Four years later, Attack on Titan returns to remind fans of the scary, recognisable and heartbreaking efforts of being human.
In the years since Attack on Titan aired in early 2013, fans have waited for what feels to be a lifetime for the series to make an inevitable return. Catapulted by an intense and thrilling preview trailer last year, Attack on Titan’s brand—specifically, its overwhelming success from the years and specials that followed—had catalogued many complexities the original story is built upon.
Four years after its release, the second installation of the anime comes as a swift and bulky reminder: the terror of being dominated by Titans, regardless of their acknowledgement of Titan Shifters, still remains. And this energy is seldom described in the detail put into the first episode, which retains many flashbacks, character expressions and rapid action scenes that unfold in the later half of the season’s premiere.
[Please note: this review contains moderate spoilers for Attack on Titan’s later episodes and the first episode, Beast Titan, of Season 2.]
A Colossal Reminder Of The Story World
In the last episode of Attack on Titan, viewers were cemented in a key story arc built around the troublesome gamble of attaining the Female Titan; a costly and well-executed event that led to neither side obtaining its objective. For many fans of the anime, it left the story in the midst of a political and social upheaval, with plenty of questions—especially around Titan Shifters, their origins and Eren’s key to the basement—adding to the intensity of the dystopian narrative. In favour of these questions, Beast Titan intentionally irons-out many of these twists, with the episode working as a solid confirmation that to fear the Titans is not an exaggeration, but a necessity to make the storyline work.
Likewise, this conversation comes in the form of flashbacks, where readers are encouraged to relive moments between relationships including Eren and his mother, Mikasa and her scarf, and the deaths of many fallen comrades. Increasingly though, the episode turns these into objects to be discarded, with the purpose of these reminders to discomfort fans into an emotional response.
For many viewers, these flashbacks could make the first part of the episode feel clunky; attempting to plug the story in mid-climax without any carefully constructed tension as seen in the past. However, for most of the episode these reminders work well enough, and the scary, recognisable and heartbreaking relationships between characters and fear can be passed as absolutely human.
Characters In A Birdcage
There are a lot of elements at work in this episode, but one that should be applauded is the lived experience of character emotion. While Attack on Titan does tend to over-emote for the purpose of the live-or-die story, Beast Titan mitigates the problems of each character by spinning a recap of the events that unfolded before the capturing of the Female Titan. As a result, fans are serviced to moments of quiet and anxiety, portrayed excellently through one-on-one conversations, reoccurring visual motifs and the deliberate close-ups of characters’ eyes.
From these moments, relationships are often skimmed across in settings of common rooms and squad travelling for further development, with the revelation of other Titans inside and outside the Walls making the biggest of all waves. This can be seen best in high-tension moment led by section commander Hanji, whose humanitarian frustrations are suffocated by political secrets packaged as beliefs, leaving fans—quite literally—on the edge of the Walls.
To explain how Attack on Titan has built up these big reveals would be in the spirit of these critical character moments, with Eren taking a backseat to shine light on the inner-workings of the Survey Corps and the Titans within the Walls. The mysteries that unfold makes the episode deeper in representation upon a second viewing, and the proclamation spoken outside the Walls—“…today marks the new darkest day in humanity’s history!”—becoming a worthy summary of its outsized influence. While these moments are all meant well, Beast Titan depends on the fans to conclude their own ideas and theories, with characters powering through events and dialogue until the reveal of the Beast Titan itself.
A Few Lasting Feelings
Beast Titan often feels as if there is a clamour for representation and misinformation, magnifying moments to willingly throw-off anime viewers by adding more questions to the storyline. Because of this, the episode celebrates all plot holes many critics communicated from the first season, using these wittingly to foreshadow and even confuse (namely, the dinosaurs-as-metaphor in the opening titles). Alike many fans, a bloody death of a certain character remained satisfyingly gruesome—the manga itself brought to life beautifully to dispel any lighthearted feelings to serve a dignified death—and the lore of Attack on Titan’s own world spoiling itself from the inside out.
For the pacing, Beast Titan works well to capture the spirit of the storyline, building the energy of the next installation through offbeat opening and closing titles alongside the orchestral mastery of Hiroyuki Sawano. Thick in clever symbolism, the immediate impact of the Beast Titan figure is in itself overwhelming—Titan Shifters can not only devour humans, but verbalise their intentions beyond yowls and violence. The implications of this communication, whether it be by humans or Titans, is frantically blurred for the best, and we are left with the feeling that many answers may just be hidden in plain sight.
Have you seen the first episode of Attack on Titan S2? Let us know your first impressions below!