This Attack on Titan review contains spoilers.
Attack on Titan Season 4 Episode 2
“You’ve achieved great things.”
“No, not yet.”
Fringe is a television series about an unstable rift between two alternate Earths where the survival of one depends on the destruction of the other. The characters on these opposing Earths both view themselves as the heroes because by nature the very existence of the other Earth makes it the “enemy.” Neither side functions as a villain, but this necessity for survival demands that they’re both viewed in this light anyway. The alternative is to accept that the other side deserves to exist more. It’s a fascinating question to have the audience consider, but Attack on Titan pushes this challenging paradigm to an even more ambitious place with how its fourth season presents the rest of its story. “Midnight Train” adds another satisfying layer to this larger question as the final season’s narrative develops.
Nobody wants to become irrelevant and people will do extreme things to avoid that from happening, especially when their very existence is questioned. What’s already an extremely rewarding aspect of Attack on Titan’s final season is that it explains the motivations that have driven characters like Reiner and Zeke in a way that makes their past actions against Eren and company a lot more understandable. “History is told from the point of view of the winners,” is an overused adage, but this season powerfully demonstrates the significance of perspective. Attack on Titan’s season 4 has the audience spend time with characters who have been previously introduced as villains, only to make them reconsider if that label is truly accurate.
This could come across as hackneyed and stilted, but it’s able to work so well because Attack on Titan doesn’t repeatedly tell the audience that these new characters are heroes. Instead, it simply lets the audience spend time with them and see that they’re as human and empathetic as anyone from out of Shiganshina District and within the Walls. It comes down to its confidence in its characters, which isn’t going to work for everyone, but it’s so much better than presenting these individuals in a manufactured way. One of the most effective scenes in the episode involves Reiner recounting his undercover work in Shiganshina to his family. He describes acts between Survey Corps members that were previously playful moments in the series, yet he speaks about them with growing contempt as if they’re sub-human species who defy reason.
“The Other Side of the Sea” is a strong introduction to Attack on Titan’s reverse half, but “Midnight Train” properly shows what these characters care about and why they deserve to have it. These thought provoking parallels get underlined even more with how this episode puts Zeke Jaeger in the spotlight. Zeke is essentially the series’ bizarro version of Eren, right down to how they both want to get redemption for the acts of their father, Grisha, albeit over very different things.
“Midnight Train” really lights a fire under the idea of how important it is for these Marleyan forces to obtain the Founding Titan. This proposal leads to plenty of action, but it also opens up some gripping questions that are able to examine the full world of Attack on Titan in a way that previously wasn’t possible. There’s a debate where Zeke and other high-ranking Marleyan officials lament that their army has focused on their strength coming from Titans rather than the development of conventional weapons and artillery. Eldia hasn’t avoided Titans, but they’ve made technology their priority in such a way where their continued advancements have even started to surpass the skills of Titans and make them look like an inefficient weapon in comparison. In theory the Founding Titan will solve this and give “Titan warfare” the advantage that it’s lacking against modern technology.
Titans have always been treated like ultimate tools of destruction and when Eren is revealed to be one it’s viewed as a turning point for the Survey Corps. “Midnight Train” argues that such a preoccupation on Titans is a waste of time and not the direction that the world is moving in. It’s a new idea for the audience to consider and it oddly equates Titans to a dying piece of technology not unlike VCRs. It’s as if the Founding Titan is the hardware advancement that will allow Blu-Ray to surpass HD-DVD.
All of this can boil down to the need to survive, which has been present from the anime’s start, but it’s another way in which this new season asks the viewer to question the tenets of this universe and deconstruct it through a fresh context. The multi-step plan of deception that Zeke orchestrates as Marley’s last gambit shows off the intricate politics of this world and their manipulation of society. This is fundamental to the series, but it hasn’t really been focused on since the look into the Reiss family. Zeke is forced to take larger risks with the allies that he banks on, but it’s a welcome change of pace for an episode to put so much focus on the strategy behind a battle and not the battle itself.
It appears that the first few episodes of this season will revolve around the efforts of Falco, Gabi, Udo, and others as they fight to inherit Reiner’s Armored Titan ability. This is an exciting storyline to function as an introduction since it immediately shows these characters at their most cutthroat. This is a lot of fun and it’s nice that this “contest” takes its time and isn’t resolved in a single episode so it’s allowed to have more of this feeling of a bizarro version of The Apprentice.
What’s kind of brilliant about this is that the audience is ostensibly put in a similar position to the Marleyan officials that will decide who’s worthy to become the next Armored Titan. The audience knows that Eren and his team are out to acquire the Founding Titan and that’s also identified as the larger goal of these new Marleyan characters. This presentation style forces the audience to inherently side with one set of characters more than the other so when everyone does eventually come together the series has already built stakes that are complex and personal.
Falco also raises some interesting counterpoints to the Titan argument, such as how it’s just as much of a death sentence as it is an honor. He’s bullied into submission for this dissent, but it’s another valid point made against Titans. Alternatively, “Midnight Train” also has a real interest in the memory transfer concept of Titan inheritance. It addresses new fears and imperfections in the area. In the past Titan consumption has been looked at as a way to gain additional power, but here it’s viewed more as a way to access or transfer dead information and live forever, so to speak.
It’s also worth pointing out that “Midnight Train” is directed by Daisuke Tokudo, who hasn’t helmed an episode of the anime since Attack on Titan’s very first season. “Midnight Train” certainly matches the action of last week’s premiere, but it’s somewhat fitting for the series to return to some of the first season’s creative staff as the anime concludes with this parallel piece of storytelling. These new episodes do feel like the show’s first season in many respects. It’s unclear if more of Attack on Titan’s former staff will return for the show’s swan song, but it’s a nice way to bring back some former experts and a source of stability, especially when the anime’s animation studio has changed.
“Midnight Train” gives a better picture of the scope of Attack on Titan’s final season and why the show’s world has such depth to it. It does an even better job with Falco, Gabi, Porco, and the rest of the new characters, but its work with older supporting figures like Zeke and Reiner is even more exciting in certain ways. Character, story, and animation all remain at a high standard. The pacing in “Midnight Train” remains at a comfortable speed that lets this new world breathe, but it also doesn’t feel like it drags its feet.