still hurting and Trina called me and was just so complimentary and excited about what we were able to capture there. It made me so happy.”
Mike McFarland, Attack on Titan’s ADR director, argues that the moment fails if Mikasa doesn’t remind Eren of his humanity.
“I want to thank you both for going where you did,” McFarland says. “It was exceptional. You two both did so, so well there. I cry when I watch it.”
McFarland isn’t the only one who gets emotional over the characters’ honest breakdown. Nishimura adds, “Just you mentioning it makes me want to cry! It was so good, Bryce.”
Even Papenbrook admits that Eren’s breaking point hung over him more than typical Titan moments. “I felt that scene for a number of days after leaving the booth.”
It’s this level of fearless plotting and committed performances that have kept the audience for Attack on Titan’s dub passionately invested for so many years.
“It’s just so gratifying that the storytelling is willing to go to such depths of despair,” McFarland adds. “I think Attack on Titan goes much further than other shows do and I’m quite fortunate to have a very talented cast that will go there, too.”
“As an actor, it’s some of the work that I’m the most proud of,” Bryce says.
Attack on Titan is available to stream on Crunchyroll and Funimation.