Jan 22 2014

An Attempt to Get Into Anime with Attack On Titan

Published by at 12:00 pm under Reviews,Television

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The show centers on a trio of friends, Eren Jaeger (not the only Pacific Rim parallel to be found here), a young boy with “spirit,” his diminutive blond friend Armin Arlert, the brains, and his girl-friend-but-not-girlfriend Mikasa, the brawn, and one of the last “orientals” in existence, the show claims. From the names and characters, it appears Titan takes place in some sort of Bavarian-type area of a planet that may or may not be Earth.

Humanity as we know it is barely over a million souls, and the numbers keep dwindling as Titans eat up scout troops that venture beyond the walls. The show opens with a new kind of colossal Titan appearing from nowhere and bashing in the gate of the outer wall. Smaller, regular titans flood in, the area is devastated and Eren’s mother is eaten before his eyes. After he and his friends escape, they train to join the Scout troop of soldiers who venture outside the wall, killing Titans with “3D maneuvering devices,” a combination of jet packs and grappling hooks that allow them to zip around and slash at the giants with swords. They still get eaten the vast majority of the time, but the system at least gives them a fighting chance.

The Titans themselves are the most fascinating aspect of the show. Even after many tumultuous events in season one, we still barely know anything about them. What exactly they are, where they come from, what they want, and so on. I really love their design, as most of the “regular” variants are just dopey looking humans with blank smiles and potbellies, running around eating people like they’re scooping up Hershey’s kisses or something. Yes, there are more “badass” super types that are stripped of skin and look terrifying, all pure muscle and armor, but I really love the more non-traditional threat of the dopey giants that just look like regular deformed, dumb humans. Their smiles are more chilling than any movie monster’s scowl I’ve ever seen.

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The show’s first season is 25 episodes, but its major flaw is that is should really only be 10 to 12. Episodes 1-8 are amazing, and so are 16-25, but the ones in the middle are almost entirely dead weight, and generally speaking the pace of each individual episode is pretty wretched the vast majority of the time. Characters spend endless amounts of time explaining anything and everything to the audience. Explaining the plan of what’s about to happen. Explaining their feelings about that plan. Explaining their feelings about each other, the Titans, and so on, with plenty of flashbacks in case you couldn’t visualize things that happened ten episodes or two minutes ago. It can often turn into an endless parade of goofily written soliloquies that simply do not need to be there. Titan would have worked far better as a tightly written 12 episodes, not a bloated 25.

I understand this can be a general problem with anime, however. I remember Dragonball Z seasons that were literally Goku and Freiza talking about power levels for ten weeks, and slowly charging up one ultimate move for eons. In an effort to produce a lot of episodes, they’re often padded with extra fat that doesn’t need to be there. Similarly, the constant narration can be irritating, particularly when the sentiments being expressed are pretty childish. “I need to be brave right now! How I can find the strength to fight on? I must rely on my friends!” Maybe it’s the translation, but the dialogue can be silly much of the time. If it were a show aimed at kids, I might understand, but there’s a TON of violence (though curiously, not a bit of sex) so I don’t think that’s the case. I think I’ve been spoiled by shows like The Last Airbender which look like anime, but feature more traditional storytelling, better pacing and smartly written dialogue.

That said, the good parts of Titan overshadow the pacing and storytelling issues. The central mystery is fascinating, and takes a Battlestar Galactica-like turn at the end of the season that really will make things interesting. The action is simply amazing as humans zip around on their 3D devices, slashing at the napes of Titans’ necks (the only way to kill them) while avoiding (or failing to avoid) being squashed and eaten. And when eventually the Titans start fighting each other for reasons I won’t spoil, it’s straight out of a classic monster movie, and absolutely delightful.

Attack on Titan was definitely enjoyable, though I have a hunch my issues with it can probably roll over to many other animes as well. There’s just something about the scripting and storytelling of the genre that needs work, even if the central plots are fascinating and the action is intense. In any case, I look forward to season two.





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9 responses so far

  • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

    THIS IS ON NETFLIX!? Look at me waiting for the DVD release like a dumbass. Imma go watch this as soon as I make my internet rounds. Thanks, man. Breaking Bad is going to have to wait, I guess.

    Season length isn’t really an issue in most anime aside from a few titles like Bleach and DBZ. A lot of seasons are only 12-13 episodes these days and the ones that make it to 26 don’t typically lag much.

    • Avi Avital

      This one lags heavy though. Despite being 26 episodes they have about 12 episodes of content only here.

  • MattChi

    Yea, pretty much hit the nail on the head with the review. And yea, most of your complaints do extend to anime in general. The lull from episode 8 to 16 is most people’s biggest critique, but I still found enjoyment from them and I feel it needed a lull after the insane pacing the first 8 episodes or so took on

  • Jarrod Lipshy

    Check out the Berserk anime or OVA. Has one of the best plots ever.

    • Avi Avital

      Definitely a good choice. Wish it would end though.

  • Don Joseph Sebastian

    You should give Deathnote a shot. It’s only around 30+ episodes and the writing/plot (particularly in the first part) were some of the best that I’ve seen in a tv show!

  • embercoral

    Not all anime titles have running time issues. Look at Hetalia, for instance. There are currently 5 seasons of this series and roughly 60-something episodes to watch, but here’s the catch: each episode is only 5 minutes long. This means that if you wanted to, you could sit through a marathon of the entire series and only spend about 5 hours or so! Another neat thing is that the episodes don’t necessarily have a specific order. Only the very first few episodes revolve around a central plot, and then it becomes more randomized (though some episodes also have loose side plots that are reserved for the second half of subsequent episodes).

    At the same time, Hetalia has its own flaws in terms of material, especially around the 4th season. Because it was assumed that the 4th would also be the final, the last few episodes were kinda rushing to wrap things up at the last minute. The “movie” (if you can even call it that) is about an hour long, but most of it is just filler, taking sketches directly from older episodes and plopping them anywhere for no rhyme or reason. After a while of inactivity, another animation group came in and dramatically revamped the art style for the unexpected 5th season, breathing new life into the series.

    The most basic summary I can give you of what Hetalia is like is this: all the major countries are personified by their common stereotypes (Yes, even Japan) and crack comedy results from it…oh, and there might also be history in there somewhere. The manga that the anime is based on takes various historical events (again in no particular order) and presents them in a way that is easier to understand, though it won’t replace a history book. It’s also not always a comedy, as there are some sad moments in history that play out through the characters in a respectable manner (and some of the more gruesome/horrific moments are pretty much ignored).

    If you just want to turn your brain off and not think too much while watching a show, this might be worth checking out, but it’s not for everyone. It’s also important to note that the vast majority of characters are guys, so there might be mild “gay” moments here and there, but it’s all played for humor.

  • Avi Avital

    Do not watch this show! I am being serious. It is not the show to start out Anime. It has nagging pacing issues and very little happens at all with the story and it has zero ending or closure. An interesting concept and beautiful visuals are wasted on bad characters (sorry but nothing original here if you ever watched another anime) and it just being a mecha anime in disguise.
    Try Cowboy Bebop or FLCL or something wacky first before you move on to shows like this. Or if you wanna start something crazy try a Gundam show. Or the berserk movies. Or Steins Gate.

  • Toki Nakamura

    from what I’ve seen, it’s becoming the next Godzilla in Japan

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