My initial expectations before rewatching the Hajime Isaya written series ‘Attack on Titan’ were not too far over the mediocre, but as you can read in my review of the first season I was incredibly impressed by what the creators were able to do with the establishing portion of the series. Unlike many other series, it took its time setting up many of the series elements making it a very interesting revisit from a writing perspective. Seeing the small things the writers would do to establish a character or just an idea, that really impressed me. So continuing to season 2 was an intimidating task, as the bar felt far too high for the series to reach again. And if you’re anticipating my expectations to have yet again been demolished, then this is not the essay you’ll want to read.
This review will be discussing plot events in the second season of ‘Attack on Titan’ that might be considered spoiler territory
Season 2 of ‘Attack on Titan’ starts off where season 1 ends as you’d expect when Titans start appearing inside of Wall Maria alongside a seemingly more intelligent beast-like titan, but from no discernable hole where these could’ve come from. And the mystery of this event is emblematic of the focus the series goes for after season 1, that being the conundrum of what the titans really are. This is a question that has been asked by the series before this point, but I would say this marks change where this becomes the focal point of the series and is easily my favorite change from season 1. To sum up my only real complaint about the first season, the direction the series goes into with humans controlling titans was pretty poorly handled in my opinion. And while I want to clarify that the idea isn’t my issue, the way it is introduced so early makes the mystery a bit less effective in my experience. And so seeing the series try to not give out too much information was satisfying. It strikes a balance and gives you enough information to start coming up with all of these ideas about what these characters are really doing or what the titans really are, but never enough to conclude on any of them which makes it a very engaging experience. But I’m afraid my praise will have to end here.
In the seventh episode of the series, it is revealed that Reiner and Bertholdt were the two that controlled the titans that broke into the wall at the very beginning of the series. What follows is an action scene focusing on Eren’s battle with the Armored Titan, but also his internal conflict as he realizes that his relationship with Reiner and Bertholdt has all been founded on a lie. But as we see, the armored titan is far more powerful than Eren and in the middle of the fight as he is being thrown away by Reiner we are flashed back years ago as Eren remembers a moment with Annie. The two have a confrontation that leads to Eren being on the ground and Annie giving him advice. She tells him that she was able to beat Eren because she used his strength to throw himself away, and was able to beat someone bigger than her. And with this being remembered, Eren goes back to the present and uses this technique on the Armored titan and succeeds. He is able to tackle the titan and crack his armored skin. It is a very satisfying moment if only this scene with Annie wasn’t made up on the spot. This scene where Annie teaches Eren on how to beat someone of bigger power is not featured in the series’ first or second season before this point, making it very confusing and transparent that they’re trying to pay off a setup made earlier in the same scene. Pretending to have a developing story, and most of all it’s a testament to what happens to a story like ‘Attack on Titan’ with a shorter runtime.
Season 2 of ‘Attack on Titan’, unlike the series’ first, only has 12 episodes, a result of production issues and the money needed to air that amount of episodes. And while it is understandable under the circumstances the studio might’ve been under at the time, I still feel it’s only fair to judge the series with its fewer number of episodes because it’s the core problem I see in the season. One of my favorite aspects of the series’ first season was how well planned everything felt, where it seemed as though every detail and every line was specifically used to establish an idea or a theme. And while I’m not sure how many chapters of the adapted manga the second season covers relative to its first, it definitely feels as though the season covers as much content as season 1 but doesn’t have enough time to build up the groundwork. The amount of conflicts that end with a character remembering an important event we haven’t seen before instead of developing this earlier on becomes annoying at one point. To compare this to the prior season which I realize I have done a lot but I think is only natural, the female titan is a great example of how to successfully use set-up and pay off in a series. In episode 23 of the season, it is revealed that Annie was the female titan that pursued the squad on their expedition. But the reason why this doesn’t feel unjustified to me is because of the clear set-up that is being made since the first episode we see the character. She has a very specific fighting style, and although it isn’t focused upon while the female titan fights Eren, they’re similarities are undeniable after you know the twist and it makes the series feel patient with its reveals and spends more time establishing what will happen later. In contrast, the second season feels compromised and rushed. It has numerous moments that I feel could’ve been narratively striking if only they built up the moment beforehand. I would’ve probably found the relationship between Historia and Ymir more if it didn’t feel like their relationship was better developed. Again, there are so many examples of interesting ideas and tones the series is going for that are all kind of ruined with the amount of time they have to naturally grow. It wants the high stakes and energy of the first 25 episodes, but is either not willing or capable of doing the groundwork I think is needed for such a thing. The way I see it, it’s a 12 episode series masquerading as a 24 episode one.
I still respect how the series goes in a new direction that I think has a lot of potential, but in the end, the last fight where big titans fall from the sky from being thrown by an even bigger titan is the only thing steering the series away from absolute mediocrity.