Overview: Reeling from the weight of recent revelations, the Survey Corps continue their quest to secure humanity’s survival and discover the truth about their world. 2017; Crunchyroll/Funimation; TV-14; 12 episodes.
An Uphill Battle: I feel like it’s worth pointing out two things up front: I am not a huge anime fan, and I am fully up to date with the still-running manga this show is adapting. The medium is one that has given me a few shows I really love, but I am often put off by certain attributes that come up time and time again. The manga, which has left plenty of material for the show to bring to the small screen by this point, has left me in the position where I know pretty much exactly what is going to happen each episode. This sets me up to have a different and likely worse experience than anime connoisseurs and/or those watching the series with a fresh set of eyes. So it’s with absolute joy that I found the quirks and tropes of the medium that often drive me away from anime utilised with skill and good intent, and the remixed narrative hitting the high points I expected while constructing and entirely new experience.
Mystery Done Right: After the long wait since season 1 aired back in 2013, the anticipation for its return was pretty damn high. The second season’s opening episode puts any fears aside, soaring over the already elevated expectations by hitting the ground running. The stinger of the previous season is immediately explored, while new details about the world are teased out at a masterfully measured pace. If there’s one thing Attack on Titan gets, it is mystery storytelling. Each episode brings with it a new development that quenches our thirst for knowledge, but keeps the full picture tantalisingly out of reach. But the central mystery that Attack on Titan pursues is the state of the world itself, as our characters struggle through a harsh and confounding environment that is outright hostile to them without knowing why.
Their enemies have motivations that are shrouded, yet there is a delicate balance of information served and withheld that ensures any interaction with them always feels genuine. While the dialogue can sometimes slip into transparent declarations of the themes at play, which were doing just fine sitting in the subtext, the personalities and thought processes of each character are laid out clearly enough that every interaction hits the mark. The writing seems one step ahead: just as a character becomes less believable, we gain new context; just as the it becomes too convoluted, things are cleared up; when the philosophising gets too heavy, here comes a killer action sequence; the moment things seem too bleak, the absurdist humour kicks in. If there’s one thing the show needs to improve upon, it’s that its final episodes can never live up to the preceding build-up, something that was apparent in the previous season too.
Light In The Darkness: My criticisms of this season aren’t really criticisms at all. There are some characters that are given very minimal time to develop (chiefly Levi, Jean, Erwin), and the season itself is a lot shorter than the first, with half as many episodes even after a 4-year wait. Yet wanting more is rarely a bad thing when it comes to serialised television, and Attack on Titan has a knack for cliffhangers that are powerful without the expected frustration that comes with loose ends. The characters that are focused on are so compelling that the eventual confrontations are never mere spectacle. Each action sequence is driven by the emotional needs of its characters, whether it be fear, rage, heroism, confusion or exhaustion. It is an expert escalation of stakes that overtakes its peers with ease.
Some characters falling to the wayside is necessary when the supporting cast is so large, and there’s no wasted time here. The plot barrels along, but makes sure to stop and delve into the psychology of its characters exactly when it needs to. It also lets us sit with the mood of a scene, whether it be horror, catharsis, or the short flashes of optimism Attack on Titan allows us to keep the cruelty of its world bearable without sacrificing its emotional weight. The central nihilism of the series is so immersive that the small victories along the way are incredible. Hope, positivity and rebellion have true meaning in the shadow of defeat. These more universal themes, alongside the show’s numerous political insights, makes sure the show brings smarts alongside the entertainment. It’s with these touches that the season confirms its place as an intelligent and emotive show worth watching.
Overall: Attack on Titan’s second season is a formidable synthesis of mystery, horror and action without ever forgetting the characters as its core. There’s nothing else quite like it.
Featured Image: Crunchyroll/Funimation