I had the good sense – or the temerity, you choose – to declare Attack on Titan one of the few shows that deserves the kind of roaring rampage of commercial success and fandom mindshare it’s managed to wring out of the current populace. And the only thing that succeeds like success is, well, successors—or, in this case, predecessors. Attack on Titan: Before the Fall is an enjoyable dive back into the prehistory of the Titan mythology, one which answers the question (in the words of the Jack Nicholson Joker), where did they get those wonderful toys? In that respect it’s a standard-issue item for Titan fans: if you like it, you’ll like this.
The story's straightforward enough: Angel Aaltonen, a young weaponsmith, battles both Titans and the internecine politics of his city to create the first generation of the weapons to fight the Titans. Most of the pleasures here involve seeing Angel and his handful of friends connect the dots to determine what a Titan's weak spot is — there's some gruesome trial and error involved — and using some of the unique flora of the Titan world ("Iron Bamboo", most notably) to create both swords tough enough to defeat the Titans and the "3D Maneuvering Gear" used to get a tactical advantage over them. This stuff is enjoyable, although I imagine it's diehard Titan fans who will get the most out of it; the rest of us aren't obliged to sign up for this mission.
One of the consistent problems of prequels involves us having foreknowledge of the setting and the characters, and so the presence of any character we're familiar with is an automatic tip-off to a lowering of the stakes. We know that person can't die, for instance, and so any peril they're put in just feels perfunctory. Spin-offs and gaiden, side stories, suffer from the same limitation. One way Before the Fall gets around this is by simply not using the same cast of characters as the original series. Rather, it's the setting, the concepts, and the themes that are the star attraction here. As a result, Angel and the other characters garner nowhere near the level of attention that Eren and Mikasa did from the original story — but then again, maybe they're not supposed to.