Attack on Titan

5 out of 5

Directed by: Tetsurō Araki

Well, I done been set straight again.  Just as my assumptions about Death Note – based on its design and description – were savaged by the ultimate quality of the material, my belief that Attack on Titan was a too-obvious parable on power struggles was similarly smashed.  This time, while I was questioning how I felt about what I was watching, I looked up and discovered I was already 13 episodes deep into its 25 episode first season.  This is sweeping stuff.  And perhaps a lesson here is that I can’t judge a manga by the same surface standards by which I might judge an English language series.

The basic premise is as I understood it – that humans are under attack by these lumbering titans – but I think an aspect that isn’t quite sold in IMDB summaries that quickly becomes apparent while viewing is how hopeless things are.  It’s not groups of humans making small triumphs against an enemy, it’s literally all of the remaining population sequestered into a heavily reinforced cluster of cities, with a defense unit that essentially knows how to hold the line, but not push back.  When the titans do attack – which seems random – it is at the cost of plenty of lives.  AoT’s cast is constantly dwindling, and the stakes are higher than any Game of Thrones episode: the titans’ actions are senseless, and there are no heroic deaths; main characters are trampled or eaten in an instant.

We get a little back story on the sudden appearance of the enemy – which are sexless, lumbering, perverse looking giants, ranging from 5 to 50 meters in height and capable of surviving all wounds save for those made to an area at the rear of their neck – and then we’re joining friends Eren, Armin and Mikasa, during a 5-year period of relative peace, as they begin the process of deciding which branch of the military to join.  Peace, but not prosperity: the elite survives while the poorer classes nigh starve.  And then all of a sudden, the appearance of a new wave of titans, with attributes not before seen, ends even that relative peace.

The season is not so much an attack as it is survival.  Class struggles are touched upon, but the series digs more into the mentality required to keep moving forward when there’s almost no hope.  To this extent, rarely do characters fit the one-dimension of ‘the brave one’ or ‘the smart one,’ and rarely are characters shown to be easily identifiable as ‘evil’ or ‘good.’  Yes, there are certainly people we end up rooting for, but the series is careful to never turn it into person versus person; the ultimate goal is always survival.  (The irony, of course, being that the titans look fairly human…)

This focus is what adds to the sweeping nature.  There’s simply no downtime; the season is split up into various military campaigns (of protection; of getting from A to B), and we experience the drama while these are going on, whether through in-battle conversation or smartly edited flashbacks or dual narratives.

The animation during fight scenes has the ol’ CGI touch to it that can be a bit distancing, but the designs of the military’s fighting rigs – devices which deploy spider-man-esque grappling hooks to scale buildings and heights – is so super cool, and the titans’ attacks so vicious, that you’re too caught up in the moment to he bothered much by said CGI.

Saying much more would give away the sense of discovery that is earned throughout the series.  Attack on Titan is a rare breed: blending breathless actions with smarts; never shorting the viewer of some type of emotional or plot development in any given episode.  Definitely recommended, but make sure you set aside some time for an inevitable binge.