Anime Review: Attack on Titan

I started to watch this show because tumblr wouldn’t shut up about it.

I watched the first episode and was like “Okay, I’m done! This is not a show for me, I’m done!”

But then I decided to give the show a second chance.

And then I suddenly found myself five episodes in, and I was like “Okay, this isn’t usually my cup of tea, but it’s interesting.”

And then I found that I’d finished watching it, and I was like “OMGS WHEN IS THERE GOING TO BE MORE?!”

Attack on Titan is set in a future where the last vestiges of humanity live within walled cities to protect them from creatures known as titans, giant humanoids who exist seemingly for the sole purpose of eating people. The titans cannot breach the walls, and attempts to take back territory from the titans have been unsuccessful. This stalemate has lasted for a hundred years.

That is, until the day a colossal titan breaches the wall if the small village of Zhiganshima, allowing smaller titans inside. In the ensuing massacre, three children manage to escape: Eren Yeager, our main character, Mikasa Ackerman, his adoptive sister, and Armin Arlert, the bookish sort who is Yeager’s best friend. The three of them decide to join the Survey Corps, a branch of the military devoted to fighting, researching, and eventually eradicating titans once and for all, Eren vowing to destroy every last titan on Earth.

If I had to categorize it, I’d say Attack on Titan is part post-apocalyptic dark fantasy (as in fantasy with horror elements that is heavy on the horror), part action-adventure, and part drama, in fact, there’s much more drama than action (although action is certainly present). This is a story about survival. loss, and let’s just say there’s a good reason this show has a large cast of characters.

Speaking of characters, of the three “main” characters (Mikasa, Eren, and Armin) Eren is probably the least developed of the three of them. His motivation can be summed up as “KILL ALL TITANS!” that’s it, that’s all, and I didn’t find that he grew past that at all. Likewise, Mikasa seems solely motivated by a desire to protect Eren and keep Eren out of danger and Eren, and it’s kind of a shame that her motivations are so centered on a man and what a man is doing when she’s kicking ass and taking names like a boss (more on this later). In contrast, Armin starts as a boy who relies on Mikasa and Eren to protect him and ends the series as an intelligent young man who is gutsy enough to shout down members of the Military Police to protect his friends.

The series has garnered praise for the way it treats its female characters. Women fight the titans alongside men (wearing the exact same practical outfit, I might add) and are every bit as competent as their male counterparts (easily surpassing them in a few cases), although many of the senior officers in the military are men and society still seems to be pretty patriarchal. From the very beginning of the series, Mikasa is constantly rescuing Eren (and she’s also top of her class as a trainee), his fellow trainee Annie soundly beats his ass during training. In fact, pretty much every woman in the army is a badass (you have to be if you want to kill titans). It’s pretty refreshing to have a post-apocalyptic setting that includes women doing things that don’t involve staying at home and in the kitchen.

In terms of representation, Mikasa is explicitly stated to be the last Asian alive (everyone else having been devoured by the titans) and the rest of the cast is, based on their names, meant to be white Europeans. In terms of queer representation, there are only hints of it in the anime, but Word of Gay says that Ymir is a lesbian (Ymir only has a small part in the anime) and Reiner makes suggestive comments towards everyone, there’s also a fair bit of subtext between Marco and Jean (although I believe this is a case of the anime expanding on the manga). There’s also the interesting case of Hange/Hanji Zoe, who is non-binary (the mangaka has requested that the English translation of the manga avoid gendered pronouns for this character). In the anime, Hange is depicted in a more “feminine” manner, but the subtitles do not use gendered pronouns (and AFAIK, no official Japanese sources use them). Hange is probably one of my favourite characters in the whole show due to their boundless enthusiasm when it comes to carving up titans FOR SCIENCE! And scenes with them in it mean that less time is spent on Eren’s wangsting.

Hange is the coolest.

Attack on Titan isn’t the kind of show I usually watch because I generally have a low tolerance for drama (at least, TV drama, Internet drama is another thing) and gore, and Attack on Titan is probably one of the goriest, creepiest examples of anime that I’ve ever seen. Most of the titans look like overweight, naked Barbie dolls (titans have no sex organs) with really creepy vacant expressions (if they aren’t smiling like idiots, which is somehow even creepier). Some are missing skin entirely (making them look like massive moving anatomical models) and that’s before they start eating people. If images of people being dismembered, eaten alive, dismembered and then eaten alive, and the like disturb you, you will want to run far away. Part of the reason I stalled for so long after watching the first episode was the incredibly unnerving death scene at the end, and it only gets worse from there. The titans’ design also leads to some unintentionally hilarious moments though, such as a terrifying moment with a titan running towards a large group of civilians hilariously flailing its arms about or another titan managing to punch itself in the face.

Most of the things I didn’t like about the series were already touched on earlier or are due to my personal preferences. It’s difficult to have a lot of action scenes when your enemy is really, really tough to kill, so much of the episode is focused on teh drama and characters spend a lot of time screaming at each other with nothing to break it up. (As I said, I don’t usually go for a drama-heavy show) and the flat characterization makes it worse. There were parts where I really wished I had some duct tape so I could tape Eren’s mouth shut. I hate shonen protagonists, you guise. Although, it is nice to see Eren constantly being the one being rescued by Mikasa instead of the other way around (although that happens a couple times too).

In short, it was tough to get into at first but ultimately Attack on Titan was surprisingly good. If you can stomach (terrible pun is terrible) all the people-eating and tolerate the flat characterization, especially of the main character.

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2 thoughts on “Anime Review: Attack on Titan

  1. I quite liked it, while I like drama I don’t have much appetite for gore but the story was fascinating enough for me to overlook it. Honestly I knew I’d have to watch it the first time I heard the opening theme, it’s such a fantastic hook! Have you figured out the tell yet? There’s apparently some convention that marks what characters will die, though I haven’t figured it out myself yet.

    1. All I’ve heard is that Jean is the creator’s favourite character so I expect he’ll either live to see the end of the series or get a glorious death scene, most likely a glorious death scene.

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