This Attack on Titan review contains spoilers.
Attack on Titan Season 4 Episode 21
“You’re not a slave, nor are you a God. You’re just a human! You don’t have to obey anyone! You can decide. You get to decide!”
Back when Attack on Titan first started there was a cryptic nature to the significance behind the first episode’s title, “For You, 2000 Years From Now,” both in terms of what it’s referring to and who is behind this message. Attack on Titan is a pro at keeping its cards close to its chest, but it’s extremely impressive that the answer to this question that’s posed in the anime’s pilot finally gets answered in “From You, 2000 Years Ago,” which echoes closure across centuries of turmoil.
It’s deeply satisfying as this narrative loop completes and how this haunting piece of symmetry truly emphasizes how Eren has always been the series’ main character, even when he thought he wasn’t. “From You, 2000 Years Ago” examines the breadcrumbs that Eren has left for himself to follow generations later, which have gone on to become the very foundation to Attack on Titan’s ongoing war. It’s an episode that’s dense, enlightening, and frequently horrifying, which pushes this final season to even bolder heights as everything is about to get burned to the ground.
The first half of Attack on Titan’s final season was extremely satisfying, but also full of huge narrative risks as it builds to its endgame. This mastery over intricate, serialized storytelling has reached a level of perfection in the second half of this final season where each week effectively establishes a new standard for Attack on Titan’s apex. It’s very easy to reduce each installment of this season to “Attack on Titan’s best episode,” but holy cow, oh God, “From You, 2000 Years Ago” is Attack on Titan’s best episode.
There are certain narrative milestones in series that never get crossed because doing so completely changes the premise and forces the show to prove that it actually has something to say beyond an engaging hook. The past few episodes of Attack on Titan have been one giant game of Uno between the Jaeger brothers, where each sibling plays the Reverse Card right when it seems like the other has won this game. “From You, 2000 Years Ago” begins with Zeke seemingly in the position of control, but it turns out that Eren didn’t just have one more Reverse Card up his sleeve, he also has a +4 Card that’s been compounding interest for generations.
It’s truly frightening when Eren successfully claims Ymir’s Founding Titan power, triggers the Rumbling, and turns the iconic wall that has protected the anime’s characters since the series’ start into a cataclysmic stampede of Titans. Attack on Titan’s new opening title sequence has perpetually teased the Rumbling, but it hits on a much deeper level when the series officially descends into this chaos that’s set to decimate the world. The characters in Attack on Titan have faced endless setbacks, but this is the first time where their lot actually feels hopeless. Additionally, this is also the moment in the series that will officially solidify Eren’s status as a villain, something that begins to set in for Armin and Mikasa, which leaves the anime’s heroes at their most fractured.
What’s so fascinating about the coup that Eren pulls on Zeke is that it stems entirely from emotional manipulation and on some level he does actually relieve Ymir of generations of trauma, even if he’s the one who ultimately benefits from the exchange. Eren understands Ymir’s pain from being used as a tool of destruction for other people’s wars and there are several moments where Eren’s intense psychological play really does evoke sympathy for these two abused ciphers. Eren’s healing words to Ymir are true, but they’re so entrenched in his circuitous master plan that one can’t still help but feel nervous as she relinquishes her power to him.
“From You, 2000 Years Ago” has no shortage of landmark moments, but it’s really a showcase for Ymir. Attack on Titan elegantly reveals Ymir’s tragic lot in life and the circumstances that surround the very first Titan. This is a series that can all be distilled down to different scapegoats throughout history as generations discard culpability, but it all begins with Ymir. Ymir’s history is heartbreaking and it’s a testament to the plight of this character that she’s almost silent for the entire episode, yet still conveys multitude of emotions. Ymir is both literally and figuratively without a voice throughout this story and her clenched teeth during Eren’s soothing words is as moving as any lengthy monologue.
The emotional beats that are experienced with Ymir are as gripping as Attack on Titan has ever been, but the episode’s centerpiece that’s going to generate the most discussion is Eren’s transformation into the Founding Titan. In a series that’s full of stunning and grandiose transformations, Eren’s Founding Titan makes every previous Titan metamorphosis look like a magical girl demonstration. This Titan seems to span hundreds, if not thousands of feet with an intimidating rib cage that truly gives new meaning to the term “titan.”
MAPPA doesn’t diminish the significance of this moment–which one could argue is the series’ true turning point—and it’s a lavish sequence that’s on par with Attack on Titan’s most beautiful displays of animation. The sheer theatrics of this transformation are unlike anything else that’s been experienced before in the series, but it’s absolutely chilling when Eren’s Founding Titan telepathically communicates with everyone. The disturbing, scrawled vision of Eren’s Titan that accompanies the end of his speech presumably mentally bombards the Eldians, too. He hammers in this feeling of hopelessness where the public can’t even escape to the safety of their minds as some sort of private refuge without Eren’s intrusion. There is nowhere to hide.
This entire final season of Attack on Titan has been a grim delight, but it’s episodes like “From You, 2000 Years Ago” that demonstrate the exceptional storytelling that’s been in play from the start. Years’ worth of buildup and development are coming to a head at an alarming rate that’s turned these episodes into true event television that so many series strive towards, but fail to actually reach. There will surely be more episodes from this final season that top the heights of this installment, but “From You, 2000 Years Ago” is a perfect episode of Attack on Titan that deserves to be recognized as such.