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Everything You Need to Know Before Attack on Titan Comes Back

by James Beckett,

If there was an entry for “crossover hit” in the dictionary, it wouldn't be strange to see a big picture of Attack on Titan right next to the definition. It's easy to forget if you've been consuming anime for most of your life, but the medium still resides firmly in the territory of niche entertainment. For a title to become popular with the general public, it must strike the difficult balance of being approachable enough to not scare away newcomers, while also maintaining the aesthetic and style so unique to a Japanese production that it will satisfy dyed-in-the-wool otaku enough to spread it in the first place. Just one of these crossover hits will pop up every couple years or so, oftentimes acting as excellent primers for new viewers to dive headfirst into the world of anime. Cowboy Bebop and Dragon Ball Z did this in the '90s. Fullmetal Alchemist and Death Note did it in the 2000's. Then a young production company by the name of Wit Studio (staffed largely by up-and-coming talents from burgeoning parent company Production I.G) burst onto a global stage in 2013 with their adaptation of Hajime Isayama's dark fantasy/apocalyptic horror manga, Attack on Titan, taking the anime industry by storm to become the most mainstream new anime franchise of the 2010s.

It's easy to see why. The show's early 19th-century Germanic aesthetic, combined with its visceral wartime drama and intensely threatening giant monsters, made for an altogether unique and compelling viewing experience. Now, four years after its initial 25 episode run, the show's long-awaited second season will premiere this weekend! If you happen to be one of the rare anime fans who managed to avoid the series back in 2013, or if you're just looking for a refresher so you can dive right into Season 2 on April 1st, then you're in luck. This guide will run down the basics of everything you need to know, from major characters to plot arcs.

Act 1: The Fall of Zhiganshina

When our story begins, humans are already an endangered species. For over a hundred years, they have lived in fear of the Titans, a mysterious race of giant, animalistic humanoids that wander the world searching for people to devour. Nobody knows anything about these creatures or where they came from, and the small population that managed to escape the Titans' wrath unscathed have barricaded themselves within numerous towns, surrounded by three layers of sky-high stone walls. Life behind the walls is peaceful enough, but our protagonist, Eren Jaeger, yearns for the adventure and freedom afforded to the Scout Regiment, who are the only souls brave enough to combat Titans beyond the cities' walls.

Eren lives in the town of Zhiganshina, along with his best friend Armin Arlert and a girl his family recently took in, Mikasa Ackerman. Armin is a shy nerd prone to being picked on, and Eren is too stubborn and combative for his own good, while Mikasa is the strong, silent, and exceedingly intimidating badass who bails the boys out of the messes they make for themselves. Despite this outer strength, Mikasa's backstory is later revealed to be tragic and bloody. Her parents were murdered by slave traders when she was young, leaving Mikasa in danger of being sold into bondage. Eren and his father, Dr. Grisha Jaeger, happened to make a house call on the family mere hours after the incident, so Eren tracked down the slavers and killed them with Mikasa's help. She has remained by his side ever since, and the equally loyal Armin makes three.

The trio's lives remain relatively peaceful until the day the Titans break through the first wall of the city, Wall Maria, with the help of a never-before-seen Colossal Titan, and everything goes to hell. Eren's mother is brutally eaten by a Titan in the attack, while his father mysteriously vanishes. Amidst the bloodshed and destruction, the young boy swears vengeance on the monsters, while a great number of civilians are slaughtered around him. Those who survive are forced to migrate further into the city and become disenfranchised refugees. The starvation gets so bad that a quarter of a million people are exiled outside the walls, where they are summarily wiped out by the Titans, including Armin's grandfather and the only remaining guardian over the trio. Embittered and orphaned, Eren, Armin, and Mikasa resolve to join the army and fight to reclaim their world.

Act 2: Humanity's Comeback

Five years pass, and our heroes have worked tirelessly to develop the skills needed to fight the Titans. Central to the militia's arsenal is the Omni-Directional Mobility Gear, a harness that combines numerous razor-sharp blades with multi-directional grappling hooks to provide soldiers with maximum mobility and speed. After mastering the difficult skill of zipping through the air with nothing but rapidly-fired cables, the soldiers are able to attack the Titans' only known weak spot: the nape of their neck, causing instant death when slashed deep enough. Eren is the most passionate and aggressive soldier in the corps, while Armin is an exceptional strategist, and Mikasa has become the strongest and deadliest cadet in the program.

This is also where we get to meet the majority of Attack on Titan's supporting cast, the training recruits who fight alongside Eren, Armin, and Mikasa in battle. These include Reiner Braun and Bertolt Hoover, ranked second and third behind Mikasa, as well as the aloof Annie Leonhart. There's also the proud and antagonistic Jean Kirstein, the friendly Marco Bott, the outgoing and empty-headed Connie Springer, the kindhearted Krista Lenz, and her brash yet mysterious companion Ymir. Last but not least is Sasha Braus, whose zealous gluttony and loud personality has made her a fan-favorite. Together, these members of the 104th Training Division graduate with honors and take on a number of roles to prepare for the inevitability of another Titan attack.

Act 3: The Battle of Trost

It turns out the cadets won't have to wait long, because shortly after graduation, the Titans return to launch another offensive, led once again by the Colossal Titan. Despite the unit's years of training, these Titans are still formidable foes, and the soldiers are absolutely trounced in a matter of hours. In a desperate attempt to save Armin's life, even Eren is dismembered and devoured by a Titan at the very start of the battle.

This isn't the end of Eren's story, however. In his final moments, he discovers that by shedding his own blood in a moment of rage, he can actually transform into a Titan himself. In a maddened stupor, Eren is able to use his Titan form to decimate the other Titans and give the cadets a fighting chance, before reverting back to human form, unconscious. This understandably results in much confusion and fear, but Eren manages to survive the army's interrogations by offering his services as a tool in Titan form. Commander Dot Pixis requests that Eren use his formidable strength to seal the hole in the second wall, Wall Rose.

Wary of his own strength, Eren agrees under the condition that he be escorted by Mikasa and Armin, as well as members of the elite Scout Regiment, a group of expert soldiers with the skills and fortitude to explore the world outside the walls. Heading up this special task force is Captain Levi, an enigmatic and exceptionally skilled soldier who has little trust in Eren. Also working with the Scout Regiment is Hange Zoë, who has a morbid fascination with studying and dissecting Titans. Thanks to an overwhelming effort from everyone involved, Eren manages to move a giant boulder to patch Wall Rose's massive hole, saving the remaining populace from further decimation by the Titans. Still, Eren briefly went berserk during the mission and almost killed Mikasa, so he has a long way to go before he can trust himself in Titan form again. In the aftermath of the Battle for Trost, Eren is subjected to a tribunal, where his continued survival is allowed only through surveillance by the Scout Regiment. He gladly joins Levi and Hange in this deadliest branch of the army, hoping that they can help train him to control his Titan transformation. Most of his comrades join the Scout Regiment alongside him, including Armin and Mikasa, of course.

Act 4: The Female Titan

As Eren studies with the Scout Regiment, he learns about two Titans that Hange has captured to study, affectionately named Sawney and Beane. However, an unknown traitor murders Sawney and Beane to prevent further research, escaping into the land outside the walls. In order to find out who could possibly be willing to collude with the Titans, our heroes prepare for an expedition in pursuit of the truth about their core nature, which Eren believes lies dormant in the ruins of his home in Zhiganshina. Unfortunately, it isn't long after leaving the safety of Wall Rose that the Scout Regiment makes a startling discovery: a massive Female Titan, in hot pursuit to murder them all.

After she demonstrates indisputably human intelligence, the Scout Regiment realizes that she must be a human with transformative powers just like Eren, who she seems to be tracking down specifically, even choosing not to kill other targets. She pursues Eren's group into the forest, resulting in a grueling battle that kills a large number of soldiers while injuring many others. With a few clever traps, the Scouts are finally able to subdue the Female Titan, but she cocoons her weak spot in an organically generated crystal substance to protect her identity and her life. Mikasa and Levi attempt to wear the Female Titan down, but to no avail, and even Eren is no match for her in his Titan form, resulting in more casualties and her ultimate escape. Demoralized, battered, and ashamed of their defeat, the Scout Regiment returns to the city completely empty-handed.

While Eren languishes with his fate once again up in the air, Armin and Mikasa have their own suspicions about the Female Titan's true identity. With Armin's help, the other members of the 104th training division construct a plan to lure the Female Titan out of hiding, under the guise of liberating Eren from internment. As it turns out, the culprit is none other than their fellow cadet Annie Leonheart, who confesses but reveals no more information before frantically battling with Eren and the others. As the Female Titan, she wreaks havoc on the capitol behind Wall Sina, but the cadets are able to hold her off long enough for Eren to take her down in Titan form. As he hesitates to land the killing blow, Annie encases her body in organic crystal, forcing the army to take her into custody with no way to interrogate her. The first season ends on a note of uncertainty, as it becomes impossible to ignore that other humans who can transform into Titans have infiltrated the army, and unlike Eren, they are not on humanity's side. The final shot of the season shows a chunk of stone from one of the Walls crumbling away, revealing the uncanny visage of a Titan sleeping inside the structure. There truly is nowhere safe to hide anymore, with the reveal that Titans not only live inside the Walls, they also live inside the Walls.

“To Be Continued”

Now, after four long years of waiting, Season 2 of Attack on Titan is finally on the horizon. So what can we expect from this second arc of the series? I don't want to give too much away about what happens in the manga, but we can expect to see several more game-changing volumes covered in the upcoming season. It's fair to expect the identities of some other intelligent Titans to be revealed, some we've seen before and some we haven't. Many side characters will get much larger roles in this part of the story, as Eren's voice actor, Yuki Kaji, recently noted that Eren takes a back seat this season compared to some of his comrades.

One of the most maddening questions left unanswered by season one would have to be the show's earliest and most teased mystery: “What's in Eren's Basement?” After abruptly leaving on the eve of the first Titan attack on Zhiganshina, Eren's father Grisha sought him out and snatched him up some nights later to inject him with some kind of mysterious serum before abandoning him again. It's heavily implied that this serum is the reason for Eren's ability to transform into a Titan, and Eren has been haunted by vague memories of his father telling him that the key to everything lies in the basement of their former home, which now lies in ruins in the Titan-infested ruins of Zhiganshina. Whatever disturbing secrets Grisha is hiding, they seem key to discovering the true motivations of the Titans, but anime-only viewers should be warned that while the manga has finally revealed this tantalizing twist, this second season will probably not reach that point in the story. So just prepare yourself to resume fuming about that basement even by this second season's conclusion. I promise that the other, smaller reveals this season does provide will be worth the wait.

Beyond that, you'll just have to check out season two of Attack on Titan when it premieres on April 1st! You've waited for four years already, after all. What's another couple of days? Be sure to tell us what you're most excited to see from Attack on Titan's return in the forums!

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