Attack on Titan: How the Lost Episodes Lead to the Final Season

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Every piece of the puzzle counts for Attack on Titan, making it the rare narrative that actively improves upon each re-watch. There’s a staggering amount of nuance and lore that hides in plain sight throughout the anime’s origins, all of which has led to one of the most unpredictable and satisfying final seasons of an anime. Attack on Titan has found massive success ever since it first premiered, but there are certain niche pieces of the series’ growing canon that have slipped through the cracks over the years. 

Attack on Titan produced eight OADs–Original Animation DVDs–that were bundled together with the anime’s manga releases between 2013 and 2018. A few of these installments were released in the United States alongside manga issues, but they’ve never all been legally available to stream outside of Japan until now, thanks to Crunchyroll and Funimation. Some fans have been waiting for years to devour this supplemental Titan content, but it’s now the perfect time to experience these episodes and fill in any previous Attack on Titan gaps since the highly anticipated second-half of the anime’s final season will arrive in less than a week. It’s finally time to bring the many threads of this massive story together. 

It’s a quaint experience to return to these missing pieces of Attack on Titan many years after their initial debut and at a point when most of the mysteries that they tease have long been resolved. That being said, there’s still a lot to gain by returning to the series’ past to better understand the anime’s final chapter. There’s an almost disarming level of innocence that accompanies Eren in these OAD episodes. Circumstances culminate to push him to a tortured and conflicted place, which is foreshadowed here, but isn’t at all obvious until the final season when it’s already too late.

These eight episodes can be split up into three groups, all of which showcase overlooked concepts or characters during Attack on Titan’s simpler periods before its third season, when the war between Eldia and Marley truly comes into focus. The first three OAD episodes are back from 2013 and 2014 and look at the Scout Regiment’s preliminary training when fundamental concepts like omni-directional maneuver gear were still a lot for Eren and company to wrap their heads around.

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All three of these detours with the Scouts-in-training are sandwiched between the first season’s third and fourth episodes, and it’s “Ilse’s Notebook: Memoirs of a Recon Corps Member” that has the most substance. “Ilse’s Notebook” offers important details when it comes to the larger development of the Titans, with this OAD being an early indication that they’re not just irrational monsters. “Ilse’s Notebook” highlights the Beast Titan’s speech abilities, which were staggering back in 2013, as well as seeding the mystery of Ymir, who is later revealed as the first Eldian and becomes the initial Founding Titan. 

The answers provided in Ilse’s notebook are substantial enough to begin Hange’s ongoing Titan experiments, but these are all details that have greater weight back during the events of season one. The main episodes of the series fill in these gaps in their own ways, but “Ilse’s Notebook” begins a compelling mystery. The intelligence of Titans, as well as Ymir’s involvement in their creation is all prologue at this point, but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of such before Attack on Titan heads into its endgame and the return of Ymir.

“The Sudden Visitor: The Torturous Curse of Youth” is by far the silliest and least essential of these preliminary OADs, but it actually becomes much more emotional after the tragic events that befall Sasha during the first half of Attack on Titan’s final season. Attack on Titan is so often bogged down with a doom and gloom mentality that it’s extremely rare that the anime gets a chance to experiment with genre, let alone stories that are genuinely lighthearted and silly in nature. “The Sudden Visitor” almost feels like the cast of Attack on Titan guest star on Food Wars, since the main conflict involves a cooking competition between Jean and Sasha. 

It’s deeply enjoyable to watch these characters engage in something so innocent, but “The Sudden Visitor” is also one of the better Jean stories from the series. The OAD really cements Jean’s relationship with his mother, a bond that now means a whole lot more as Jean heads into all-out war where both he and his family may not survive. Attack on Titan is far past the days of a cooking contest between friends, but it’s a crucial reminder that these hardened warriors are still human.

“Distress” is a story that pits the Scouts against a much more grounded threat that operates as one final trial before their training is complete. One of the more powerful notes that “Distress” arrives at is Armin’s lingering concern that Christa’s kidnapping and the theft of their equipment might have actually been a part of their training. “Distress” is a strong, early example of humans being divided amongst each other rather than Titans always serving the roles of antagonists, which reaches its apex by Attack on Titan’s final season. Additionally, “Distress” effectively plants seeds of doubt over where the truth really lies and how Eldia’s citizens just take their orders at face value. It’s a largely disposable entry, but one that thematically aligns with the later seasons as generations of corruption are examined.

The two “No Regrets” OAD entries are the most important of the lot and if any of these episodes should have been included in the series, it’s them. Both “No Regrets” chapters function as Levi Ackmeran’s gripping backstory and how he becomes the notorious Titan slayer that he’s seen as when the anime begins. Levi’s past gets greatly expanded upon during the show’s third season, but there are still elements that are alluded to that only make sense after viewing “No Regrets.” 

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Levi comes from the Underground District, a sect of society where citizens are forbidden to see sunlight and the above world. Levi escapes this grim fate when Erwin Smith forces him into the Survey Corps and provides him a chance at a clean slate. “No Regrets” is excellent when it comes to Levi’s development as a hero, but it also establishes the dynamic between Levi and Erwin that drives both of them forward until the latter’s final days. Levi’s actions in Attack on Titan’s final season are all in tribute to Erwin, so it’s powerful to watch the two first come together and better understand just how much Levi owes to his former leader.

The final batch of OAD installments pull from the Lost Girls light novels, which expand upon Annie Leonhart and Mikasa Ackerman during crucial periods of transition. Annie takes center stage in these “Lost Girls” entries with a two-part story, “Wall Sina, Goodbye” that examines what she was up to before she infiltrates the Survey Corps to kidnap Eren. Annie is one of Attack on Titan’s most fascinating characters, but one has routinely been underserviced due to the secrets that fill her past. These two episodes are extremely satisfying for Annie fans since they really do give her character proper motivation, as well as flesh out Paradis Island in a compelling manner. 

Annie has been shown to be incredibly capable in the past, but “Wall Sina, Goodbye” helps develop some of her other skills rather than purely showing off her Titan talents. All of this benefits from a story that feels a lot more like a political thriller with film noir elements than the standard Attack on Titan action. It’s proof that Attack on Titan’s rich world can foster stories of many different natures and that the series’ expanding scope has also allowed it to get more structurally and stylistically ambitious.

“The Sudden Visitor” is bound to be a controversial OAD installment due to the tonal leap that it takes, but “Lost in the Cruel World” is likely to be even more polarizing. While the two-part “Wall Sina” episodes from “Lost Girls” provide crucial backstory on Annie Leonhart, “Lost in the Cruel World” is a nebulous story of lost innocence that’s set in an alternate reality (which the cryptic episode number of “???” confirms). Mikasa experiences a fleeting vision of an alternate version of her life, where her parents were never killed, and she grows up with slightly different versions of Eren and Armin. It’s charming to watch these younger versions of the characters interact before death and burden take over their lives, but it’s also easy to dismiss “Lost in the Cruel World” as “filler” since none of it actually happens. 

While this is true, “Lost in the Cruel World” may actually be the most important OAD of the lot due to what it implies about parallel realities. Mikasa’s vision is explained to not be a dream, illusion, or delusion, and it even implies that her soul might have floated away into an alternate version of herself. There have been gradual references to alternate universes throughout Attack on Titan, right to the series beginning with Eren waking up from a dream and an admission that all of this feels familiar. These have only grown more prevalent during Attack on Titan’s final season and the introduction of the PATHS system that exists for Titans. It’s highly unlikely that the final season will return to this alternate world that Mikasa witnesses here, but it’s a stylistic way to reinforce the series’ themes on destiny and fate.

Attack on Titan’s eight OAD entries are certainly a nostalgic burst of the show’s origins and introductory ideas. The dated nature of these stories and how none of them are necessarily fundamental to understanding Attack on Titan’s core narrative does make it easy to skip this content, but it remains impressive how these side stories and detours can connect in new ways after everything that’s gone down in the series. The second-half of Attack on Titan’s final season will feature destruction on a greater level than ever before and it doesn’t hurt to return to the series’ roots and where it all began before the War for Paradis consumes everything in its path.

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All eight of Attack on Titan’s OAD installments are now available to stream on Funimation and Crunchyroll, with dubbed versions arriving in early 2022.

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