SIE SIND DAS ESSEN UND WIR SIND DIE JAGER
Ohhhhhhhh yeah! Happy New Year, everybody! And what a way to start 2015 – the big one. The one everybody was talking about and continues to talk about to this day: Attack On Titan.
But does this series break down the comfortable walls set by those who came before, or is it a disaster of Titanic proportions?
Let’s find out!
But first, a moment to appreciate those brilliant puns. Mmm. You’re welcome.
Aw c’mon, it was funnier than that!
Attack On Titan begins with humanity in a bit of a state. Every human being on Earth (probably) is holed up in a walled area the size of a small country. Their little nation is separated into three regions expanding outwards, with the king living in the centre and the proles in the outer circle.
Walls to defend against what, you might ask? Well…
OH MY GOODNESS
That, dear friends, is a Titan – a giant, humanoid creature that eats people for no particular reason aside from instinct. So basically, they’re classic movie zombies but really big.
The Titans come in three flavours: big, bigger and So Utterly Massive Basically It Technically Couldn’t Handle Even Sitting. And that’s not even getting to the problem of the abnormal ones that are more intelligent…
Pictured: the S.U.M.B.I.T.C.H.E.S. variety.
Basically, they’re a big deal. But I’m getting ahead of things here.
Our story begins in one of the outlying ‘teeth’ towns, designed as an effective troop deployment point, Shiganshina. Our protagonist, Eren Yeager, awakes one morning from uneasy dreams and finds himself transformed in his bed into a giant insect.
Ha ha, literature references!
No, in fact, he and his adoptive sister Mikasa live a relatively normal life in Shiganshina. Eren, however, feels stifled. He finds the people around him complacent and disrespectful, and dreams of a day he can join the legendary Scout Division and explore the world beyond the walls, despite the fact every time they do, they find themselves slaughtered.
But aside from Eren’s growing hatred for his fellow man and status at the bottom of the social hierarchy, things are reasonably okay. Apart from that his mother doesn’t appreciate his aspirations and isn’t afraid to let him know it, and that his father is away all the time, and that he and his sister have a tragic backstory, and they all live in literally the most vulnerable town to Titan attacks…
Okay, so maybe their life really does suck. But it’s not like it could get any worse, right?
Yep, one day, the defecation hits the oscillation and Shiganshina gets rechristened as Titan Town. Eren’s mother gets the chomp, and he barely escapes with Mikasa and his friend Armin. But even in his darkest hour, Eren swears vengeance, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll get it…
Whew. Heavy stuff! But is it any good?
Well (and I don’t mean to blow your mind here), yes. Buuuuut…
Let’s start with the obvious. The art style, as you can see from the pictures above, is AMAZING. It’s unique, it’s vivid, the environments are detailed, character expressions are painstakingly realised and it all animates smooth as butter. It’s fair to say that the fight scenes between the Titans and the humans soaring through the air with their ODM gear are some of the best in any anime ever.
Second, and less obvious. The concepts employed in the series – big bad giants eat people, main character vows vengeance, HUMANS ARE THE REAL MONSTERS etc – love ’em. They’re sound. It’s a solid framing narrative.
But herein lies one of the biggest problems I have with Attack on Titan, and that’s pacing. The series is built like Game of Thrones if it was a thinly veiled mecha anime but seems to botch one key concept of the former at the very least – tension is earned, not given.
Allow me to explain. A character you have been introduced to and given some space to appreciate dies. Maybe they were your favourite character. It’s unexpected. Shocking, even. But most of all, it hurts.
Now picture that happening, again and again and again, at a rate of at least once an episode. It’s not nice to see, sure, but it’s not really a punch in the face to the same degree. Characters in Attack on Titan fall like leaves in autumn, and by the end of the 26 episode run it’s long since ceased to be a shock to the system.
Another example. There are plenty of intense scenes in Attack on Titan. At the times where people are dying and it doesn’t seem like it’s being played for shock filler, the one thing you absolutely DO NOT want to do is cut away to a TEN MINUTE flashback. By the time you’re back in the action you’ve practically forgotten the tension! And AoT does this all the time.
Wait, what was happening? All I can think about is what happened 5 FREAKING YEARS AGO
Another example? Okay! What’s the best thing about revenge stories? The protagonist finally exacting their revenge after they’ve been through hell, yes? Well, AoT heard that idea and went “Pffffffft! Yeah, whatever!” and decided to let Eren get the crap kicked out of him at every turn with very little in the way of push-back. I struggle to see how we’re supposed to root for our hero when practically all he does is fail miserably at every turn.
It’s all well and good to argue that the intention behind Eren’s constant beatdowns are to set up the enemy as a force to be reckoned with – to be afraid of, and then finally conquer.
Sure, because characters dying constantly is a very poor reminder of that, right?
Nope. A million beatdowns. It’s the only way.
Anyway, it’s fair to say that I have my gripes with AoT, and I wanted to get them out in the open, because there’s so much to like about the series. I only hit because I love!
Don’t look so nervous, guys – I don’t hit often.
Luckily for AoT, most of the time the bleak atmosphere seems intentional, rather than an accidental side effect of SHOCK HORROR. By the end of the series (as it stands) you’ll be as emotionally drained as the characters themselves. There are plenty of small moments that constantly remind you of the message the series is trying to send – like the two children later in the series mirroring Eren when he vowed to join the Scout Division. Eren, wounded, can only lie back and cry. It’s a simple but effective moment that didn’t require anything more than a couple of sentences.
The voice acting helps, of course. As with all high-profile Funimation dubs, the talent on show is absolutely astounding. Now, I’ll be the first one to admit it – when I heard Bryce Papenbrook got the part of Eren, I despaired. My only previous exposure to his work was Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, in which I found him annoying and a poor fit for the main character. However, he came back in Danganronpa 2 as a different character, putting in a surprisingly nuanced and chilling performance. Come Attack on Titan‘s English release, I was tentatively enthusiastic, and was not disappointed.
His emotion and delivery are on point at all times – a miracle considering how many lines must have read “Inner monologue, breathing heavily”. Trina Nishimura (who also played Makise Kurisu in Steins;Gate) is suitably soft-spoken as Mikasa, and Josh Grelle is almost unrecognisable as Armin. Other Funi regulars like Matthew Mercer, J. Michael Tatum, Vic Mignogna, Aaron Dismuke and Caitlin Glass round out the cast, but there are also a lot of lesser-known but equally talented actors and actresses who put in great performances. Some of my favourites include Bryn Apprill, Lauren Landa and Jessica Calvello (playing the awesome mad scientist Hange Zoe), and I’ll be looking out for them in the future. Even Ashly Burch has a part!
“Hey Ash, whoya playing?” Nyar harr
So to summarise, should you watch Attack on Titan? Yes.
Will you like Attack on Titan? Maybe.
Though AoT does have its fair share of faults, chief among them being some questionable plot choices and an inconclusive ending (which it had to be, since the manga isn’t complete yet), I find it hard to completely dismiss a series of such high quality production. It’s clear that a LOT of time, money and effort went into making AoT as good as it could be – and while that’s not always an indicator of quality (Prometheus, anyone?), it is in this instance.
Attack on Titan tosses its viewers through the emotional wringer from the very beginning, but if you can ignore some glaring faults it will suck you in and refuse to let go.
Hmm? You waiting for something?
Sigh. All right then. Just this once.