This Attack on Titan review does NOT contain spoilers.
“This tiny world is about to change.”
At first glance, it may not look like there’s anything in common between the anime series Attack on Titan and the HBO program Westworld. However, over the course of Attack on Titan’s season 3 premiere, “Smoke Signal,” the HBO drama repeatedly came to mind and it suddenly clicked how similar these series actually are.
Attack on Titan tackles questions of identity, fear of the unknown, and the dangers of enemies hiding in plain sight, much like Westworld. Furthermore, Westworld slowly begins to expand its boundaries beyond that of the titular park, not unlike how Attack on Titan gradually ventures past its protective walls and even further beyond that. These two programs are also notorious for introducing plenty of questions, but withholding a lot of answers. Fortunately, Attack on Titan’s premiere strikes with the full force of top-speed omni-directional mobility gear and makes it feel like this could be the show’s best season yet.
Attack on Titan has continued to broaden its scope in fascinating ways over the short time that it’s been around. The show’s second season dropped some pretty big bombshells, like who the traitors that were actually Titans in disguise were, more details about the Colossal Titan and Armored Titan, Eren’s new “Coordinate” skill, and even that the Titans are actually a part of the very walls that Trost uses to protect themselves from the outside dangers. “Smoke Signal” indicates that this season doesn’t want to disregard these revelations, but actually explore them to a greater degree.
A good deal of “Smoke Signal” is spent in recovery mode after the chaotic events of the second season’s finale. The premiere plays with feelings of restlessness that plague the Scouts while they heal, as if commenting on how so much of last season put Eren in captivity by saying, “Don’t worry! This year won’t be so stationary!” The Scouts are forced to keep moving and it very much feels like their security blanket is now gone and that anything might happen. The show feels unpredictable in a way that it hasn’t in a long time.
“Smoke Signal” contains that unnerving feeling that’s present in only the best Attack on Titan episodes where everything is calm, but you just know that something is wrong; that these guys have somehow screwed up in an immense way and they have no idea how or what’s about to befall them. It’s a chilling atmosphere that this premiere handles particularly well just because the show’s executed surprises of this nature to great success in the past. Even still, the sinking feeling that something is afoot is still not enough to prepare the audience for what actually happens.
One of the greatest things about the Attack on Titan season 3 premiere is that it not only puts the perma-awesome Levi front and center, but it appears that this year will also explore his past to greater detail and put him on an emotional mission of revenge. Levi was sorely missing during the show’s second season and it’s encouraging to see that he looks to be a major figure this year. It’s been too long since the world has been treated to some Levi badassery and even though he has lots of time to make up for here, he has plenty of great moments in this premiere.
On that note, while the giant-sized Titans are still very much a danger to the Scouts, this premiere also introduces hazards that connect on a much more personal level. Levi has to face a very distressing person from his past who basically sets up shop and is ready to take over. Sure, Titans look scary as hell, but there’s something deeply disturbing about an ordinary human that’s so drastically lost their way. Kenny the Ripper is arguably even more intimidating than a Titan and he might be this season’s largest threat. It might not seem like humans as the enemy is that significant, but it presents a major paradigm shift to the show’s values.
Attack on Titan knows that it has a lot of story to unpack, but it’s also aware that people love the action in this show and “Smoke Signal” greatly indulges in that area. There is some seriously stunning animation in this premiere as Levi and company let loose throughout Trost. The series’ lightning-paced air chases are always exceptional, but the action sequences in this premiere particularly pop. It’s easy to see why Funimation wanted this premiere to air in a movie theater because it’s gorgeous. There’s plenty of great action in this episode, but the series also doesn’t forget to feature its trademark dark sense of humor when it’s appropriate (there’s a particular gag that involves removing Eren from his Titan form that would surely make David Cronenberg smirk).
Attack on Titan’s truncated second season order of 12 episodes went by far too fast for most. The show’s third season graciously promises 24 installments and if the pace of “Smoke Signal” is any indication, it looks like this year may offer up as many answers as the previous one did. This premiere strongly hints at what’s to come this season, both on a personal and grander scale, and it looks like the anime’s status quo will likely get blown apart once again. This season feels fearless in a whole new kind of way and I’ve truly no idea who will be left standing at the end.
An official American television airdate has yet to be announced, but it would be a genuine shock if this didn’t hit Adult Swim’s Toonami in August. The fact that Attack on Titan’s season premiere made its debut in the US before it did in Japan speaks to the rabid audience that is out there in America for this crazy show. Fans will be able to watch thrilling fight scenes, bonkers monsters, and political corruption soon enough, otherwise Eren might have put his “Coordinate” ability to use.
Attack on Titan’s third season premieres in Japan on July 22 and should be streaming online shortly after. Keep up with our Attack on Titan Season 3 reviews and news here!