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**Caution: This review likely contains what could be considered minor spoilers for Part 2 of Attack on Titan’s first season**
I wrote a while back that Attack on Titan, along with shows like Space Dandy and Kill La Kill, are heavily responsible for a huge resurgence in the popularity of anime in the United States. Back in September, Funimation released the first half of season one of Attack on Titan onto DVD and Blu Ray, and did a heck of a job with it. Though I watched the entire series run thus far on Hulu and Netflix already, I went ahead and bought the Blu Ray set to support the show. I really like season one, part one a lot, with its incredible world-building, suspenseful moments, intense action and violence, and compelling plots and characters standing out. But season one, part two, which has also been recently released to home video by Funimation, is even better.
The second half is able to surpass the first half because it has a more focused plot and doesn’t need to devote several episodes to world-building and character introduction, because the world has already been greatly established. With the exception of a few members of the Levi squad, almost everyone important had appeared on screen already by part two. This lets the second half of the show get to the good stuff much more quickly, and the tightly focused plot of the second season is off and running almost immediately. Upon my recent re-watch (my third journey through this set of episodes), I noticed just how quickly this happened. By the second episode of the second season, the story is already in motion and characters are already motivated.
The compelling plot of season two is revealed over the course of its twelve-episode running time. After Eren Yeager, who was revealed to be a Titan Shifter during season one, part one, is able to save Trost district using his Titan abilities, he is taken into captivity by the Survey Corps and put before a tribunal where his fate will be decided by the high courts. Survey Corps commander Erwin Smith and his right hand man Captain Levi (two of humanities most capable soldiers) are able to prove they can keep control of Eren and that his special abilities make him extremely valuable to the human race in the war against the relentless and innumerable Titans.
The Survey Corps then sequesters Eren in their headquarters, a shambling castle in the village countryside, in order to study him and his Titan Shifting ability more intensely. During this time, Zoe Hange reveals the Corps had captured two Titans during the Trost invasion for scientific study, who she names Sawney and Bean, after the legendary Scottish cannibals. When the two Titans are executed by an unknown assassin, Commander Erwin suspects a traitor in their midst. Meanwhile, the Survey Corps plans a scouting mission in the exterior of Wall Rose, hoping to find a path to Eren’s hometown and perhaps reveal the secret behind his ability to Titan Shift.
Not everything is as it appears on the surface, however. Armin and Jean, two brilliant young members of the Survey Corps (Armin is stated to be a tactical genius while Jean has shown great leadership ability), are able to deduce that perhaps Commander Smith has an ulterior motive himself. Armin’s reasoning proves correct, as Smith’s suspicions of a traitor in the military turn out to be true when the mysterious Female Titan appears and then attacks the Survey Corps relentlessly in her determination to apparently capture and detain Eren Yeager. Tables are turned, however, when Smith’s crew is able to capture the Female Titan, an event that sets off stunning circumstances for the Survey Corps.
As noted earlier, the complex and compelling plot is almost immediately set into motion. The most exciting story aspects of the back half of season one take place in the Forest of Giant Trees, where the Survey Corps faces off against the villainous Female Titan in a brilliant setting (the gigantic trees look amazing and serve as an awesome backdrop). The action is stunning and better animated than in the first half of the season. I’m not sure if the budget was any higher for this batch of episodes, but that almost certainly appears to be the case, as the animation is smoother and there are fewer flashbacks interspersed within the episodes randomly, which seemed to be the case every so often in part one.
The characters are also interesting and we get a deeper look into many of their individual personalities. Take Zoe Hange, for example. Hange is the mad scientist of the group who loves nothing more than studying Titan behavior and anatomy. She sees captured Titans Sawny and Bean not as test subjects for her experiments, but almost more as pets, treating them the way one might treat their dog or cat, and regretting the more gruesome experiments she subjects them to (such as pinning them through the heart with giant nails to test their pain threshold). When an unknown assassin executes them, Hange is devastated. The Levi squad is also heavily featured in the back half of season one. Characters like Eld Jinn, Oluo Bozado, and Petra Ral are given significant screen time to show off their skills.
For me, the most significant characters in season one part two are Levi, Commander Erwin, and the Female Titan herself, who serves as the deadly primary antagonist. Levi is the classic anime stoic bad-ass, and his Titan-slicing skills are second-to-none (he is even more skilled than Mikasa). His squad’s trust in him plays a major role in shaping Eren’s abilities as a member of the Survey Corps. Commander Smith’s ulterior motives give him a mysterious bent, leaving the viewer wondering whether or not he is brilliant or mad (or both). Smith’s commitment to the cause of humanity borders on almost tragic, as he is willing to sacrifice hundreds of his soldiers solely to reveal the identity of the Female Titan. Speaking of which, she serves as a fantastic antagonist, and gives the viewer more insight into the abilities of Titans and Titan Shifters as well.
It’s going to be a long wait until the next batch of Attack on Titan episodes (season two isn’t rumored to begin until 2016, meaning there will be a three year gap between seasons at that point), so I guess I’m going to have wear these episodes out until then. I’ve watched season one, part two three times now, and each time I find it more fascinating and more intense. Though the main characters in part one (Armin, Eren, and Mikasa) take a bit of a back seat in these episodes (arguably), the time spent with the Female Titan, the Levi Squad, Commander Smith, and minor but important characters like Zoe Hange are well worth it. The production values and animation quality are also improved here as well. This is a fantastic watch on Blu Ray and it gets a hearty recommendation from me for any fans of serialized shows like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. It’s great genre TV, and also a solid gateway into Japanese animation. Check it out.