Reviewby James Beckett,
Attack on Titan OADs 1-8 Streaming
From 2013-2018, Studio Wit produced special episodes of Attack on Titan that would be sold as exclusive bonuses alongside volumes of the series' manga. The episodes contained in these Original Animation DVDs (OADs) chronicle several side tales and spinoff adaptations that span Attack on Titan's history, including the unseen story of how Captain Levi came to join the Survey Corps, and an especially strange case that Annie Leonhart took on in the days before her fateful encounter with Eren during the 57th Exterior Scouting Mission. While a few of these OADs were localized into English and similarly sold as bonus discs for the translated editions of the AoT manga, many were not, and until the end of 2021, none of these episodes have been easily or legally available here in the United States. Now that all 8 of the OADs are translated and streaming on Funimation and Crunchyroll, old and new fans alike can finally experience these unexplored corners of the Attack on Titan universe.
I feel like the only way to properly review these Attack on Titan OADs is to dive into each of the episodes/arcs as their own, separate things, since that is how they were meant to be consumed as they were released during Studio Wit's original run as the producers of the franchise. Before I do, though, can I just say how wild it was to dive into “Classic” Attack on Titan all of these years later, especially since the second half of MAPPA's Attack on Titan: The Final Season is right around the corner? I love what MAPPA has been able to do with the show, but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't get hit with the old nostalgia bomb once or twice while digging into these OAD episodes. It's easy to forget just how far Eren and his frienemies have come since Season 1 dropped in 2013, and it makes me realize that The Final Season was always going to feel like a different show from what came before it, no matter what studio ended up doing the animation. Fair Warning: There may be some mild spoilers for stuff that gets covered up to the end of The Final Season Part 1.
OADs 1-3: The Early Years
Episode 3.25 – “Ilse's Notebook: Memoirs of a Recon Corps Member”
As the episode numbers imply, this is the first of the three OADs that cover the time before the Scouts graduated from their training, and it is a doozy. Instead of focusing on the Scouts themselves, “Ilse's Notebook” gives us a story starring Hange and Levi, as the former tries to ignore the latter's orders against capturing live Titans for study. This is one of the episodes that were produced shortly after the end of the first season, way back in 2013, so watching it with eight years' worth of hindsight made for an interesting experience. It drops some major foreshadowing to the truth of the Titans' origin, including evidence of the Titans' intelligence and the importance of a figure named “Ymir”. It's nothing that we wouldn't originally get by the time Seasons 2 and 3 rolled around, and it's hard for me to appreciate the buildup of a mystery (Ymirstery?) that I've long since been told the answers to, but the episode has some strong horror elements that I dug quite a bit. A fun watch, but not essential. Grade: B-
Episode 3.5 – “The Sudden Visitor: The Torturous Curse of Youth”
Oh my God, this one is just so goddamned ridiculous that I couldn't help but love it. It's a Jean-focused episode, which is in and of itself a fun novelty, and that's before we even get into the fact that the whole thing devolves into an absurdly over-the-top cooking competition between Jean and Sasha. Maybe this one hit different because of what eventually becomes of all these characters in The Final Season—especially Sasha—but I cannot deny how much fun it was to spend time with these characters again. It's the second least “important” of these OADs in terms of plot, but a top-tier contender for sheer entertainment value. Grade: B+
Episode 3.75 – “Distress”
This one is an ensemble piece of sorts, which sees the fledgling Scouts split up into teams on a practice mission that goes horribly wrong…or does it? This is another episode that doesn't offer much in the way of fascinating insights or deep revelations, but it's entertaining enough, I suppose, though in a forgettable sort of way. The kidnapping plot is a solid primer for the increased amount of human vs. human conflict we'd see in future seasons. Grade: C+
OADs 4-5: No Regrets
Episodes 0.5A & B– “No Regrets: Parts 1 & 2”
These two 2016 OADs adapt a spinoff manga by Gun Snark that reveals how Levi first came to join the Survey Corps and establish his complicated relationship with Commander Erwin. Interestingly enough, these are the only episodes I knew a little bit about before going into them, since they got brought up to me multiple times when I was reviewing AoT's third season in 2017. There, the whole existence of the Underground and Levi's origins become very important without much of anything in the way of context, and when I expressed confusion about these seemingly random bits of incredibly important backstory that I apparently missed, fans kept telling me that I had to watch these OAD episodes to “get it”.
Well, I've seen them, and while they aren't strictly required to be able to follow the main anime, I sure do wish that us anime-only fans in the West had been able to enjoy Levi's backstory in a slightly more chronological fashion. In 2021, the ultimately tragic events that end up transforming Levi into the superhuman Titan Slayer Extraordinaire that we all know and love lack a lot of the oomph that they might have had five years ago. Still, they're top-notch chapters in the AoT canon, and must-watches for anyone who needs a little more Levi in their life. Grade: A-
OADs 6-8: Lost Girls
Episodes 16.5A & B – "Wall Sina, Goodbye: Parts One & Two"
Oh, hell yes. I wasn't sure what to expect from these 2018 episodes, though I suspected that I'd probably love the Lost Girls stories simply because they were based on a light novel spinoff by Hiroshi Seko, a writer who's done some amazing work in his time. Well, I was right on at least two of three counts, because the “Wall Sina, Goodbye” duology might just be my favorite episodes of this entire OAD collection. This is largely because of two factors: The first is that they're centered around Annie, a criminally underdeveloped character who I have been wanting to see more of ever since her Marleyan origins got fully explored in The Final Season. The second is that these episodes place Annie at the center of Attack on Titan's version of a film-noir detective story, complete with illicit drug scandals, corrupt politicians, and twists galore.
In other words, it's the kind of one-off genre exercise that you just don't see all that often in Attack on Titan, and it feels like it was made especially for me. Fans looking for a whole lot of plot relevance are likely to be disappointed, but these two episodes go a long way towards making Paradis Island feel more like a real, lived-in society, and not just the ever-crumbling backdrop of a horrifying forever war. I loved this story so, so much. Grade: A
Episode ??? – "Lost in the Cruel World"
I wish I could have finished off this review on a high note, but unfortunately, Studio Wit's final OAD for the Attack on Titan franchise may be one of its all-time worst episodes. In short, the whole thing is an “alternative history” dream that Mikasa has about a world in which her parents never died, Eren never defended her from their killers, and she never moved into the Yeager home. These kinds of “What If?” episodes are hard to pull off in the best of circumstances, and “Lost in the Cruel World” just didn't work for me at all. None of the observations about Mikasa's Maybe Life offered anything interesting or unexpected to say about her characterization or her relationship with Eren, and most of the episode just felt like it was running off a checklist of scenarios before eventually sputtering out entirely. Then, in the end, things get absolutely ludicrous, with an imaginary Mirror Man showing up to muddy the tone even more, before it all caps off with maybe the most unintentionally hilarious hot air balloon-related twist I could have ever possibly imagined. Every other OAD episode is worth watching for one reason or another. You should, however, go out of your way to avoid “Lost in the Cruel World”. Grade: D-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ A nostalgic return to the "classic" Studio Wit look and feel, 7 of the 8 episodes are well-written and entertaining expansions of the Attack on Titan universe
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