Over the course of four seasons and eight years, Attack on Titan has elicited passionate and heated debates concerning what many describe as the series’ fascist subtext, particularly in light of the uncomfortable real-life historical parallels and pro-imperialist themes many have seen evidenced in final chapters of Hajime Isayama’s manga.
Most of the debate surrounding the series’ questionable message revolves around one character in particular: Eren Jaeger, the series’ protagonist, who over the course of four seasons has transformed from a tragic and idealistic hero attempting to defend humanity’s last city from a horde of man-eating giants into a mass-murdering extremist, apparently willing to euthanize his own people in order to further his own agenda.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for Attack on Titan Final Season Part 2 episode 79 “Memories of the Future.”]
Opinions of Eren’s arc are split among fans of the series, so much so that the character has been nominated as both the year’s best protagonist and best antagonist in this year’s Crunchyroll Anime Awards. As Rafael Motamayor wrote for Polygon in the lead up to the premiere of Attack on Titan Final Season Part 2, “By ‘both sides’-ing the central conflict of Attack on Titan, and asking the audience to consider Eren as a monster while sympathizing with characters like Gabi and Zeke, the show finds itself on an even more nihilistic path than the one hinted at by its initial premise.”
Even Bryce Papenbrook, who for the past eight years has voiced Eren Jaeger in the English dub of Attack on Titan, is unsure of where he sits on the question of Eren’s moral alignment.
“I don’t know. I haven’t made a decision on how I feel about him,” Papenbrook tells Polygon over Zoom. “I think Attack on Titan does this very well. It builds this gray area, and every single episode just drives the story forward in a really meaningful way where it pulls you in one direction and then immediately flips the world the other way as you learn something else entirely. So I’m not sure how I feel about Eren as a viewer and a fan of the show.
“As someone who has portrayed Eren, I know there are moments where he’s said some really terrible things to his adopted family, to Armin and Mikasa. He’s doing these things that a lot of people would view as horrific; killing people and attacking people and just being vicious and violent, and I don’t fully understand why.”
Although Papenbrook is the voice of Eren, he himself is unaware of the events of the manga’s finale, choosing instead to watch the end of the series along with everyone else as he attempts to define how he feels about the character. In truth, the answer to the question has proven to change week to week with each new episode. The finale of last week’s episode represented the anime’s most shocking and consequential heel turn yet, with Eren and his brother Zeke going back in time to the fateful moment in which Eren’s father Grisha murdered the Reiss family to steal the Founding Titan, revealing for the first time Eren’s own direct role in influencing his father’s actions to shape the future.
“I know in those moments kind of how he’s feeling, but I don’t know how much knowledge Eren actually has [of what’s going to happen],” Papenbrook says. “Is he a monster? Is he righteous in what he’s doing, and just so persistent, that he’ll never give up on what he’s deciding on, that he’ll just keep moving forward no matter what. I don’t know, I don’t know if that makes him a monster or not.”
Attack on Titan Season 4 Part 2 premieres every Sunday on Funimation and Crunchyroll. The English simuldub is set to premiere on Sunday, Feb. 13 on Funimation and Crunchyroll.