Review/discussion about: Shingeki no Kyojin Season 2
I consider myself one of what I like to call the “Attack on Titan baby boomers.”
I had never hated or looked down on anime; I had just never cared enough about it to see what it could be. When fate put this gateway series in front of me during the Summer of 2013, however, I was kicking myself for not taking part in the medium at an earlier point in my life.
Technically speaking, it wouldn’t be until months later (in early-ish 2014) that I officially dove into anime and became hooked on all that it offers. My initial experience with Shingeki no Kyojin left a positive impression on me that eventually contributed to my growing interest in this hobby and thus got me to where I am today.
Four years later, Shingeki no Kyojin Season 2 finally drops. And with it come rushing back the feelings and the memories that I fondly remember of that time from long ago.
The first season of Attack on Titan overwhelmed the anime community like a bunch of Titans crashing through Wall Maria. It captivated audiences with a unique premise and tons of interesting developments, but, more importantly, it ushered in a new wave of anime fans who grew the community at an exponential rate.
So, for many people who take part in the medium, Attack on Titan Season 2 represents a return to their origins. The sequel to the anime that pushed them into this crazy world filled with moe, tsunderes, and ahoges. Thus, this situation makes this season have a lot to live up to in terms of expectations and promises. But after these past four years, does the show deliver?
It first goes back to its roots. Grotesque deaths. Creepy, gigantic enemies. Killer Titan duels. Mikasa in full (and then some) yandere mode. Eren screaming and biting a whole bunch. The world-building information that pops up during the transition between the A and B parts of each episode. The ominous atmosphere. In short, the anime brings along much of what got it to this point, reacquainting and reminiscing with the audience like an old friend.
Following in its predecessor’s footsteps isn’t everything it has in store. Indeed, the show addresses a prominent problem from the previous season: pacing. Where once the plot ramped up, time skipped, reeled back, waited a bit, and then sped ahead again whenever it wanted, this season instead takes a more nominal approach. The events take place within a span of about twenty-four hours, doing away with the constant back-and-forth jerking of the progression in favor of spacing out each important scene in a natural manner.
In turn, these scenes space out their focus. To elaborate, the first season (understandably) had Eren stealing the show since, at the end of the day, he’s the main protagonist through and through. While not repetitive by any means, the anime did not leave a ton of time for everyone else (save for maybe Mikasa).
So, in an effort to improve diversity, Attack on Titan Season 2 puts more emphasis on other parts and parties of and within the cast. Sasha’s aside with the lone child and her own father. Connie and the loss of his family’s town. Reiner and Bertholdt with Ymir and Krista in the dilapidated tower.
Eren and Mikasa are (perhaps obviously) still around, playing out their vital roles all the same. But spreading out the focus, combined with the shorter episode count, makes the story here feel more like (appropriately enough) a human-wide battle on multiple fronts instead of just “Eren: The Titan: The Show.”
Thankfully not changing are the anime’s hype moments. Thinking back, the first season had several of its own: Eren’s “death”, the fact that he can literally transform into a Titan, Annie killing everyone in Levi’s crew.
Truth be told, this season’s moments are not as amazing since, unlike the ones that came before them, they do not set the original tone and direction of the anime itself. Nevertheless, they introduce hype of a different kind. Reiner’s confession that he and Bertholdt are the Armored and Colossal Titans (respectively) takes the audience off guard with its offhand delivery. Erwin losing his arm happens so suddenly and so out of nowhere that one cannot help but be taken aback. And Eren seemingly having the power to control multiple Titans simultaneously marks the first time a plausible solution emerges for how to defeat their ilk (besides Eren needing to take on every single one singlehandedly).
By far the biggest issue that this season grapples with, though, is introducing way too many more questions than it does answers. From posits in the past, the audience already has enough on their mind to wonder about and deal with. E.g., What the heck is in that basement? Yet, for this season, the anime is perfectly content with throwing in mystery after mystery that remains unsolved come the final episode.
Who do Reiner and Bertholdt report to? What role does the Coordinator serve? Where does the Beast Titan come from? When will details about the church and the Titan-filled walls come about? Why did the humans seemingly become Titans themselves? What about Annie? Where is Eren’s dad, anyway?
It totally makes sense that the anime does not wish to unveil the mystery of its plot quite yet. And the audience can, to some extent, extrapolate on the info presented. But, after thirty-seven episodes, the ratio between what is left up in the air and what has been explained so far is too large and too lopsided, requiring the viewer to accept and to believe almost everything too little knowledge.
However, if one were to ignore these questions and view Attack on Titan Season 2 as simply a project aiming for maximum entertainment, then there’s little cause for worry. Armin eats rations with stoic determination. Mikasa has a this-is-the-end, may-as-well-be romantic moment with Eren. Eren himself yells at Reiner for being a traitor and defeats him in a one-on-one brawl in epic fashion. Indeed, what made non-anime fans into anime fans after watching this series was not worrying about the stalled plot but rather welcoming the nonstop, downright cool events that go down.
So, yes, Hannes literally stopping the hand of the Titan that killed Eren’s mother with just his body doesn’t make any logical sense. And sure, none of the major characters still have yet to kick the bucket despite the harrowing predicaments they constantly find themselves in.
But it all remains exhilarating and fun no matter the case – and that’s all that really matters.
ART & ANIMATION
The first season of Attack on Titan had some impressive visuals. Eren in Titan form demolishing his foes or shots of the cadets as they zipped around the city they vied to protect made for an engrossing watch. However, due to the extended two-cour nature of the season or other similar reasons, it wasn’t without fault, sometimes avoiding animation altogether with nothing but a close-up of a face and a white background.
For this season, with all eyes on the project and more than enough revenue to justify spending extra on resources, it almost doesn’t disappoint.
First, the anime embraces much of the style from before. Thick outlines define the characters’ designs, giving them a powerful grit to their demeanor. Darker colors (browns, forest greens, greys) depress the mood. Titans maintain their weird gaits, expressions, and buffoonery that invite their undoubted creepiness.
Second, the anime ups the ante by showcasing awesome scenes that prove what it can do. Mikasa and Krista dance and twirl through the sky as they use their gear with utmost precision. Ymir swings through trees and jumps from Titan to Titan. Chaos consumes the battlefield as Erwin’s charge turns hopeless.
Yet, in fairness, Attack on Titan Season 2 makes a few questionable decisions. Fans of the series have been spoiled with the intimidating look of the Colossal Titan from the first season, so it comes off as a little bit of a letdown when its appearance in this season takes the form of some out-of-place CG. Humans riding on their horses can also fall prey to this issue. And, at times, there can be one too many static images (even if they are rather involved) when a ton of action starts to happen.
But the picturesque landscapes. The variance in lighting. The jostling of hair as the characters ride atop the Titans. The detailed eyes. The manic reactions. The shifting camerawork. The cool tricks like a shot of Ymir with half her human face and half her Titan face. These and other elements overpower the minor grievances in the art, keeping the visuals as engrossing and as interesting as possible.
The Attack on Titan series has never really been concerned with creating exceptional characters. To be fair, the first season explores the origins of Mikasa’s adoration for Eren, and Eren himself learns about and struggles with his newfound power. But, for the most part, the large cast of characters are there to add diversity in the personalities. Plus, the show in general focuses on presenting a thrilling, intense story first and foremost.
For Attack on Titan Season 2, that’s still the case, but the anime starts to lean more towards the characters and their nuances. A direction that makes a lot of sense since the first season established the setting and the major ideas and the premise, leaving any and all follow-ups with the burden of exploring the cast at a deeper level.
For example, Ymir, who was little more than the taller, tomboyish girl who overprotected Krista, receives extra attention. Her backstory comes to light – both the origins of her actual person and the relationship she created with Krista back during their cadet training – and the situation tests her mettle – both her physical (i.e., Titan) capabilities and her own conscious.
While Ymir (maybe oddly) has the most time spent on her, more so than mainstays Mikasa and Eren, many of the characters still get something here. Sasha proves that she can handle more than just a bunch of potatoes. Reiner’s sanity no longer seems to be intact. And speaking of Mikasa and Eren, Mikasa’s iron will fails her when she subconsciously restrains herself from outright killing her “friends,” and Eren finally maintains control over his Titan form and even gets his very first as-a-human kill.
Smaller connections also pop up between the cast. Hannes holds a conversation with Mikasa and Armin about Eren’s tenacity, inspiring them to push forward since he would do the same. Ymir apparently attacked Reiner and Bertholdt’s group in the past (unbeknownst to her), killing one of their friends in the process. And the show even implies that Bertholdt himself may have a thing for Annie, going off of Reiner’s prodding and Bertholdt’s own emotional reaction to Armin’s grim words.
That scene between those two also demonstrates Attack on Titan Season 2’s continued focus on what it takes to survive in such an impossible situation.
The idea goes way back to Eren’s Titan transformation from the first season. More than just a really cool plot element, it also highlights how humanity, to defeat their inhuman threat, must become inhuman themselves. This dichotomy makes for some nice writing since it challenges what is “right” and “wrong” when the stakes are so high.
To use the anime’s phrasing, the characters abandon something to gain something in return. In Eren’s case, he takes it to heart, literally turning into the very entity he despises. A very physical approach.
In this season, the characters make it more of a philosophical or psychological abandonment. For instance, Armin, known for his kindness and his honesty, abandons his morals, lying to Bertholdt about torturing Annie to get that rise out of him that they needed. Mikasa abandons her sense of kinship when she no longer cares about anyone who would seek to harm Eren. Reiner and Bertholdt abandon their own lives for (what they presumably see as) the greater good. Ymir and Krista abandon their selflessness in favor of selfishness as they choose to fight for nobody else but their own selves.
Again, none of the developments here stand out as anything complex let alone amazing. But, the anime clearly struck a better balance between the characters’ arcs and the story at large, inviting a stronger semblance of execution as a result.
MUSIC & SOUND
Inevitably, one must compare this season’s music with that of the first season. The opening track especially requires the most scrutiny. After all, the very first OP stands as one of the most memorable and iconic in the entire medium.
Unfortunately, “Shinzou wo Sasageyo!” cannot compete with the past juggernaut, but it still does what it can to elicit from the audience similar feelings of awesomeness and energy. Its tempo and composition hearkens back to those previous pieces. The chants of “Sasageyo!” – backed by a rousing choir no less – pumps up the audience. And the triumphant instrumental work follows the pride in humanity’s drive to win at all costs.
Perhaps surprisingly, the ending track, titled “Yuugure no Tori,” ends up as the better of the two songs if only because it strikes at a nuanced mood. Warped singing, acoustic guitar, faint piano keys, and a methodical beat combine to create something simultaneously unsettling, promising, and bittersweet. A creepy piece that chills the spines of the audience upon the conclusion of each episode.
While the OP and the ED aim for something new, Attack on Titan Season 2 does not deviate from the incredible original soundtrack that many would argue to be one of the show’s strongest aspects.
It was with this series that the now-famous Hiroyuki Sawano had his breakout musical performance, crafting grandiose pieces that quake in their power and resonate in their passion. The heaviness. The forceful instrumentals. The vocals. The emotional asides. The Germanic lyricism. This OST is awesome to listen to on its own even to this day, but hearing it once again alongside the anime itself reaffirms its domination within the medium.
The rest of the audio work maintains its worth as well. Thundering stomps from the Titans and the whizzing of the 3D Maneuver Gear make for fitting sound effects, and the voice acting performances – especially Yuki Kaji as Eren and Yui Ishikawa as Mikasa – harbor range and skill as they scream, cry, and confess with ferocity, anger, and thoughtfulness.
I have a few reasons as to why I love this season and this series as much as I do.
One of the bigger reasons is Mikasa. In general, she kicks butt, she pines after Eren, and she cutes it up with personable moments on rare occasions. For this season, her yandere reactions were awesome, and she had those wicked moments, too. Ever since I first saw her flying around way back in the first season, I instantly became a fan, and she will always hold a nostalgic place somewhere in my heart.
Another big reason is the intensity. As some of my readers know, I’m not usually taken in by a lot of the action that many shows showcase. But, here in this anime, it goes outside the box per se with its unique 3D Maneuver Gear segments and Eren’s Titan-versus-Titan brawls. I get pumped up so much that I start to punch the air and even attempt to imitate Eren’s Titan battle cry.
The biggest reason, however, is something a lot more personal.
In my opening anecdote, I talked about how this series is my very first anime. What I didn’t mention was that it was my little brother who convinced me to give it a shot. He was already half way through the season at the time, but he rewatched it from the beginning with me so that we could have fun together.
We would turn off the lights and hook up the speakers to give it more of a movie-theater feel. He saw my incredulity and shock at Eren’s death and subsequent Titan takeover. And we argued about whether the Armored Titan (my vote) or the Colossal Titan (his vote) was the cooler enemy.
For this second season, we have grown up and reached different parts of our lives. However, when the circumstances allowed, we met up and watched the episodes together once again. Hyping at the music. Discussing what the heck just happened. Pointing out small details. Wondering where it will go from here. It had been years since the last time we did so, but it felt just like old times.
Strangely enough, I’m the one who went further into the crazy world of anime, having it become an integral part of my life when I never imagined that it would. Thus, I’ve since expanded my tastes quite a bit. I suggest anime to him here and there, and he of course has his own favorites, but he doesn’t take it to the same extent that I do.
Still, this anime is the only one my brother and I have ever bonded over let alone the only anime I have ever watched with another person. And that fact means a lot to me. The memories associated with it, the laughs we have shared, the fun of everything. I like Mikasa’s character, and I like the intensity of the show. But, for me, it’s getting to share something special with my one and only little brother that I cherish most about this series.
It was the same back then. It’s the same now. And it’ll remain that way for me forevermore.
Shingeki no Kyojin Season 2 is a welcome sequel for this beloved franchise. Improved art and a revival of previous music may support the whole package quite heavily, but the exciting story beats, the new variety of characters focused on, and the sheer amount of entertainment throughout argue that the magic therein is still booming.
Story: Fine, while bogged down by too many unanswered questions, the narrative holds its own with familiar elements, hype moments, and better displacement of focus
Art & Animation: Great, out-of-place CG aside, the high level of detail in the artistry and the penchant for slick animated segments present a set of engrossing visuals that make for a clear step up from its predecessor
Characters: Fine, despite the thrilling plot receiving the most attention, Eren and the others earn small details as they continue to explore survival through abandonment of their more philosophical or psychological traits
Music & Sound: Great, the series’ incredible OST returns, carrying with it a rousing OP, an unsettling ED, nice VA performances, and lots of interesting audio design choices
Enjoyment: Great, Mikasa rocks, the intensity cannot be denied, and brotherly bonding
Final Score: 8/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3