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Attack on Titan - Episodes 1-11 Review
Typically, I would wait for a show to be completed before reviewing it. However, this show has given me a lot to think about, and I've decided to strike while the iron is hot. Attack on Titan is all the rage online right now, and I'd like to throw my hat into the ring, and let my thoughts be heard on it. There will always be plenty of time to do a complete review when the show ends, anyway (which is scheduled to happen roughly three-and-a-half months from now.)
Now, because this show is on-going, I've decided to take this as an opportunity in formatting things a bit differently. Instead of breaking the show down by categories such as Art, Characters, and Story, I've decided to keep things simple. I've separated my thoughts into three categories: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
What's It All About:
Attack on Titan is very possibly the most popular new anime of the year. It's a story set in a steampunk-ish pseudo-medieval world ravaged by titans: humongous human-shaped creatures whose only desire is to destroy, ravage, and consume mankind. For many years, humanity has lived behind huge stone walls, in fear of the titans. This fear evolves into panic when the 100-foot Colossal Titan tears open a hole in the outer wall. The panic becomes horror when the juggernaut Armored Titan tears open a second hole in the inner wall. And that's where the story begins: on humanity's last legs, in a war for survival against an enemy they have almost no hope against beating. This story will be told from the perspective of three childhood friends: Eren, Mikasa, and Armin.
The Set up
In the first episode, our protagonists are children whose lives are sent to hell after the Titans take their city and massacre its inhabitants. Over the next few episodes, these same characters, now several years older, undergo military training so that they might combat these titans. From there, the show rockets through their training and gets to the meat and potatoes of the show: their lives as soldiers in the fight against the Titans. I have to say, I was a bit shocked with how quickly Attack on Titan seemed to be fast forwarding through the backstory, but I'm actually okay with it. This is clearly a show that has a story to tell, and I like that it has no qualms about getting to the good parts. For a lot of shows -- even the really good ones -- waiting for a story to unfold get started is like listening to a grandparent going off on a tangent about their childhood. I'm talking about shows like Bleach, which seemed to have a ten episode prologue. Well there's none of that going here, and I'm grateful for it.
No, I'm not that much of a sadist to say that characters dying makes me happy. However, I think there's a lot to be said for using death to build tension, and to darken the overall feel of a story. When the town is massacred in the first episode, that's exciting. When characters continue to die as the show progresses, that's something special. For too many anime, characters never die. Sure it feels good to always have one's favorite live to fight another day, but it also removes any threat of danger; it becomes harder to get emotionally involved. With Attack on Titan, we're not wondering "How are they going to survive this?" Instead, we're asking "How many are going to survive this?" Personally, I find this refreshing.
Sometimes a motif gets repeated a lot without ever losing its edge, because its just such a great device to use. One of those motifs is, I feel, that of the David-Goliath fight: someone tiny versus someone huge. This is why fights in God of War and Shadow of the Colossus feel so epic -- the size variance necessitates innovative combat techniques. In Attack on Titan this innovation is accomplished via usage of the "3D movement apparatus." More bluntly, the characters launch themselves around with steam-powered grappling hooks. They're kind of like Steampunk Spider-Men, and I think that's awesome. The fights themselves also tend to look pretty nice, which is a bonus.
Very few anime have an opening theme theme that lifts you up, and gets you this excited. It's an upbeat quick-tempo'd rock piece that just gets the blood flowing, and readies the viewer for some titan-slaying. I can dig it.
My first instinct was to describe the voice acting of Attack on Titan as being bad. Upon reflecting on this idea, I came to the conclusion that this would be an unfair statement. The voice acting of this show is fine, if nothing spectacular. After taking a moment to think about it, I realized that what was upsetting me was the direction of the voice acting. Someone out there was being paid to tell these voice actors and actresses how to deliver their lines. I don't know the name of the individual who currently possesses this job, but he needs to have it taken away from him. There is certainly a time and a place for screaming. This is a show in which people lose their friends and families. It's not hard to imagine that characters in these positions will lose their cool. But these characters are ridiculously aggressive and overly-dramatic about everything.
Case in point: In episode 11, Eren is offered a drink. He accepts this drink. At this moment, the subtitles read "I'll gladly accept." His facial expression also suggests "I'll gladly accept." But the tone of his voice says "Give me that drink this instant, you bald son of a bitch!" This is a recurring element of the show: characters using, for ordinary conversation, an inflection which would ordinarily be used by someone who has dropped a monkey wrench on his or her bare foot.
Flat secondary characters
I don't foresee Eren, Mikasa, or Armin becoming particularly memorable characters. I predict that their fame dies within six months of Attack on Titan ending. That said, they get the job. We're being fed just enough background details, and we're getting just enough of their thoughts and views to make them interesting. They are, however, the only characters that we get any characterization for. I understand that Attack on Titan is not meant to be a character driven anime, and I am entirely okay with that. But then, why introduce so many characters if their defining characteristics are going to be "has a beak for a nose" (Annie) and "likes to eat potatoes" (Sasha)?
We are only 11 episodes in, however, and there is always the possibility that this will change.
Photoshop Pattern Fills
I've said that for the most part I'm a fan of the art style of the show, but I also warned that such a comment comes with an asterisk attached to it. Here is that asterisk. The titans in this show -- all except for the Armored Titan and the Colossal Titan, that is -- look ridiculous. They look ugly and the style in which they are drawn differs from the rest of the show. This part I can accept, because it accomplished its intended effect of making me feel uncomfortable as a viewer. What I absolutely didn't like was the lazy pattern-fill that seemed to be dropped onto these Titans. They look... wrong. They don't look like regular three-dimensional objects that could actually exist in a world. Their shading is wrong, and they don't appear to have a distinguished surface. A picture is worth a thousand words, so I've attached one for the purposes of illustrating what I mean.
Extremely inconsistent animation
For as popular as Attack on Titan is, its animation is incredibly inconsistent. One might dare to call it lazy, and calling it bad would not be entirely unreasonable. At the best of times, the characters are seen swinging through the air, impressively and dynamically; more commonly, the characters are shown not doing this -- or much of anything else.
Attack on Titan has the incredibly frustrating habit of skimping on animation whenever possible. Far too often does this blockbuster anime enter what I'll not-so-affectionally refer to as Powerpoint Mode. A still-shot frame will be panned across the screen, eating up six seconds, while characters converse. It will then be replaced by another frame, which translates in different direction, eating up five more seconds. This, in turn, will be replaced by yet another still-frame designed to continue to eat away at the clock. It's actually embarrassing how often this happens (hint: many, many times per episode.)
Making the whole thing worse, is that this doesn't just happen during conversations between characters. There is no excuse for attempting to convey a punch with a two-frame animation that is stretched across four seconds. It's groan-inducing, and it's insulting.
When Attack on Titan is kind enough to animate its characters, it typically only goes so far as to animate the character of immediate focus. If another character or group of characters is standing to his her or right or left, expect them to be completely lifeless -- actually, expect that of the character who is speaking also. Apparently, in the Attack on Titan universe, characters do not have to breathe. Then again, this is not altogether surprising; this is, after all, a universe in which fire need not spread, and smoke need not rise or disperse into the air. Both elements are content to remain exactly where they were slapped onto the canvas by an artist who had neither the time nor money to give a damn about them.
One aspect of the show that I can appreciate, is the overall theme of helplessness. I like that the characters stand in defiance against the titans, clinging to hope. But I also like that this hope is put to the test, as hundreds of thousands people are brutally murdered. This is a grittier, darker way to tackle such themes. That being said, Claymore does something very similar -- and Claymore is simply a better show in virtually every category.
On a more positive note, I think episodes are broken up very well. Even though I'm not nearly as fond of Attack on Titan as most of the internet anime community seems to be, most episodes do end in a way that makes me want to come back and watch the new one each Saturday. At least twice now I've been really shocked by something that the show's decided to do, and that's a fun feeling.
Score so Far: 6.5 out of 10.0