Eren Yeager has grown up in a city surrounded by walls. Three in fact and they are the only things keeping the titans (really large humanoid monsters) from eradicating what is left of humankind. However, Eren wants out of the city. Then, a titan breaches the gate and Eren’s world comes crumbling down. Training as a soldier, Eren eventually gets to fight against the titans.
Attack on Titan is another one of those shows that will blow you away with the opening. The music, the action sequences, the sheer horror and visual feast presented in episode 1 just kind of freeze you in place glued to the screen. It hits every nerve and makes you just sit and take it in. And that high emotion can carry you clear to the end of this first series if you let it. However, what you find when you step back from those emotions is that while Attack on Titan is amazing in so many ways, there are some issues sitting beneath it that just continue to threaten to unravel your viewing experience.
Firstly, I have to be honest and point out that I fell in love with this series in minutes of watching the first episode. I rewatched that first episode so many times I lost count, but it kind of did everything you would ever want from a first episode in an anime. We met the characters, knew what the threat was, and felt that threat. We weren’t just told titans were bad or scary. We saw them literally tear Eren’s world apart and lay waste to the town. It wasn’t the gore that sold this episode (although visually it is quite confronting). It is the way we see this destruction from the multiple perspectives. We see it from Eren’s point of view as he is helpless to save his mother. We see other characters who are either running or hiding or crying or trying to fight and failing. We get down and personal with them even though we only know some of these characters for a short space of time. But we also see the bigger picture. We get the sweeping shots of the city and the overhead view. We see the titans looking down at the fleeing humans and you can’t help but see ants scurrying from the rain. It’s an intense first episode and sets up a world and a conflict that are inherently interesting and clear.
The rest of season one maintains this clarity of titans bad but it does spend a lot of time muddying its own waters by building in multiple human conspiracies. While this is not necessarily a problem in terms of narrative, and is in fact needed unless all you want is human vs monster conflict, the issue is that very few of the characters in Attack on Titan are anything more that the mouth-piece of whatever ideal is needed in that setting. Actually, if we are honest, most of the characters shout. A lot. Repeatedly. I really, really wish some of these characters would stop shouting (Eren particularly).
Possibly if these sub-plots (although it kind of feels like some of these human conflicts are going to end up being fairly important to the main plot) had been handled better or if the characterisation had been up to it this could have been a really interesting way to flesh out the world established in episode 1. Instead it all feels like clutter and a distraction from something that was infinitely more interesting.
By the time we get out of the city with Eren (okay, and Levi who is probably the coolest character I’ve come across in a modern action anime) the level of excitement has gone down significantly but this is where they start turning that around. The speed at which the extras get knocked off in this sequence (even though they are apparently trained for this) is disheartening (which I think is the point given we’ve kind of been led to believe they have a chance and this clearly shows they don’t). At every stage after this you get the distinct impression that these characters are well out of their depth and that sense of shared helplessness really helps drive home the drama as they struggle against the fate of dying without accomplishing their goals.
Of course, there’s no getting around the elephant in the room. It didn’t end and then season 2 got pushed back and back. Season 2 is meant to come out this year so let’s hope but at the moment no matter how amazing an experience you had with Attack on Titan all you’ve been left with are questions, spin-offs and adaptations.
I know I haven’t spent a lot of time on characters. There are actually some pretty cool characters in this story but all of their character journey’s have been cut short at this point and time due to the story just stalling. So I’ll do a better review of the series as a whole once I know where they go. That and any of the extras we meet are likely to just get eaten anyway.
Essentially if you like action with high stakes and a bit of horror, aren’t turned off by gore, and you don’t mind characters who aren’t fully realised, then Attack on Titan will amaze you. It’s beautiful, fast paced, and dramatic and when it is at its best it truly shines and those moments will carry you over the slower bits. If we actually get a continuation that matches the feel and quality of season 1 then this could be a very memorable anime. Otherwise I think it is one of those ones that had its moment in the sun but without finishing won’t have staying power.