“The Town Where Everything Began” marks quite the milestone for Attack on Titan. Not only is it the show’s 50th episode, it’s also a long-awaited homecoming for our heroes; as the title suggests, the second half of Season 3 opens with Eren, Armin, Mikasa, and the rest of the scouts returning to Wall Maria and Shiganshina District. Needless to say, this chapter of the Attack on Titan story has a ton of expectations riding on its shoulders, and I’ll admit to being slightly underwhelmed by this episode’s first half. We left the gang at an awkward point to begin with, and the opening scenes of this premiere have the unenviable job of working the story from two directions. We’ve got to reestablish the stakes and the current emotional conflicts for our protagonists, while also resuming the action and suspense as if it hasn’t been six months since the show was on the air.
It’s a tough balancing act, and it doesn’t help that the first act spends too much time with the group’s midnight journey through the woods on the way to Wall Maria and the preparations for the mission that follow. With Armin and Eren getting so much attention in this episode, it makes sense that AoT would want to refresh the audience on their friendship, which hasn’t gotten much attention this season, but the dialogue still feels perfunctory. Things pick up when the crew begin their mission to seal the breach in the wall, but with everything happening so fast, it’s difficult to latch onto the excitement and catharsis we should be experiencing after so many years of anticipation. It isn’t for lack of Studio Wit’s effort, though – the heightened animation and direction of Eren’s descent and transformation might be somewhat overblown, but it’s no less entertaining for the excess.
Even Eren thinks the group accomplished the first phase of their mission too easily though, and it was in this second act of the episode that I started to feel that old Titan magic locking back into place. The eerie silence of the district was apparent to everyone from the outset, and the Scouts have been around the block a few too many times to suspect anything other an ambush. This is where the suspense really began to coalesce again, and I loved seeing Armin get a more prominent role within the Scouts’ command. As Erwin himself notes, Armin’s brain has been the corps’ secret weapon for a long time now, so it’s only natural to put him in charge of some soldiers when nobody else has any clue how to find the hiding Titans. The short beat of confusion when the others realize that they report to Armin now is also a reminder of how funny Attack on Titan can be when the mood strikes.
Naturally, Armin’s big idea is the right one, even when the others balk at it. How can the Titans possibly maintain their vantage point without being detected by anyone in the city? It’s because they’re hiding inside the walls, of course. When one poor sucker gets his guts skewered by Reiner after discovering one of the Titans’ hidey-holes, all of the time this episode spent laying groundwork pays off big time, as Levi absolutely brutalizes Reiner in a flash of savage action. It’s neither the longest nor the flashiest cut of animation we’ve seen from AoT, but I think it’s one of the most effective. If any sequence can get me to exclaim “Hot Damn!” aloud in my living room, Attack on Titan has to be doing something right.
We leave on yet another cliffhanger, one that almost feels more fitting for a finale than a premiere: The Titans have surrounded everyone within the walls of the abandoned district, and it’s looking like the Scouts will either have to fight the enemy head-on or die trying. Given the interpersonal drama implied by episode 49’s tag, it seems like Eren was right, and it’s too early to celebrate any kind of victory just yet. This premiere may have gotten bogged down in how much table-setting is necessary to pick the story back up in the middle of the action, but now that the engines are revving again, I can’t wait to see where the ride takes us.