First Blood; Impressions of Attack on Titan


Let’s talk about the first two episodes of Shingeki no Kyojin, a.k.a. Attack on Titan, a.k.a. Death Note guy and Jojo girl adapt the underground shonen hit about child soldiers taking on ravenous giants with steam-propelled climbing equipment. Don your Survey Corps uniform and jump from the buildings with us!

wendeego: A little background: once upon a time there was a young mangaka named Hajime Isayama, who came up with a crazy idea for a shonen manga involving child soldiers taking on ravenous giants with steam-propelled climbing equipment. He took this idea to manga publishing megalith/Death Star Shonen Jump (of One Piece, Naruto and Bl*cough*Toriko fame), but there he was advised that his story was too bleak to fit under the same umbrella as the relatively happy-go-lucky adventures of pirates and ninjas. In response, he took his concept to the doors of Bessatsu Shonen Magazine (known for publishing the infamous Flowers of Evil) who gave the go-ahead for publication. The result, titled Shingeki no Kyojin or Attack on Titan, was swiftly promoted by word of mouth until it surprisingly became one of the best-selling manga in Japan. Besides a movie project in the works that has already led its director to quit due to creative differences, this was the general state of affairs until Wit Studio, a subsection of Production I.G. who got their start on adapting the earlier Robotics;Notes, assembled a staff ranging from “Please Don’t Mention Guilty Crown” Tetsuro Araki to JoJo and Casshern Sins scriptwriter Yasuko Kobayashi in order to adapt Attack on Titan into an anime. The result speaks for itself.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure at first glance that Tetsuro Araki was the best choice for adapting Attack on Titan. He’d certainly proved himself capable of directing extraordinarily tense scenes, both action and otherwise, in Death Note, but it was clear from his work there and elsewhere that he had no capability for subtlety whatsoever. This tendency found it’s most perfect/horrible expression in the notable animated trainwreck Guilty Crown, a show whose incompetent writing was made even more unbearable than Araki’s tone-deaf emotional direction. More worrisome, as some have pointed out elsewhere, was a kind of emotional malaise that pervaded Guilty Crown’s latter half: the feeling that the director, and perhaps even the entire staff, truly despised the show’s cast to the degree that not a single character in the series was remotely sympathetic or even redeemable. This might work in a show like Death Note–a battle between amoral and intellectual gods–but not in an adaptation of Attack on Titan, where much of the tension comes from hoping against hope that the characters wouldn’t kick the bucket.

That said, there is one way in which Araki could be a good fit for the show: Titan is a series marked by sheer desperation, and desperation is Araki’s stock in trade. One of the key factors that separates the series from other shonen manga is that there are countless moments throughout the series where it is clear that there is no going back, that the only way for the characters to burst out to the other side is to jump into the lion’s mouth. Even in sub-par stuff like Guilty Crown, where the writing ranged from mediocre to painfully and/or hilariously bad, there are moments throughout where Araki engineers the same kind of response: oh my god, this character died, this character went insane, GET ON BOARD THE CRAZY TRAIN FOLKS!!! Whether Araki will be able to conjure the same atmosphere in a series with comparatively better writing is anyone’s guess, but with veteran writer Kobayashi at the wheel, I’d say that he has a pretty good chance.

Actually, I’d say that the anime of Attack on Titan has already improved upon the manga in a number of ways. It’s not so much that the manga’s art was initially rough (that fit the sheer danger of the setting at least) as it was that the manga’s chronology was initially all over the map, plunging through volumes of impossible action before coming to a dead stop and flashing years backwards in time. Not only did Kobayashi take the time to actually expand upon and improve the opening chapter of the series (most importantly: the scene where Armin’s guardian bid goodbye was probably cliche but still hit me hard) but I think her decision to adapt the series in its proper chronological order will only serve to strengthen it in the long run. Until then, I envy you all who have no idea what’s coming. Titan’s been an underground hit for a while, so I’m excited to see how the viewing public as a whole are going to take this series–especially considering that Titan is a story that refuses to pull its punches. One more great manga has been scratched off my list of stuff that needs to be adapted to the screen; now it’s The Lucifer and Biscuit Hammer‘s turn. Do it, Trigger! I BELIEVE IN YOU!!!

illegenes: It’s time for another Expert vs Newbie edition of anime, folks! This time we’re focusing on the dark and adventurous Attack on Titan, also known as Shingeki no Kyojin. Whereas Wendeego has kept up with the manga, I’ve only read the first chapter, so I’m going into these first two episodes with little to no information about the plot and characters whatsoever. Whatever goes on from here on out is going to be chock-full of plot twists and surprises, so I’ve heard! But will it match up to the plot twists and bizarreness of JoJo? I guess we’ll just have to sit tight and wait to find out…

Here are the things I know about Shingeki based on what we’ve been given: boy lives in a society that’s protected by three giant walls. Boy also has a really awesome girl…friend and a pretty happy family. Boy wants to become part of the army. All of this is literally shattered when said protected walls don’t do their job and get smashed to pieces by giants themselves, who then go out on a rampage and start eating people. Boy watches his mom die, and is forced to escape with his (girl)friend into the second inner circle of the city where after crying a bit (and verbally beating up his friend, only to get punched in the face by badass girlfriend herself) he then resolves to kill every giant and become the city’s greatest hero e v e r.

Well, that’s the gist of it, at least, and from that alone, Shingeki doesn’t seem gargantuan in depth nor atmosphere. But as Wendeego’s noted, the execution of it makes it seem 10x more dramatic and impactful than what it is. In most cases, that’d be a bad thing, but somehow, in the rare cases of works like this and JoJo, dramatics seem to really work. From the screams of the villagers as they get eaten, to the incessant blood spurts and exaggerated facial reactions – Shingeki really knows how to indulge itself in full blown terror and gore. I would even say that at times, the slight campiness to the whole thing is almost comical. And to be honest, the show could easily swing itself to the other direction and become something of a Psycho Pass where it tries so hard to be grimdark it comes off as cheesy and nonsensical.

But. Here’s the thing. Whereas works like Psycho Pass seemed intelligent and were interesting on paper (and a failure in actual direction), what keeps Shingeki at bay from turning into these kinds of titles are the rare moments of humanity we see enforced in the show. Take Episode 1 for example. We see countless people being devoured by the Titans, and while it’s not pretty, the scene lacks empathy or even sympathy. There is nothing about death and war we haven’t seen in anime before, and to be frank, I was almost a little bored throughout the chaos. But when Eren’s mother, in a brief moment when Eren has already escaped, breaks down and confesses to not wanting to die and wanting to stay with Eren, that was when I got interested. Shingeki separates itself from other titles because while we’re so accustomed to seeing how many people are optimistic or even willing to sacrifice themselves in battle, the show makes us realize that people really aren’t built that way. These villagers have been caged in a false sense of security for a 100 years, and you think they’re going to just let themselves be killed with a triumphant smile on their face? No. Shingeki is constantly telling us that humans, when cornered and faced with their greatest fear, can turn into monsters and tragic people themselves. They give into their impulses – selfishness, cruelty, greed – which is far more brutal and terrifying, I think, than giant monsters just eating people.

Eren thus, is the perfect protagonist to use in such a story. He’s almost like a darker, edgier mix of Sasuke and Naruto; he claims to want to save the world with this idealistic thought of killing all the giants, but in no way is he saintlike or optimistic. Rather, he uses his sorrow and turns it into hatred. Once again, we could say that this isn’t something new, and no, it isn’t! But whereas Naruto uses his optimistic nature in a world full of bloodshed and war and wins, there’s a definite feeling that Eren’s optimistic hatred isn’t going to last long. There are no doubt, many other kids who have gone through what he’s gone through (see: Mikasa) and their anger hasn’t gotten the better of them. Of course, I don’t think that Eren’s rage will dissipate, but I do think that he still has a very limited understanding of the Titans and how hard it is for them to be killed. At the same time, Eren’s enthusiasm and drive will definitely make him to be one of the more determined warriors in battle, as I’m sure he’s devoted his entire life now to fighting Titans and making sure they don’t take anything precious away from him again.

It all seems interesting and well set up, but there are still a few details that just don’t sit right with me. I’m sure Wendeego knows the answer to most of these, but in the meantime, here’s a list of burning questions that are sitting in the back of my head right now.

  • The anime so far seems to assume that giants are obnoxiously unintelligent beings, and yet, we see one Titan come up with the ability to use momentum and speed to break right through the Maria wall. If that doesn’t suggest that a.) Titans are more intelligent than we think they are and b.) there may be different types of Titans, then I don’t know what does.
  • The Titans also seem to only eat humans. Back in Episode 1, they ignore any livestock and go for humans first. Maybe it’s just because humans are tastier??? But what’s also weird is how they only eat one human at a time, rather than grabbing a bunch of them and eating them. I’m not sure if this is behavioral or something to do with genetics.
  • Are there any humans living outside the wall? How on earth did the humans manage to create such a tough and tall wall without getting noticed by Titans in the first place?
  • Eren dreams that he’s attacked by his father, and wakes up, with the key around his neck. So I’m assuming his father really did inject him with stuff and that he’s a little crazy.
  • What happened to technology, and why has humanity receded development in that area?
  • WHERE DID THESE TITANS EVEN COME FROM, did they just plop down on the Earth from a meteor, was it an apocalypse, genetic mutation, etc
  • How are the social classes created and thus separated by walls? What distinguishes an Inner Circle citizen from an Outer one (birth??)

Lastly, the OP and ED are pretty damn great. I mean, forget the whole JUMP UP IN THE AIR scene; that OP really gets you pumped for Titan massacre (depends on how you take ‘massacre’)! And that ED slowly drags you back into the tides of sadness and beauty that the show can have at times. (This of course, has nothing to do with my bias for Sayo Yamamoto who actually directed the ED.) Otherwise, so far Shingeki is shaping up to be a sturdy show, and I look forward to what the next 23 weeks bring us!

STAND TALL AND ACCEPT YOUR FATE!!! We’ll see you guys next week!


9 responses to “First Blood; Impressions of Attack on Titan

  1. “WHERE DID THESE TITANS EVEN COME FROM, did they just plop down on the Earth from a meteor, was it an apocalypse, genetic mutation, etc” – when I saw the Super Giant after the lightning, I was like… did Zeus poop him or sth and thus this thing was born?

  2. oh wow, i have a blast reading your analysis and background knowledge of this series. but ya i really liked this anime , love the way everything is being played out at the moment.

    I fear this anime might go the way of “Sword Art online” where as the anime progress, it loses its initial momentum and it become shitty as the anime goes on. i hope that never happen to Titans.

    • Thanks! I’m a fairly big fan of the manga so you can count on me to see the whole thing through (unless the adaptation is greatly inferior, but I’m doubting that at the moment.)

      Assuming that the anime equals or maybe even improves on the manga, I wouldn’t be too worried. I’m not a big fan of Sword Art Online (neither is Natasha, actually!) but from what I’ve read of the manga, Attack on Titan stays at least pretty good up until the most recent chapter! That said, if this show ends up recieving a Gecko Ending i.e. the first Fullmetal Alchemist or Soul Eater, all bets are off I think. Also there isn’t a scene in Attack on TItan where the villain drinks the heroine’s tears, so that’s already an improvement.

  3. @illegenes
    Only your first question among the bullet points is kind of answerable. The second one, some characters noticed this, but even then, they and we still don’t know why. The third one, is also kind of a spoiler(if the anime follows the manga) when it comes to what was used to built it, but even the people within it(and us readers) don’t know how it was built. The rest are still questions that even the people who read manga still asks and are hoping the answers would be revealed soon.

    • Oho! I hope the anime gets to answer these questions, because they really are interesting ones, and I think that if the show manages to answer them (even if it’s anime original material) it will definitely help to make Shingeki the anime as a more complete piece rather than an incomplete adaptation of the manga which is still ongoing. I’m staying far away from any spoilers of the sort so hopefully these reveals will be as exciting and delicious as Wendeego claims they are :)


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