The good, the bad and the downright creepy.
If there’s one anime that left a huge impact on mainstream viewers this year, it’s Attack on Titan. It’s worth noting that Attack on Titan (or Shingeki no Kyojin) features dramatic twists early on and keeps them coming, so those hoping to go in completely fresh should find a source online and view without hesitation.
In a distant future, mankind has found itself decimated by the sudden arrival of titans – giant beings with regenerating limbs and a taste for human flesh. One hundred years later and survivors have found safety within a small country devised of rings, separated by towering walls for protection. The series begins when Wall Maria is kicked in by the Colossal Titan, causing mass panic as nearby titans spill in to chow down on the all-you-can-eat buffet.
Eren Jaeger can only watch as his mother is devoured by the Smiling Titan, while he and his adopted sister Mikasa are dragged to the safety of Wall Rose. As teens, the two join the Military Police alongside childhood friend Armin (a physical whelp who’s far more useful as a tactician), where Eren makes clear his desire for vengeance. His resolve is tested when Wall Rose is also kicked through, leading to a shock twist that had many questioning where the series would go. Cue the Titan Shifters; a unique few granted the power to move between human and titan form. This provides a level playing field for one-on-one battles but dispels the sense of horror in the process. For better or worse, Titan Shifters mark a tonal shift for the series as a whole.
Depicting the titans themselves as malformed, naked humanoids rather than beasts ripped from a fantasy film was a masterstroke that gives the series an identity beyond the usual ‘man v monsters’ theme we’ve seen a hundred times. Animation is solid overall, but the show’s greatest asset might be in the way it teases with fresh questions and regular threats for humanity to conquer, building up fresh mysteries while hinting at possible answers rather than spelling things out directly.
Attack on Titan is nothing if not dramatic. Faces fly in only to be killed off a short time later, though such moments rarely come without a greater goal in mind. Surviving heroes are affected by the loss and react accordingly, yet these emotional endeavours fall flat due to some lame pacing issues and a slow-moving narrative. Action-packed episodes typically leave a huge amount of fallout to be dealt with later on. Think mostly brooding, self-doubt and a whole lot of angst on Eren’s part.
His angst can turn entire episodes into frustrating slogs as he fights with his own insecurities, which is kind of a big deal when each episode is roughly twenty minutes long. Attack on Titan may be chock full of great ideas, but a few episodes seem purpose-built to kill time before the next big event. In the end, the first season only represents the first two story arcs of the manga, which has finally begun to make strides and reveal how the titans came to be.
This is still an anime to recommend; especially as it’s something we haven’t ever seen before. Titans themselves appear to act primarily on instinct, so it’s interesting to see a predator/prey dynamic akin to a cat with a mouse in its grasp – you’d hardly consider the cat evil, would you? Things take a far more villainous turn with the appearance of the Female Titan, a cold-blooded killer with mysterious ambitions and the ability to crystalize parts of her body at will.
In the end, Attack on Titan’s first season was a resounding success despite its shortcomings, of which there are a few. The few tell-tale anime tropes (overdone expressions and static establishing shots) stand out even more given the solemn tone of the show, but it’s the issues with pacing and Eren’s constant introspection that lead to the most grief. Other than that, you’re looking at a saga with superb action that’s unafraid to deal with fear, loss and society’s demand for sacrifice.
The Good: Great animation, diverse characters, a strong musical score. It’s something new!
The Bad: Self-indulgent, some wasted episodes, typical anime expressions.
The Creepy: Those naked smiling titans!