Attack on Titan is widely regarded as one of the best anime to ever exist. The thrilling series has become a worldwide phenomenon, known for its impressively written characters, unexpected plot twists and tie-ins, and compelling storyline. At the center of the anime is the brash and fearless Eren Jeager, who has been a hero, villain, and an anti-hero at various points in the story.
Now, as the show wraps up, with the last legs of its final season set to premiere this year, it’s about time to address the elephant in the room: Is Eren the most polarizing character in all of anime?
There have been several iconic anime characters that have stirred up their fair share of controversy and split fans over the years. In Dragon Ball Z, even though the protagonist Goku is the most popular shounen hero of all time, there’s always the issue of his behaviors as a husband and father, which continuously rubs many the wrong way. In the long-running ninja anime Naruto, Sasuke is often a primary topic of conversation for many, as he often spends his time camped between friends and foes. Neon Genesis Evangelion’s poster boy Shinji Ikari is also an extremely divisive character, who has been met with both praise and disdain across the fandom. So while there will always be debates about the positive, negative, or mixed reception towards an individual’s personality and choices, the arguments for and against Eren are almost impossible to tame, with fans having extremely valid reasons whether to support or oppose him and his ideals.
The common denominator for Eren Jeager supporters and haters is that he is at the center of a cause that some see as redemptive, and others as destructive, which makes him a unique case study. He’s been fiercely loyal to his family and his friends, he’s on a mission to save his people, and he has made immense sacrifices that have kept many from death. On the flip side, not only is he stubborn and arrogant, but he has proven extremely selfish, and is blindly fighting for a cause that has cost the lives of innocent people, including children. For those who are not familiar with the manga and stick solely to the anime, the last sight of what was left of Eren is what sparked the “Rumbling”, the major event that’s been teased for quite some time now. With the latest teaser released for the first half of the final season’s third part, we can see a swarm of colossal Titans has already begun to wreak absolute havoc, both on the guilty, and on the innocent.
Here are some of the reasons why Eren is a divisive figure in Attack on Titan.
He had a horrible childhood
Going back to his childhood, Eren started off much like many other courageous characters we see on screen. Joined by the quiet but tough Mikasa Ackerman, and his best friend Armin Arlert, Eren was the voice of the group. He was loud, bold, and always ready to defend his friends from any harm. In the first major shock of the entire series, the Titans emerge and begin their rampage, and his mother, Carla Jeager, is the first important gut-wrenching casualty in the entire ordeal. In the moment that led to his absolute hatred of Titans, he swears to wipe off every single Titan from the planet.
In the early episodes, while some did hold some skepticism about his character, Eren is still your typical shounen protagonist. Goku, Naruto, Luffy, and more have all sworn to defend their own and have at some point in their respective anime, carried the weight of the world on their shoulders. Eren’s justified anger is widely understood early on, especially when you consider the fact that he was still a child when he watched his mother being eaten whole by a mindless monster. But as things become more clear to the audience, Eren’s hate ventures far into the territory of obsession, leading to many life-changing decisions, and deaths that should never have occured.
He always faced intense pressure
As time goes on, we watch as Eren suffers even more personal losses, and is betrayed by some of his closest comrades. Growing more and more numb to the idea of death effectively causes the protagonist to have a distorted view of the world, and as he feeds his obsession by tearing into more Titans, he stretches his storyline into being viewed by many as an anti-hero. But Eren isn’t the only one to experience these problems, which highlights his distinct selfishness, placing his feelings and sentiments above others. In the case of the betrayal by Annie, Reiner, and Bertolt, other soldiers, including Mikasa, Armin, Connie, Jean, and Sasha suffered the same deception, and as the supporting characters battle these Titans as well, none of them adopts Eren’s myopic viewpoint that the rest of the world should burn.
He deviated from the shounen formula
Unlike other shounen protagonists like Izuku Midoriya, Gintoki Sakata, Ichigo Kurosaki, Edward Elric, Yusuke Urameshi, and the aforementioned Goku, Luffy, and Naruto, Eren loses the adoration of some fans when he does the unthinkable and turns on his own people. Loyalty is usually one of many defining traits of these poster boys, so when Eren becomes the anomaly, heads are understandably turned. This is one major reason why Attack on Titan is sometimes referred to as shounen anime with seinen qualities. With Eren carrying the heavy burdens he does, some of which he’s carried since he was a little boy, he grows apathetic to anything other than the destruction of Titans, and this inevitably leads to the chaos that ends in the “Rumbling.”
His distortion, blurring his eyes and ears to all that’s going on around him is pretty alarming, and while he claims his fight is for his people, Eren rarely ever follows orders or listens to advice. He has sent many of his peers and superiors straight to their deaths, and even roped his friends in on his murder spree, tagging it a mission of “justice.”
He was a victim of a series of traumatic events
If fans of Attack on Titan are to agree on anything though, it is that Eren Jeager is who he is because of years of suppressing all the traumatic events that have plagued him since childhood. Those on his side will waste no time informing you that the bulk of his actions have been done in favor of the isolated and ostracized Paradis Island, and were it not for Eren as a pivotal champion for justice, the soldiers of Paradis would have never made as much progress as they did, and the entire island might have been destroyed completely. Eren has also risked his life on numerous occasions to assure the freedom of his people. So even though the debate on whether he is worth supporting or hating will go on forever, everyone can agree that he needs to sit down with a therapist and work through his issues.
Growing up on an island like Paradis can never be easy, and ever since the Armored Titan and the Colossal Titan showed up, a young Eren has had to be separated from his mother and become a soldier. The unpredictable nature of the Titans means that he has slept with one eye open for a long time, with the threat of their impending destruction on his mind endlessly. He never caught a breather, was often used as a battle experiment, and witnessed more death and destruction than anyone should, let alone a young boy.
While his response of unbridled anger is understood, Eren never goes through the entire grieving process, staying stuck on rage, which stirs up a silent madness within him. His trauma consumes him, ensuring he morphs into a cold-blooded killer over the years. In fact, Eren rarely shows any other response as a reaction, which is why he’s quick to jump into battles without considering other options first. Due to his sacrificial nature, he loses his fear of death very early on in the anime, and that fuels the savior complex he adopts, hindering him from addressing his own problems, and focusing on the problems of others.
It’s often debated among fans that Eren’s final straw, and the moment he made his transition from protagonist to anti-hero, occurred after finally scaling Wall Maria and staring at the endless ocean before him. Staring freedom in the face, Eren was never the same again after that. His life’s journey has been the eradication of Titans, but it ends with him leading a quest of omnicide, using Titans to end all of humanity.
Eren is relatable
The poetic nature of Attack on Titan is often overlooked, because many of Eren’s thoughts and decisions are rooted in irony, and delusions of grandeur, and it’s for this reason that he is relatable, whether as the protagonist or antagonist of the series. Many of us would like to think we’d react the same way in his shoes, and maybe we would. His behavior is not excusable, but it does spur sympathy, considering the traumatic way he shed off his childhood. Far beneath his cold demeanor in the final season is still the 10 year old boy who’s unable to have healthy coping mechanisms.
Attack on Titan returns on March 3, and it’s pretty much set in stone that Eren Jeager can never be objectively loved or hated. He’s neither good nor bad, but is simply a man caught up in a war that began long before his birth, and as he has failed to acknowledge that he is broken, he will remain extremist in his actions, gaining more supporters and opposers along the way.