This article contains spoilers for episodes 1-25 of the subtitled version of the Attack on Titan anime. Read at your own risk!
Here there be giants. The only thing stopping the human race from being crushed under their tyranny is a handful of soldiers and their teammate’s ability to become a Titan himself, fighting hand to hand against the monsters.
A lot of this series reminded me of The Avengers and The Walking Dead. However, that’s not a bad thing, as it seems to incorporate some of the best qualities of these franchises while building up it’s own mythos. Character growth, fast paced action, intense intrigue, and horrific monsters all make this show a must see. It even manages to work in a murder mystery towards the end!
Humanity has been herded into one large city, protected by a series of three massive, concentric walls with smaller nodule areas providing a distraction in the case of a breach. After one hundred years of relative peace, such an attack occurs which brings down the smaller, nodule district of Shinganshina.
Eren Yeager is the Scout Regiment’s biggest fan, but after his mother is killed and eaten during the attack, he becomes obsessed with joining them. His adopted sister, Mikasa Ackerman, an orphan whose parents were killed during a raid on her house by slavers, follows him to the lands behind Wall Rose to train as a soldier.
Mikasa shows much promise during training while Eren struggles even to stay upright on his Maneuver gear, the device soldiers use to scale the environment up to the Titans’ vulnerable neck area. Their intelligent childhood friend, Armin Arlert also does well, although he seems reluctant to face off against their towering foes.
Basic training completes, just in time for another attack by the Colossal Titan, compromising Trost District. During the attack, Eren seemingly dies trying to protect Armin. Mikasa fights on, but Armin is perceptive enough to see she is deeply hurt by the news. As she becomes more reckless, Mikasa finds herself in a sticky situation with a Titan. However, she is saved just in time by another Titan who seems familiar and behaves almost as if it recognizes her. Soon it’s revealed that Eren is indeed the strange Titan that saved Mikasa. After retreating, the army surrounds Eren, Mikasa, and Armin with the intent of executing what they see as threat to the city. Armin is temporarily able to talk to Commander Kitz, stalling him long enough for Dot Pixis, the High Commander of the Southern Region Military, to arrive and stay the execution in lieu of asking Eren to use his Titan form to prevent further incursion.
Armin helps to form a plan to block the hole through which the Titans are coming, but something goes wrong and Eren winds up attacking Mikasa in his Titan form. Fortunately, Armin is able to wake Eren from his fugue state within the Titan form and the plan is successful.
It’s the first time Humanity has won out against the Titans, but the victory is bittersweet for Eren, who is locked away in a cell until his trial before Commander-in-Chief Darius Zackley is held to decide his fate. Captain Levi of the Recon Corps. (aka the “Scouts”) convinces the court that Eren has more control over himself than they think, and that he can be controlled in turn. With Eren in the hands of the Special Ops Squad, Levi plans to retake the lands of Wall Maria. They have one month to hone Eren’s skills and prove that he can definitely control his powers.
After settling into their headquarters, Zoe Hange talks to Eren about the living Titans, Sawney and Bean, who have been captured and are now under observation. However, later it is revealed that the Titans have been destroyed under suspicious circumstances and an investigation is held. Meanwhile, the recruits must decide which branch of the military they will join. Mikasa and many of the characters we've come to know join Eren in the Recon Corps.
An expedition is planned outside the walls of the city, with Levi intent on drawing out the mole who is also likely the same person who destroyed the captured Titans. It works and, after much loss of life, the FemaleTitan form is detained. Before Levi can find out who is inside, the monster lets out a scream drawing other Titans to it, who then begin to devour it. The Captain is convinced the traitor has gotten away, but he has a pretty good idea of who it is.
Having returned to the city, the squad sets a plan in motion to capture the Female Titan. It turns out to be Annie, a character from earlier in the show, who went through basic training with Eren and Mikasa and also fought alongside them during the Titan attack on Trost. She manages to transform, but is eventually subdued. Annie then encases her body in crystal, preventing any further interrogation. In the end, Eren proves himself reliable and promises to hunt down any subversive Titan elements inside the city.
I went into this show with a lot of preconceptions. I've seen my share of anime and Science Fiction/Fantasy where people with conflicting personalities are forced to work together as a team. A few these anime include Sailor Moon, Godmars, Goshogun, Evangelion, and Madoka Magica, which I had just finished the week before. I've also recently gotten caught up on The Walking Dead, which also has a similar theme of Post Apocalyptic Survival Horror, but with more normal sized flesh eating monsters. In that series, the group of survivors gathers supplies by venturing out into the world, protect their homesteads against attack, and try to figure out the monsters weaknesses. Fortunately, the development of the plot and characters over the course of Attack on Titan and the suspenseful action both met and exceeded a lot of my expectations.
Firstly, the setting of Attack on Titan is more medieval looking, with enormous walls erected in an age that seems almost forgotten by many of the survivors. The Maneuver gear used to scale the walls, buildings, and Titans is simple but effective. Commercial bumpers for the show detail how these machines work as well as other information pertaining to the story such as historical records. Here society has not completely collapsed. At least three classes are referenced: the farmers (the lowest class other than refugees), the merchants, and the nobility (including the military). Trade and agriculture still exist with the lack of food really becoming an issue after the refugees of Wall Maria arrive behind Wall Rose.
The artwork features beautiful, varied lining, giving it an illustrated look clearly referencing the manga source material. Backgrounds are fairly detailed and add atmosphere to intense action scenes. The animation is a little stilted in the first few episodes. In fact, one of the first action sequences of a soldier swinging through the streets on their OMD features a startling drop in frame rate. Later in the series, the production seems to even out and really comes together for the chase with the Female Titan and the fight behind Wall Sina.
The music is pretty much standard for what I've listened to in a lot of anime soundtracks. The first opening theme is a pulse pounding anthem with images from the manga flashing across the screen along with scores of soldiers filling the sky. Many anime themes are sprinkled with German and English, and here is no exception. I wasn’t all that into the second opening theme, and can really just barely remember it. The same could be said with the ending themes. Guren no Yumiya (aka Feuerroter Pfeil und Bogen) by Linked Horizon is the song I wound up putting on my old iPod Touch.
One of the biggest surprises for me, since much of the series actually went unspoiled for me for once, was Eren’s transformation. I had steered clear of much of the promotional material, really only getting a glimpse of cosplayers at Geek.kon 2013 along with some pictures of Armin. I thought this was going to be mostly a team based military show, but it wound up working in a few tropes from Shounen anime. It is common in Shounen series for the protagonist and/or antagonist to fight in the form of a monster. At least in this part of the series, Eren is still a novice fighter in this form in danger of letting his emotions get the better of him. Thus show avoids, for the time being, the constant one-upmanship seen in other series Shounen series like Dragon Ball Z.
The episodes featuring basic training are pretty much the norm, with some trainees being ostracized for strange or detrimental behavior, or failing to meet expectations; drill sergeants barking orders; and the odd prodigy rising far above the rest of the class. It’s during the attack on Trost that the characters and story really get a chance to shine.
Other than story, the characters are usually what draw me into an anime. Eren, Mikasa, and the rest of the crew start out not quite as flat as the typical tropes you’d expect in a team based, post apocalyptic anime. Making Eren a less than average student does give him some weight as a character, even though counterbalancing that by his ability to become a Titan threatens to send him into the over power cycle I've seen in many Shounen anime and manga. Fortunately, this is where the Incredible Hulk-like elements enter in the form of the suspicion of the townsfolk and the reluctant trust of his teammates. He is also similar to the popular Marvel character in the fact that, at first, his ability is activated through pain and anger. His power comes with a price and the very real possibility that he’ll lose control over himself.
Mikasa reminds me a lot of Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Rei Ayanami, with a familiar subdued personality to go with adept skill. Her action scenes are enjoyable to watch, and her back story is tragic.
She also displays a bit more emotion earlier in the first episodes as well as when she finds Eren alive in Trost. She fights to protect those she loves and when she thinks they’re dead, she loses control. Despite this dynamic relationship with Eren, it was still difficult for me to connect with her. I’m hoping to learn more about her in future episodes, as she still came off a little flat for a character in such major role. This could also be because the creators don’t want her to overshadow Eren anymore than she already does.
Armin Arlert, despite being part of the trio of heroes and making major contributions to the plot, still managed to annoy me a little. I did fear for his safety when he faced off against the Titans in Trost and the Female Titan. His character design with its shoulder length locks of blonde hair made him stand out more in a cast of medium light to dark haired characters. While his cowardice at facing the Titans at the beginning of the Battle of Trost got on my nerves, he does prove to be a loyal friend to Eren and Mikasa. This really redeems his character for me, as he eventually shows bravery in the face of fear.
Of course, Eren, Mikasa, and Armin can’t fight these creatures alone. They need a team to back them up. My personal favorite character would have to be the potato thieving Sasha “Spuds” Blouse.
I truly expected Spuds to die early in the series. Her incompetence as a soldier (and thief), and her role as comic relief for the show seemed to doom her to a gruesome fate. I guess I can thank my experience in reading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire for that. To my delight, she survived and is still kicking at the end of the season. I found myself trusting in Levi’s competent plan to capture the Female Titan. Krista’s kindheartedness was a nice contrast to the pervasive feeling of dread. Unfortunately, Jean was forgettable as a competitor for Mikasa’s feelings. I knew that he would never be with her, at least not at this point in the series. His pursuit of her also had the effect of making Mikasa, a character I already have a hard time showing interest in, seem more like a trophy rather than a person. Jean’s struggle with this rejection as well as the abandonment of his dream of joining the Military Police for the sake of Eren, allowed him some wiggle room for development. Ymir grew on me a little, but her role in this part of the story, along with Krista’s, is very limited. She has just enough time to move from being a bully, to hinting at an attraction to Krista.
Some people may not be able to look past the tropes presented in the first few episodes, and some will definitely be turned off by the disturbing imagery. Particularly haunting are the wicked faces of the Titans and the sometimes odd movement of the Aberrants. For the most part, this chilling piece of entertainment will kept me guessing what comes next, who could be trusted, and who is behind the curtain of deception. Hopefully these questions will be answered in upcoming seasons of the show. I know I’ll look forward to the answers.