The end of Attack on Titan was hiding a goofy Spirited Away reference
The Part 4 compilation special of Attack on Titan: The Final Season aired on November 4, 2023, bringing long-awaited closure to the series. Shortly after the finale aired, viewers noticed that a certain scene contained an unexpected but heartwarming reference to Ghibli Studio’s hit movie Spirited Away.
Attack on Titan: The Final Season is the fourth and final installment of the hit shōnen anime Attack on Titan, and tells the story of the conflict between Marley and Paradis forces and Eren Jaeger’s devastating plan to eliminate all life outside of Paradis with the Rumbling. The season is split into four parts, and the recently aired Part 4 tells of the epic tale’s outcome, with Eren’s compatriots working together to stop him.
But in the middle of the grim battle and bloodshed of the finale, a certain scene stands out for its different and even slightly comical feel. As the allies battle against Eren Jaeger’s titan form, there is a scene in which Pieck Finger dashes down the Attack Titan’s bony body before transforming into her titan form, and the dynamic and manner in which she does so is very likely to be an homage to a well-known scene from Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away.
In one of the opening scenes of Spirited Away, the protagonist Chihiro runs uncontrollably down a flight of stairs after stumbling, in the end crashing into a wall with great force. This scene demonstrates the exceptional level of expression in Studio Ghibli animations, portraying the fast and uncontrolled movement to a palpable degree. The comically raised arms and panicked expression are also what has made the scene a rather memorable one for many.
As the comparison in the above embedded post shows, Pieck Finger’s transformation scene in Attack on Titan references this iconic Ghibli moment, reproducing the same timing, dynamic and mood. Judging from user reactions, many found this scene to be a refreshing bit of comic relief, portraying Pieck’s easygoing and eccentric nature. But many also felt something familiar about the scene as soon as they saw it and had a very satisfying aha moment upon learning that it was a Ghibli reference.
Michelle Sugimoto, the animation director for Attack on Titan: The Final Season is known to be a big fan of Studio Ghibli movies, and this could be why an homage to Spirited Away found its way into the finale. Incidentally, a documentary about the Attack on Titan animation studio aired by the NHK once showed him use a scene from My Neighbor Totoro as reference for a frame of Armin crying, and fans have often felt a slight “Ghibli-like” atmosphere from some of his illustrations.