Nov 10, 2015

Anime Review: Shingeki no Kyojin

Attack on Titan title/logoWell… shit. Where does one begin when reviewing the titan that is Attack on Titan? Yeah, you know the one. Maybe you didn’t see it or still plan to or saw some screenshots and figured it wasn’t your thing. Maybe you watched it every week as it aired. Regardless, you’ve at least heard of it. I know you have. During its run, and long after, you couldn’t go anywhere near Crunchyroll or any anime community and not see an ad, a picture, or a mention. The looming titan face with exposed muscle and bone is now practically iconic (see below). There are several spinoffs and tons of merchandise. AoT dominated everything, at least until Kill la Kill  and then Sword Art Online II dethroned it (but I’ll deal with those behemoths another day). Don’t even get me started on all of the parodies. It was fantastically popular and still is, and the second season is just around the corner now.

A teeth-gritting skinless muscle-exposed face of the colussus titan

I say now because, yeah, what the hell… it’s been over two years since it aired. In fact, I actually saw it summertime last year. Which means, yes, I’ve procrastinated over another year before writing about it. Not a great track record, mine, but… well, you can leave at any time you know?

Anyway, what could I say at this point? It’s been reviewed to death and by much better folks than I. Chances are you’ve likely seen it or already made up your mind about it. And that’s actually fine, really. But I guess if you so desperately wanna hear my take, I’ll do a condensed version. The tl;dr? AoT is quite good, possibly great, but not flawless and definitely not for everyone. Here goes… I won’t bother with a plot synopsis this time, as you can easily find that elsewhere.

Erin's tearful shocked face

Attack on Titan is above all, for good or ill, striking, boasting some incredible production values, which it flaunts at most turns. It is epic in delivery and proportions and it never winks at the viewer. I do not say it revels in its stylistic choices because that would be happiness and that has no place in this world. Expect no joy, only suffering and things to always get worse, but the first episode alone should clue you into this very quickly.

The world is richly detailed with tons of attention to how the gear works, how the titans work, how the walls and society works. In fact, it loves its world so much that it frequently pauses things to give you a National Geographic style explanation with flybys, diagrams, and narration. It’s never jarring but it does happen a fair bit, especially when you add in that every commercial break has more diagrams and every episode begins with a combination of story recap as well as world history recap. It's a very intelligent and well-developed fantasy world, to be sure, but it can be overbearing a bit, especially if all you came for was the titans and action.

A girl rushes along a rooftop looking out over the battle with fear

Speaking of which: the titans and action are truly awesome. The 3D-gear they wear allows them to zip around cities and dense forest and the sense of speed, movement, and urgency is raw. It’s definitely stand out, you’ll not see any other anime with action this nice looking and this, well, original. I’ve seen car chases, kung-fu fights, Gundams punching and shooting shit, you name it… but nothing quite like what AoT delivers. When shit gets real they really turn up the wow-factor.

That is, when shit gets real. You see, the other major problem is the glacial pace. Despite time skipping a few times the story is ponderous and deliberate. There are large stretches of Very Important Dialogue scenes, training montages, struggles, team bonding, and internal conflicts. It’s never bad, it’s even done well, but man… despite a full two-cour season not much is actually revealed much less resolved, leaving you with a ton of questions and the sense that this might drag on for a very long time. I have no knowledge of the manga but I know it isn’t far ahead, which is partly why the second season of AoT isn’t out already knowing the kind of money they’d be able to make on it. It’s an intriguing story and world, sure, but man it takes its time and I’m not so sure it uses that time as wisely as it could. There’s a lot of fluff that seems important but rarely has any payoff.

Mikasa Ackerman stands in the shade of some trees in an idylic meadow

It also has a Game of Thrones thing going on in that it loves to kill characters left and right with only a very small handful that make it to the end alive. Other than if you just can't stand this genre I dunno much else to complain about other than the lack of any conclusion. As long as you're okay with having a ton of loose ends left dangling then by all means give it a shot. There’s plenty of crying, screaming, blood, and generally depressing things, but it’s in a very striking and overall enjoyable package, but you better like the grimdark, the apocalyptic, the fantasy world, and/or all the talking.

As of this writing, you can watch Attack on Titan for free on Crunchyroll.

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