When the man-eating giants called Titans first appeared, humans retreated behind massive walls. After a hundred years of safety, a colossal-sized Titan smashes through the defenses, unleashing a flood of giants and carnage in the streets. Eren Jaeger watches helplessly as one of the creatures devours his mother. He vows to kill every Titan walking the earth.
Eren and his surviving friends enlist to fight against the insatiable monsters. The future looks bleak, but there’s more to Eren than meets the eye: he may be humanity’s last hope against extinction. The Titans have come to feast. Anything can happen. No one is safe.
If you follow current anime titles, then you know full well how much Attack on Titan/Shingeki no Kyoujin has been making lots of anime fans trip harder than Amazing Race contestants. If you’ve been to any anime cons in the past year, you’ve seen lots of people cosplaying like the main characters in their distinctive uniforms (one at Anime North 2014 did a nice twist; more on that later)—and a few like the main villains. You might have even been one of those cosplayers. Not only is Japan working on two compilation movies of the anime, but a live action movie as well. Bleepin’ bleep, it’s even been used there in ads for razors and fast food! When Funimation announced they had licensed the anime, people were almost slavering for its release, wallets clutched and ready, and they had to strike while the iron was hot, so the turnover from licensing to release was probably the fastest they ever achieved. In short, the hype around this title has been almost deafening, and the question is if it’s justified or not.
AoT is based around three young friends in the village of Shiganshina in the year 845. Eren Jaeger is a hotheaded lad who is chafing against his sterile life in a village surrounded by a 50-meter-high wall that the population has been living in the shadow of for the past 100 years (that cosplayer? They were dressed as a section of the wall over a soldier uniform; now, that was some thinking outside the box). He wants to see the world outside so badly that he can almost taste it. Mikasa Ackermann is a tough but caring young woman. She is not steel under silk, but a person with a tight grip on one of these things in each hand. Like Asuna from Sword Art Online, she’s someone you want in your corner; unlike Asuna, she may have a soft side, but her willfulness (and modest clothing) means that the chance of her being reduced to becoming a bloody otaku’s waifu is very small. Armin Arlelt is a thoughtful and quite sensitive boy who is also curious about the outside world. Unfortunately, this makes other boys in the village call him a heretic and pick on him (yes, there are people in the village who regard the wall as something built by God to protect them, and woe to them who dare to question that), which doesn’t help his nearly constant inner battle against his cowardice and self-doubt. All these people have more in their stories than I described above—and you will find it out in time. This peaceful yet uneventful district gets turned upside down when, first, the Scout Regiment returns from an exploratory mission outside the wall. Eren rushes to see his heroes, but finds that a lot of them didn’t make it back, and the ones who did are not looking or feeling very heroic; in fact, a lot of them are injured both physically and mentally. Not long after that, a Colossal Titan (which looks like a giant human plastination project) appears suddenly for the first time in a century to peer over Wall Maria, the first of three concentric fortress walls which were erected to keep his kind out—and knocks a big hole in its gate to allow lesser-class Titans to swarm in, wreak havoc and eat several people. I’m not talking swallowing whole, like what may appeal to vore fans; I mean, blood spraying everywhere. Titans are giant human-like creatures of various sizes, grotesqueness, levels of intelligence, speeds of movement and amounts of skin on their bodies, and encountering one often means staring your mortality right in their enormous teeth. Eren and Mikasa try to rescue Eren’s mother from under the rubble of his house, only to be bodily carried away by Garrison soldier Hannes in an attempt to save the two of them. After witnessing one of the Titans picking up and chomping down on his wounded mother, he has a new reason to want to join the Scout Regiment: Revenge.
Eren, Mikasa and Armin join the military and meet the many people they’ll be fighting alongside. The sudden increase in cast size does affect the character development; some are introduced basically to end up as redshirts during Titan battles, while others don’t really transcend their original impressions. The mains and supports still get enough time to carve their places into the story and keep the viewer engaged on that level, though. The action level ramps up sharply when the cadets learn to handle omni-directional mobility (ODM) gear, and the viewers occasionally get a vertigo-inducing POV scene as they fly around on cables, propelled by oxygen tanks and wielding blades. A two-year time jump shows that the cadets have become soldiers. They had better be good at what they do, because this is the point where everything really starts. After five years of security behind the second wall, Wall Rose, history repeats yet again in the district of Trost, and the new soldiers find out what they’re really made of. The ensuing battles result in lots of casualties, but also allow more knowledge to be gained about Titans, including one shocking and surprising development which results in some dramatic changes for the soldiers…including a chance of winning against their substantial foes.
For most shounen adventure shows, this much happens in one season, and the staff desperately tries to get another season to keep the paycheques coming in. For Attack on Titan, this is merely the first third of 26 episodes in what is extremely unlikely to be its only season. The density of information here is almost overwhelming. This world is built with so many details that the show’s eyecatches are not dedicated to good-looking pictures of the characters, but “Information Available for Public Disclosure” about the walls, ODM gear, weaponry, classes of Titan and more. Episode-opening recaps notwithstanding, there isn’t the slightest whiff of filler that I can detect. However, said staff handles it all with care and makes everything surprisingly easy to absorb—or at least to notice. There are a few shortcuts in the animation quality here and there, like instances where action is indicated by shaking still frames with added speed lines, but those are used tastefully to help maximize the impact (and budget allocations) when full motion is truly required.
This series does not gloss over just how hellish the war between the humans and the Titans is. People get terrified to the point of paranoia, demoralized, traumatized, attacked, killed, maimed and (lest we forget) gorily consumed by giants. The people living behind Wall Rose express resentment at the influx of people immigrating into their region and stretching their food supplies thin after the Wall Maria breach. The King has grown soft with luxuries, far from the carnage his people are now dealing with. The levels of grimness that AoT reach earns it its Mature rating. However, it doesn’t hammer that one button relentlessly like, say, Now and Then, Here and There. We also get to enjoy positive moments, like cadets mastering skills after difficult training, the introductions of likeable characters, and people and their relationships developing for the better (which is not to say that all of them do that).
Opening theme “Feuerroter Pfeil und Bogen” (“Crimson Bow and Arrow”) by Linked Horizon is a blood-pumping piece of symphonic rock with lyrics in both Japanese and German (although a native speaker friend of mine let me know that their German usage is similar to Engrish). Ending theme “Utsukushiki Zankoku na Sekai” (“Beautiful Cruel World”) is a poignant piano-based number by Yoko Hikasa, sung from Mikasa’s point of view. The series encompasses a lot of different moods, and Hiroyuki Sawano’s score covers them all, from hard-pulsing orchestral pieces to poignant and occasionally abstract quieter passages, and the sound design allows plenty of it to be easily heard.
NOTICE: Online retailer Right Stuf has reported that customers have contacted them regarding scratched discs and episodes skipping in FUNimation’s Attack on Titan Blu-ray/DVD Part 1 Limited Edition sets. If you have bought either of the collectors’ versions or you’re going to, open it to check the condition of the discs. If your discs or any other part of the package are damaged, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org about replacements. For more details, go to http://www.rightstuf.com/rssite/main/news/individual/?ForumThreadName=FT0000006845.
Marathon Play Option; Episode 3 Commentary by Mike McFarland (ADR director/Jean Kirschtein), Bryce Papenbrook (Eren), Trina Nishimura (Mikasa) and Josh Grelle (Armin); Episode 13 Commentary by McFarland, J. Michael Tatum (ADR script writer/Erwin Smith), Scott Freeman (Ian Dietrich) and Clifford Chapin (Conny Springer); Eyecatch Gallery (here’s where you get the English text translations for them); Textless Opening and Closing Songs; U.S. Trailer; FUNimation Trailers. Also included are The Making of Attack on Titan and “Chibi Theatre: Fly, Cadets, Fly! Days 1-13,” but those are only available on the Blu-Ray discs.
While Attack on Titan may sometimes be difficult to watch due to its bloody scenes and portrayals of how people can become when their backs are against the wall, it is also tightly packed with action, drama and characters you will both cheer for and feel for. It is worth at least one watch on the legit streaming sites, and if you like what you see, buy it so you can encourage the creation of more excellent work. Far from a light watch, but heartily recommended.
- Released By: Funimation Entertainment
- Available on BLU-RAY + DVD Combo Pack
- Running Time: 325 minutes
- Rating: TV – MA
- Release Date: 06/03/2014
- Reviewed By: Neil Ellard