The anime series ‘Attack on Titan’ is based on the graphic novel of the same name. It is set on a fantasy Earth, where the remnants of humanity are trying to survive against giants who eat people for pleasure. The Titans arrived around a 100 years before the story begins. How and why, and what these humanoid giants are, is a mystery. They wiped out most of the human population but for those that managed to erect a series of large concentric walls to keep the giants out. The giants roam free over the planet while the humans lived, penned in behind these walls but for the brave military corps who venture out to try and learn more about the giants and turn the tide against them.
This is a spoiler free review, and for anyone that has seen my tweets, you will already know what I think about this show. IT. IS. AWESOME.
There you go. You can move on now, or you could find out why it’s so AWESOME…
I knew nothing about this show, and Netflix recommended it after watching ‘Death Note’ so we gave it a go. The humans live in what looks like a pre-industrial age in cities of cobbled streets and tudor buildings. I wasn’t sure about the look, and I wasn’t quite sure how the humans managed to build these walls with all the Titans about, but thankfully my picky quibbles weren’t given much time to dwell on this. The series starts with a bang, and this definitely not being for kids, is harrowing. The three main characters, two lads, Eren Yaeger and Armin Arlert, and a girl, Mikasa Ackerman, are forced to flee a giant attack on their city after a variant Titan–a Colossal skinless Titan–materialises beyond the wall and is so big it can see over this 50 metre defence. It kicks a hole in the wall and lets in the smaller giants to feast on the humans.
From this single event the three main characters are forced to leave their childhood behind and are driven into joining the cadet corps. Eren riding his an anger and thirst for vengeance, with Armin and Mikasa following behind out of their duty and love for him and each other. These three have a fantastic bond pretty much from within the first episodes. Armin is the physically and emotionally weaker of the three, often having been picked on in the past and needing to be saved by his friends, but he isn’t one to give up, and while he lacks the skills of his pals, his intellect is his strength. Eren is passionate in his hate for the giants which fuels his bravery, but he is reckless with it. Think teenage Anakin Skywalker in psycho mode on crack. Mikasa is the strongest of the three, she is level-headed and has exceptional fighting skills. The series follows their joining the corps, from their training, to their graduation, and the missions they go on to prove themselves and to give them their chance against the Titans. There is also a mystery which surrounds Eren’s family home. His father gave him a key to the basement and down there, there could well be something that might help understand the Titans. But his family home is in a city overrun with giants… Plus, this isn’t the only secret Eren’s father left them with…
This show has a ‘Game of Thrones’ regard for characters and the order of how we expect fiction to play out. It has a large cast, and many of them are unceremoniously killed as plans that offer hope fall apart and end in tragedy. Most episodes have a nice balance between character building, plot development and action, and almost always ends on a cliffhanger that could easily drive you to burn through the lot. We had to fight to savor these and not binge. My favourite element of the show are the 3D maneuvering devices the corps wear. Think Spiderman web slingers crossed with Boba Fett jet pack. They shoot out cables, and compressed gas propels them through the air on these tethers, swinging around giants with their twin swords looking to hack at the only weak point of a Titan–the nape of the neck.
Check this clip out. It sees Eren finally on the wall–the defense of humanity–ready to strike out, only for the skinless Colossal Titan to return. It’s a fantastic kick in the teeth on what should be a high point for the characters, and just one of many set-pieces throughout the series.
The first season is 25 episodes long and whips by. Throws a bunch of sympathetic characters at you. Kills a lot of them. Succesfully builds a world and expands on the initial premise without really getting us any closer to that mystery in Eren’s basement. You know what? Don’t care. I really enjoyed the ride and what they did.
It’s anime, so the art is very stylised. There is also a liberal use of still scenes, which I didn’t mind as it’s offset by the frequent action. When someone gets angry or emotional they go crazy. And I mean CRAZY. Which is very cartoonish, but unintentionally or not, lightens what can be a heavy show. There is a scene in particular where Armin pretty much loses his world and he just breaks down. The voice actor really went for it and, emotional me, was really struggling to keep it together. Grief is one thing this show is not afraid to show, so death has real meaning. A character may not make it into your affections due to them being one of many faces you might not have a name for, but when they get bitten in half, or smashed against a wall, or trampled on, it’s the reactions of their friends that get to you. With the majority of the episodes following the cadet corps you are basically following a bunch of kids losing their idealism and their bravery before the horror that is a 15 metre Titan.
The Titan’s themselves look, to be honest, quite ridiculous to begin with. They are naked, without genitals, but have male or female faces, can be young or old, but many of them look decidedly odd and have a wild insanity in their eyes. It’s like they are a little too far in the uncanny valley to be human, and definitely not right in the head. They range in size between 3 to 15 metres and generally they stagger about after any humans they can grab and gobble down. Then you see a variant. Variants can run, scrabble about on all fours at great speed ,or jump. No one needs a jumping Titan in their life. No one. Oh, and when they run we’re talking Phoebe-running (if you’ve seen ‘Friends’ you know what that’s like)–they run like how you might imagine a completely deranged person running, or a toddler high on sugar and evil. They are terrifying. You have to see it to believe it.
I’m missing this show already. I just got through my reflective geek highs and lows of 2014, and I well expect this to be a geek high for 2015. Go check it out. Then join me in crafting a time-machine to go watch the second series which is due out in 2016. Yes. 2016. I. HATE. WAITING.
Have you seen it? What did you think? Do you have any suggestions for other anime in the same vein as ‘Death Note’ or ‘Attack on Titan’? I need more of that in my life.