Volume 15 of the popular manga series, Attack On Titan, was released in Japan on December 9th. To fuels the needs of fans salivating for new Attack On Titan animation until the release of the second season (and to undoubtedly keep the money machine going…) the limited edition of the manga includes a special DVD containing entirely new one episode of the anime version of the series, chronicling the origins of Levi, the leading soldier of the Survey Corps and his first encounter with commander Erwin Smith.
The episode, titled “Kuinaki Sentaku (A Choice with No Regrets) Part 1,” is numbered as “0.5A”, suggesting that the episode is a side-story prequel. Based off of a spinoff manga of the same name written by Gun Snark and illustrated by Hikaru Suruga (the story was supervised by Attack On Titan creator Hajime Isayama), the episode is the fourth OVA episode released with a volume of the manga, and serves as the first part of a two-part story. The episode is directed by television series director Tetsuro Araki.
The story takes place a few years prior to the series, in an area known as the Underground District, an area seeped in poverty and crime. Citizens are unable to venture overground and into the sunlight, and any attempts to climb outside are met with punishment. The world evokes callbacks to Gurren Lagann, a series which also had humanity fleeing underground to avoid being attacked by giant beings on the surface. Levi here is a young thief living in the district, who along with his colleagues Farlan and Isabel, utilize their 3D maneuver gear to steal.
The episode is rather thin on plot, and the amount of enjoyment a viewer will get will come down to the amount of emotional investment they have in Levi as a character. In the series, Levi is often portrayed as an absolute, a character with a mysterious past who is a crystallization of the concept of an ideal soldier, that giving him an origin story seems to take away from his characterization.
It appears that the writers had trouble (due perhaps to restrictions imposed by Isayama) with this as well; despite being billed as the origin story of Levi, the Levi presented in the episode is essentially the same guy we meet in the television series. While the circumstances he’s placed in are different, you can’t help but feel the lack of a character arc here.
With that said, there are fine moments in the episode, including a chase sequence involving the 3D maneuver gear across the underground city. The animation quality is on par, if not better than the original television series, courtesy of the ever wonderful WIT Studio/Production I.G. Fans who have missed the fluid, highly stylized action sequences of director Araki will fine plenty to chew on here.
The episode ends on a cliffhanger, where Erwin of the Survey Corps encounters Levi for the first time, and offers a chance to clear his past crimes and live over ground, in exchange for joining the Survey Corps. The suggestion is met with little hostility from Levi, and the moment feels unearned, a type of “prequelitis”, a plot device used to hastily get characters from point A to point B because that’s where they end up at the start of the main series. It’s a problem that plagues many prequels, and ultimately feels like a crutch for fully realized characters like Levi, whose mysterious pasts are often one of their most appealing factors.
Part 2 is set to be released with volume 16 of the manga on April 9th.
Ryotaro Aoki is a musician and freelance writer. Born in Tokyo and raised in the United States, he came back to Japan in 2003 and has been based in Tokyo ever since. He writes mostly about music and pop culture for publications such as The Japan Times, The Guardian, and RedBull.com. Check out his blog and reach him on Twitter.
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