Anime Expo 2018 News Roundup: Day Zero, One, Two Headlines
Anime Expo 2018: Attack on Titan Season 3 Premiere Report

by Jacob Chapman,

It was standing room only in the Main Events hall at Anime Expo this year, as thousands of attendees had to get their tickets in advance for the world premiere of Attack on Titan's third season. It was immediately clear that even though the action juggernaut's power has faded from its peak several years ago (supplanted most notably by fervor for the My Hero Academia movie), Attack on Titan remains massively popular on a scale few other anime can achieve.

Funimation's Lauren Moore hosted the panel, kicking things off with the surprise announcement of a limited theatrical run for the Attack on Titan season 2 recap movie, "Roar of Awakening." (The film screened subtitled on July 10th and dubbed on July 11th.) After this, the room was treated to a dubbed version of the season 3 teaser trailer, with raucous applause upon hearing Kenny's English voice (Phil Parsons) for the first time. With the crowd sufficiently hyped, both voices of Eren Jaeger were welcomed to the stage: Yuuki Kaji and Bryce Papenbrook. (Kaji had an unusual but entirely Eren-appropriate greeting for the crowd: "Do you like Attack on Titan? If not, I'll kill you all!")

Moore then conducted a curated Q+A session with both actors. Kaji and Papenbrook both expressed relief at the opportunity to play Eren again relatively soon after the long break between Titan's 2013 run and season 2, so they could get back into character as quickly as possible heading into major story events. When asked what they were most looking forward to in season 3, Kaji said that the final episode of season two has prompted one of the greatest changes in Eren's character. Now that he has been saved from a cycle of self-sacrificial vengeance by Mikasa's words, Eren must now question the real purpose of his continued existence as he fights very different enemies in the arc to come. Papenbrook remarked that he hasn't read ahead in the story, so he tries to simply live in the moment the best he can and deliver an authentic reaction to what is happening.

The next question focused on what each actor thought the most important element of Eren's character was, the cornerstone to getting his portrayal right. Kaji responded that after Eren's mother was eaten by a Titan, his rage at the injustice and obsession with killing every Titan only increased until it formed his entire will to keep living. That may be what informs the character most, but of course, it is also very sad for a boy to live this way. At the same time, this may be the only thing that has kept Eren alive in battle, so maybe his survival will be worth all the darkness he has put himself through in the end. Kaji hopes that this will ultimately be the case, because this darkness has kept him going in the role alongside Eren.

Papenbrook agreed with this assertion that unresolved anger resonates in the background of everything Eren does, but he aimed to lighten the mood by sharing one of the anecdotes he relies on to pour anger into his performance. He thinks back to a time when he spent all day jonesing for a bag of chips he wanted to enjoy, only to arrive home and discover that his two dogs had eaten them. (Or as he put it in Eren's voice: "Those poodles...they ate my chips!") Kaji concurred that he also gets quite angry when someone eats his potato chips. The next question was about whether the actors find themselves to be similar to Eren, and Kaji noted that he tries to understand Eren's anger by relating it to his own strong principles and the philosophies that guide his life. He draws on the anger he feels when he sees injustice and tries to apply it to Eren's life in the recording session, so he thinks they are similar in that regard. Papenbrook admitted that he finds himself to be very different from Eren as a person, but that's what makes the role so fulfilling to perform.

When asked what they would change about Eren's character if they could, both actors agreed that he could stand to respect his own life more and not be in such a rush to die in battle. "After all, if Eren dies, we lose our jobs," Kaji pointed out. Papenbrook added that Eren could stand to be calmer in general, not only because screaming takes its toll on an actor's voice, but also because he is often scared by the intensity of Kaji's screams when he hears them for reference during recording.

The two Erens were also in agreement over their favorite scene from season 2: the climax of the final episode. "It was difficult to perform a scene where Eren is smiling or laughing but just completely beaten down in spirit," Kaji explained. The director told him to perform the scene as close to how he truly felt as possible, and that they would change the animation to match accordingly. He had almost never been given this level of trust and freedom as an actor, so it was an incredibly daunting challenge at the time. Papenbrook admitted that he had to take himself to a very dark place in order to communicate the complicated emotions that Eren was feeling in that scene, which was intensified further by having to memorize the monologue. "It all had to be done in one take to the animation, but the script was so long that it wouldn't all fit on one page. So I just had to remember it, and I'm really proud of the result."

Other favorite scenes for Kaji included Eren's scream of "You traitors!" after Reiner and Bertoldt revealed their true identities and the heated discussion in the forest that followed his kidnapping. Those were the scenes he was most excited about performing for season 2 when he read them in the manga. Papenbrook enjoyed performing all of the fight scenes as Eren, because he practices Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu and enjoys being able to apply knowledge of how those actions might sound to the animation. He was especially excited when Eren put Reiner into a triangle chokehold that transitions to an arm bar, because he had just recently learned how to do that in real life. (Kaji took this moment to dramatically squeeze Papenbrook's biceps in front of the crowd.)

As the Q+A session wound down, the questions got a little sillier: Who were Best Boy and Best Girl? When Kaji responded simply with "Levi-heichou", the room erupted in screaming that would even put a Titan on edge. "Eren trusts him so blindly. Levi is his god. And I have to say that he is best boy, or who knows what Levi might do to me?" Of course, Mikasa had to be the best girl for the same reason. Papenbrook agreed on both counts, not eager to invite the wrath of either Ackerman. The actors were then challenged to come up with their own Titan power. Kaji responded that he would like to be a hybrid-Titan that could swap between various powers (and beat Eren!), while Papenbrook opted for flying powers that would allow him to grab a snack on the go without having to touch down behind the walls.

The final question pertained to what personal experiences the actors drew from in their performances. For Kaji, "everything" was relevant for playing the character. "You never know what experiences are going to become relevant to your acting in any given role, so you must pull from everything in your life and find ways to apply it to fantastical settings like Attack on Titan, just like when Bryce was able to incorporate martial arts into his performance." Beyond chip-thieving poodles, Papenbrook elaborated that Los Angeles traffic was a good wellspring of inspiration for anger, although it sometimes worked in reverse because he would come out of recording sessions still feeling Eren's anger and then have to sit in traffic as Bryce.

Before the premiere presentation, Funimation revealed one more surprise by announcing that X Japan and HYDE would be performing season 3's opening theme, titled "red swan". (However, it would not be played during this premiere screening and instead saved for the first episode's television debut.) Kaji remarked that he used to sing L'Arc-en-Ciel's songs at karaoke and thought that a collaboration of this size was a dream come true. And with that, the lights dimmed and the new episode began.

Final spoiler warning for episode one of Attack on Titan season 3!

Even without the new opening theme, the audience was immediately beside themselves at the episode's opening shot, which featured a long-haired Eren standing at the edge of a vast ocean and wondering what lies beyond it. It's a tantalizing way to start for the uninitiated, but manga readers were also no doubt excited to get such an immediate confirmation of season 3's chosen stopping point. From there, the episode lightened up immensely with a series of jokes about Levi's obsession with cleanliness and Sasha's sticky fingers around the kitchen. Our heroes in the 104th have all been shuffled into a squad with Levi in the wilderness for unknown reasons, leaving them plenty of time to test out the limits of Eren's Titan powers and discuss the gravity of everything they've learned in the past several days.

Thankfully, no time is wasted recapping the plot, as the focus remains on Eren bonding with Conny and Historia over all the things they've lost and the resolve they've gained in return. But just when the audience was starting to settle in for an episode of character development and table-setting for the arc to come, the pace ramped up considerably with Erwin's sudden arrest, Pastor Nick's murder by the MPs, and Levi's quick assessment of the situation that leads to a staged kidnapping plot, catapulting viewers firmly into the military coup arc with satisfying speed. For reference, that's over three chapters of manga material packed into one episode, but given the notoriously slow pace of this arc, this is likely to strike fans as an improvement rather than a rush-job. And the premiere wasn't done throwing out surprises.

With scant seconds left in an episode that had already breezed through chapters 51-54 of the manga, Kenny Ackerman burst violently onto the scene in a fantastically cinematic, beautifully choreographed, and genuinely shocking scene that left the crowd in an uproar. Not only was the dramatic staging and animation for this scene reminiscent of the best moments of season 2, it also came as a surprise to fans familiar with the manga. While the circumstances of his arrival remain mostly the same, Kenny doesn't actually appear in the manga for three more chapters, after a whole bunch of other political nonsense and scattered setup that the producers of season 3 have clearly seen fit to excise or rearrange. Honestly, it's for the best. By my estimation, the military coup stuff could be truncated to about four episodes without losing anything important, so I hope they continue to improve on the manga's pacing in adaptation as they did in the first two seasons.

The screening ended with Yuuki Kaji leading the crowd in the "dedicate your hearts!" salute for a photo-op. Even without getting to hear the new opening theme, I think fans left the screening extremely satisfied. Five years out from the Titan phenomenon, it's clear that the staff of this third season care deeply about not just translating the story from page to screen, but carefully curating the material to be as thrilling and engrossing as possible in animated form. Even with far fewer of its titular Titans running around in this cour, it'll be tough to beat Attack on Titan for excitement this summer.

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