I have not watched a lot of anime shows in my lifetime, but I think I can tell a good one when I see one. After a few false starts, I finally watched Attack on Titan, and it is one of the most amazing anime I have ever seen. I’m actually kind of mad I’m about two years late to the party.
It took me about three tries to get past the first episode because it started off so intensely that it required a lot of concentration. Silly me in thinking that this was something I could watch passively. So when I finally sat down to really watch it, I could not stop watching.
The Story (spoilers abound)
It’s only 25 episodes on Netflix for the first season, even though there are many more chapters for the manga online. In this first season, we are introduced to Eren Jaeger and his adopted sister Mikasa Ackerman. They live in a world where humans are on the brink of extinction and living in a closed community of three rings of walls to protect themselves from the terrifying Titans. Eren and Mikasa live with his father, a famed doctor, and his mother in the outermost wall, Wall Maria. When a breach in over 100 years occurs on Wall Maria, the two of them and their best friend Armin Arlelt escape to a town in Wall Rose. Eren’s father is away on a business trip visiting other villages, so he is far from the disaster. But Eren and Mikasa witness his mother being eaten by a Titan, and that only strengthens his resolve to work for the military and kill all the Titans.
The kids grow up within Wall Rose amidst a great food shortage due to the influx of refugees. Eren gains a bit of notoriety for having seen a Titan and survived, considering most of his classmates are not from Wall Maria and have never encountered a Titan attack. But when he proves to be inept at using an omni-directional device (allowing for the soldiers to practically fly through the air a la Spiderman), he becomes the joke of the class. But with his steely resolve to get revenge on the titans, he ends up being one of the best students.
The top 10 students of his class end up going to the Military Police, a section that lives in the innermost Wall Shina and protects the king. Eren, Mikasa, Armin, and a few other friends join the Scout Regiment, which is the least distinguished section of the military. No one believes in them because even though the regiment risks its lives every day to venture outside the walls and find ways to retake their land, they usually lose around 30% of their members with every expedition.
Titans break into Trost district, where Eren, Mikasa, and Armin are stationed. They begin to fight for Trost and their defense, but Eren fails and is eaten alive by a Titan. Nearly all hope is lost, but suddenly a new variant Titan appears who seems to only attack other Titans rather than eat people. The Scout Regiment is confused by this Titan’s actions, but use him to their advantage to defeat the rest of the Titans and drive them out. When the fight is over and the district regained, the variant Titan is revealed to be Eren. He has the power to change into a Titan, which also makes him seemingly untrustworthy to everyone else but his friends.
The Scout Regiment’s commander Erwin Smith and captain Levi Ackerman believe that Eren can help them change the tide in their fight. They take responsibility for him and learn of Eren’s recurring dream of his father, which may unlock the secret to his Titan powers. They prepare a reconnaissance mission to try and reach Eren’s old home at Wall Maria, but are attacked by numerous Titans. They then discover the presence of a female Titan, one who is far more powerful than the simple-minded Titans and has a purpose in finding someone, not just eating people. She kills mercilessly and intelligently knows how to protect herself from being killed by the soldiers. They try to lead her into a trap, but the female Titan breaks free. That’s when Eren decides to turn into a Titan to fight her, but he fails. The female Titan manages to momentarily swallow him, but she never kills him completely so he is saved. The female Titan escapes, and the Scout Regiment is forced to retreat back into Wall Rose.
For their rash actions, Erwin, Levi, and Eren are summoned to the capital to reevaluate Eren’s usefulness to the military. However Armin figures out that there is another soldier in the army who’s just like Eren and can transform into a Titan at will. He deduces it’s Annie, their former classmate at military school who now works as part of the elite Military Police within Wall Shina, and she sees through their trap when they try to contain her. With a simple scratch for self-mutilation, she transforms into the terrifying female Titan and wreaks havoc on the town, where many of the people and soldiers have never encountered a Titan before. A lot of destruction and needless deaths occurs, and finally Eren transforms into a Titan to battle against her.
In the final battle, Eren finally manages to take down Annie with Mikasa’s help right before Annie can climb over the wall. He beheads her, and nearly eats her human body but Levi cuts him free from his Titan body. Annie then crystallizes her human self so that she will be protected from all questioning and harm that the Scout Regiment may put her through. We hear in flashbacks that her father must know something about her Titan form as he begs her to return home. Erwin then argues to the council that it’s a worthy cause to locate every traitor within their ranks who could turn into a Titan as the first step in finally defeating these evil beings once and for all.
And in a final post-credits scene, we see that within a broken part of Wall Shina where Annie tried to climb over, there lies a dead Titan.
I have never seen a more gory and action-packed series like this. Even Samurai Champloo is nothing compared to this now. What makes Attack on Titan so harrowing is how slow and cinematic each death feels. It’s not just the blood splatter and the slashing. It’s also the lead up: you watch the Titan slowly put Eren’s mother into his mouth and wonder if that could have been your own mother. You watch the soldiers see their fear the moment right before they are stepped on or squeezed to death by a Titan. Their fear is so pervasive that you can’t help but fear the odd-looking Titans as well.
What I love is that from the start you’re given an insane set up that then gets upended by the end of the episode. For example, you’re supposed to take simple-minded Titans eating people as a “normal” situation, but then that is suddenly turned upside down by the appearance of a Colossus Titan that can break down walls and an Armored Titan that can create a lot of destruction and then vanish at will. That means Titans are no longer as controllable as everyone once thought they were, and have become a bigger threat to human existence. So, at every arc you are given a set up with a twist, and then a satisfying pay-off. In other examples: Eren dies despite being the main hero, but then it turns out he was a Titan and his father is most likely the reason why he became a Titan too; a normal expedition outside the walls goes bad when a female Titan appears. This continuous cycle of set-up-twist-pay-off is what makes the show so satisfying to watch. I never know what’s going to happen next, and I’m always anticipating the next episode even though I know it takes about five episodes for an arc to finish. For another anime like Fairy Tail on the other hand, despite it being a fun show it’s pretty predictable how every arc is going to end up.
But no show could survive on just a series of situations without an even bigger story arc that ties all these mini arcs together. Midway through the series there is this nagging feeling that the government has something to do with the Titans’ existence, and it becomes even more apparent as time goes on and there’s evidence of more Titans disguised as humans. I like that this show turned a little political, because it actually makes the whole situation even more interesting. It’s not just about humans vs. non-humans anymore, but about humans vs. humans. It makes it a whole conspiracy, and I love conspiracies!
I loved the way action played out because for 2D animation it was quite exciting. The soldiers zipping on their omni-directional devices gives a 3D effect to their actions, which makes you feel like you’re in the thick of the action with them. I loved watching Mikasa and Levi fight because they’re so fast and agile that they can do so many more tricks in the air. Even the way the Scout Regiment fights is impressive because as the group with the highest mortality rate, they’re the ones with the most creative ways of getting out of situations. I don’t think the amazing stunts that the characters pull off could be displayed better in manga format than in anime format.
As far as the characters go, I really do enjoy how Eren, Armin, and Mikasa develop. They’re definitely not your happy-go-lucky type of heroes, but they don’t let the darkness in them overtake their lives. Their good still outweighs the evil, and it’s comforting to know that when I see Eren become more and more angry as he grows older and discovers his Titan powers. I like that even as a Titan he’s sort of the underdog, still trying to be better than the really evil Titans and fighting for his friends and family. I like how he and Armin are so different, where Armin is the more bookish and intelligent sidekick to Eren’s hot-headed hero. And Mikasa is just so cool – both in personality and in her skills. She is very detached to situations unless it concerns Eren, and her skills are unmatched because she’s been instilled with the need to survive from a very young age.
In any case, there hasn’t been a thing that I really don’t like about Attack on Titan just yet. I do dislike that I will have to wait until 2016 for the second season to come out. I want to read the manga, but I feel it won’t be as exciting as what the anime can do. I also heard that there’ll be a live-action film of Attack on Titan next year, of which I’m kind of curious about. It would be really cool to see the movie try to recapture the magic of the show, and the cast includes Miura Haruma, who’s a pretty hot star in Japan now. Besides, the character posters look cool.
Verdict: 10/10 – I can’t wait for more, and I really hope this series doesn’t let me down.