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.
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.