Attack on Titan Season 2 Review - SASAGEYO, SASAGEYO!!
(Forgive the subtitle; I had to get that out of my system before we started. Also, I’m freely going to be talking about Season 1 spoilers in this review, so avert your eyes if you haven’t seen this show yet and want to keep it fresh.)
Maybe it’s just me, but we’ve been getting a ton of sequels to popular shows so far this year. I mean, by this point I probably have enough material to where I could maybe devote this review time to an editorial on “sequelitis” and why new shows in 2017 have to work really hard to get noticed in my opinion. And, listen, I know that sounds like a complaint (and to an extent it kinda is) but let me clear: for the most part the season 2’s of the year have been doing pretty damn well. KonoSuba 2 was amazing, Hero Aca 2 is probably going to be the Re:Zero of 2017 as the spring/summer runner that people will flock to as an overall solid show, and you know what, the second season of new Berserk, if you’re willing to overlook the rushed, utter BS sequel hook of a finale, actually turned out alright as well! Kind of.
While season 2’s, when done well, serve as literally a second serving of a series we really liked, it’s important to keep in mind that they only really work when they extend a series that’s still relevant in the anime mainstream. Case in point, all three of the shows I just mentioned had their first season in 2016, so it’s not too much of an ask to have the audience think back a little bit and recall what has gone down in the show’s previous installment. It keeps up the flow in as timely a manner as possible, and newcomers to the show can ideally pick up the show from Episode 1 and seamlessly catch up to the rest of the community without noticing the gap in production.
So as far as striking while the iron is hot with its sequels is concerned, Attack on Titan didn’t do that as much as it threw the iron into a helium freezer and tried beating on it with a wiffleball bat. See, the first season of Attack on Titan aired in 2013, so waiting until Spring 2017 to air the sequel, in anime years, is like a modern day movie studio trying to release The Jazz Singer 2. But ah well, better late than never, and I can always go for a good bout of overly graphic and cringy cannibalism scenes no matter how long I’ve had to wait for it.
Seeing as how a good four and a half years have passed since the last time we heard from Attack on Titan, let’s briefly recap the setting, shall we? Humanity has been placed on the endangered species list thanks to the emergence of the Titans - a species of large, naked GIF generators that happen to have a taste for human entrails and screaming. The last remaining remnants of the human population have decided to turtle up in a city, surrounded by three walls so high it might be wise to keep this show away from the current presidential administration.
Our hero is a upstart teenager named Eren Jager (Yuki Kaji, a name you may remember from my last review), and after the Titans successfully breach the outer wall of Here-Are-The-Tasty-Humans-burg and place an order of Eren’s mom cooked rare, he promptly signs on with the military with the single goal of killing every single Titan in existence. He’s joined by Mikasa Ackerman (Yui Ishikawa, Akashic Records, Aikatsu! and a couple side roles for Pokemon), a longtime childhood friend who inexplicably and consistently won five-on-one fistfights as a kid, and Armin Arlert (Marina Inoue, Umineko, High School of the Dead, Infinite Stratos, Gurren Laggan and the list goes on), starring as the series' pastry boy, because Mikasa has enough plot armor and strength to be classified as an assault weapon and someone had to balance out the scales.
Season 2 picks up a little bit following the events of Season 1; the Survey Corps finished their expedition outside the wall, Annie’s gone full Final Fantasy XIII and nobody can talk to her without an icepick and industrial-sized hairdryer, and the entire populace is abuzz over a Titan being sealed in the wall somehow. Meanwhile, the Colossal and Armored Titans that started this entire mess in the first place are still nowhere to be found, and before this starts sounding too slow, the trainees get immediately jumped by a platoon of roaming Titans and it’s right back to business as usual.
Well, I say that, but for a twelve-episode season, the first half of Attack on Titan 2 is on an incredibly slow boil as far its action is concerned. But we’ll talk about that later, because what Season 2 lacks in the action department compared to its predecessor, it makes up for in its story. There are a ton of plot developments and twists that hit in this season in all manner of ways. And by the way, when I say this, I don’t mean the weak sort of throwaway twists along the lines of, “Haha, I’m suddenly the bad guy for no reason!” All of these developments not only make sense in the scope of the story we’re presented, but go further to help build the world and the mythos thereof.
What really makes Attack on Titan work as an anime its shock value. With every major revelation and development in its story, Attack on Titan does everything it can to make its viewers say, “Oh, damn!” then rewind a couple seconds to make sure they read the subs correctly. Every twist lands with the impact of a dropped sofa onto your roommate’s foot, and leaves impressions in a similar manner. While Season 1’s sharp twists were good if a little telegraphed, Season 2 certainly learned from that and every surprise in its narrative works to both further the story in a meaningful way and keep the audience leaning in towards their screen.
Of course, none of this matters without a side of engaging characters for the story to play with, and Attack on Titan is known for its fairly wide cast of them. Eren might be the “main” character of the series in name, but…
*slowly raises riot shield*…he’s not that interesting as a main character.
I know what I said. Look, I know he can turn into a Titan, and that in itself is a really cool trait from both an action and storytelling standpoint. But cool things alone do not a character make, and Eren is actually kinda shallow compared to other leads in shows I really really like. His character seems to revolve solely around the sentence, “I’m going to kill all of the Titans so help me God,” and while that’s a good sentiment to have, when that’s the only motif for your character, it’s going to get monotonous very quickly. He’s a hot-headed young adult who has a propensity to bite off more than he can chew, and the only reason I can think of why we’re supposed to connect with him is because we watched his mom get devoured like a bratwurst at a baseball game. He’s not a bad character, by any means, I just don’t think he’s a good main character.
So instead of focusing on him during the entire twelve-episode run, he’s instead benched in favor of watching the rest of the trainee division evade Titans and get in some character development of their own as they try to link back up with Commander Erwin and the rest of the Scout Corps. And that’s a move that really works out for Season 2 here, because as it turns out there are a lot of things going on outside our trio of mains that need to be discussed. Remember when I said that there are a ton of well-paced and timed surprises in this season? A lot of them revolve around the trainees and most of them impact the main plotline as soon as that gets going as well. By the end, all of these threads merge together to provide us with a satisfying and timely end to the season, with just enough loose ends to keep us looking forward to the next installment if and when that comes around.
All of that said, however, story is at best half of the appeal behind Attack on Titan, because in addition to its thriller and drama elements, there’s a good share of action in the series, whether it be the Scout Corps slicing things up or Eren channeling his inner UFC to battle the Titans head on. Depending on who you ask, the action either complements the story of Attack on Titan if not the other way around, but either way let’s agree it’s a fairly vital part of the anime.
I mention this because Season 2 takes a while to get interesting from an action standpoint. And by “a while,” I mean roughly half of the season. And that’s bad. I mean, the first episode wraps up with a pretty gruesome scene and a flooring reveal about one of the newer Titans, but past that, right until the trainees get trapped in a castle, I can not think of one memorable action scene whatsoever on the run-up to that.
Oh sure, there’s plenty of good storytelling to go around, and one of the best twists in the series lands during that lull, but it feels so protracted and overly long that it feels like the series is just digging in its heels. It makes up for it big time later, but you can feel the energy of the series just grind to a halt at times, and that’s not good for a series with such a mysterious and otherwise intriguing story. The action setpieces are needed as palate cleansers to help the audience fully digest the story developing around them, and Attack on Titan is woefully lacking at times.
So now the question is of course how damning a fault that is, and while the series definitely feels imbalanced at times in that respect, it doesn’t single-handedly ruin this show. The story is still top-notch, the animation and direction are all still fantastic and awe-inspringly brutal, and it definitely lives up to its status as a worthy successor to an already great show. But if I had to rewatch one of the seasons again, I’d probably stick with the first one, as I find that to be the more refined experience of the two.
Off-kilter at times Attack on Titan 2 may be, it’s still hard to argue for it not being a great show overall, and after refreshing yourself with Season 1, there’s no reason not to put this on right after. It may have arrived late to the sequel party, but it’s still the life of it, even though I suspect it may have had one too many shots of whipped cream vodka.
THE VERDICT: A-
Next time: I arrive late to a party myself