Attack on Titan vol. 2 – Hajime Isayama

4 out of 5

The first volume of Attack on Titan was in a bit of a rush to cough out all its ideas – a history of humanity in which we’re besieged by monsters – the titular titans – of unknown origin; the structure of walled towns for protection from those monsters; the hierarchy of the army stationed in those towns; several principal characters working up the ranks in that army; the science behind their wall-scaling weaponry and giant-felling blades…  It’s a lot for anyone to tackle, and it was especially quite a bit for fresh-faced creator Hajime Isayama, still struggling with a formalized style for his characters and action while overeagerly stuffing all of the above within a couple hundred pages.

The second volume is a huge leap forward on both story and art fronts, as the heavy setup lifting is out of the way, allowing Hajime to focus more attentively on keeping the action moving – which it does, rather expertly, page-turningly so – and to zero in on characters whom we had to get to know in a rush, previously.  Mikasa and Armin get time to shine, here, enriching their personalities tenfold and establishing their roles in the story in a much more grounded, contextually believable fashion.  Meanwhile, as the scattered army tries to pick themselves back up, Hajime also introduces some key elements which make for great drama: the true do-or-die conundrums which will populate the series, and the sense of horrific choices, when it comes to, say, letting one perish to save many.

Art-wise, Isayama also makes an interesting step forward by letting his linework become looser.  His faces are still a little on the amateurish side, so by letting some more stylization in, that becomes less of an issue, and it also allows the action to be less bound to a strict sense of physics and carry more emotion as well.  That said, there are still several pacing hiccups that really undermine some scenes which should be heart-stopping: characters zip from point A to point B effortlessly; a crowded battle sequence doesn’t have enough weight behind it; and maybe most importantly, the huge cliffhanger at volume 2’s end is presented in a weird beat-by-beat paneling that makes it not seem like a cliffhanger.

Still, if I was iffy on the preceding volume, just continuing to the second out of curiosity, this would have been the book to convince me to jump on for the ride.