NOTE: THIS SATURDAY AM MINI-REVIEW is republished from MyFutprint.com Oct. 2013.
So I just finished the 1st season of Attack on Titans (on HULU) and I'm still thinking about the experience!
There is no denying that the series was THE highlight of the GEEK scene for 2013! It was right alongside the post-Avengers' movie world of Iron Man 3 (w/ Marvel's migration to TV); WB's announcement of Batman and Superman together and the TV thrills of Game of Thrones and Legend of Korra. Hell, the hype for the last few episodes threatened to cause a day or two pull of bursting, nearly pent-up hysteria for the juggernaut that is GTA 5! For the anime world, nothing could top Japan's first legitimate entry into the world of mainstream pop culture phenomenon.
MyFutprint reviewed Attack on Titan's first few episodes and raved that, unlike the typical anime of the last 2 decades, nothing here felt rehearsed or cheesy. This was proper DRAMA where the characters who did take a pause and ponder "why do we fight" did so more of legitimate fear and hopelessness than the normal malformed cartoon philosophy.
OUR REVIEW OF THE FIRST EPISODE OF ATTACK ON TITAN WAS A SOLID 10 OUT 10!
The season has now ended and no one is 100% sure if (or when) it will get renewed for new episodes (more on that below) but now is a moment to review the season as a whole. and given MyFutprint's major announcements and digital comics projects launching this Fall--it was a perfect time to reflect on the whole experience. I found myself excited during many moments of the show but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't screaming internally at times around moments that just left me incredulous. I did the same thing with Breaking Bad as well but honestly, that's a masterpiece of TV writing and Attack on Titan is NOWHERE near that. That said, the series is so complex and full of emotions for me viewing it than I felt I had to go the simple route of GOOD, BAD and WTF.
Attack on Titan's first episode is terrific and does EVERYTHING RIGHT. A fascinating new world with hints to larger mysteries (where did the walls come from?); incredible technology (the 3D maneuvering pack) and horrific tension (death is a theme) are presented with just the right amount of respect and attention to detail. Hell, even the opening and ending songs (both of them as they switch around episode 15 or so) are fantastic!!
AT THE HEART OF THIS SHOW, JUST LIKE THE ZOMBIE OF THE WALKING DEAD, ARE THE TITANS THEMSELVES.
They are a force to be reckoned with and while it is fascinating to see them do their thing--the show (and manga before it) do a great job of not getting enamored by them hence why they look so odd. These mostly lumbering, smiling and unusually bizarre looking (their are some ugly ones but I found them most disturbing when they just appeared normal) giants are beacons of death. Every time they appear, the show perfectly apes the tension as we know they are faster, wilier and more unique (thanks to Variant versions of Titans that can jump, crawl) than we are initially led to believe.
It would have been TOO EASY for the show to rely on traditional anime tropes and within a handful of episodes watch our heroes (the humans) super slo-mo their attacks and relentlessly slaughter these giant beasts (all while landing stylishly and sprouting some horrible dialogue) but the show has a logic and restraint that is maintained with patient conviction. Like the best of zombie fiction from Night of the Living Dead to the Walking Dead, Attack on Titan never allows us to believe that defeating the Titans will be a simple matter. It's not. Even the wonderfully shy, brutal Mikasa Ackerment (another positive in that she is one of the few anime characters who is tough and not a half dressed ecchi stereotype) struggles to take down more than a few Titans at once. There is no such thing as an easy fix as we learn from the 2nd and 3rd episode that just mastering the 3D maneuvering device is harder than it looks and most people fail to do it (hence why there are not millions of humans cutting down titans). And patience is a great word here because again --the hints at things are laid bare and made interesting precisely because the story refuses to give us those details now. For example--we know there is a powerful religious sect who worships the walls but who leads them and why do they believe these mysterious walls are sacred? We get some hints by series end but in no way did trying to squeeze in that information hurt the enjoyment of the show.
The lame High School of the Dead---this ain't!!
Furthermore, even when the heroes uncover a power of their own (the ability to use a TITAN to fight other Titans)--the show allows many episodes to suggest that this power is A. Not understood and B. not easily managed and when fighting the variant Titans--this leads to some of the shows nastier and unforgettable moments of dread.
The BEST part though is that, by season's end, we are given some pretty intriguing ideas of who the Titans are. Whereas at first I assumed they or the humans were visitors to each other's planet--the season ending plot-line absolutely hints at the idea that these things may not be as alien as it seemed.
The first season effectively had three stand out moments to me:
I. The death of Eren's mother -- perfection. (episode 1)
II. The first battle and slaughter of our POV characters (episodes 5-13)
III. The Female Titan/ Sabotage (episodes 17-25)
Now, I could bring up the fact that Attack on Titan has yet to have a series order, date or anything of note for Season 2. That's pretty lame in this world we live in now. Just throw out a 2015 date, new piece of art and be done with it. But alas, as bad as that is--I can understand their struggle to determine best actions regarding a hit of this size. But--no, there are other bad things worth discussing.
Again, I find it disturbing that anime has devolved more and more into shows that take place in places other than Japan and in time periods that are not Feudal Japan and yet feature only Asian people who look Caucasian and actual Caucasians. This show is seen around the world and not in any context are we given a hint that any black, brown and or latin people exist. This is clearly an artistic plot point (I hope) but given the success of American properties like Marvel and/or Walking Dead in global circles--it just is becoming more and more jarring to see creators seemingly create fantasy worlds that are more unique in the idea that only white and Japanese (no Korean, Vietnamese nor Chinese names are heard) people would exist than whether or not giant humanoid creatures would roam the earth eating humans. Whereas the walls spark mystery--this lack of diversity (same thing with Naruto) and the glaring misstep of not even mentioning other races or the question of what happened with the whole of humanity (maybe they never existed) just seems too odd to not make mention of.
IT'S TELLING THAT WHEN I SPOKE TO A RELATIVE ABOUT THE SHOW AND THEY SAID FLATLY, "I CAN BUY THE IDEA OF TITANS MORE THAN I CAN THE (APPARENT) LACK OF ANY ETHNIC DIVERSITY. "
The story moved so strongly, as mentioned in the Good section, that the bad things are relatively minor. For example, Eren's grating V.A. got on my nerves as he went into one of his frequent monologues but then again, he seemed to realistically get on the other Recon team members' nerves as well. Jean quickly became a fave character of mine for his voiced opposition to Eren's whiny tone. This was a rare moment of genuine characterization which, I often lament in anime as the storytelling falls into truly juvenile depictions of people. Likewise, the seemingly devoted Mikasa Ackerman while devastatingly brutal in her modes of attack--came across a bit too one dimensional in scenes that required range. Also, the rare moment of anime comic relief sprinkled in here and there which just seemed out of place in what is such a serious show. Mikasa blushing when asked about her infatuation with Eren and the character (her name escapes me) who loves bread more than anything and literally leaps like a demon at the site of food--both just came across as lame anime fan service for an audience who are more at home with magical girl stories then a legitimate bit of survival horror.
Again, American TV right now is killing it with drama and good acting and excellent scripts, including our animated shows ala Legend of Korra, so to criticize the over the top acting and dramatic script reads of any anime, including Attack on Titan, seems more heavy handed than is needed.
And then there is Levy.
Levy and Erwin, to be exact.
I still cannot make up my mind, days later, about these two characters who, for me, mark some of the worst moments of the entire show. Remember when I spoke about the slo mo deaths, ridiculously over the top cool landing poses and the ridiculous dialogue---these two get the hat tricks of sign offs for these very tired anime cliches. They are the typical anime tropes and featured some of the worst dialogue that I've ever read/ seen in my life. Furthermore, their behavior and mannerisms are some of the most ridiculous characterizations that I have ever witnessed.
Erwin for his part is used sparingly but is so super serious that when the worst happens--and a Titan attack occurring in the main city center (episode 25) --his remarks run from inane "I will sacrifice innocents if it means we have a chance!" to"Kill me now---you will be in charge but keep the attack happening". We get it! He's the only military official who gets that you have to be willing to think outside of the box if you are going to beat the Titans. But sacrificing innocents--even if it's an accident--and having no remorse or humanity--just seems ridiculous. In another Hollywood series or Western animated show --that character and his dialogue would have hinted at a far richer character portrayal but as if often the case with anime--the characters come off so one-note that it just destroys the fantasy concepts (which anime handle better than anyone) by reducing the more dramatic moments to silliness.
The worst though is Levy. A super awesome Recon Scout who can slaughter Titans fairly easily and land in the coolest manner personifies most of the things that have not evolved with anime. If Erwin is the adroit commander who does 'whatever it takes'--Levy is the anime cool loner type who 'doesn't need anyone'. Levy has some very stilted dialogue from the minute we meet him culminating in a ridiculous android like series of expressions when Eren is debating whether to use the human's one lone power to fight back against a rampaging female Titan. Rather than saying Yes or No--we get some of the worst dialogue in the series (which seems drawn out just to drawn out the tension) before he actually says "Sometimes I don't know myself"
Wow. Considering these works are subtitled--I'd hate to think that in the age of digital content where we no longer have to suffer through the American anime company 'filter' (i.e. Tx accents; cowabunga style characterizations) means that we are stuck with awful dialogue that is poorly translated (or worse--just not cleaned up for a global audience at all). Seriously, no one could have punched this up a bit?
If that however, is Levy's worst trait (i.e. the show's slide into lame anime tropes) then the unforgivable sin are hopelessly outdated cultural anachronisms that wouldn't even play in Japan's more series TV/Movie industry much less play in anything from the west today.
LEVY, IN AN EFFORT TO CONVINCE A TRIBUNAL THAT EREN SHOULD BE SPARED, DECIDES TO NEARLY BEAT HIM TO DEATH--TO---PROVE A POINT??
It's never explained with any conviction. Levy is not an officer of standing to the council that he would just walk up during a hearing and begin beating someone. This trend along with overly-sexualized teenage females characters has to be passe even in the Otaku culture by now. It's one thing for teenage characters to die or act irrational especially in series where the threat of extinction hangs in the balance but this is some gaudy mess that some 30 years after I remember seeing Camille punched by an adult in the first episode of Gundam Zeta--still happening.
I screamed at the TV when Walt told lie after lie on Breaking Bad and potentially threatened his innocent family on more than one occasion but here I just screamed at the anime industry for continuing to employ these tired cliches.
Who does this even speak to? Violent opposition to teenage character who voice dissent? IMO this was one of the worst moments of the show and came close to me ending it. It hurt in particular because
I WANT THIS SHOW TO BE AN EXAMPLE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD OF ANIME. I WANT THIS ART FORM TO HAVE A MOMENT THAT IS LEGITIMATELY STELLAR LIKE MARVEL IS HAVING OR HOW GAME OF THRONES IS DOING.
The entire season of Attack on Titan had me fearing that we would see one horrible anime trope after another and while there are a few that expose how poorly anime is faring as an art form (especially now that Hollywood can produce such impressive SFX on TV budgets) the show holds up for the most part--ending with an incredible finale.
IS ATTACK ON TITAN THE MASTERPIECE I ASSUMED FROM THE FIRST EPISODE? NOT EVEN CLOSE.
But it is original, entertaining and during 3 specific arcs it comes the nearest for an anime to achieving the level of addiction that most people around the world have embraced with things like Breaking Bad, Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. I highly recommend Bing-watching this and found the experience on Hulu to be perfect. I'm old so commercials actually amped the excitement for me during the major action beats.
I GIVE THE ATTACK ON TITAN SEASON ONE -- 7 STARS OUT OF TEN.
Will it be back? Considering the manga has TWO ongoing spinoffs in Japan, a light novel series, upcoming videogame adaptations and is being routinely discussed in Japanese pop cultural news programs then I would say --- LEVY BEATS YOUR ASS YES!!
Frederick L. Jones is the Publisher of Saturday AM, Founder of MyFutprint and the vigilante known as "OldBlackman"