Only three episodes in television history have received a perfect 10 out of 10 ratings on IMDb. Interestingly, two of these episodes belong to the same show.
If I asked you to guess that show, most of you would respond with Vince Gilligan's immortal masterpiece 'Breaking Bad' or David Simon's timeless classic 'The Wire'.
Well, all of you would be wrong.
Two of the three greatest episodes in television history actually belong to a Japanese animated series called 'Attack on Titan'.
Attack on Titan, also known as Shingeki no Kyojin was initially a manga series written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama. The serialisation of the manga began in September 2009 and it was later adopted as an anime that began airing in April 2013.
As soon as the first season aired, it was an instant hit, particularly among anime fans all around the world. The show had everything anime fans could ask for.
Thrilling action sequences? Check!
Emotional Roller Coaster rides? Check!
An intriguing premise? Definitely!
Attack on Titan is set in a world where mankind is on the verge of extinction and has been forced to seek refuge in an island called Paradis. They built three circular walls on the island called Wall Maria, Wall Rose and Wall Sheena to protect themselves against their mortal enemies.
Their mortal enemy? Titans.
Titans are humanoid monsters that prey only on humans. However, their purpose for such actions is not survival but only predation. For 100 years, however, humanity survived within the walls from titans. But on one fateful day, the titans broke through the wall into the district of Shiganshina and began devouring humans indiscriminately.
This is where we meet our lead protagonists: Eren Yeager, Armin Arlert and Mikasa Ackerman. When the Titans invaded their town, one of them devoured Eren's mother right before Eren and Mikasa. This event marked the beginning of Eren's obsession with obliterating all the titans from the face of the earth.
Although the first season of Attack on Titan kickstarted the campaign, I felt that it was just above average provided all the thrilling twists of the initial adaptation were mainly cheap shots at hooking audiences.
Eren Yeager, the lead protagonist, felt like another childishly naive Shonen protagonist whose only goal was to kill all the titans, regardless of the logistical improbabilities. Although Armin showed signs of becoming a tactical mastermind, most of the supporting characters like Sasha, Connie, Reiner, Bertholdt, Annie or Jean felt one-dimensional. Their only purpose was to give Eren something to respond to or just to get the story moving. These characters did not have any unique characteristics that I, as an audience, could relate to or empathise with.
Most of the hype associated with season 01 of the show was most likely attributable to charismatic characters like Captain Levi, Commander Erwin; thrilling action sequences against titans where the protagonists, i.e., the survey corps used a special device called the ODM gear. The unexpected twists at the end of every episode and a catchy, invigorating opening music didn't hurt its chances with the fans as well.
However, one thing the first season accomplished was that it laid the foundation for the events to follow, through its tactful worldbuilding; whether it was the geography of the island, the importance to protect the walls, the portrayal of titans as humanity's mortal enemy or the overarching odds of extinction.
The first season also establishes the nature of intricate relationships between different stakeholders. For example, the relationships and motivations of the three forces of the military, i.e., the Military Police, The Garrison and the Scouting Legion. It also shows how the three walls are also representative of income inequality where the poorest live in the outermost walls with limited resources at their disposal and the elites live comfortably in the centre of the island.
Regardless, most seasonal fans rode off the bandwagon as WIT Studio took four years to produce Season 02. Unfortunately for them, that's when Attack on Titan graduated from a typical Shonen anime to an incredible work of art that eventually reached its peak in season 03 and 04.
The best thing about Attack on Titan, at least season 02 onwards, is its airtight storytelling. From the get-go, Attack on Titan leaves hints for the viewers that foreshadows events to follow. There are barely any plot holes and the story doesn't rush into delivering cheap, shocking reveals.
From the unforeseen attack of the titans on Wall Maria to the reveal of Titan shifters like Eren, Reiner, Annie, Zeke and Bertholdt; from the discovery of the key to the basement to the grand reveal of the mysteries hidden there, every reveal, whether small or of gargantuan relevance, feels deserved.
At the beginning of the final season, these well laid out reveals firmly establish the overarching moral dilemma posing every single character of the show: to kill or be killed?
As millenia of hatred and cultural indoctrination had poisoned the minds of innocent people, any avenue for resolution seemed faint. So, either Eren and team had to kill their enemies or be killed at their hands with the entirety of Paradis.
Such masterfully crafted, justified story threads made the climactic action sequences in season 04 episodes like The Declaration of War, Assault and subsequent titan rumbling feel realistic and believable.
Another factor that contributes to such realistic storytelling in the show is how well fleshed out all the characters are.
Over four seasons, Eren Yeager transformed into a more humane character from the self-absorbed jerk he used to be in the first season. The audience could now relate to his internal conflicts, the burden of expectations and the constant urge to free his people. That's why we could empathise with Eren despite his descent to moral obscenity and borderline psychopathy in season 04. Because we know the overwhelming odds that forced his hands. That's what makes his descent believable and heart-breaking at the same time. That's why we can empathise with Armin Arlert even when he blows up an entire port killing thousands of innocent people. Because guess what; everything is fair in love and war. And this is a war for survival.
Similarly, Mikasa Ackerman no longer remains just another master assassin with inhumane skills, but someone who can be emotionally vulnerable when she loses her loved ones. Armin Arlert is no longer a helpless child who needs the protection of others, but an intelligent tactician who can deduce the opponent's strategy in minutes and initiate ruthless countermeasures to protect the ones he loves.
Even Sasha Braus, the potato girl, gets an entire episode where we experience her journey from a self-absorbed hunter refusing to let go of the old ways to a selfless soldier risking her life for a child. That's why her death in season four brought tears to our eyes.
The show masterfully depicts the cognitive dissonance and borderline schizophrenia in Reiner- quite representative of the ramifications faced by real-life spies and soldiers. Reiner compartmentalised his emotions for a long time to protect his cover to such an extent that often he could not separate the two identities anymore. So, it feels deserved when we see Reiner wanting to take his life and refusing to fight in the final season.
The action sequences were thrilling and well-deserved. The battle between the Beast Titan and Captain Levi or the desperate cavalry charge of Commander Erwin, still sends shivers down my spine. Although there were some sketchy CGI shots from both WIT Studio and MAPPA particularly in the season 03 and season 04, overall the animation has been quite soothing to the eyes and pleasing to the ears as significant moments have always been well-accompanied by poignant background scores. On top of the masterful storytelling and nuanced, interesting characters, the show also has beautiful background scores like 'Vogel Im Kafig', and wonderful opening scores like 'Shinzou Sasageyo' and 'My War'.
Attack on Titan successfully portrays a world where objective morality becomes redundant and fighting for survival is considered to be the greatest moral virtue. Truly, Hajime Isayama's Attack on Titan should always be regarded as an invaluable masterpiece. And if you still haven't watched it, leave everything else and prepare to draw your swords as you head into a battle with the titans.