Thursday 8 May 2014

Anime REVIEW: Attack on Titan

Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin)

With anime being the incredibly diverse medium it is, everyone has their own favourites. But every so often one show will come along and everyone's attention will be squarely on that, whether they're a fan of the show or simply caught up in the media frenzy/hype train that follows it. Recently, that show has undoubtedly been Attack on Titan (or Shingeki no Kyojin for those purists out there). Championed as a show suitable for longtime anime fans, casual fans and newcomers alike, the internet has been ablaze with this 26-episode series based on the ongoing manga series by Hajime Isayama. With two recap films, a live-action remake and a second season planned somewhere down the line, demand couldn't be much higher for this franchise. Better check out what all the fuss is about I guess.

Eren's mother meets an early demise
You'll be seeing a lot of this scene

Around a hundred years prior to the series beginning, giant humanoid creatures known as 'Titans' appeared and wiped out most of humanity - forcing the remnants to cower in a country surrounded by three enormous walls. Since that day the Titans have left humanity alone, leading to a time of peace where Eren Yeager can grow up with his friends Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Arlet. However one day a 60 metre tall Colossus Titan appears behind the outermost wall, breaching it and allowing the smaller (between 3 and 15 metre) Titans inside to devour humans on sight.

When Eren's mother is gruesomely killed in the chaos, he vows to take revenge on all Titans and enlists in the military alongside Mikasa and Armin. Upon completion of their training, they then elect to join the survey corps - a team that leave the safety of the walls. In their fight against the Titans, Eren discovers he has untapped abilities that may be humanity's salvation. As their greatest enemy potentially becomes their greatest weapons, humanity also learns that there is a lot more to the mystery of the Titans than they originally thought.

Eren Jaeger in a spot of trouble
Eren in one of many pinches

Before I get down to business, a quick disclaimer. Attack on Titan is a pretty hard series to talk about without dropping some spoilers, because even things that become commonplace as the show progresses drop like bombs at their first reveal. Cliffhangers are aplenty, whether they leave you jaw-dropped or simply make you start the next episode as soon as possible. Most shows are best visited blind, but this is one where the tiniest little reveal could change your reactions. That said, I'll do my very best to keep this as spoiler-free as I possibly can.

Right from the very beginning it's clear that Attack on Titan has no concern with sugar-coating its content. Each and every Titan attack is a bloody affair where very few get out alive, as those who don't end up as Titan chow are squished against a pavement or wall. It's incredibly brutal, but the gore is only half of what makes these scenes so disturbing. The basic Titans (in addition to the Colossus Titan, there are a few special ones that pop up) aren't ferocious or deformed creatures like you might imagine, but naked, grinning giants which in a lot of cases would look out of place in a comedy setting. From moe-style facial features to ones that gleefully strut through fields, the Titans are an amazing source of nightmare fuel that you can't help feel unsettled by.

The Colossus Titan is a rather big guy
Hey there big guy

But in this bleak, apocalyptic affair the main cast of characters still give you hope for humanity's survival even when things are looking their worst (and this happens quite a lot). Eren may be the eyes and ears of the show, but he is by no means a one man army and his actions have consequences just as much as they have victories. In a world like this no one person can stand alone, and everyone supports each other. Mikasa is the fighter, Armin is the brains, and then Levi is just the Captain of badassery (who I feel has a lot more behind his stoic persona than revealed). Everyone has their place, and even side characters who are mainly there to die are remembered. Attack on Titan is a show very reliant on drama, and does well in keeping it's characters human (flaws and all) in a battle against things which seem anything but.

Although a significant chunk of the story focuses more on dialogue and humanity's life behind the walls, Attack on Titan has plenty to boast about when it comes to slick action sequences. Animation duties were handled by Production I.G. subsidiary Studio Wit, and watching it you wouldn't believe that this was the studio's very first outing. The realisation of the characters' 3D maneuver gear (a gas powered grappling system which allows users to fight on a 3D plane - sort of like a steampunk Spider-Man) is perfect, offering fast paced camera motion to compliment choreography of them flying through the air.

Mikasa flies through the air with her 3D Gear
Animated gold

But without a doubt, Attack on Titan's biggest flaw is its pacing. The early episodes are excellent at building momentum but this quickly comes to a crashing halt, as huge centrepiece moments are overshadowed by flashback sequences. These help to build context, but often destroy the atmosphere and tension of the scenes they're supposed to be supplementing, as well as taking focus and screen time away from the moments the audience have been waiting to see. The pacing problems aren't just limited to these instances either, as significant chunks of each episode's opening it dedicated to recapping the last one in more detail that's needed. The show already has one recap episode in the middle, it doesn't need to constantly remind viewers of things that happened last time that they most likely won't have forgotten.

There's also the minor issue of it not really having a conclusive ending, due to be based on an ongoing manga series. However fear not as this is only the beginning - season two has been confirmed to be "eventually coming", which will undoubtedly tie up the numerous loose ends left by the end of episode 25. That being said, if the pacing is anywhere near as bad as this season watching it on a weekly basis could be all kinds of painful.

Who's this guy?
Clash of the Titans...I'll see myself out.

Attack on Titan isn't the perfect series much of its fanbase will have you believe, but critics are pretty on the mark about this being one of those landmark shows that will be potentially remembered by the wider public. Horrific pacing issues aside, its no-nonsense approach to the horrors of death, gruesome titans and interesting cast of characters are enough to draw you in to its unique setting. One thing it will do is leave you eager for more, which makes it all the more exhilarating that a second season will be following sometime next year.

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