Alternatively, you can watch it as if it were a B-movie popcorn flick. Something to pass the time. Something mind-numbing and doltish, but self-aware enough to take all of its faults in stride and dive in headfirst and full-throttle. (Yes, I realise I inadvertently described Eren in a single sentence here). Something so ostentatiously unabashed, propelled solely by overzealous overacting and indiscriminate plot twist after indiscriminate plot twist, that you can only admire Studio Wit’s ‘We don’t give a shit, keep giving us $$’ attitude, pump your fist, and yell ‘FUCK YEAH!’ as naked people chow on smaller, non-naked people. Again, results here may vary.
Here’s the thing. As much as I wanted to commit to this second form of spectatorship, I found it near impossible to do so. Not that there was any shortage of overzealous overacting or indiscriminate plot twists. After all, these are what Attack on Titan is built on.
But that’s exactly it. I find there’s only so much self-indulgent absurdity one can tolerate before such a formula gets dry. An entire first season was built on these foundations. Now, audiences are expected to salivate as the same formula is dished out before them. Not only this, one key ingredient seems to be missing: self-awareness. Much like the first season, except for the occasional moment, there’s little to no indication that Attack on Titan 2 isn’t taking itself seriously. Which is fine. Only, if a show strives to present itself as a sincere piece of media, I find it difficult to avoid assessing it as such.
Damn, you’re ugly
From a visual standpoint, Attack on Titan 2 is mostly fine. Much like the first season, the art is probably not for everyone, but it’s non-offensive enough. Of course, that’s the idea: the drab colour scheme, combined with the fact that the titans’ designs (and hell, that of some of the characters too) are nestled firmly in the uncanny valley, creates that uneasy aesthetic that is so well-suited for and defines the Attack on Titan series. However, the titans’ designs perfectly exemplify the earlier posited conundrum: they occasionally teeter into the realm of the stupidly comical. Again, this too contributes to that uneasy feeling: an unsettling amalgamation of innocent, mindless, childlike goofiness and devastating killer instinct. As such, I’m more willing to forgive and even praise the show on this front.
The highlights of the series are without a doubt, the intoxicating action sequences, especially those showcasing the 3DMG. Goddam, those gas effects! I cannot overstate how much skill and workpower likely went into their creation. The FX/animation departments at Wit seriously outdid themselves, and the outstanding sakuga was always something to look forward to.
On a side note, I can’t say I was the biggest fan of the change in scenery. The open fields and medieval-style buildings got boring quick, as there was not a lot to them as far as detail or colour was concerned. I guess there’s only so much background art variety you can have when the show is literally set in a walled enclosure.
The OST is sublime. Hiroyuki Sawano continues to nicely establish himself as a leading musical face of the industry. Songs mainly consisted of a surprisingly effective blend of electronic music and orchestral choirs, plus the occasional insert song. These complemented the action scenes and emotional peaks well. I’d be lying if I said the OP didn’t grow on me (although I’m not entirely sure about that bit with the charging animals and dinosaurs and shit). The ED is deliciously disturbing.
It’s difficult to assess the voice-acting, given that at any given moment, it is more likely to find a character yelling than not. Again, everything is hilariously overacted, from the voice-work to the character’s over-exaggerated facial expressions. Similarly, some of the shit that happens in the action sequences is so outlandish that it’s comical. Again, this wouldn’t be problem, except it’s tension and immersion breaking. More importantly, there’s rarely any indication that this campiness is intentional. There’s little suggestion of self-parody. As such, you’re laughing at it, not with it.
This is like all the things you can fit inside a memory
This season has a slower, more character-oriented focus. Unfortunately, this points to the most glaring problem with the Attack on Titan franchise in general: it’s messy writing.
From the opening episode of the first season, Attack on Titan was brutally honest in how it was going to sell itself substantively: on cheap thrills. Initially, this hinged on the shock value (read: a
dingo titan ate my baby) that arose from the admittedly brilliant (and unique) premise, but plot twists soon joined the picture. There is nothing wrong with this. It can certainly make some good entertainment. And going into season 2, you mostly get what you expect.
Plot twists by themselves are innocuous enough, and I do commend the likely unprecedented manner in which the ‘big reveal’ of the season was handled. That said, they begin to lose their appeal when it becomes apparent that literally anyone and their uncle could be an enemy. Moreso, it becomes blindingly obvious this season just how (over)reliant Attack on Titan is on these plot twists. Not just narratively: 'shit, the plot is at a standstill?' RKO outta nowhere. But also as a means of retaining the audience’s attention. It’s as if the show has gradually constructed a facade of mystery and intrigue, forcing the audience to pay attention lest they miss yet another, crucial, earthshaking plot development.
This is because virtually all other facets of the show’s writing are lackluster. Take the inconsistent pacing. Attack on Titan 2 really does not know how to handle itself when there’s a lull in the action. I mean, we spend an entire episode sitting in a fucking tree. Very little progress is made this season. Sure, plenty of new discoveries are made, key plot points are raised, and a central villain is introduced. But resolutions are far and few between. More questions are given than answers. It’s as if as few manga chapters were spread across twelve episodes of anime as humanly possible. Multiple plot tangents concurrently exist at any given time and are tantalisingly drawn out. For example, the subplot concerning Connie’s home village.
It becomes apparent what happened here in episode 3. And yet, the writers milk this plot point to the absolute threshold. It is not until episode 10 that the show reveals what the audience has already known for seven whole episodes.Come. The. Fuck. On. Not only is this frustrating, it’s plain insulting.
This irregular pacing can largely be attributed to the way character development was handled. Again, this season was more character-focused, where much of the secondary cast received some screentime. Of course, out of the central trio, only Armin receives any semblance of substantive growth. Despite the inroads made at the end of last season, Eren has reverted to his usual, headstrong self. Meanwhile, Mikasa remains as obsessively attached to Eren as ever.
Rather, we learn a bit more about
Connie (yeah not really), Sasha, Hannes, Ymir, and Krista. It’s not exactly the most compelling stuff, but it’s something, and I appreciate what was being attempted. It is genuinely touching to see these personal triumphs and advancements, given that these characters haven't had a lot going for them. That said, I’m not entirely sure what was going on with Ymir’s arc at the end here.
She had just come to the realisation, thanks to Historia, that she should “stop living for others”. And yet, she decides to run off with Berthold and Reiner, as for them to return empty-handed would be disastrous. In other words, she’s subjecting herself to certain punishment for the sake of others?This is mind-boggling. Seemingly, it can only be in service to something plot-related (likely in the form of a twist) later on in the series.
Regardless, my biggest qualm with this new focus on characters is how overly-reliant the show is on flashbacks. In moderation, or when they form an intrinsic element of the narrative structure like in Hero or Memento, flashbacks are fine. But here, it is obvious that the writers (or Hajime Isayama) were either too lazy or incapable of developing characters in a way that would smoothly integrate into and complement the principal, present-day plotline. Instead, they had to work retroactively, making up for lost ground by ostensibly giving the characters backstories ad hoc, so they could then have a platform to be ‘developed’ off of. As such, we don’t so much receive ‘growth’, which implies progression from the character’s moment of introduction, as we learn about the characters. Of course, the abundance of flashbacks chews up valuable screen-time that could otherwise be spent on more pressing concerns, like the main plot and subplots.
Needless to say, the subtext concerning humanity, preserving humanity, and questioning what even constitutes as human, is never really deftly handled enough to be too compelling. It's there, but only the surface is scratched, while the shoddy writing overshadows and detracts from these themes.
Attack on Titan 2, much like its predecessor, can certainly be good fun. It’s action sequences are impressively animated and generally exhilarating to watch. It’s soundtrack is phenomenal. And whether intentional or not, it can always get me to chuckle.
It’s unfortunate then, that it squanders nearly everything that isn’t action related. From pacing to character development, the writing does what it can to ruin the flow and intensity of the series. Of course, I chose to take the show seriously, and I undoubtedly would have enjoyed it more if I had approached it with a less sober eye. Then again, with very little indication that Attack on Titan 2 wasn’t taking itself seriously, I think it would be unwarranted if I were to do so.