Animation
Characterization
Story
Summary
ATTACK ON TITAN is back for its third season and is strong as ever. Episode 38 delivered a delightful mix of mystery, suspense, and great action to make for an amazing opening.
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Amazing Opening

Finally, an incredible story is back! ATTACK ON TITAN returned today for its exciting third season. The series is renowned for its thrilling and unique take on a struggling humanity. The monsters known as Titans seek only to eat humans. With the last of humanity resting within two massive walls, existence is bleak. The first and second season followed Eren Jaeger, Mikasa Ackerman, and Armin Arlert as they fought to stay alive. Titans attacked the walls and destroyed the trios hometown at the beginning on Season 1. In order to keep themselves and humanity safe, all three enlist in the Survey Corps. Today’s episode picked up right where we left off in Season 2, with almost no recap to speak of and an immediate jump into action.

For a shonen series as action packed as ATTACK ON TITAN, this is important. From the Season 3 trailer, we learned that the coming arc has an internal focus. What this episode did well was inspire an air of mystery in ATTACK ON TITAN. The origin of the Titans, the makeup of the walls, and the structure of human society are still unclear. As Eren and the Survey Corps slowly begin to understand some semblance of truth, they find out that not everyone wants them to know it.

By rapidly pushing new information, characters, and developments into the viewers face, ATTACK ON TITAN re-immersed us in mystery. Now, not only are we trying to learn the truth about Titans but humans as well. It’s already clear that class causes massive inequities. The rich are the safest with guaranteed livelihoods while the poor are mere Titan bait. Episode 38 “Smoke Signal” effectively used this context to pivot from the end of Season 2 into a brand new arc without missing a beat.

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The World as We Know It

As a quick recap of Season 2, we ended with some news about some of Eren’s oldest comrades. Reiner Braun and Bertholdt Hoover both revealed themselves as the Armored and Colossal Titans, respectively. Including Annie, Eren, and Ymir this makes for 5 total humans with the ability to transform into Titans. If we include the strange blonde man seen emerging from the Beast Titan, we have 6. Reiner, for his part, blew his cover after his identity began to fracture. After being undercover for so long, his literal psyche began to dissociate. There was the Reiner that considered Eren and company comrades, and Reiner the infiltrator. Once the two became more and more irreconcilable, he broke and decided to nab Eren.

Erena and Reiner fighting in their Titan forms in ATTACK ON TITAN
Eren and Reiner fighting in their Titan forms | Image: Crunchyroll

In the struggle that followed, the Scouts attempted to retrieve Eren while he resisted his captors. In a final struggle, Eren managed to unleash a brand new power. Defending himself and Mikasa from the same Titan that ate his mother, he suddenly unleashed a surge of power. The power, localized to Titans, commanded the nearby Titans to rapidly charge toward Bertholdt. This power is what the Warriors Reiner and Bertholdt were searching for, and something they were devastated to learn Eren possessed.

Season 2 ended with Eren vowing to master his power and some new information for the military. Investigations find that a group of Titans were, in fact, formerly human beings. This is one particularly tragic revelation, as it means Eren and his comrades have been killing humans all this time. But, with Eren’s new power and the military’s increased knowledge, it seems humanity has new hope.

Experimentation

The Scouts are quick to continue their exploration of Eren’s unique powers. At this point in the anime, it’s unclear exactly how they work or what triggers them. If you recall Eren’s early use of his Shifter powers, the process was similar. The first use was entirely by accident. However, after several uses, he found a way to transform voluntarily with self-harm and resolve. But the other two powers humanity needs most right now aren’t quite as straightforward. If Eren is able to manifest the unique Titan hardening ability, his Titan body can plug up the broken walls.

Last season, we found out that the walls are composed at least partially of Colossal Titans anyway. So, it makes sense that a Titan body could be used to repair the wall. But Eren’s stamina isn’t unlimited, and it seems that repeated transformations can even hasten the extent to which he melds with his Titan body. Additionally, successive transformations result in increasingly diminutive forms and physical deformity.

Eren's weakened transformation in ATTACK ON TITAN
Eren’s weakened transformation in ATTACK ON TITAN | Image: Crunchyroll

The urgency with which Hannes jumped into experimentation demonstrates the struggle they’re in. With the end of Season 2, we have certainty that there is civilization beyond the walls. For those whose conception of the world is limited to what is known, this is both mystifying and scary. It’s incredible to imagine humanity living in a mythical land beyond the sea. But, if those people are enemies, that’s a threat.

This first half of the episode explored each characters’ reaction to new revelations and more truths. Historia, for example, drops her usual cheery facade in favor of a serious one. Season 3 is said to focus heavily on her, and we got some interesting contrast to her character right off the bat.

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The Internal Threat

The mystery kicked off almost instantly and with vigor in Episode 38. Quickly, Levi becomes aware that the Military Police are trying to track down their unit. As we progress further into the episode, we find out that there is a standing order to bring back both Eren and Historia immediately. Those who recall the earlier episodes in ATTACK ON TITAN will recall that the Military Police and Survey Corps have very different outlooks.

While the Survey Corps are looked upon as suicidal fools who constantly fail in their mission to learn more about the world, the Police are elites. They patrol much closer to the interior and palace areas of the walls. As such, the role is a lot safer and seldom even involves a real risk of death. But, it also means that as a segment of the military, the Police are much more at the beck and call of ATTACK ON TITAN’s royalty. We don’t know why, but the king wants information about the walls secret.

The Survey Corps on the run in ATTACK ON TITAN
Levi’s squad fleeing before the Military Police raids them | Image: Crunchyroll

Clever Skepticism

However, the characters we’ve followed for two seasons aren’t quite so easy to trick. The episode’s careful animation brilliantly showed off every frame of skepticism and district. After one of the Wall Priest is mysteriously found dead, Hannes questions other soldiers. The anime made massive improvements to the same scenes from the manga, combining fluid movement with detailed still scenes to maintain the episode’s air of mystery. As usual, music in the episode assisted with this as well.

An apparent murder by the Military Police in ATTACK ON TITAN
Careful camera angles, edginess in speech, and subtle movements added a real detective feel | Image: Crunchyroll

Ultimately, this frontline of internal conflict creates some new possibilities for the series’ direction. Now that the issue of Titans from the other reaches of the walls is somewhat on hold, viewers can see more of ATTACK ON TITAN’s politics. I, for one, find these kinds of explorations in anime extremely compelling. Not only do they make the series’ world feel more “real,” but they also give us the chance to see characters use their wits in situations not directly tied to combat. Complex espionage is a big part of ATTACK ON TITAN, and it was great to see more of it so soon in Season 3.

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New Styles of Combat

But even so, combat is still cool as hell. We saw a brand new use of ATTACK ON TITAN’s trademark 3D Maneuver Gear along with a character introduced in the trailer. Now, on top of being able to zip around like Spider-Man and wield giant Xacto Knives, you can use guns too.

This allows sharpshooters to adapt their strategy. Soldiers with this setup, as we saw in the episode, combine the enhanced mobility with high accuracy shots. And this set up makes sense while putting the Survey Corps at somewhat of a natural disadvantage. While all soldiers can shoot, only Military Police train to take down humans specifically. Most of the combat and tactics others learn is tied to Titan killing, so it’ll be intriguing to see how fighters like Levi adapt to this. And, we’re introduced to legendary killer Kenny Ackerman, as well as his connection to Levi.

Levi in ATTACK ON TITAN
For Levi to get this angry, it must be personal | Image: Crunchyroll

Levi is one of the strongest single combatants in the show. He can solo Titans that entire squads struggle to take down. But if this Kenny trained Levi or even was involved in raising him, it’s likely that their skills are comparable. As we saw this episode, ATTACK ON TITAN is not shy about death. Kenny’s crew was able to quickly kill several of Levi’s soldiers with pistols. Moreover, the tactics of the military police take natural advantage in the dense interior of the walls. Levi, who is usually 10 steps ahead of everyone around him, only noticed the ambush this episode in time to save himself. Next episode is certain to feature some amazing combat. Who knows whether superior sword skills or trained shooting will come out on top in an all-out fight.

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Battles to Come in ATTACK ON TITAN!

This episode was an amazing opening for what is sure to be one of the best seasons yet. If the manga is any indication, Season 3 is going to dive deep into mysteries that no one could reasonably predict. Episode 38 showed the seeds of a massive conspiracy. The roots have been growing and setting for quite some time in the background of the normal story. With Eren having discovered an incredible power, a lot is at stake. Now, we’re finally beginning to understand what people will do to get that power.

This episode was an incredible mixture of mystery, action, and suspense. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that next week’s episode can’t come any sooner. What were your thoughts on the Season 3 opening? Let us know in the comments!

Featured image from Crunchyroll.

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