Shiori MikamiAttack on TitanRyota OhsakaYui Ishikawa
Attack on Titan: Season 1
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2013
Director: Tetsuro Araki
Original creator: Hajime Isayama
Actor: Marina Inoue, Yui Ishikawa, Yuuki Kaji, Daisuke Ono, Hiro Shimono, Hiroshi Kamiya, Keiji Fujiwara, Kisho Taniyama, Romi Park, Ryota Ohsaka, Saki Fujita, Shiori Mikami, Tomohisa Hashizume, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Yu Kobayashi, Yu Shimamura
Keywords: Attack on Titan, anime, fantasy
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 25 episodes
Website category: Anime 2013
Review date: 2 January 2015
Shingeki no Kyojin
It's a monster. It's one of those breakout shows that goes global and gets watched even by people who don't watch anime. It's garnered such hype that there's already a backlash, but it can't be denied that it's had a massive effect on the anime world. Its fanbase is huge and we've already had announcements of a second season in 2016 (since the manga's still running), two anime compilation movies and two live-action films (!) in 2015.
Even if the show isn't to your taste, it's easy to understand its success. It's horrific, gory and fascinating, although it's a series that's driven by its concepts and its intensity rather than its characters.
A hundred years ago, Titans wiped out mankind. There had been billions of people on the planet... which is ordinary Earth, by the way, not a moon of Saturn. The English title wasn't well translated. Now, though, the only humans left alive are huddled in a single walled city. Everyone else got eaten. A Titan is a man-eating giant humanoid, usually between 3 and 15 metres tall and usually non-sentient. (Note the "usually". From time to time during this series, you'll find yourself making assumptions about Titans and thinking "if our heroes do X, surely they'll be safe". You will be wrong and important characters will be about to die in a bloody spray of their own limbs.)
A Titan lacks reproductive organs and doesn't even digest the people it eats. It can go for a hundred years without food, it's lighter than it should be (which is how it supports its own weight), it has an impossibly hot body temperature and it can regrow body parts. Shatter its head with a cannon and a few seconds later, that head will have reformed.
Unsurprisingly, they're very, very hard to kill. Another Titan could do it. If you're human, though, you'll have to put yourself through a brutal training course that uses gas-powered web-swingers to turn you into a sword-wielding Spider-Man... and even then, you can probably expect to get eaten anyway.
Two things make this show so memorable. The first are, obviously, the Titans. They're every kind of nightmare. One of them on its own is capable of wiping out mankind's toughest defence forces in a few minutes. The action scenes in this show are appalling, but what's more, though, there are mysteries about them. This isn't just a zombie apocalypse with giant-sized zombies, despite the similarities. This show will make you go "what the hell", wheeling out some freaky plot developments that introduce fascinating (and insanely dangerous) twists on the already attention-grabbing premise. It's not just that you want to know what happens next. This show also makes you want to know how it all works, what's the secret hidden in SPOILER, how the SPOILERS manage to SPOILER and what those sons of bitches' motivation might be.
Mysteries can be the fuel of storytelling, especially if they get you desperate to know their answers. This show is an example of that. Also, as a result of this, the manga has a clear ending in mind (even though it hasn't reached it yet) and has no intention of going on forever like One Piece. I respect that.
The show's other selling point are its humans, who are being written with all the desperation, madness and corruption you'd get in a situation like that. Quirkiness is in short supply (although it's not entirely absent) and the dialogue isn't witty, but you wouldn't expect that in these circumstances. These people can be hysterical, vicious and/or homicidally stupid. Many of them will do anything to protect their own necks. Some will be turning a profit from the situation. Some are so overwhelmed by terror that they can't see any option but to give orders that will, in effect, doom the entire human race. (Such people are particularly dangerous when in a position of authority.) Some have even invented a new religion. The threats to our heroes will include epidemics, famine and each other.
The anime also has some inspirational speeches. The back of my neck prickled. If you're looking for death-defying, it's here. More generally, it would also be outrageous to suggest that this show's devoid of characterisation. You wouldn't call these people charming or lovable, but there are some memorable nutters (e.g. the Titan-loving doctor), while Mikasa's protectiveness and Armin's inner conflict (intelligence vs. fear) are striking.
Visually, it's a terrific-looking show and a significant improvement on the manga. The mangaka, Hajime Isayama, had never drawn a manga before and by his own admission isn't a very good artist. Tomoko used to have trouble telling his characters apart. (The art quality was the reason why Attack on Titan got rejected by the first publisher he took it to. That's a decision someone will be regretting.) The anime, though, keeps the creepiness of his Titans while having a better handle on drawing the human characters and frequently making the show look paradoxically beautiful. This largely depopulated world is rich in rural landscapes, sunsets and other sights to delight... until a Titan shows up, of course.
It's directed by Tetsuro Araki, by the way, who also did Death Note and High School of the Dead. This is a man who knows something about dark storytelling and about mega-hits.
The subtitles are fairly loose translations. They're dubtitles, but at least they're not trampling on the original (c.f. Tenchi Muyo GXP).
This is a shocking series, with a moral that's brutal and ruthless. It's also incomplete, but fortunately they find a satisfying place to stop and it feels as if they got it right. You'll just be making a note in your diary to hunt down season 2 when it comes out. Sometimes it's awesome. Our heroes' Spider-Man training is stunning, making for amazing (and of course horrific) battle scenes that could never have been done on a TV budget in the days before computer-assisted animation. Main characters die like flies. The show's momentum is unstoppable. Don't bother watching this if you're only into cuddly anime, but there's a reason why it's exploded into a runaway international blockbuster.