Attack on Titan is not going to be the shonen king of the summer 2018 season.
When the show premiered in 2013, it stood apart as something both new and old fans could see was special. A bleak tale of struggle and survival in an inventive steampunk setting, it brought viewers an experience that was thrilling, heart wrenching and enthralling all at once, and each new episode drew fans further and further into humanity’s plight. This is to say nothing of the show’s animation, which combined fast-moving backgrounds with sharp character designs to keep viewers’ eyes glued to the screen from intro to credits, or the stellar score which still comes to the forefront of many fans’ memories. Combined, these factors made for a juggernaut of a series that fans couldn’t wait to get more of.
And wait they did; the second season didn’t premiere until 2017 and saw some heavy tonal shifts from the first season. Where there once were brutal, lightning-fast fights against titans with vertical maneuvering gears, there now were more personal struggles among the cast of main characters who struggled to survive without the help of Eren Jaeger and his Titan powers. Not only that, but it returned to an entirely new competitive climate with shows like My Hero Academia fighting tooth and nail for the attention of the larger anime community.
This follow-up had a positive reception but one that was nowhere near as earth-shaking as the first season’s was, much of it due to the tonal shifts present in the latest season. This shift looks to be continued by the third season, which has a trailer showing human against human conflict and subterfuge within the walled cities of the series’ setting. Yes, it’s still rapid fire action in its own right, but it’s not the man vs. monster aesthetic of the first season, and with the likes of My Hero Academia and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part Five set to pincer it on either side, its shonen aspects might not be enough to drag in the same crowd that helped make it a phenomenon when it first started.
But that’s okay.
One of the defining traits of Attack on Titan is how it brought something new to the table. In a time when there weren’t a lot of standout titles to speak of, it brought the community exactly what it needed in a new and novel way, and received a massive push of relevance as a result. Part of this was undoubtedly the action, but another part was the way in which it was presented as a means to move the dramatic story of survival, to sell the horror of what could happen if they failed and to build on the mystery of how this struggle came to exist. The action was and is an important part of it all, but was never meant to be the only part people recognized.
Over the past few years though, other anime have appeared to scratch that action itch. My Hero Academia has quickly cemented itself as one of the next shonen greats, and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is hot on its heels with the success of its last season and a new installment on its way.
As such, Attack on Titan needs to let its many other aspects shine. There is still a place for the action of course, but letting these other factors take center stage could be what allows it to stand out once again and define itself as something special. Where MHA offers zany, super powered clashes between flashy heroes, AoT can depict more grounded clashes of espionage, philosophy and ideals. Likewise, where Jojo goes for crazed fights and set pieces, AoT can switch over to the more atmospheric, mystery-filled investigations that the second season handled so well. Through this variety and adaptability, it can not only escape from the perceived downward trend, but also gain a foothold in other genre’s fandoms and make a name for itself past being just another adrenaline ride.
Attack on Titan isn’t the undisputed champion of action anime it once was, and the third season probably won’t be the best shonen-esque show of the summer with titles like My Hero Academia still standing tall and pulling in large swaths of the community’s attention. And that’s okay. No show should waste its potential by rushing to become the be-all end-all for a certain genre, and with a full roster of worthy contenders now sating the shonen crowd, there’s more room for it to stretch its legs, take its time and become a true, one of a kind classic of the medium.