If you’re looking for a nonstop adrenaline rush to add some excitement to your summer, look no further than Attack on Titan season 2. It’s been almost four years since we last saw the show, so manga abstainers have been in the dark about what happens following the capture of the Female Titan. As a reader of the manga and as someone who actually did not watch the first season, I had no real desire to check this season out. As the anime season progressed, though, I kept running across rave reviews as well as gloriously animated snippets of the show. It got to a point where my curiosity (and my frustration with the pace of the manga publication) finally spurred me to check out the first episode. I don’t often marathon shows, but Attack on Titan season 2 has so much going for it that it was really easy to get caught up in it and speed through the episodes until I was caught up. And boy howdy, what an absolutely amazing ride it was. But enough backstory on my viewing preferences. Let’s get into the review, shall we?
Our main cast is still split up at the beginning of the season. With the reveal of the Female Titan’s identity, the rest of the 104th Training Corps is under suspicion of harboring additional Titans. Christa, Reiner, Ymir, Conny, Sasha, and Bertholdt are kept under watch without access to their maneuvering gear. As a result, when Titans approach their location they have no time to equip their gear before being ordered to speed across the countryside and warn the towns about the breach in Wall Rose. Eren, Armin, Mikasa, and Jean are absent, still with Hange cleaning up after the Female Titan, so we are left to largely follow the supporting cast for the first few episodes of the season. Eren and pals are not completely absent, but they certainly are not the focus of the first half.
Conny and Sasha both lead teams to their hometowns at the start of the season. A scene in Conny’s hometown where a familiar-looking Titan speaks to Conny is easily one of the most eerie of the series, posing a new mystery to ponder regarding Titans. But it is Sasha’s plotline that really shines early on. Her experience back home is a terrifying encounter with a Titan as she races to save a a girl and her disabled mother who were left behind by the others in the town. We get the rare experience of watching a human battle a Titan without maneuvering gear or ultrahard steel blades, and the result is a satisfyingly intense scene unlike any we’ve seen before. The show’s staff does an amazing job conveying just how dire her situation is through bone-chilling music and some stellar animation of Sasha’s distress. She’s unarmed and separated from her comrades. Her situation really could not be much worse, which makes it all the more engrossing to watch. Attack on Titan has always been about flashiness and impact, but here it shows that it can make more low-key fights just as tense, proving it’s got more tricks up its sleeve than what it’s shown.
Ymir, Reiner, Bertholdt, Christa, Gelgar, Nanaba and others all get some focus as well while they struggle with their own inner (and outer) conflicts. A lot of these characters got overshadowed early in the series, so it’s nice to take a break from Eren’s group in favor of some quality time with the rest of the Training Corps. These characters are actually much more interesting to follow when compared to Eren’s one-track mind. Each has a fairly distinct personality, so the exchanges and banter among them are entertainingly fresh. That’s not at all to say that Eren’s Fan Club can’t pull their weight. Lovable Armin delivers some of the most haunting dialogue of the season while Mikasa shows off incredible devotion toward Eren in battle, intimidating his enemies with what will possibly go down in anime history as one of the most frightening facial expressions ever. Mikasa’s dedication can sometimes get old, but when saved up for one momentous occasion like in this season, her ferocity is a blast to watch. Eren himself borders on uninteresting thanks to his character being nothing but a blind ball of anger, but I would be lying if I said he did not provide a few strong scenes this season, particularly in the final episode.
I’ve heard people complain a lot about the pacing of the first season, and frankly I can understand it since I myself was confused as to why the show only got as far as it did with 25 episodes. (I realized later it would have overtaken the manga at the time, but I just could not believe they stretched the material that far.) This season only receives half the episode count, but it makes full use of its limited time in crafting an engrossing narrative. Attack on Titan’s strength lies in its viscerally brutal action and its portrayal of the permeating nature of wartime despair, so it works in its favor that these episodes gallop from one action point to the next without taking much time to let up on the reins.
The show slows down enough when it needs to deliver emotional impact or provide context for a situation, and while these scenes are certainly welcome, they’re never really the stars of the show. There’s a sense of urgency within the show, especially resulting from the intense pace of the season’s first half, so when it does slow down a bit toward the end, it almost feels disappointing. The slower scenes and episodes are all still excellent, but there is a sense that they often feel under-utilized compared to their more explosive sibling scenes. There’s an an episode that is almost entirely dedicated to Eren, Reiner, Bertholdt, and Ymir discussing just what in the world is going on, and while there are some great character moments during their back-and-forth, not much gets accomplished in the grand scheme of things. The four of them agree to piece together everything they know, but most of what ends up happening instead is just a lot of yelling. It could have been meatier, but their discussion still carried a lot of emotional baggage with it to create an exciting atmosphere regardless. Even Attack on Titan‘s comparatively lower points are able to imbue a sense of unbridled excitement in viewers, so there’s a lot to be said for that even if those scenes don’t always provide the promised pay-offs in full.
Pertaining to the plot at hand, not a lot gets accomplished. The show opens up totally new avenues to explore this season, largely shoving aside the previous plotlines in the process. So while viewers are still left in the dark about, well, practically everything, the show introduces new threats for the heroes to face. One Titan, dubbed the Beast Titan, is particularly frightening. It’s enormous in stature, able to fling large objects with surprising accuracy, and possesses greater intelligence than most other Titans. Even if not much plot gets covered this season, the show knows how to entertain. And by god did it entertain. The struggles of the humans against the horde of titans remains so compelling that the show seems to basically tell its audience, “Forget the plot. Here’s what you really want.” The show does throw the audience a few bones here and there, teasing them with hints about Titans but ultimately still leaving them in the dark, save for one fairly big connection Hange and Conny make as the season wraps up. What the season does cover is still connected to the main plot; it’s just that the show doesn’t really seem like it’s ready to divulge all its secrets yet. Viewers keep getting introduced to more and more plot elements, but it seems it’s still going to be a while before those elements resolve.
To say the animation is well-done this season would be an enormous understatement. Not only does this season possess some amazingly detailed fight scenes and gorgeous texture work, but character emotions really show through facial expressions and body language (not even to mention vocal work). It’s not just the dialogue and action that’s telling a story; the animation itself is an organic part of the narrative. Character expressions of everyone are animated in such a way that you can physically see all the terror and turmoil etched into their faces. A lot of people get turned off by the series’ stylistic use of hard outlines and somewhat juxtaposed textures. But the series takes that style and runs with it, creating a uniquely sleek piece of art that punches viewers in the face with just how much depth and content are contained within each and every line, shape, and animation. There are admittedly a few scenes that aren’t up to par. For example, near the end there’s a scene where the humans are zipping through the trees in pursuit of Titans. Instead of the usual choreographed bouncing around, we instead just see the humans flitting through the trees in a totally straight line as their maneuvering gear pulls them into an animated abyss. If the rest of the animation was just average, annoyances like this would mean a lot more. But when the rest of the show looks so stunning, it’s really hard to hold minor moments like this under scrutiny for too long.
It may sound like I’ve been doing a lot of praising the show so far, and that’s probably because I absolutely have. There’s just so much that works well for the show that it’s hard to really hold its faults against it. Even so, Attack on Titan’s second season is not a masterpiece. Viewers frustratingly remain in the dark on many mysteries opened up at the season’s start (not even to mention the ones carried over from the previous season), and the series flounders occasionally with some questionable dialogue when it comes to scenes that are not centered around some sort of action. This season really feels like it could have benefited from an increased episode count, considering it covers very little ground plotwise. It just doesn’t feel like it should have been a season all to itself. But if you’re looking for something that’s near-perfect in entertainment value, this is your show. It might have a few story and dialogue issues, but Attack on Titan season 2 will kidnap you, toss you in the passenger seat, hit the highway in the wrong lane, and never let up on the gas as you watch helplessly as plot beats speed toward you.
Attack on Titan Season 2
- Non-stop thrill ride
- Beautifully sleek animation that speaks on its own
- Tone-setting musical score
- Dynamic and complex characters
- Fails to explain much of anything
- More relaxed scenes often feel under-utilized
- Eren continues to be outshone by his supporting cast