The second season of Attack on Titan has come to an end, not in the most graceful way but still in surprisingly effective fashion. Let’s explore the good and the bad for one last time – all the small yet noticeable improvements on the prequel, but also the production mess it hasn’t been able to fully escape in the end. And while we’re at it, let’s bust some myths about potential delays for its third season.
Storyboard: Yuzo Sato, Ryotaro Makihara
Episode Direction: Toshihiro Kikuchi, Yoshihide Ibata, Tetsuro Araki, Takayuki Hirao
Chief Animation Director: Satoshi Kadowaki, Kyoji Asano, Ayumi Yamada
Animation Direction: Satomi Miyazaki, Toshihiro Kikuchi, Takuma Ebisu, Naohiro Ohsugi, Kyohei Tezuka, Hitomi Hasegawa, Takaaki Chiba, Miho Kato, Yuko Yamamoto
Assistant Animation Director: Mai Tejima, Yoko Kadokura, Sachiko Muroyama, Kana Ito, Masaaki Tanaka, Toshihiro Kosaka, Arifumi Imai, Yasuyuki Ebara, Takeshi Itakura, Yasuho Tamura
Action Animation Director: Takuma Ebisu, Arifumi Imai, Yuko Sera
Key Animation: Toshihiro Kikuchi, Masumi Hattori, Shinichi Nozaki, Yuko Sera, Saori Hosoda, Kaoru Maehara, Tomoyuki Kinoshita, Hideo Maru, Masaaki Tanaka, Yoko Sugita, Nobuhiro Okazaki, Nanako Ninomiya, Dai Ohara, Yoshihiro Maeda, Noriko Hatta, Mamiko Nakanishi, Yasuyuki Ebara, Kana Ito, Naomi Okita, Yuuki Kinoshita, Takanori Suzuki, Daisuke Nishimiya, Natsumi Ishizaki, Arifumi Imai, Ai Miyazawa, Yuji Kikuta, Erika Nishihara, Akira Matsui, Toshihiko Masuda, Kazuyuki Ikai, Shota Tsutsumi, Tomoko Kitagawa, Hitomi Hasegawa, Takashi Kumazen, Toshihiro Kosaka, Takuma Ebisu, Xie Yuan Qian, Sun Meng, Takashi Irie, Mai Tejima, Satoshi Kadowaki, Mariko Aoki, Saeko Oofuji, Yusuke Aramiya, Fujio Inose, Teruki Nishijima, Michinori Shiga, Sayaka Ikeda, Yuta Ito, Maki Sawai, Takaaki Chiba, Hiromi Kato
— Tetsuro Araki’s old acquaintances carried this series until the very end. This time it was his Madhouse senior Yuzo Sato, best known as the director of Kaiji, who once again (though for the first time for this franchise) came to his aid. Since he’s rather busy preparing to act as series director for Marvel Future Avengers, Ryotaro Makihara returned to handle the other half of the storyboard.
— As much as I’ve enjoyed detailing the approaches of the leading creative voices throughout this project though, I feel like that’s not the right thing to do with the finale. We’re talking about an episode with two storyboarders and four directors. There’s hardly a cohesive vision here, as it’s more like a collection of scenes that happen to play consecutively. And for such a messy endeavor…I thought it was fairly nice, actually. The clear parallels between Hannes’ death and Eren’s mother made his cries about not being able to change anything feel more substantial, and the conversation between him and Mikasa mustered as much solemnity and romanticism as this series can afford. It’s not as impactful or filled with game-changing reveals as the climactic moments of the first season, but I feel like the more refined execution makes it a vast improvement.
— Now let’s move onto the less fortunate aspects. Over the last couple of episodes, Attack on Titan has been forced to take a very conservative stance due to the deterioration of the production. The highlights don’t pack quite the same punch, and half the battle is summarized through stills rather than actually depicted. For a series that thrives in dynamism, these static battlefields are a big shame. If they had been more adventurous, they would have instead risked introducing rough sequences and off-model character art. Personally those aren’t an issue at all, but it’s easy to understand why this project would rather avoid that – especially in an age where fans can get rather nasty after making wonky drawings go viral.
— Nothing embodies their desire to put polished art above everything else better than this: the episode had the record figure of 25 animation direction roles, although with only 23 people taking them on since two of the action supervisors also did standard work. Their intention of making every drawing look decent, even if they have to sacrifice animation entirely, couldn’t be any clearer. The credits feature 52 1st key animators as well, plus an undefined large number of clean-up artists that we’ll never know for a fact. The show has had a regular rotation of chief animation directors and action supervisors, and a less strict but still noticeable schedule for the key animators. All of that went out the window for the finale, which absolutely everyone worked on. It’s an absurdly massive crew for an episode that was by itself not all that demanding, but that’s how tight the situation had gotten.
— While this was a messy spectacle and the animation hardly its priority, I’d still like to give credit to some of the isolated cool sequences. Historia stands atop everyone else again, though amusingly her highlight is attached to another dramatic still shot. I feel like the most interesting pieces of animation are these cuts with Hannes swinging around, which have an aggressive timing you don’t see anywhere else in the episode. The regular crew was too short on time to do as strong of a job as they have in the past, but Takuma Ebisu still managed to deliver the goods. The wind effects hint at him animating Eren’s Coordinate attack, and I get the feeling he corrected the neat scene with Jean falling off the horse as well. Ebisu was tasked with replacing the talented Yasuyuki Ebara (who actually worked on this episode, for the first time in the series) as action animation director, and the truth is that he’s completely eclipsed his predecessor. He’s been one of the greatest improvements over the original, alongside the inclusion of makeup animation.
— I’d like to end with some general thoughts on the series, though my conclusions won’t surprise you much if you’ve been following my coverage. Much like this episode in particular, my overall take on Attack on Titan S2 is less impactful, much better executed. I can’t imagine the series having turned out all that much better given the material they had without an outright revolution, either replacing the staff entirely or being allowed to make fundamental narrative changes. But since that obviously wasn’t to happen, this is a perfectly reasonable adaptation.
— Another relative improvement has been the production management. It’s been far from ideal of course, and definitely not as smooth as you’d want from a project that had all the time in the world for its preproduction duties, but better nonetheless. Despite WIT itself handling a bigger workload, the show hasn’t collapsed until the last few episodes, much later than the point where the first season started massively struggling. Please keep in mind that 9 episodes of the original series were entirely outsourced; almost all of them to studio Daume (who then often subcontracted Wanpack to actually animate them) but to Husio as well. So while season 2 has still involved artists from many companies, it’s a huge step forward for WIT to have kept the production process of all episodes in their own studio. They’re a smaller company than most fans realize, so tackling multiple demanding projects at the same time is always tricky.
— I’d also like to address the worries that the third season won’t actually happen in 2018, since they seem very prevalent. Productions don’t exist in the ether, so WIT’s other projects and this very own series are tied to that as well. The first important thing to understand here is that despite this second season having been immediately greenlit and the 4 year gap between each series, the show wasn’t being animated for that long; it was in the works in a more general sense, but active production didn’t truly start until late 2016. So what took them so long? The fundamental decisions about the structure. And the solution they arrived at was to split the sequel into a more action heavy second season, then have the political arc as a third season the next year. Whether we’ll return to 2 cours so they can fit more material and thus return to action we don’t know yet, but what’s for sure is that the groundwork for season 3 has already been done.
— So, when will it happen? Let’s look at the relevant upcoming WIT projects. The Ancient Magus Bride is receiving an exceptional treatment by I.G Port – understandably so, since the manga publisher belongs to the parent company and Production I.G is financing half of it despite not being the ones actually animating the series. Which is to say, Studio WIT’s dad told it that they better take care of this valuable title or else they’re not eating dessert for the next year. Because of that (but also due to big streaming plans), its production is very ahead and won’t get all that much in the way. Any damage it might do has likely already materialized, and simply comes from the project receiving the highest priority. But since there is some animation force overlap and I doubt they’d want to have two big titles airing at the same time, that means we likely won’t see Attack on Titan S3 until Spring 2018. The other factor here is Kabaneri’s sequel, which is also coming next year and is seemingly already in preparation; hence why Ebara (its character designer) is still around at WIT, but couldn’t afford to work on this show. As much as Tetsuro Araki can take a hands-off approach I doubt that he wants to supervise the two projects at the same time too, so that might actually be the most decisive factor. If Kabaneri’s sequel is an early 2018 film, then I would bet on Titans in spring. If it’s back on TV for noitaminA, then get ready for a longer wait.
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