Reaper's Reviews: 'Attack on Titan S2'
Original title: Shingeki no Kyojin S2
Production: Wit Studio
Length: 12 episodes
Release: April 1, 2017 - June 17, 2017
Review Release: June 4, 2018
Y'know what? Let's not talk about the four year wait that us anime fans had to endure since the conclusion of the first season in September 2013. Let's not talk about how all the hype the franchise once held was left in the dust as this season approached its airing.
It happened. It sucks, I know. But keep in mind that there are many other legitimately good or interesting anime that never got their own sequels despite high demand (Berserk 1997, Angel Beats, No Game No Life, Baccano!), or at best, got it over a decade after the last season ended. For an example, see Full Metal Panic!
After too much time wasted on stuff like Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, Wit studio decided that the time has come to grant us with a second season to the magnificent Attack on Titan and even reassured us that future seasons won't take that long... At least I hope so.
So... Was the second season to Attack on Titan worth the wait?
Story & Setting
Attack on Titan’s second season takes place shortly after the conclusion of the original; if you haven’t watched the series yet, do it, because there are full spoilers for the events of the first season.
After the devastating duel with the Female Titan and the reveal she was Annie Lionheart, a fellow 104th Corps recruit, reports reach the ears of the military that Wall Rose - the middle wall - has been breached and Titans swarm the villages located there. Without wasting another second, the story is split up to a couple of urgent missions to locate the breach and eliminate the roaming Titans.
I will start by saying that Attack on Titan S2 is a lot of the good stuff we had in S1: thick and grim atmosphere that has actually gone darker, dire situations that reveal one’s true character, a cruel yet beautiful setting that keeps you hooked, and political drama looming over the current story arc. But it feels more… polished.
This season addresses one of the biggest issues myself and other viewers had with the first season: the pacing. Say what you will on the 12-episode cour of the season, but S2 doesn’t waste time on prolonged info-dumps or dull conversations, sinking teeth deep into the narrative and the characters, both figuratively and literally.
The brisk pace allows for tighter writing and more intense character arcs that more often than not do not waste the episodes’ running time. Almost every minute is relevant to suspense, world-building or plot progression.
Some questions are answered and more are asked, but few of the new ones receive closure. To those who managed to wait 4 years without reading the manga, S2 won’t leave you fully satisfied, although it does answer about things such as Annie’s associates and the true nature of the Titans, even if somewhat vaguely. And the confirmation of future seasons - hopefully with little wait in-between - will offer a more definitive resolution.
The new style of Attack on Titan S2 may deter some; while the general “war is hell”/”humanity on verge of extinction” is still very much in play, this story arc is more of a mystery drama/action-survival tale that is a lot more subtler in execution. Yes there are still hammy declarations and over-the top confrontations here and there, but S2 focuses more on cutthroat suspense and character affairs that makes it feel a lot more personal and captivating than the first season.
And I personally prefer the increased focus on the series’ horror elements and emotional involvement. S1 wasn’t slouch in terms of writing or execution, but at times it did seem to focus a bit too much on its bombastic presentation than on its clever script, but S2 feels more mature, more grounded and definitely more effective.
And another thing that I also forgot to mention in my review for the first season, is that I really love the foreshadowing of future events. Every frame, every glimpse, every remark, every new element can lead to some gigantic plot revelations or twists that change the entire status quo, typically for the worse in-universe. And I just love that; I will be honest that I have no idea how much of it was planned out in advance while the rest simply came together as the series went on, but damn Titan S2 knows how to repay your observations.
If you were hoping for meaty and meaningful development for our main protagonists, then you should wait for the next season. There isn’t a lot of new with Eren, Mikasa or Armin; Eren remains the loud-mouthed, hot-blooded and rude brat he was in the first season, with his only true act of development - which was pretty cool, actually - was in the season finale; Mikasa remains her stoic and Eren-centric self although she does receive her own more visibly sensitive side; and Armin? He has about two relevant scenes and not much beyond that.
And you know what? I’m okay with this. Attack on Titan’s main protagonists still leave something to be desired, and to me they feel more as tools to keep the plot in check for now, which is not necessarily bad in the grander scope of schemes, because when the main cast fails the supporting characters come for help, and Titan S2 is quick to realize its most interesting fellas lie within the various associates and enemies of Eren.
This season really belongs to the other recruits of the 104th Corps, namely the characters of Connie Springer, Sasha Braus (“Potato girl”), Reiner Braun and Bertolt Hoover, Krista Lentz, and the enigmatic Ymir. And really, the show gives each and every one of them a moment (or two, or ten) to shine.
Ymir herself was the most surprising character for me in this season; her few minor appearances in the first season colored her as a vocal and annoying - for the lack of better term - bitch who loves teasing people, annoyingly so. S2 reveals her backstory, her mindset, her internal struggles and her conflicted nature, and essentially makes her the main protagonist of this season. Her friendship and eventual relationship with Krista were also written exceptionally well and in a respectful manner that I honestly didn’t expect to witness.
Krista is definitely a character I would like to see more - and given the third season’s plot we will - even if I personally believe her development in this season was not significant enough. But I honestly enjoy her as a character; she suffers from a similar hero syndrome as Eren, but she is more aware of her flaw and there are hints of glory seeking in her actions, with a mixture of denial and acceptance in her character all while her idealistic nature is slowly torn apart.
Reiner and Bertolt serve as another centerpiece in this season’s narrative and after a few likable scenes involving them in S1, this season finally establish them as major players in the plot, with their true nature and torn loyalties revealed. I won’t go too far into their characters, but Reiner and Bertolt quickly rose through my favorite characters in the show.
And finally we also receive decent development to both Sasha and Connie who served more as comic relief characters in the first season. Here we witness first-hand how skilled and resourceful Sasha is, while Connie definitely proves himself as one of the sharpest minds inside the Walls.
So long story short: the supporting cast is more than excellent, and all characters I touched here, alongside a couple more, have fascinating character arcs that I wish to see grow further in future seasons.
Oh and, umm… Levi fans, prepare to be disappointed.
Animation & Art
This time around Wit studio is all by themselves, taking full control over the project from Production I.G, and Attack on Titan S2 remains a very solid-looking show. I am pleasantly surprised to see that the artstyle is more or less the same as the first season, as it keeps a more consistent look despite the four year hiatus.
Honestly there isn’t really much to talk about the visual side of Attack on Titan S2 as for the most part, it looks similar to its predecessor. One big plus, however, is the more fluid feel this season have; one of my biggest complaints about S1 was overusing still-frames to fill an episode, but S2 is almost always in motion, even with small scenes like two or more characters talking.
While there aren’t as many action scenes as the previous season, the few we have are brutal and enthralling, while the long-awaited showdown between Eren and the Armored Titan stands out as the highlight of the season, with energetic punches and violent choreography.
I only have two issues with the animation; one of it is pretty minor, the other is by no means a deal-breaker… But very noticeable.
The first issue is that the CGI animation looks a lot more jarring than what it was in the first season, with a noticeable example being whenever a party leaves on their horses; I personally feel that S1 managed to cover up its CGI animations much better, either by clever cinematography or gritty artwork. The biggest offender is the Colossal Titan who for some reason became full-CGI rendered, and while he doesn’t appear that much, he’s hard to ignore.
My second - and probably biggest for the entire season - issue is the absent of Tetsuro Araki as the series’ director; yes, he’s now the “chief” director of the series, but that seems like he’s more of supervisor than a director. Say what you will and I know I do have criticisms against him, the man knows how to pump energy into his work, with his signature bombastic presentation and over the top camera angles… And S2 lacks that.
Like, the new director, Masashi Koizuka, in his directorial debut as an anime series director, does a good job in maintaining the grim and hostile atmosphere of Titan, but his scenes lack the deliberately hammy style of Araki. On the plus side, we no longer have serious scenes becoming unintentionally hilarious… But I can’t deny that something feels missing.
Audio & Sound
Like the previous season, the music for Attack on Titan S2 was composed by Hiroyuki Sawano, and like most sequels, S2 doesn’t really have a lot of new music. It’s by no means a bad thing because Attack on Titan houses one of the best soundtracks to ever grace anime, but considering the four year wait, I wouldn’t have minded more newer pieces.
The majority of the new pieces are remixes or mash-ups of existing songs from the original soundtrack, most notably several different versions to the show’s main theme and the classic tragedy theme “Vogel im Kafig”, like the orchestral “YouSeeBIGGIRL/T:T”. And you have a track called “Attack on Dina,” which is basically a “la la la” version of the main theme, but DAMN it is unforgettable.
The few new tracks that we did get are absolutely fantastic, in particular “APETITAN” that serves as the main theme for the mysterious Beast Titan, and “Call of Silence” - the gorgeously bittersweet theme for Ymir. Say whatever you want about the English lyrics, but I simply can’t have enough of the vocalist Aimer; she’s excellent.
As for the opening and ending, the ending is not really important, but to be honest… I wasn’t blown away by the opening song for the season “Opfert eure Herzen!” (by Linked Horizon, who were also behind the the highly popular first opening) and I know I’m in minority here. I just didn’t find it to be as memorable or striking as the previous two openings; it just felt a lot more… subdued in comparison.
To wrap this section up, let me just say that while the first season’s dub was pretty good, this time the dub easily rockets itself among my favorite English dubs of recent years. Most of this is thanks to the phenomenal performances of Elizabeth Maxwell as Ymir; she strikes this perfect balance between snarky and sarcastically serious and is downright amazing.
At the end of the day, the question is "was the wait for the second season worth it?" and my answer would be "it depends."
S2 may be too short for some, but it houses some of the series' best written scenes and interactions thus far. It may not answer on a lot of questions, but it expands its setting and explores its characters much better than its predecessor. It may have ended a little open-ended, but it sets the stage for the next arc pretty well.
The only major issue I might have with it overall is the departure of S1 director Tetsuro Araki and his stylish work, but I personally think that this season was even better than the previous one. I may not have enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed S1, but it was better written and paced.
So while we gained so little for a moderately long hiatus, Attack on Titan S2 is still a great series and a worthwhile watch that should not be missed.
- An intense story that builds upon the previous season with improved sense of pacing
- Supporting characters are simply amazing to witness, especially Ymir who is definitely the season's main protagonist
- Still boasts solid animation, beautiful art direction and great soundtrack
- Tetsuro Araki's absence as the director is noticeable, and the season lacks some of the energy of its predecessor
- Eren, Mikasa and Armin are still lacking as the main protagonists, with only one noteworthy development near the end of the season
& The Ugly:
- Levi didn't stomp on anyone's face this season! Disgrace!
So after recommending Berserk and Knights of Sidonia in my season 1 review, I think I'll continue with the recommendation of Claymore, which I haven't watched yet, but I heard that barring a terrible finale, it's a solid dark fantasy anime that has similar themes as Titan, only with weird demon creatures rather than gigantic naked people.
Second recommendation goes to Tokyo Ghoul, which while having a somewhat messy second season, is a like-minded series with a very brutal presentation and complex characters.