Let’s talk about the third episode of the anime with the most remixed OP of the season, Attack on Titan! Because as everyone knows, that’s easily the best measure of a series’s quality.
wendeego: I think it’s significant that Attack on Titan is being released in the same season as ZEXCS’s controversial Flowers of Evil adaptation. There are more similarities between the two than you might think: both are arguably the most talked-about anime of this season, both twist typical conventions of storytelling into something much darker and more unusual, and both adaptations stemmed from manga published in the same magazine. But even more interesting is examining the two series through the lens of adaptation. Obviously, Attack on Titan is far more populist than Flowers of Evil. The former is a crowd-pleasing production by an up-and-coming studio, headed by the director of Death Note, while the latter is rotoscoped, probably low-budget, put together by a previously unremarkable studio with the director of Mushishi at the wheel. Both series, though, are interesting in how they take challenging material (Flowers’s heavy content, Titan’s bizarre early pacing) and dramatically rework it for their own purposes. For those paying attention, the director of Flowers was clear from the start that the anime would represent his personal take on the material, rather than the mangaka’s. What I did not expect (though maybe I should have) was that screenwriter Yasuko Kobayashi would do something similar in her work adapting Attack on Titan.
To be honest, the pacing of the manga is initially much faster than what has been released of the anime. The first chapter, in which the Colossal Titan knocks down the wall and Eren’s mother is eaten, is directly proceeded by a time jump that throws the cast into the series’s first big arc. Rather than tarry with training arcs or slice of life hijinks in the mold of something like Naruto, Titan dumps the reader into the deep end right from the get-go, with characters dying left and right and the specifics of the three-dimensional gear system being demonstrated through action rather than words. Titan is really at it’s strongest when the characters are in motion, hurtling into life-or-death situations from which they cannot turn back, so I’d have to say that this initially works in the series’s favor…but at the same time, I can’t deny that the pacing ultimately works against the series in its opening bits. The very strong first arc is followed directly by a time jump back to Eren and co.’s experience training, and compared to the life-and-death stakes of the earlier bits the transition feels like a major stumble. The author of Attack on Titan is pretty young and relatively inexperienced, and it’s clear from both the rough art and occasional storytelling mix-ups of the series’s first few volumes that he’s still learning the ropes.
Keeping this in mind, I think it’s fascinating that Kobayashi (and who knows, perhaps even the director Araki himself) chose to tell the story in chronological order rather than in the manga’s (pointlessly?) convoluted chronology. In a sense, it works against the series because following an extended version of the manga’s first chapter with a short training arc is relatively less interesting than the manga’s explosive action. On the other hand, I can’t help but think about the effects of taking the time to build these characters from the ground up rather than throwing them all at the viewers at once and attempting to deal with everything in medias res. This is only going to help the series in the long run, and while there are drawbacks to this approach – Eren’s attitude becomes increasingly grating the more time he is given – I honestly can’t wait for how the anime’s approach will re-contextualize much of the series’s first real arc.
More than anything, this reminds me of how director Seiji Mizushima and writer Shou Aikawa took the opening chapters of Fullmetal Alchemist and transformed them into something that was arguably a hell of a lot more compelling and emotional in anime form. The first few chapters of the manga were decent, of course, but the staff did a great job of taking the early material and shaping it into something much more consistent with the excellence which followed, transforming the one-shots that characterized FMA’s first four chapters into a coherent (and chronological) emotional arc for the Elric brothers. Maybe it’s too much to expect from director Tetsuro Araki, who’s shown himself to be a far less subtle orchestrator than Mizushima. But with Kobayashi visibly shaping the story of Titan into something far more consistent and even comprehensible, I can’t help but hope that the resulting alchemy will only serve to improve Titan. Here’s hoping!
illegenes: Okay girls and boys, it’s enough Titan massacre time. Shingeki leaves us with a bit of a breather as we take a break from the gruesome violence and head for the training parts – our most beloved and favorite arcs in a shounen series. We’re all familiar with the way they go, right? Kid gets introduced to a certain technique or skill set that is hard to master, fails at it for a while, learns to conquer his own self through guts and hard work, and wholah, he has successfully mastered the set skill and is ready to head into battle once more!
Unfortunately, Shingeki does seem to fall into this cliche with ease and it’s a bit disappointing to see that Eren is one of those magically gifted teenagers who may lack natural talent but has natural ~drive~ to overcome any struggle or defeat that awaits him. Sure, the machinery actually turns out to be broken, so yeah, Eren could have actually mastered the skill even before flopping over and bumping his head against the ground a couple of times. Point taken! But nevertheless, it still goes to show that Eren does have that ‘willpower’ mark that we see all too often with the main protagonist of any serious shounen genre, and to me, he still comes off as a Naruto/Sasuke mix rather than something new. Combine this with the fact that we had two episodes where shounen stereotypes are slightly sidelined by a darker and more grim change of events, and you have something like disappointment as Shingeki conforms to the stereotypical values. Luckily, this episode made up for its very predictable route with some excellent highlights. And by excellent highlights, I mean introducing some new characters while building up the ones we’ve seen before.
Potato Girl, Reiner, and the blonde haired boy known as Jean are three of the many new characters we are introduced to. Potato Girl simply likes to eat, which provides some much-needed humor in the show; she’s funny and I hope to see more of her. Jean on the other hand, is pretty aggravating, and not for the simple reason that he has the hots for Mikasa and that he thinks Eren is some wimp (granted, he is a wimp at times, so I agree with him on that). There’s something about a guy who prefers to stay inside the friendzone and to ‘take things easy’ aka slack off and not take his job as a soldier seriously that really bugs me, so for the time being, Jean is on my Negative list. Reiner seems to be goodhearted and has a strong will, but is driven by a sort of cowardice rather than a will to actually kill the Titans. The most interesting relationship however, is between Mikasa and Eren. It’s obvious that Eren likes to be full of himself, whereas Mikasa spends most of her time trying to help Eren in any way possible (though not always in his point of view), but one of the greater moments of this episode is at the end, when Eren successfully manages to balance himself on the Multiaxial Gear and boldly looks at Mikasa as if to say “I don’t need you babysitting me anymore!” when Mikasa takes it as a confirmation that Eren does need her – more now than ever. They share a peculiar but fascinating relationship that is somewhere between a sibling rivalry and platonic love, and I hope to see more of that.
Otherwise, I think what’s interesting is how this episode separates the wheat from the chaff. A lot of these characters are in for idealistic choices: fame, glory, status, etc. Many of them don’t know what they’re about to deal with – as the instructor himself said – and will have reality hit them brutally in the face. Of course, our main trio has witnessed a tragedy face to face, so they understand the consequences and the meaning of mortality and survival, but many others have naively waltzed into the army, and have very narrow-minded ideas about what they’re actually up against. On the other hand, some people are fully aware of how dangerous the Titans can be, but simply don’t care; they just want to survive. We thus have a pretty large group of kids who are all over the morality spectrum, so I look forward to seeing how they’ll really act together when the battles begin – a scene that no doubt, is going to happen Because as I see it, killing a Titan cannot be accomplished by one person alone. There needs to be a certain amount of teamwork involved, and while the thought of children with such different reasonings and motivations coming together to bring down a Titan seems a bit far off, it makes things all the more interesting in the future, because these soldiers have to work together, whether they like it or not.
Will Shingeki cave in to adagial shounen storytelling again in regards to the future teamwork arc though? I don’t think so – there’s this continuing sense of bleakness rather than optimism. I have the feeling that anyone – everyone – is available to be killed (and no, it’s not just my Game of Thrones senses tingling) and that there are going to be brutal sacrifices later on. With that in mind, I think the future teamwork that’s needed will have a drive of desperateness to it. Working alone is not an option here, and yet everyone seems to act as if this battle is more of an individual skill test rather than one of drive, wits, and synergy; an illusion that will shatter at any rate. This isn’t going to be easy for anyone, least of all Eren, who is so determined to become his own strength rather than relying on others. In time, I know these characters are going to be able to fight together and deal some real damage, but the question still stands: how many people will have to sacrifice themselves before this knowledge and understanding gets knocked into these kids’ heads?
The contest of savagery, it seems, has only just begun. And so has Shingeki, by the looks of it. I’m eagerly anticipating what’s to come – whether it be disastrous or victorious!