Tuesday 20 June 2017

Anime REVIEW: Attack on Titan Season 2

Attack on Titan Season 2
Attack on Titan season 2 is available in streaming form via Crunchyroll

Back in 2013 you couldn’t get away from Attack on Titan. Studio Wit’s adaptation of Hajime Isayama’s manga series about humanity fighting back the onslaught of grotesque giants seemed to be one of those shows that surpassed the popularity of your average anime series. But without a second season in clear sight even two live action films, two compilation films and a comedy spin-off couldn’t stop the franchise from falling into a state of limbo. However four years later and the series is finally back, as Eren, Mikasa, Armin, Levi and the rest of the Survey Corps return for a further 12 episodes of Titan-slaying action.

(This review contains spoilers regarding character identities. You have been warned!)

Titans inside the wallThe Beast Titan

Following on immediately from Annie’s defeat at the end of the first season, humanity’s fight against the Titans continue as damage to walls reveals a dark secret hidden inside. As Hange and her team probe the Wall Cult, the emergence of talking beast Titan also raises further mysteries. A coordinated Titan attack on Castle Utgard puts Connie, Reiner, Berholdt, Sasha and Christa in danger – leading Ymir to unleash her own Titan abilities.

Mysteries deepen as the identities of the Armoured and Colossus Titans are revealed, taking Eren prisoner for reasons he does not yet understand himself. As Erwin leads a charge to bring Eren home, humanity gets one small step closer to turning the tide against this overwhelming threat.

Ymir and ErenEren vs the Armoured Titan

While it may have be four whole years since the Attack on Titan anime last graced screens, as far as the story goes no time has passed at all. As such rather than quickly recap viewers on events that feel like they happened a lifetime ago the show falls quickly back into routine as normal, opening with a fairly dialogue-driven episode that in typical fashion crams the real action into its last few minutes. The dreaded pacing issues that often held back the first season don’t take long to rear their head, as the early episodes flick between different groups and time periods following the breach of Wall Rose. While it was never going to be able to match up to the sheer horror of the first season’s premier and that distinct grotesqueness (not to mention gore) is still alive and present, the slog of these first few episodes doesn’t quite feel like the fanfare something as big as Attack on Titan should be coming back to.

But what’s particularly interesting about these episodes, and arguably season two as a whole, is that Eren largely takes a backseat in the narrative. The beginning of the series instead gives much greater focus to Hange, Connie, Christa and for a brief moment even Sasha gets to develop beyond being an unfunny eating joke. Coming straight off the back of Eren’s victory over Annie this may feel amiss to some, but arguably a break away from Eren and company is exactly what the show needed. What’s at stake here is so much bigger than one person, so getting away to the Survey Corps members dying (sometimes literally) for better development is perfect for making the situation feel that much bigger. Eventually the focus does come back to Eren, Mikasa gets to be a badass (along with some minor touching development) and Armin gets to do something clever, but this season wasn’t a success because of them. That credit goes to Ymir.

Ymir as a TitanYmir

For casual viewers Ymir would have barely been memorable in the first season. A background character at best, she was just another name to put to a face. But as season two delved into her back story, abilities and relationship with Christa, Ymir evolved in one of Attack on Titan’s most complex and interesting characters yet. This chapter of Attack on Titan really is her story, and it’s from her background that both the cast and the viewer come closer to understanding just who and what the Titans are. Similar praise goes Reiner and Berthold - the mean behind the Colossus and Armoured Titans, which for some might not seem like such a heavily guarded secret but still manages to come across as a jaw-dropping moment. From Reiner’s damaged psyche to the mere concept of a timid man like Berthold behind in control of one of the largest and most dangerous Titans, their portrayal goes beyond a simple of notion of just that of a massive betrayal. Finally with Levi out of commission for the whole season, Erwin truly cements his place as the show’s ultimate badass.

What truly lets Attack on Titan season two down though is its length. After four years of waiting only getting 12 new episodes almost feels like torture, and with so much time spent gearing up to all these important revelations the season only begins to reach its true potential as it approaches its end. As an individual chapter though it feels more “complete” than the first season did, with Eren receiving some much needed closure as the story moves on towards the next burning question. But elements that felt previously felt so important, like just what’s down in Eren’s basement, go completely unmentioned here – making the wait for another batch of episodes all the more agonising. On the one hand this approach is far preferable to a lower-budget ongoing series crammed with filler, but the fact the show always seems to end just as its getting good never fails to be frustrating.

Reiner and BertholdMikasa Ackerman

Even in the face of reported budgetary issues Attack on Titan’s first season was gorgeous to behold, and the same can be said of these new episodes. Which much of the show’s action taking place over walls and open fields there’s much less rooftop-scaling 3D-Gear action, but it makes up for this in abundance of show-stopping titan versus titan fight scenes. The character animation has also been stepped up alongside the development, making even the slower scenes a beauty to behold. Offsetting this however is the often distracting use of CGI for some of the more intense moments, particularly affecting any time multiple characters are riding on horseback. The biggest distraction comes towards the end of the season, where what should be a dialogue-heavy zipline through a dense forest instead looks like static characters being pulled along through a moving backdrop. The show’s command over its soundtrack is just as great as ever though, with particular credit going to Shinei Kamettechan’s downright eerie end theme.


Despite a slow start Attack on Titan season two develops into some of the show’s most exciting episodes thus far, answering a number of burning questions while at the same time raising a whole lot more. However at a mere 12 episodes it feels like a transitory period between the meatier first and third seasons, only truly hitting full steam just as it’s approaching its end. Thankfully with season three already confirmed for 2018 it won’t be another four years before viewers can enjoy the next chapter in the story without having to dive into the manga.


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