So, I don’t know if anyone remembers that obscure titan show from a few years back? Well, it got a sequel.
I was going to open with a joke about how it was nice to see that Shingeki no Kyoujin had started out with such a thoughtful and reflective episode, but well… Making jokes about this series seems so superfluous, because it really is anime’s biggest joke to begin with. What makes it work is that the show is very much in on the joke (if it wasn’t all this would be truly insufferable, rather than rollickingly good entertainment). I guess that makes Attack on Titan anime’s biggest in-joke.
It has in fact been something like four years since the first season, which is plenty of time for me to forget a lot of the name-face pairings and plot details (and lord knows there are plenty of both) – happily, neither of those things are all that important to the larger experience. Is four years too long? Many think so, and a case can certainly be made that Shingeki no Kyoujin wasted an almost unbelievabe amount of momentum on OVAs, dumb spinoffs and recap movies. But my gut tells me that too long a layoff or not, this series is still going to be huge. While it penetrated huge in the West as well, one had to be in Japan at the time AoT landed to really appreciate just how much it crossed over into mainstream culture – and did so without losing a scrap of otaku appeal (as witness acres of circles at Comiket, appealing to both genders). About the only franchise I could compare it to in breadth of influence (commercially, though not artistically) is Evangelion.
So any way you bite it in half, this sequel is a big deal. And to start off on the right foot, it was a blast – it would solidly rank in the top half-dozen or so of the 25-episode first season, in my opinion. It had the breathless, manic brilliance this show can bring with the best of them – the episode seemed to fly by in ten minutes. Now, I’ve found that the fresher I am with Shingeki no Kyoujin the better it works for me – I liked S1 a lot better at the beginning than I did when it ended. So in that sense maybe it’s not a bad thing that this season is only to be 12 episodes, even if the fanbase had a massive hissy fit when it was announced (actually, that’s probably a bonus). That should help east the pressure on Wit, too, though I’m sure Production I.G. will be pitching in as needed.
Speaking of that, was there a lot more CGI here than was typical in the first season? It seemed that way to me, though it’s been long enough for my memory to be faulty. It’s not bad CGI but still a noticeable drop in fluidity and realism (especially the horses) but apart from that this was a very handsome premiere. Some shots like the dust motes in the sunlight were truly beautiful, and of course the titan faces have gotten crazier than ever. I for one will be hugely disappointed if Donald Trump doesn’t show up as a titan here – it’s a natural (though something makes me think Isayama Hajime might be an admirer – he’s expressed strongly nationalist and anti-foreigner beliefs through social media, if it weren’t obvious enough in his writing in this series).
As for the conspiracy plot, well – does it truly matter? In the event it does, there are titans inside the walls (maybe they are the walls) and the social elites aren’t keen to tell the Survey Corps or anyone else why. We do know they very badly want to keep those titans from ever being exposed to the sun, though not what will happen if they are. There’s also a strange-looking abnormal out there (I do think there’s a squatch in these woods) who talks a blue streak when he captures the skilled commander Miche (this week’s main sacrifice).
As for the cast, the main trio are largely absent for most of the episode – and since that means no Eren until nearly twenty minutes in, that might not be such a bad thing. It looks like the early character drama is going to focus on the pasts of second-tier case like Sasha and Conny, both of whose villages are in the path of the titans (including the abnormal) that have breached the outer wall. I like Mikasa OK and Armin more (the smartest guy in the room in an action show always has a chance to be interesting), but Eren can be a lot to take and they tend to be a package deal.
All in all, this was indeed an excellent premiere. Shingeki no Kyoujin is a series that doesn’t lend itself well to being thought about a lot – it’s not like one analyzes rollercoasters. No, you just buckle up and hold on – and as long as Attack on Titan can give us that powerhouse adrenaline rush laced with absurdism, it should once again work well and sell a gajillion discs (and everything else). It’s never going to be mistaken for Seirei no Moribito or Hunter X Hunter, but at least it’s not an abhorrent idol show or a cute girls doing cute things being crapped out of the assembly line for the thousandth time. If anime is going to produce a massive crossover hit, I guess it could do a whole lot worse.