This Attack on Titan review contains spoilers.
Attack on Titan Season 4 Episode 27
“You can’t separate humanity from violence…”
The heroes in Attack on Titan have limited numbers and resources, but what they really have the least of at the moment is time. Every second that passes contributes to the greater likelihood of a bleak future as Eren’s onslaught of Wall Titans move closer to their destination. Characters would love to have the luxury of another campfire chat to weigh their options, but every moment of silence that’s taken in “Retrospective” has deafening reverberations for their future.
In these dire times, the Azumabito’s flying ship is still the best–and really the only–plan of attack. Theo Magath and Hange turn to a strategy that should allow them to arrive at Marley before the continent is trampled into oblivion. The Azumabito’s flying boat was the lynchpin to last week’s climax and it remains the crucial ingredient to the Resistance’s success in “Retrospective.” However, the constant surprises and battle pivots force the heroes to adopt a revised strategy on the fly.
The Resistance has acquired a flying boat, but it’s in no condition to take flight, let alone reach Marley. It’s definitely a frustrating development that these characters are stuck biding their time until their transportation receives the necessary repairs, but it’s a new and effective way to accentuate the helplessness of these heroes. In “Retrospective,” absolutely every karmic element pushes back against Attack on Titan’s heroes, yet these individuals have never been more prepared to give absolutely everything that they have to their cause.
There have been so many seismic factors that are beyond the control of these characters, but there’s never been a hurdle that’s so practical as mechanical maintenance. It’s such a simple obstacle that wouldn’t have given any of these characters pause back during Attack on Titan’s first season, but now it’s able to evolve into a suspenseful and claustrophobic exercise where all of the Titan power in the world isn’t going to help them in the moment. Patience and time are what are most valuable to the heroes in “Retrospective,” which allows the final season’s penultimate episode to fluctuate between extremes as humanity’s saviors are forced to divide their skills between reconnaissance and combat.
“Retrospective” is a deeply satisfying episode of Attack on Titan and it’s easily the best looking installment of the season. There have been some valid criticisms of MAPPA’s animation over this final season and some episodes have been more hit than miss. Fortunately, it seems as if MAPPA has been saving their best material for last because the blood-soaked spectacle that fills up “Retrospective” contains some of the most gorgeous visuals from the entire series. Annie and Reiner lead the Survey Corps forward against the Jaegerists in a cathartic, kinetic explosion of action.
There’s such remarkable choreography and a sense of movement as characters catapult across the city and this dizzying sense of chaos never slows down. The full-fledged Titan assaults are spectacular, but the ODM gear theatrics are on a whole other level. Mikasa is driven forward with a terrifying killer instinct where she’s two busy assessing the next target to contemplate the current victim who’s impaled on her blade. Blood literally rains down on the heroes as they get closer to their goal.
The other highlight of this assault is Falco’s debut transformation as the Jaw Titan, which is without a doubt the most disturbing Titan design of the lot. Falco’s interpretation of this monster bears a lot in common with Marcel’s original look, but the differences that are present almost feel like a manifestation of all of the extra pain and grief that Falco’s recently experienced. Falco’s Jaw Titan is a major asset in battle, but it’s also realistic that his abilities are erratic, sloppy, and that he’s a temporary help rather than the ultimate solution. These visuals and revelations all hit hard, but Hiroyuki Sawano and Kohta Yamamoto’s score in this episode really goes above and beyond. The music elevates the material and generates maximum suspense regardless of whether it’s the bewildering fight sequences or the panicked strategy sessions.
Floch’s gradual evolution into a heartless villain reaches its apex in “Retrospective” as the Jaegerists grow overwhelmed. These final episodes have presented so many haunting parallels between the heroes and villains as these labels become increasingly blurred and irrelevant. There’s so much to appreciate when it comes to this episode’s character work and where everyone’s arcs end up, but there’s also a poignant power to the reversal behind symbols like the Thunder Spears.
Thunder Spears started as tools of hope that led to major strategic breakthroughs against Reiner’s Armored Titan. Now these weapons have been appropriated by Floch and the Jaegerists as the most effective method to doom their mission. It’s equally chilling when Floch uses the Survey Corps’ inspirational creed, “Dedicate your hearts,” as a killing mantra against their former friends. The pride with which he launches his final attack, not to mention the way in which he’s heroically framed, brings to mind all of Levi, Mikasa, and Eren’s most courageous moments in battle. Floch has never been more of a villain to humanity in this moment, yet everything is so warped that Attack on Titan can’t help but celebrate his eternal resolve. This all comes full circle when it’s Gabi who plays the role of hero and stops Floch’s desperate attack.
The many acts of empathy and sacrifice resonate strongly throughout “Retrospective,” but the most moving sequence in this highly emotional episode is the somber farewell (and hello) that occurs between Theo Magath and Keith Shadis. These two have gradually become the MVPs of the past few episodes and the communal peace that they reach independently of each other is a testament to Attack on Titan’s staggering character development. These two parallel figures from opposite sides of this war reach an elegant symmetry during their final days. These leaders are the perfect distillation of how the Marleyans and Eldians make better allies than enemies and it’s better to realize that when there’s no time left than never at all.
“Retrospective” gives Attack on Titan fans everything they want as it indulges in the best battle sequences that this season has seen as well the taut philosophical debates that have given the anime such a fulfilling backbone after all of these years. There’s only one episode left in the second-half of Attack on Titan’s final season, but the characters have never been more psychologically defeated and ready to give up. The Rumbling has evidently trampled far more than the world around them; it’s crushed their hope.