Japanese Title: Shingeki no Kyojin
Related: Attack on Titan (season 2 – unreleased)
Attack on Titan OVA (side story)
Similar: Knights of Sidonia
Watched in: Japanese & English
Length: 25 episodes
- The sense of fear.
- The world and atmosphere.
- Interesting Titan lore and variety.
- Incredible action rendered in gorgeous animation.
- The music is great, from the opening to the tension theme.
- Battle shounen tropes that slow the pace at inopportune moments.
- Bland as raw potato protagonist.
- Poor build-up to twists.
- Several elements introduced and focused on long before relevance.
- Poor job of conveying the city’s scope and distance between walls. (Creator doesn’t truly comprehend how big a 480 km radius covers.)
Attack on Titan is a story of fear. Humans live in a constant state of fear, fear of being consumed by Titans, giants that bang on the walls of humanity’s last bastion. One day, a new Colossal Titan appears and smashes through the wall, realising that fear. What an incredible premise – Pacific Rim gone medieval. With such an engaging hook, how can anyone avoid this for long?
And I must say, I am…disappointed.
AoT starts strong with the breach of the outer wall, throwing us straight into the gravity of humanity’s situation. However, after that first tense episode, the pace slows to a crawl as we watch Eren, his foster sister Mikasa, and friend Armin train to become Titan hunters. Wait, so what about the response to the breach? Eh, who cares? It’s more important that we meet a swarm of new characters that have no significance – reminiscent of Pacific Rim’s Chinese Jaeger. This would have been alright if the training weren’t so clichéd. To qualify for combat, recruits must learn to use the ‘Three-Dimensional Manoeuvrability Gear,’ a pneumatic system of firing cables to swing like Spiderman between buildings. The gear is cool. The training for it, not so much. Eren can’t balance properly and faces expulsion from the program. He trains his hardest, yet still fails, but guess what saves him in the end? His belt was faulty… Really? That’s it? The hard-arse drill instructor, a veteran, didn’t consider the fault on day one? And do you want to know why they did this? To show his skill because he maintained balance for some moments despite the fault. That’s right, in Naruto, kids face death to become true ninjas; in Full Metal Alchemist, kids risk their limbs to learn alchemy; in AoT, you have to balance on a bloody swing. Please…stop…the tension…it’s too much…oh no…
How did no one see these episodes and say, “This has no tension; we can do better.” Why not have a Titan, a small one, attack during training and Eren shows unconventional skill? And you want to know the irony of it all? Eren’s gear use is the least important of any character in the series.
This level of poor writing isn’t constant, interestingly enough. No, after the worthless training, once the action kicks in, it’s back to episode one’s quality. Tension, conflict, gruesome violence, creepy as hell manbaby Titans, deaths every few minutes, that animation as they fly around the Titans, all of it, it’s excellent. Then, of course, the drunken writer of the team wakes up to do his part again, and gives us the worst yet, episode ten. In the middle of one tense moment, we have to stop and endure a character’s inner monologue about the obviousness of the trouble they are in – for an entire episode. In a better show, this would take a couple of minutes, or better yet, the resolution would have clever back and forth with the cornered hero.
Once that episode buggers off, it’s great again. That is until the drunkard wakes up again! AoT is a violent anime set in a bleak world where children have no childhood, where the wealthy stomp on the poor even with humanity on the verge of extinction, and where courage is hard to find. Yet, despite this mature look at the world, the writers saw fit to inject trashy battle shounen tropes into the narrative. Take for example, Eren, a character who spends most of his screen time yelling about how much he wants to kill Titans; the rest of the time, he has an inner monologue stating the obvious. When a commander gives a rousing speech to rally the troops, Eren spends several minutes telling us how the commander gave a rousing speech and how determined the troops look. Thanks, Eren, we can already see that on their faces. This happens every few episodes.
There is a moment where a character is in a Titan’s mouth, holding it open, and rather than stab upwards to possibly escape, he must give some heroic speech before dinner. We expect these moments in battle anime – that’s the standard – but here, when they’re trying to convince us of the narrative’s seriousness, it doesn’t match the tone. Did they hire Toriyama or some other rubbish for a few scenes? This coupled with Eren’s stating the obvious gives the impression that the writers think the viewers are idiots – that five-year-old watching Dragon Ball Z who doesn’t know grass is green. Even when writing for a five-year-old one shouldn’t talk down to the audience.
Twists have the same error. Rather than trust the audience and give hints early to bring it all together in that ‘no way!’ moment, we watch several episodes with no clear goal. Then we have the twist, the initiation of the twist thread, and the explanation all at once. Imagine if in The Sixth Sense we’re never told that the kid sees ghosts, and at the end, the kid suddenly says, “I see ghosts and you’re a ghost. Twist!” Sure, it’s a surprising twist, but without something to start with, the red herrings, the diversions, there’s nothing to build on, leaving no impact in the twist.
Now, even with negatives taking up the majority of this review, I found AoT to be a good anime. The Shadow of the Colossus sense of scale, the spectacle, the production value, and the overall atmosphere are well worth your time. I focus on these negatives because they aren’t isolated; I can’t say that block is bad, as in Death Note; I can’t say Monster is slow to start, but once rolling, the issues are minor. No, here, the problems, these obvious problems are peppered throughout. The obviousness is what surprises me the most. A novice editor with a single look at the script would have spotted them.
These problems would likely go unmentioned in a lesser show, overshadowed by bigger issues; however, there is nothing impressive about an Olympian placing first in a high school race. Attack on Titan has such a strong premise and it nails the positives so well that the slightest flaws becoming glaring issues.
Art – Very High
The art and scope is probably what drew most people to Attack on Titan. Animation during action sequences is phenomenal and has raised the bar for future action series. However, a few scenes are panning stills, but these last mere seconds. Excellent atmospheric lighting.
Sound – High
Attack on Titan features some of the most hype-inducing music in anime, especially that first opening (don’t know why they bothered with a second). Operatic and orchestral for the most part. Great acting in both languages; the actors convey trauma and despair particularly well, though Eren is one-note in this aspect. Needed a better script to reach a higher tier of quality.
Story – Medium
The action, world, atmosphere, all great, but such a weak script, poor structuring, flat protagonist (several other dullards besides), and kiddy tropes prevent Attack on Titan from having the engagement it could have had.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Recommended – yes, even with its flaws – because of what it does right – fear and action. Future seasons could elevate Attack on Titan to an all-time great, but as it is, a superior clone has the window to snatch the crown before coronation.
Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)