Attack on Titan – Anime Review
(Available on Hulu, Subtitled
Note – I reviewed the first 12 episodes of this series on Feb 3, 2014. Some of the things I say here may reference what I said there. Funny how that works. This review will be mainly for the remaining 13 episodes, but will try to sum it all up in a tidy package (note to self: remove tidy from vocabulary).
Spoiler Warning – Maybe you haven’t seen this yet and are waiting with baited breath for my pronouncement on its worthiness and entertainment value. How wise of you. But, be warned, in my review I am probably going to say some things about the characters, plot, or setting that you would rather not know about until you see it for yourself. If so, then skip to the end of this review where it says “Final Verdict”. You will be missing out on my stunning insights, careful contexting of how this fits into dystopian fiction history, and a charming little anecdote about the time we fed the neighbor’s aggressive Mastiff laxative laced burnt hamburgers. Oh, yes, those were the days. Too bad about the neighbor’s drywall though. Now, if you have seen this show and want to read yet another fawning review about how brave this was, or how innovative this was, or how this was a brilliant outward expression of the sense of hopelessness felt by many of the young people of today, then you might want to move along to some fanboy site, ‘cause I’m pissed I wasted my time watching this whole series.
Summary – (Lifted from the previous review, feel free to skip if you already read it. Also, if you did, thanks.) “Attack on Titan” is set on an earth-like world (it might be Earth) where large carnivorous creatures called Titans have caused what is left of the human race to live behind a series of walls. The Titans are huge dumb naked humanoids without digestive systems or genitalia who seem to exist solely to eat people. This peace, humans in there concentric circles of safety and Titans on the outside, held for one-hundred years. Then a huge Titan appeared and breached the wall and the smaller Titans poured in like senior citizens at an Old Country Buffet. The story follows three survivors of the attack as they join the military and seek to beat back the Titans.
The Good – In my previous review I said there were three good points
- The concept of humanity trapped behind walls by something they don’t understand,
- Strong, stylized, if a bit simplistic animation,
- the steampunky combat system that shoots out lines and then retracts them to Spiderman around the city.
I still think that last two are valid. I will add that this show didn’t do a bad job of handling a large, large cast of secondary characters. They all looked, acted, and sounded like individuals with logical, independent reasons for who they were and what they did. That doesn’t always happen in Anime.
The Bad – In the previous review I said I was liking it through episode six, and was getting frustrated by episode 12. The show was plagued by characters endlessly whining about their conflicts, taking the pace from spirited, to horse-and-buggy, then right to glacial (we still have glaciers, right? I can still use that reference? If not, look it up on Wikipedia). That problem not only persisted, but really became the whole show. The character focus loosened up a bit and several background characters were brought to the front of the stage. There they stood, took up space, and added nothing. We had the stoic young commander, the hot shot lone wolf captain, and several tortured yet doing their duty soldiers become part of the narrative without making it better. This “nothing happens but we stand around talking about what isn’t happening” is an anime problem. Naruto – Check, One-Piece – Check, it’s an epidemic. Attack on Titan does not quite offend like those two other shows, but it clearly didn’t get the free shot at the clinic when it should have.
Another fault is with logic. I bitched before that the only people left on earth were the stupidest ones because anybody could have built better defenses than they did. Well, that now applies to their military. Worst-Military-Ever. In the second half of the series they take an expedition outside the walls. The young stoic commander has devised a new scouting “formation” that will allow them to avoid the Titans and get to their goal where previous expeditions were decimated. The formation relies on a wide formation aided by signal flare guns. Different color flares have different meanings. This way they hope to avoid the Titans. We get to see the diagram of the formation maybe one hundred times and it never makes sense and clearly will not work. Then it appears that there might be a secret mission to lure a special female Titan into an area where it could be trapped, but only the commander and a few others knew about it. Rather than devising a good plan to do that, they come up with a formation sure to sacrifice as many scouts as possible. Think also, that their main mode of fighting, the 3-D devises, are suited to city fighting or maybe dense forest work, but they are travelling outside the walls across largely open plains. Did you think that maybe you should come up with some alternate form of defense? Nope. Did you think that given you don’t have a decent defense that maybe splitting your forces into smaller groups of two or three was a bad idea? Nope. Did you at least let the scouts get rid of the heavy 3-D devises so the horses would have a chance to out run the Titans? Nope, why should we, we are great 3-D fighters! Yeah there are other problems – no chain of command structure, no roles/responsibilities, and no concept of logistical support. This crew is the equivalent of a group of drunk teenagers going to party in the old spooky abandoned house in an ‘80s slasher film. Clueless and soon to be dead.
Finally, there is no payoff on any of the concepts, and this is what really pisses me off. There were interesting concepts with great promise, but we are all left hanging. Where do the Titans come from? How do they live? What was in Eren’s cellar that was so important to his father? What did Eren’s father inject him with? How did the female Titan come to be? Why did she work with the Titans?…. there is an endless list of interesting questions and concepts begging to be answered or explored that are just left on the ground like ripe tomatoes. Left to rot, never to reach their full potential when coupled with some fresh mozzarella and aged balsamic. The plight of the tomatoes is a tragedy, but the plight of all these really cool plot points is a freaking crime against the narrative gods.
The Other – Look out there is an obsession with gore and bodily fluids that someone really needs to see a specialist about. There is also the obsession with prattling on about one’s inner issues without ever coming to a conclusion or even trying to come to a resolution. It is like reading a self-help book that leaves out the help part.
After I finished the series I sought out other points of view. This was a fairly highly regarded title from last year after all. CrunchyRoll was chock full of five star reviews and praised the plot. Funimation has glowing review after review. Anime News Network gave it an A-, saying you could “overlook its flaws and revel in its sheer overwhelming entertainment value”. I have no idea how anyone could say any of that about this huge steaming pile of plotless, over-emoting, stupid, and illogical refuse. This is not ground breaking, or deep. It is a couple of striking visual images dancing around several malnourished concepts, strung together by lazy storytelling.
Final Verdict – The best way to judge a work is to ask yourself if the artist does something else, will I be interested? Here the answer is no. A resounding no. If I ever see something that says “from the creators of Attack On Titan” I will not watch it. I might take out a billboard in LA warning others of its presence. I might write to my senators asking them to ban its importation. I may go so far as to open a portal to another world letting Kaiju roam the ocean in hopes that they will find their way to the studios and stop this from happening again. One and a half stars.
Explanation of Stars –
One Star – was not worth watching, and I wonder why I did and how I got through it
Two Stars – Had significant flaws that interfered with the entertainment. I finished it but wish I could get that time back.
Three Stars – I finished and don’t regret the time I spent. It didn’t fail on any account but it probably didn’t shine either. I might be interested in something else, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anybody.
Four Stars – This is good with minor flaws that border on nitpicking, if they are really flaws at all. I eagerly look forward to more work.
Five Stars – A four star work that really moved me emotionally, made me think in a different way, or introduced me to concepts I had never before dreamed of. Something I am still thinking about weeks later, in a good way.