Huge Spoilers and a huge wayward post listing things I loved about it.
I started reading the manga in 2011 (it began publication in 2009) around the time news came out it was going to get a live-action film adaptation. I was reading a lot of dystopian manga like Eden: It’s an Endless World and King of Thorn and I was immediately drawn to Attack on Titan’s story of survival in a strange world full of mysteries and giants gobbling up cool looking characters. It had many elements that only anime and manga seem to do that I love such as an intriguing dystopian world, slight tweaking of gender roles – intelligent males and aggressive and confident female characters, and a boatload of existentialism that pointed out the cages humans make for themselves and give fancy labels like society, family and religion. I’m no anarchist but I do like a story which tears these things down or at least questions them and to see characters do their best to survive in the world and transcend their circumstances.
The reason I start my final thoughts with this is to make clear that I was hyped up for the anime before I had any idea who was behind it.
My first impression was full of praise and it will continue because the anime didn’t disappoint.
This is an adaptation of an on-going manga and the question about an adaptation is what does the director highlight to define his work? The director is Tetsuo Araki and he does action. I would never accuse him of being the most subtle of people. Amidst his filmography are hits and misses. He has served as director for Black Lagoon (excellent), Highschool of the Dead (awful), Guilty Crown (I didn’t get past the first episode), and Death Note (okay).
Based on those shows it is clear that he is great at doing violence and bombast and not so cool with subtlety so the grim subject-matter in Attack on Titan is perfect for him to make an awesome action title.
Over the course of 25 episodes we witnessed the grinding grimdark and gut-wrenching version of the manga. All subtlety has gone out the window in favour of blood and guts flying everywhere, splashing walls and covering innocents and pushing it all to histrionic levels with some of the most amazing and detailed animation seen in recent TV anime.
I came for the cool looking designs of the manga and was kept hooked by the animations which gave a great idea of the speed and momentum and skill involved with using the Three-Dimensional Manoeuvre Gear. The panning cameras and overhead shots, it’s all so kinetic and gut-churning and excited as we followed the characters zipping through streets and forests.
The social commentary about people living in cages was brought to the fore and the message about beating all of life’s obstacles (here it’s the horror of the Titans) and the way society can act as a cage was there and with the emphasis on the suffering and operatic action Araki kept slamming this home.
Seeing humanity relentlessly get slapped down, stomped, chewed and ground down combined with the slow pace and lack of narrative revelations about the world the characters lived in put some off but it helped place me in the middle of the story like the characters involved and let me experience the emotions even if they were overcooked at times but this is what Araki and manga author Hajime Isayama are good at.
When the Titans broke through the wall we got the Trost arc which was a relentless and long-drawn out battle stretching over seven episodes plus. Being thrust into the situations and mired in every life and death decision at what many considered a ponderous pace was pretty effective in building up a siege mentality and conveying the war of attrition that humanity was involved with. This feeling of doom made the next arc of the anime work even better.
When I last posted about it I stated:
From the end of episode 4 to episode 13 we have had one long battle where people have thrown themselves into the fray knowing it could all end badly. There has been a lot of despair but by the end of the battle people have proven themselves and humanity has shown that it can fight back. The anime will now expand its world and I can only imagine it getting better.
I was right. The animation remains flawless and the soundtrack is still stirring. The revelation that Eren could transform into a Titan and could beat the stuffing out of the Titans and the subsequent adventures into Titan controlled territory were like relief, humanity finally has a weapon to fight back against certain extinction and we finally got to see the world of Attack on Titan expand as we ventured into danger with the Recon corps. Who are mounted on horses and are using speed to outpace the Titans. It looks like humanity could win but again Araki and Isayama struck again because this relief didn’t last long as a female Titan showed up.
She was the first female Titan encountered by mankind and was a whole new level of terror. She appeared during a quiet moment, a scene which started as one of relief after two of the more experienced members of the Recon corps dispatched an abnormal Titan chasing Armin. She’s a shadow far in the distance charging towards them, the two discussing how to deal with her as they storm off on their horses. The next time they glance at her, she’s in between them.
They go in for the kill with their 3D manoeuver gear hoping to get a quick and clean kill but she slaps down one chap and uses the grappling wires against the other, grabbing them and slamming him into the ground. She’s chasing after Armin and captures him. Why isn’t she eating him? What does she want?
All those questions are posed in one of the greatest entrances for a bad guy ever. She looks like pure malevolence.
If what defined the original Titan’s actions was mindless desire to eat people she is defined by her precise movements and her genuine intelligence and incredibly, incredibly cruel actions. Reiner, Jean and Armin fail to deal with her and so she goes on to lay waste to the Recon corps.
I don’t think I’ll be able to forget the scene with her spinning the poor guy around with his own manoeuvre gear until his insides turned to jelly. Then there was the chase through the forest of giant trees and the decimation of Levi’s special ops squad. SPOILER
From episodes 17 through to the end she was a huge shadow hanging over the series and it was clear that the show was going to end with a confrontation between Eren and the female Titan.
Her identity was pretty obvious as Annie (especially if you have read the manga or have eyes) but she was still terrifying due to her skill, intelligence and cold-blooded actions and her knowledge of human tactics. The anime kept her intentions pretty opaque but that made her scarier. This lack of explanations was never really frustrating because I was enjoying the show as a whole and I still felt invested in the characters even if their character growth was slow. END OF SPOILER
The final two episodes didn’t let down expectations. It was operatic on all levels.
Again, Araki and Isayama are great at this and after being battered by the action and melodrama of the series I was wired up. I don’t think I’ve had quite as much fun watching a fight in anime since… ever.
I was gripped by the tension of the situation: two titans bashing and crashing through the centre of the city, busting through buildings and squashing all and sundry in a shower of masonry and crushing footsteps and roars of anger. Thanks to the preceding episodes and my attachment to the characters I was prepared for some catharsis, some payback for the chaos caused by the female titan.
I was whooping and groaning and cheering so loudly because of the emotional release. I never lost my connection with the characters or the situations.
The story, whatever its pace, kept my attention and the characters. Not so much Eren who was special as a shounen anime protag by being largely absent or useless in battle and letting the supporting characters have whole episodes for themselves. It was Jean who grew up from being a selfish person concerned with self-preservation to being a ballsy, cynical sensible leader with whom the audience could identify themselves with as he tried to make sense of the world and its conspiracies. Erwin, a man who is defined by his utter determination and iron will to see humanity win the war against Titans no matter the cost. I mean, those who can withstand a torn-off Titan arm flung at them is awesome, right?
Mikasa with her possessive and ruthless pragmatism. It was unnerving and always fun to watch. Perhaps it appeals to my male vanity that there might be a girl out there for me who will fight giants to keep me safe…
I also liked Annie’s character, another strong female. Despite not finding out enough about her background and despite the fact she is monstrous, I still felt sympathetic to her.
The two have a great parting at the end.
From the start of the anime through to the end this has been a consistently thrilling and gut-wrenching ride that has always had me hugely emotionally invested in the situation and characters. Mikasa fighting against despair, the terror of the female Titan. Everything caught me and as a fan of the manga I’m pretty pleased with the results. While some subtleties have been missed the overall experience has been an absolute pleasure, an example of must-watch television. I don’t think I have loved a TV anime as much as this since 2011’s Mawaru Penguindrum.
Logic has gone out the window and it’s all instinct. I love this anime. I want this anime. F*ck, I’ve ordered a Mikasa tea cup, a phone strap, key ring some and I did try to get a Mikasa body-pillo… uh, I mean, a Nendoroid figure. What I’m trying to say is that this anime is God-tier. I’d venture that I prefer this to the manga and I’m going to buy the anime!
PHEW END OF POST
Here’s an awesome AMV