Reviewby Theron Martin, May 20th 2013
Attack on Titan
Far into the future, the remnants of humanity have gathered within concentric rings of immense walls spread over hundreds of kilometers. The walls safeguard humans against titans, giant humanoids who seem to exist for no other purpose than to eat humans, but to angry young Eren the walls feel more like a fence which contains human livestock. For that reason he ardently seeks to join the Survey Corps, a troop of specially-trained soldiers who use special Three Dimensional Maneuvering Gear to scout outside the walls and carry the fight to Titans. That they often meet with deadly failure doesn't matter to Eren, much to the concern of close friend/adopted sister Mikasa and new friend Armin, who also dreams of exploring outside the walls but has less bravado. Still, their world inside the walls is a relatively peaceful one, as it has been for a century, until the day that something new suddenly appears: a skinless titan vastly bigger and apparently more intelligent than the others, big enough to peek over the 50 m high walls and kick open an external breach at the trio's home town by the outer wall. As the titans flood in and Eren's world goes to hell, he vows to find a way to fight back, which leads him and his companions to eventually become soldiers. But fighting back against the titans is not a prospect that is widely-dreaded for nothing, and the mystery about what, exactly, Eren's missing father has been up to still lingers.
Based on a highly successful manga (its first six volumes have topped the 1 million sales mark in Japan as of the time of this writing), the anime version of Attack on Titan was one of the most highly-anticipated new series of the Spring 2013 season, and through its first six episodes it has fully lived up to its expectations. It overcomes its flaws and some production issues (animation was not complete for the earliest TV broadcasts of some episodes) to offer a visceral and fantastically intense action/horror story which is well-capable of thrilling action fans and those who favor the more graphic side of anime.
The premise is merely a mixing of classic stories about man-eating giants with the time-tested concept of a last bastion of humanity surrounded by monsters. To this point little has been revealed about the nature of the eponymous titans or what their true raison d'etre might be, but given that society and technology has largely (but apparently not entirely!) degraded back to pre-Industrial Revolution standards, a loss or close control of history and knowledge about how the titans originated is plausible enough. And at this point not having a motive or explanation for their existence is just fine, as they function perfectly well as raw movie monsters. They are surprisingly effective, too, given that most look like huge, slightly bloated examples of ordinary humans who shuffle around like zombies, but something about their toothy, mindless grins as they hone in on prey is tremendously disturbing and the dramatic bursts of movement made by the ones labeled as Aberrants and scenes where they swallow people (sometimes already dead, sometimes not) are suitably horrifying. The mysterious appearances of the skinless and armored titans are equally effective for shaking up the norm and reminding the humans that even what they think they know about titans is not necessarily always accurate.
The basic story progression is more mundane and largely predictable. The first two episodes, which introduce the central characters and set the stage for the rest of the series, are a typical story about an angry young hero lamenting complacency, being proven right, and suffering great loss as a result, while also utterly failing to notice that the childhood friend/adopted sister probably has feelings for him. The second two episodes time-skip a bit to the point where Eren, Mikasa, and Armin enter and progress through their military training academy, and the third pair detail the first part of the Battle of Trost – where Eren gets to put all of his bold statements into action – and show a flashback which establishes why Mikasa's ties to Eren are so steadfast. Along the way it develops little depth to any of its cast (Eren has hardly any emotion beyond anger, for instance), giving the impression that most of the cast is expendable. Punctuating this ordinary progression and pedestrian character development are occasional bursts of highly-charged content, such as a disturbing scene where Eren's mother gets eaten, but what really shakes up the series is a stunning plot twist at the end of episode 5, one which leaves viewers wondering how the story is going to write itself out of that development. Do not expect an answer from episode 6, which spends much of its time with a rather important flashback that has its own shock value.
The lead artistic and animation effort comes from Wit Studio, a new company formed by Production I.G. producers and mostly owned by Production I.G.'s holding company. The visual style favors thick lines, earth tone color schemes, and backgrounds heavily influenced by late Reformation period European architecture – aside from the fantastically huge walls, of course. Character designs are distinctive and well-designed without looking outlandish, including a subtle difference in Mikasa's skin shading and eye design which reflects that she is one of the rare remaining humans with distinct Asian blood. The designs of the super-titans also stand out, though all of the titans apply a certain grotesquely monstrous twist on ordinary humanity. The animation quality is highly irregular, with some scenes using stills or very limited animation but certain feature scenes being beautifully-fluid examples of dramatic actions, with scenes of soldiers using the 3D Maneuvering Gear to move through landscapes or cityscapes giving an effect not unlike Spider-Man in the Hollywood Spider-Man movies. (Hence the animation grade below should be considered an average rather than a consistent value.) It can also get very graphic, though it usually shies away from showing the absolute worst.
The sound of the series is no less strong and dramatic than its visuals and action content. Gloriously intense opener “Guren no Yumiya” will stand as one of the year's best, and gentler, rock-themed closer “"Utsukushiki Zankoku na Sekai" is also a good fit. In between it favors harsh, heavy music in action sequences and more moody background numbers elsewhere. Japanese vocal work is competent but unexceptional.
Some series work around their flaws through quality execution or taking fresh twists on stale concepts. Attack on Titan overcomes them with brute force, much like its featured skinless super-titan overcomes human walls. The result is an effort whose peaks are so strong that viewers can easily ignore its weaker content.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Opener, intensity, excellent action scenes, effectively horrifying elements.
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