Thursday, April 3, 2014

Anime Reflections: Attack on Titan

I started watching Attack on Titan (or “Shingeki no Kyojin,” as some will insist) a while ago, at which point I blogged about my first impressions. It’s worth noting that those first impressions covered the first eight episodes. This is very important because the events at the end of the eight episodes that I vaguely alluded to were a huge turning point in the show—one that ultimately affected my opinions on the show.

I feel that, overall, the show was mediocre. Not flat-out bad, but it had a lot of problems dragging it down. Of course, as it’s near impossible to explain why without going into specifics, the rest of this post will be filled with spoilers from the first eight episodes.

The first eight episodes of Attack on Titan were very strong. You get to see firsthand the devastation the Titans have wrought. You see how quickly they turn the protagonists’ lives upside down. Then, at the end of episode five, Eren Jaeger (who, up to this point, we have been led to believe is our protagonist) is killed while attempting to save his friend Armin. The show then focuses on his adopted sister Mikasa, Armin, and the rest of the recruits in their first battle. During this time the show begins delving into a theme: the idea that the world is cruel and only the strongest are able to survive. I mentioned this theme in my first impressions post as what seemed to be the overarching theme of the show.

After focusing on Mikasa and Armin for a few episodes, a mysterious Titan begins attacking other Titans. This Titan is revealed in the eighth episode to be a transformed Eren.

This is the moment where the show begins to take a downward spiral. Some things that go wrong:

1. The next six episodes are horribly paced. The two things of note that happen are that Eren moves a rock to block a hole in the wall and is eventually brought into the Scouting Legion. The rest consists of people going “OH NO GUYS EREN’S A TITAN WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO” over and over. It’s not even approached from different angles. It’s just a Mexican Standoff that lacks tension because it’s made fairly obvious that the protagonists will come out on top. While the show does pick up a bit afterwards, it failed to really catch my attention again until the very last episode.

2. Eren can shift back and forth between his human and Titan form. This singlehandedly destroys the theme that existed for the first eight episodes. Suddenly, the humans have a feasible way to fight back. They have a somewhat controllable weapon capable of defeating dozens of Titans. Instead of fighting against the impossible, they’re merely fighting against the unlikely. It cheapens the brutality of the first episodes.

3. Eren also reassumes his role as protagonist. Eren was a spectacular protagonist for the first part of the show. We were really able to feel his helplessness at his personal loss and his determination to fight these odds, no matter how personal. That’s exactly why his death was so powerful: because his rage and determination carried him through, even though he wasn’t the most capable recruit. However, that impact is lost after he becomes a Titan. This would not be as bad if he did not remain a static character. Instead, he ceases to develop. His entire character becomes “I want to destroy all the Titans” with a dash of “I don’t fully understand how this power works” thrown in. He ceases to become relatable, but remains a straightforward and simple character.

4. The other characters are also a problem. The show introduces them in groups and spends very little time actually focusing on them. There are a few who are relatively notable, but everyone else just seems to be there to pad out a roster. When you combine the fact that the characters are so underdeveloped with the nature of the show, you quickly realize that these people are most likely cannon fodder. It’s like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones series: there are plenty of characters, but you can’t bring yourself to fully care about many of them because they could die at any moment. However, unlike ASoIaF, which takes a great amount of time (perhaps too much time) developing all the characters before Martin kills them off, Attack on Titan is content to just sort of let them exist.

Those are the main issues I have with Attack on Titan at the moment. I have other things I could complain about, but the show needs to be complete before I make a judgment. The two big things right now is that there are a lot of hazy character motivations that make no sense (which I won’t go into in detail because they contain a few things I’ve pieced together from manga spoilers) and that questions are being raised faster than they can be answered. While Attack on Titan is very good at stringing its viewers along with red herrings (which is one of its strong points), it also tends to completely forget about plot points. Early on, Eren has a vision (though from when is uncertain) of his father injecting him with something and giving him a key to his basement, which seems to contain something very important. The first season never touches on this occurrence again. According to friends who read the manga, they’re still waiting on answers regarding the key as well.

Attack on Titan definitely gave me and interesting world full of fun mysteries. What it didn’t give me, however, were good characters, well-paced structure, consistent themes, or, ultimately, a reason to care.

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