That was pretty cool. It took me right back into Attack on Titan as if we'd never left, despite the extraordinarily long gap since Season 1 in 2013 and some potentially franchise-damaging things in between (risible live-action films, the Junior High spoof, etc.)
As with Harry Potter (probably an unusual comparison), this show's storytelling is solid and unified enough that I don't really consider its sub-units as individual entries. They're just chapters. I almost feel it's a category error to ask whether Season 2 was better or worse than Season 1. They're part of the same thing. It's a very faithful adaptation of Hajime Isayama's badly drawn but well written manga, with the same director and production team as last time. If anything's different this time... well, that's what happens as stories unfold.
STUFF THAT'S DIFFERENT
1. More character focus.
This had never struck me before as a character-driven show, frankly. It's an apocalypse-level monster movie in which insanely gruesome death can happen to anyone at any time and the Titans are so colossal that they could crush your house underfoot without noticing. Horror and intensity it has. Interesting characters... uh, not really. I like Mikasa, while Sasha and Zoe can be funny, but that's about it. Eren's a one-dimensional monomaniac (and even the comedy spin-off manga make fun of him for it). Captain Levi's supposedly got lots of fans, but I find him boring.
Here, though, I got more of a sense that people got a chance to be themselves. Reiner, Ymir and Krista get more screen time. The cast feels like more of an ensemble. I actually found myself being interested in a couple of people (well, mostly Ymir) who feel significant dramatically.
2. It's a shorter season than last time!
Yes, but we then had a four-year wait. In contrast, Season 3 aired just under a year after Season 2 finished, which seems fine to me.
3. Less horror and instead lots of new mysteries
This is true. It's definitely less scary. The last couple of episodes have a substantial body count, but without the despair and nightmarishness of the Fall of Shiganshina back in the beginning. I think that's probably inevitable, though, since those heroes who've survived are now part of elite Titan-fighting units who know what they're doing and aren't just helpless victims. In the early days, though, no one could fight back and it was just a gruesome horror show of Titans eating women, children and anything else in front of their mindless eyes.
On the other hand, though, we're getting lots of new mysteries. This is great, even if some of them are thrown in at the start of the season and then get ignored. I can wait for Season 3. Some of these ideas are pretty mental (as is an unexpected way of doing a certain double reveal halfway through) and in turn beg further questions that could completely change the nature of the threat.
The theme music's weaker. You can tell it's trying to be the epic Season 1 theme without being identical, but it can't quite live up to it.
The Beast Titan running in the title sequence always looks cute to me. (The Beast Titan himself is an absolute freaking nightmare, but he runs adorably.)
It's still a top-notch show. Obviously there's no point in watching this set of episodes if you've never seen Season 1, because... well, why would you? I think I like the show a little more than I did before, though. I relish the way that the Titans' character designs are just wrong. The plot's become more driven by its characters than by impersonal horror. Captain Levi also gets very little screen time in this season, which is another plus in my book. I found Season 1 very impressive back in 2013, but I also welcome this slight change of direction in this year's episodes.