The award-winning anime Attack on Titan wraps up its run with this second collection of episodes. Based on a manga series that is still ongoing, some fans will be disappointed that the anime doesn't wrap things up quite as well as one would hope, but given the reception these 25 episodes received it's doubtless that more will be made eventually. So how is this second half of the series? It didn't knock me for a loop the way the first set did. While there's still a lot of mystery and violence in the show, it seems to be repeating itself just a bit.
Background: It's been over 100 years since the Titans appeared and nearly wiped out mankind. No one knows where they came from, but they are incredibly deadly. Ranging from 10 to 50 feet tall they look just like large people (except for the fact that they have no genitalia) but they're mindless and they only eat one thing: humans. Titans regenerate at an incredible speed and are nearly unstoppable. Even decapitating them with cannon only slows them down until they can regrow their head. The only way to kill one is to slice a section out of their neck, between the base of the skull and the nape, anything else is useless.
Humanity was pushed to the brink of extinction, but was able to save themselves by erecting huge 200 feet high walls and hiding behind them. There are three concentric circular walls that hold all of the Earth's human population: Wall Shina, the inner most, Wall Rose in the middle, and the outer one, Wall Maria.
Eren Yeager and close friend/adopted sister Mikasa live with Eren's parents near Wall Maria. It's a decent life and while Eren and his friend Armin dream of someday traveling outside of the walls, they know that will probably never happen. While the Titans are a deadly threat outside of the walls, inside life is good and even the soldiers have grown complacent.
That all changes one day when a new Titan appears. 200 feet tall and without any skin, the "Colossus Titan" breaks a hole in the outer wall and a smaller, but more powerful creature, the Armored Titan, rips a hole through an inner wall allowing the man-eating giants to gorge themselves on people. Eren sees his mother devoured by a Titan and though he, Makasa, and Armin all manage to make it through Wall Rose, many people are not so lucky. Twenty percent of humanity dies, and those that survive face starvation since the fields inside Wall Rose can't support all of the refugees. After seeing his home ruined and loved ones killed, the three friends enroll in the cadets and train for years in the difficult art of killing Titans. Eren is driven by one goal: to kill every Titan there is.
This set: As the collection opens, Eren is in big trouble. The government know that he can turn into a titan himself, the problem is that he's not in control when he's a titan and doesn't remember what he's done afterwards. While it's true that Titan-Eren fights on the side of the humans, can they trust him not to turn on them?
After a brief imprisonment, Eren is brought to trial. The Military Police want to dissect him and see what makes him different, but the elite Scout Regiment is willing to offer him a spot in their ranks so they can use him to fight the enemy. After a high-ranking member of the Scouts, Levi, smacks Eren down to prove that he can defeat him whenever he wants, it's decided that the boy should be spared, for now. He's assigned to the Scouts and they decide to mount another expedition into Titan held territory. Once into enemy territory, the expedition finds something unexpected: another new Titan, this one female, who is not only smart and resourceful, but one who knows some of the members of the Scout Regiment! Could this be another human that turns into a Titan, and if so, who could it be?
These episodes had some great moments; but there are some flaws too. The show starts to feel like it's repeating itself part way through the collection with long battles against the Titans that never seem to advance the plot. There are a lot of mysteries that pop up (what's in the basement of Eren's childhood home? Why can he turn into a Titan? Where did the Titans come from?) and while they draw viewers into the story, there's a bit of a letdown that none of them are even close to being solved by the series' end.
The plot is also a bit predictable too. As soon as the female Titan made it clear that she was different by not killing a member of the Scouts, I knew who it was though it took the rest of the cast a few episodes to reach the same conclusion, which is a bit disappointing. I like my shows to be a little bit smarter than I am.
Having said that, the execution of the story is great and there's a lot that the show gets right. The artwork is really amazing. The backgrounds are filled with small details that make the show both look and feel like a real city under siege. The animation is smooth and the soundtrack adds a lot to the whole production.
The program also does a magnificent job of portraying a society on the edge of destruction. The way a lot of the populace deal with the constant threat that they live under (turning to religion, looking out for their own interests even if it goes against the common good) helps create a realistic, three dimensional world. It's easy to imagine people today acting in the same way in similar circumstances.
The way that the soldiers who face the Titans react, before, during, and after a battle is the high point of the show. They touch on topics rarely discussed in anime, or any TV for that matter: depression, hysteria, and the other ways that people react to traumatic stress. Having seen their friends and companions not only killed but often eaten, it's only natural that soldiers would have deep psychological wounds. It's by addressing these topics that the series really sets itself apart.
The 1.78:1 AVC 1080p image is outstanding. The animation is stunning in parts and the show really pops in HD. The lines are tight and the level of detail is excellent. There are some soft sections, but these were intentional. When characters are thinking back to the days before the initial attack that starts off the show, the picture is just a tad less distinct, as if the peaceful days gone by were just a dream. It's a subtle effect but it works very well.
Viewers have the choice of the original Japanese language track in Dolby TrueHD 2.0 or an English dub in Dolby TrueHD 5.1. I usually prefer the Japanese track when watching anime, but I have to admit that the English dub was excellent. In a lot of ways it packed more punch than the Japanese track due to the dedicated subwoofer channel. It was used fairly sparingly, but in this case less is more. When there's a battle going on and the sub kicks in unexpectedly, it's shocking and impressive. Just listen to the scene when the Armored Titan breaks through Wall Maria. The forceful boom made me jump the first time I heard it. The English actors did a really good job too making the dub stand up very well.
Unlike most anime releases, this set has some pretty decent bonuses included on the discs. There are two commentary tracks, on episodes 14 and 25, the last installment. I'm not really a fan of commentary tracks on anime by the people who did the dub, but I'm glad FUNimation went to the trouble for fans who like hearing the dub cast's thoughts.
There is also a sixteen-minute bonus Attack on Titan at Anime Expo which features footage from the show's presence at the convention. The best extra has to be Chibi Theater: Fly, Cadets, Fly! These shorts tell the adventures of the cadets in chibi form.
Rounding out the extras are an image gallery, a textless opening, and a clean closing.
Though this second set doesn't quite pack the wallop that the first one did, it's still a pretty decent show. The lack of resolution will disappoint some viewers but even with that the program gives you quite a ride. Recommended.