(Warning, the following article contains spoilers for the first two seasons of Attack on Titan. Read at your own responsibility)
Right, so I fully realize that I have given this article one hell of a loaded title that can easily be seen as clickbait. I, of course, did not have this intention at heart when I typed that out, and in fact I actually mean it as a compliment towards this season, but before I get into that, I think I should cover my relationship with the series.
So, like many people, I got caught up in the maelstrom that was Attack on Titan in 2013. The hype surrounding the show is what finally pulled me out of my little anime hiatus and got me into watching weekly anime simulcasts(funnily enough, AoT wasn’t actually the first show I watched on my return, that honor went to The Devil is a Part-Timer!).
Before I actually sat down to watch the show, though, I binged what chapters of the manga were out at the time, which was actually a quick read, considering there wasn’t that many chapters at the time. Then came time to watch the anime, and needless to say I was hooked. It ultimately ended the year as my fourth overall favorite for the year. I was basically obsessed with the franchise, if you will. At least obsessed enough to actually do cosplay from the series, which I almost never do unless I genuinely love that franchise.
Like many other Attack on Titan fans, I decided to keep reading the manga after the anime ended, and for a little while things were good, nay, things were great! Then, then things went terribly wrong. I could write a whole article about the sheer amount of stupidity that has gone on in the manga over time, particularly in the last two arcs, but I’m not, because I’m not going to spoil future events here for you guys. I will simply say that it is really god damn stupid.
So, knowing how dumb things get later on, many of the people who did read ahead into the manga perked their ears up when they heard that the anime would in fact be doing some changes at points, mostly in a desperate hope that the later events of the manga could be salvaged. However, the amount of flaws later on are so numerous that the only way changes could fix them in any significant way was by saying to hell with the source material and doing things their own way to such a degree that they might as well have made their own show. Oh...wait...they did...
There’s a good reason why many people flocked to Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress in mass droves, because for a lot of people it was delivering on what Attack on Titan promised to deliver, but rarely ever did. And the show was nailing it in spades....until halfway through when they decided to piss it all away for reasons I still don’t know.
Which finally brings me to Attack on Titan 2. You see, while doing the aforementioned reading ahead in the manga, this part was far and away my favorite. To me it was the series finally nailing that balance of action and horror it so desperately wanted to. I enjoyed the events prior to this part, of course, with the Female Titan arc in particular being very entertaining to me, but the prior parts tried to have its cake and eat it too in regards to having badass action scenes combined with dread-filled horror, with one or the other, largely the former, overtaking the other and never exactly getting that balance right. That is, until this part of the series.
I actually forgot just how much I loved this little chunk of Attack on Titan until I saw it again in anime form. Over time I came to realize that I wasn’t so much a fan of Attack on Titan as a series, but rather the idea of Attack on Titan, the whole humanity struggling to fight back against the odds a horde of man-eating monsters. An idea the series itself shat all over when it brought in the concept of Titan Shifters, because it said loud and clear that humanity actually couldn’t fight back the threat on their own, they needed to fight the monsters with monsters of their own.
The first four episodes of this season, however, have kept the flame of that idea alive, even if as a tiny little flicker of fire. Eren, Mikasa, and the rest of the Badass Crew, have mostly been relegated to the sidelines so far, which has been freaking great. They’ll come into play later this season, sure, and I’ll become sad again once that happens, but for now my biggest annoyance in the franchise is riding the bench(quite literally actually).
Instead these first four episodes focus on the rookie Survey Corps members who aren’t named Eren, Mikasa, Armin, or Jean. Aka, the “Hey it’s those guys who we know the names of, but don’t actually know a damn thing about aside from like one character trait each” squad. To add tension to their potential encounters with Titans, this group has been, for a lack of a better term, quarantined without access to their standard gear, because of suspicion that one or more of them may be Titan Shifters, thanks to that whole Annie Leonhart = Female Titan situation.
However, surprise! The group sees that Titans have appeared inside the walls again! That must mean a breach had happened yet again, sending everyone scattering to the winds trying to alert the villages inside the wall and to find exactly where they entered from.
This mad dash to warn the villages was a great opportunity to not only give some characters a chance to grow as characters as they returned to their homes, but to also give some world building in the form of actually giving us a sense of scale to the areas inside the walls. Not to mention also show us a glimpse at how the people who didn’t live in the districts lived. In other words, some proper world building(unlike some other attempts at world building that happens later on in the manga...).
This is best exemplified in the second episode of the season, which focuses almost exclusively on the resident root vegetable aficionado, Sasha Braus, as she returns to her village and its surrounding area. We learn things like why Sasha devours every last scrap of food as if it was her last, and why her manner of speaking was just a little...off. But the highlight of the episode was when she took on a Titan(albeit a small one) with nothing more than an axe, a bow, and some arrows, all to save a little girl left in a village with her mom who had bad legs, because people are dicks like that.
If this episode sprang out to you as being suddenly way too much character growth for a side character and started having deja vu to how The Walking Dead loves to give characters a lot of character growth out of nowhere before killing them off and were expecting Sasha to die this episode, well, she was supposed to. This isn’t a change the anime made, she was supposed to die here in the manga, too, but the mangaka’s editor and the sheer popularity of Sasha among fans kept her from suffering a rather ironic fate.
However, this is quite possibly my favorite episode of Attack on Titan yet, as it is just a pure distillation of the things I like about the franchise or, again, the idea of the franchise. When I was reading this part in the manga, my eyes were glued to the panels before me, because of the raw tension it held. The only other episode to come close to this for me was another episode in this very season, the most recent one.
The Siege of Utgard Castle is one of my favorite moments in Attack on Titan because of just how stacked the odds were against the characters involved. On the outside the castle was being defended by only four properly equipped members of the Survey Corps. On the inside are the Survey Corps rookies, minus Sasha and Badass Crew, armed with only a very sharp knife, a rusty old cannon, and Reiner Braun’s...er...brawn.
Since I am caught up with the manga, I know full well that things aren’t going to stay rosy for long in Hajime Isayama’s Blood & Guts Emporium. I’m going to enjoy this season for as long as I can, and I strongly suggest my fellow fans of AoT who have no idea where things are going to do the same.
At the end of the day I actually want to love Attack on Titan, because there was once a time when I did. The episodes shown so far this season are the perfect encapsulation of why I loved the series. Though try as I might, I can’t separate what I am seeing now from what I know is coming down the road.
True to the title of this article, if anything, seeing the four available episodes of season 2 just frustrates me even more with the direction the franchise takes. My frustration in the series is not something born from anger, however, but rather disappointment, as the franchise has loads of potential, but unfortunately never quite manages to reach these lofty heights, and that is a colossal shame.
Attack on Titan Season 2 can be watched on the Crunchyroll and FUNimation streaming services, as well as on Toonami. Attack on Titan Season 2 is based on an ongoing manga series by Hajime Isayama that is published in Kodansha’s Bessatsu Shonen Magazine.