It's not shocking that there would be a flood of spinoffs in the wake of Attack on Titan's massive success. It's not shocking that one of those spinoffs would be about Levi, the fangirl favorite of the cast. What is shocking is how little I care about it.
ATTACK ON TITAN: NO REGRETS (Shingeki no Kyojin Kui Naki Sentaku), based on the manga series by Hayate Isayama. Written by Gun Snark & art by Hikaru Suruga. First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2014.
Years before Eren Jager and his friends would join the Survey Corps, Levi Ackerman was simply doing his best to survive in the dark, run-down ruins below the Royal Sector alongside his friends Isabel and Furlan. Survey Corp commander Erwin Smith sees great potential in them and brings them into his squad, depsite the misgivings of both his fellow soldiers and his new recruits. They are all put to the test when Erwin tries out a new troop technique beyond the walls, only to end up luring out an abnormal titan.
I've never gotten what the big deal over Levi Ackerman is. According to what others tell me, they see him as the implacable badass that Eren never quite turned out to be and swoon over his dark, sallow good looks. Personally, I've always found him too cold and robotic to get all that invested in him as a character, especially when there are already so many stand-outs in that cast. That being said, I'm not against the notion of a prequel exploring his back story. If anything, I welcome it; maybe a little backstory would help to humanize him. Alas, No Regrets does nothing of the sort.
There's a real missed opportunity in not further exploring the underground city or the time Levi and company spent growing up within it. I get that the writers have to be mindful of Isayama's canon, but the notion of an underground city full of ne'er-do-well has plenty of story openings that are largely dodged so we can get to the point where Levi meets Erwin. Thus, all we ever learn is that the underground is sketchy and Levi and his friends somehow managed to steal some vertical manoevering gear and got really good at it from bouncing around the caverns for years.
Most of the story is taken up with Erwin's own schemes to keep the Survey Corp solvent and the inevitable titan battle. The former is dry, political fare that will largely drift over your head. The former is relatively thrilling, but it lacks the stakes that you get from the main series because you barely have any time to get to know the other soldiers and those we do know aren't that interesting. Levi's friends certainly aren't, serving mostly as scrappier, more cheerful antidotes to him. They're little more than tag-alongs in his story, and since they don't appear in the main series it's pretty easy to guess their ultimate fate.
This story started out as a visual novel, which goes a long way towards explaining why there is so much talk but so little depth or action. It doesn't clash with the main Attack on Titan storyline, but it doesn't do much to enhance it or the character it's meant to spotlight either.
It's easy enough to joke that just about anyone can improve on Isayama's own, somewhat limited art, but Suruga does a good job at staying true to Isayama's great character designs while giving them a far greater sense of motion. Considering how much of this volume is spent in manoevering gear, that's a good thing. Otherwise it looks for all the world like just another volume of Attack on Titan which helps this side-story to blend in with that universe smoothly.
There's a brief prologue chapter along with a few character model sketches along with notes from both the original writer and artist.
I don't regret reading Attack on Titan: No Regrets, but it didn't do much to improve my opinion of Levi or add all that much to the world of Attack on Titan. It's a perfectly competent story, but unless you are a super-fan of Levi, Erwin, or Attack on Titan in general it is not essential reading.
This series is published by Kodansha Comics. This series is complete in Japan with 2 volumes available. Both volumes have been published and are currently in print.