Humanity just can’t get out of the hotpot, can it?
Sure, that titan-shifting traitor, Annie Leonhart, has been caught… sort of… but now there are viable concerns that Annie wasn’t entirely the lone wolf she pretended to be—that, at any moment, more titan-sized blasts-from-the-past could come rearing out of the 104th Cadet Corps. First Eren, then Annie… No wonder Commander Erwin Smith is starting to sense a pattern. Without explanation, the Commander of the Scouts quarantines a handful of confused 104th cadet suspects to a cabin in Wall Rose, putting them under the watchful nose of humanity’s tallest soldier, Mike (Miche?) Zacharius.
At least humankind’s only hope, Eren Yeager, is no longer en route to the government for scientific dissection, and recovering well from the first season’s finale. Unfortunately, any celebratory party the Scouts Hange might have thrown for him is rudely interrupted when yet another colossal face looms near the sky-high walls… only, this time, from within them.
At Pastor Nick’s urging, Hange quickly covers the titan’s ugly mug to prevent sunlight from stirring its slumbering sinew into wakefulness. It’s clear that Nick knows more than he’s telling about the monster; and the less he tells, the more the Wall Cult starts to look like a cleverly-concealed cover-up than a group of superstitious spiritualists.
There’s also that small matter of the titans suddenly breaking into Wall Rose and feasting on its defenseless civilians. While Mike Zacharius and his squad try to keep their cadet charges from becoming chew toys, Connie Springer is more worried about his hometown to the south, which the rampaging titans have already swept through.
And things only get hairier from there—hairy enough to do a titan-sized Sasquatch credit.
“Whew, I forgot how this feels,” shudders Hange, comparing the realization that there are titans cemented in the walls to her first expedition beyond them. “Talk about terrifying…”
Her morbid murmurs not only echo the mentality of the Survey Corps—effectively setting the stage for the horrors to come—but also resonate with the viewers’ own thoughts. Season 2 doesn’t spare a drop of sweat in vividly reminding fans how weird, bizarre, and vicious Attack on Titan can be—reawakening that first wave of fear, that first explosive startle, and that first painful flinch you tried to suppress the first time you experienced the series.
It’s as though director, Tetsurō Araki, has acted on the premise that, like the Scouts who have fatally assumed they’ve seen it all, Attack on Titan fans have let their guard down during the 4-year hiatus in-between seasons.
Think you’ve seen the most abnormal Abnormal? Think you’ve cringed your way past the most unsettling death the series has to offer? Think you know which of your favorite characters are cowards, traitors, and heroes?
Think again, titan chow.
If the first and last episodes of the previous season haven’t already been seared into your memory, “Beast Titan” opens with a succinct recap to catch you up, but it’s the OP that truly sets the stage for the next twelve weeks of intensity.
“Shinzou wo Sasageyo!” blends in with its predecessors almost seamlessly—so seamlessly, in fact, that it’s difficult to tell whether it’s a mixture of “Guren no Yumiya” and “Die Flügel der Freiheit” or a direct continuation. Even without a single visual to tip the viewers off, Season 2’s OP is easily identifiable as Attack on Titan by its use of explosive choir, screaming electric guitars, patriotic choruses, and Japanese-German lyrics.
No doubt trying to match the symbolic significance of “Die Flügel der Freiheit,” “Shinzou wo Sasegeyo!” packs in plenty of subtle foreshadowing and artistic visuals. The first shot captures the deceptively tranquil image of a stone-chiseled mother and child—a shattered remnant of the destroyed church, quickly revealed to be surrounded by predatory titans. Seen out of context, this might be a depiction Mary and baby Jesus, and given Tetsurō Araki’s track record for embellishing adaptations with Christian imagery (foot-washing scene in Death Note, anyone?) that’s likely intentional.
This theme of sacredness between parent and child—of fighting for the future generation of humanity—is reinforced by a lingering shot mid-way through the OP of an adult clasping an infant’s tiny hand. This hope for the future provides a pin-prick of light to contest with the darker, more oppressive theme of “survival of the fittest,” but the parent-child imagery feels ever-so-slightly out of place with the events of the “Clash of the Titans” arc, which Season 2 aims to cover. Its follow-up, “The Uprising” arc, highlights parents and children as a major motif, which begs the question: How far, exactly, is Season 2 planning to go in only 12 episodes?
“Nature’s Hierarchy” is “Shinzou wo Sasegeyo’s” second thematic, culminating in an overly-ambitious image of the Beast Titan striding out of the ocean alongside an elephant, alligator, T-rex (yes, you read that right), and other “largest species” of their respective animal kingdoms. While the symbolism implies that the Beast Titan is truly king of his kind, the sudden appearance of these out-of-universe animals clashes with the fantasy setting. (Attack on Titan Season 1 made a similar, though much less on-the-nose offense, with the phrase, “You have the heart of a lion.”) This unusual interspecies army is the OP’s climatic shot, making it all the more difficult to take seriously, as though some mighty morphin’ monsters have formed an alliance against the environmentally-callous human race.
Mixed messages aside, “Shinzou wo Sasegeyo!” is a visual spectacle to behold and one that rewards viewers with each replay—even without the benefit of hindsight. Those who have read the manga will spot otherwise innocuous omens throughout, which the OP cleverly disguises as mundane (the ED, by comparison, doesn’t even attempt subtlety). The final segment trades “Guren no Yumiya’s” iconic mobility gear camera-sweeps for a ground-level gallop across the battlefield, as Scouts dodge flying debris on horseback before taking to the skies after their titan adversaries.
The steeds in the “Beast Titan” episode unfortunately fall prey to more than just the namesake Sasquatch. No, CGI is truly the equine’s greatest threat, particularly when the hardy horses are galloping in mass formation, shaking the resolve of many a traditional animator. This sort of lifeless digital animation might flatter an equestrian PC game from the 2000s, but only serves to make lines like, “He won’t survive on his own!” that much harder to take seriously in the moment.
Computer-generated horseys aside, Attack on Titan Season 2 takes advantage of its unique artistic style most of the time. The odd filler character lacks proper facial details, but these animated oddities are nearly swallowed up by the anime’s dramatic use of space. Pan-and-zoom shots seamlessly span between panoramic and microscopic details—from dizzying wall-top drops, to the flecks in a character’s iris. Depth works to equally impressive effect, particularly during narration stills. An untethered camera tails airborne Scouts through the titan-infested skies, adding the force of momentum to every blow and aerial maneuver. The titular Beast Titan (voiced by the deep mellow notes of Takehito Koyasu) shrugs off Attack on Titan’s iconic black borders for a wispier, almost mural-like presentation—a striking contrast that makes his existence, in an otherwise line-art-heavy world, subliminally unsettling.
Not so unsettling is the number of secondary characters given ample screen-time, struggles, and storylines in this season opener. Connie’s fear that the family he hasn’t seen in three years has been wiped off the map tugs on just the right amount of sympathy and intrigue. Reiner’s big brother complex makes him all the more likeable. Sasha, apparently, has a backstory beyond bread and potatoes. Even Hange manages to develop past her kooky, comedy-relief antics, portraying more gravitas to qualify her genius.
But no doubt it’s Mike Zacharius who most viewers will have on their minds when the final, blood-red frame cuts to the “To Be Continued” placeholder.
Poor Mike. Poor slobbering, shrieking, shivering, sobbing Mike. Manga readers stared at his original death panels with the same horrified fascination that they’d stare at a particularly colorful piece of roadkill. Throw in some violent motion and enough auditory carnage to do a death metal band credit, and Mike’s vicious demise is the closest that the anime has ever come to overkill… in every sense of the word.
It’s difficult to fathom that the soldier who once held Levi’s title of “Humanity’s Strongest” is the same soldier who ends up cowering and begging for his life in his final moments. Mike has always been a character of quiet resolve and intuition—the guy who goes head-to-head with Levi in the Underground, the guy who dives into a titan mosh pit in an attempt to keep the Female Titan from being devoured, and the guy who offers himself as titan bait without a second thought if it means a few unarmed cadets can escape.
Whether Mike’s death is actually out-of-character or merely uncomfortable in its unflinching vulnerability may be up to our own self-honesty. We like our heroes to be untouchable, and perhaps that’s the cruel lesson that Mike’s death is intended to drive home. At the end of the day, we’re only human, and humans—unlike our impenetrable ideal of the faceless hero—are limited by weakness.
Kyoji Asano’s tribute to Mike Zacharius. Even Attack on Titan’s Chief Animation Director can’t help but want to romanticize Mike’s death as something heroic.
Death has never made room for dignity in the world of Attack on Titan, but the final scenes of “Beast Titan” are meant to do more than simply reiterate that harsh reality. Mike’s death is a matching bookend that closes out Hange’s own petrified expressions and locked limbs at the sight of the colossal face protruding from the walls.
The Scouts, much like the viewers, think they are prepared for what the future of Attack on Titan has in store. Yet, in their confidence, they are reminded of how little they actually know—a shocking lesson for Hange, but a fatal one for Mike.
When what we think we know about Abnormal Titans, the structure of the Walls, the legitimacy of a certain “religion,” and the ideal image of heroism is vividly torn to pieces, we’re left asking ourselves: “How much ignorance am I living in?” And, more importantly still, “Am I willingly choosing ignorance because it’s comfortable, reaffirming, and safe?”
Because ignorance isn’t “safe.” Ignorance, in fact, carries a high price, and if Mike’s would-be heroic death is any example, mere idealism isn’t enough to combat it. Only the truth can set us free.
In the real world, that truth has its source in the One who defined it. In the world of Attack on Titan, though, it undoubtedly involves a certain key, a certain basement, and a certain messianic boy.
Spiritual Content: The Wall Cult (fanatics who worship the walls for protection) is brought to the forefront. The OP depicts a statue uncannily similar to Mary and baby Jesus. However, these allusions to real-world religion are more likely inspired by Christianity than meant to literally depict them.
Religious figures are shown speaking before a crowd during a narration still. We’re reintroduced to Pastor Nick, the leader of the Wall Cult, who dresses in ceremonial robes and speaks of his ruined congregation and church. In a moment of crisis, he prays, “Deliver me… Oh, Lord…” presumably beseeching the wall itself. It is implied that the Wall Cult—the only established religion in the Attack on Titan universe—is built at least partially on its leadership’s lies.
Violence: A recap showcases some of the more brutal titan-vs-titan battles in the series. A titan-sized arm is amputated via punch, and a bloodied and bruised titan head is shown lying in the street. A cadet meets a bloody end when a titan swats him like a fly.
Most any combative encounter results in liberal bloodshed—waves, splashes, sprays, and the like. Bloodied bodies litter ruined streets, and crushed limbs protrude from beneath rubble. Titan napes are cut out in bloody chunks of flesh. A titan crushes a horse in its huge fist, then hurls the unlucky equine into a nearby rooftop, broken limbs askew and blood raining in its wake. A character is partially shoved down the throat of a titan and bitten in the torso a couple of times, spraying blood. A smaller titan is squeezed by a larger titan, sending a popped eyeball airborne. The ED features artistic representations of bloody-mawed titans devouring helpless humans.
A long-standing character is torn limb-from-limb and eaten alive amidst many chaotic and unsettling shots involving flailing arms and legs, screaming, crying, and ripping silhouettes augmented by bloody-red backgrounds.
Hange threatens to kill a man by dangling him off the edge of the wall.
Language/Crude Humor: One use of d*mn.
Sexual Content: The titans are completely naked and depicted as human-like. Bare backsides are, fortunately, the worst offenders, as titans biologically lack reproductive organs. Annie’s well-endowed, but similarly undetailed, “Female Titan” form is shown a few times during a flashback. The ED depicts “cave art” of a naked female titan with detailed breasts—similar to what you might see in ancient Greek or Egyptian paintings.
Drug/Alcohol Use: Pixis doesn’t appear in this episode. Enough said.
Other Negative Themes: The death of a long-standing character is brutal to watch; this malicious moment, capped off by an eerie ED that relates the titan’s bloody history, leaves the episode on an unsettling note.
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