Bolt from the Blue; Attack on Titan Episode 4

Shingeki_no_Kyojin_-_04_[36EF8BD0]_Apr 30, 2013 11.20.16 AM

Oooh boy, looks like shit is getting real next episode! Meanwhile: the training blues, interspersed with curbstomping, whether or not Sasha farted and Eren actually learning something. Clearly Attack on Titan has come a long way.

wendeego: I don’t have a grand overarching thesis like I had the past two weeks, so I thought that instead I would point out a couple of elements that I found interesting about this episode, organized in roughly chronological order. Let’s take a look!

1. Titan’s animation has been pretty shaky throughout, ranging from excellent to slapdash across the past three episodes or so. This episode in particular may have had the poorest animation of the series thus far, which is a little unfortunate considering that this was the first time that we really get to see the 3-dimensional gear in action. It’s easy to forget at times that Titan is more a Wit Studio gig than a Production I.G. production, and an unproven property at that! That said, the series at least has the energy and verve to carry itself past a barrage of still-frames and close-ups into something that’s genuinely pretty neat. One thing that I do like about this adaptation thus far is the emphasis on showing rather than telling when it comes to technology and titan-slaying. It would be easy to have a lecture right-off stating “these are the Titan’s weaknesses, this is how you are supposed to fight them! Go do that!” Instead, the series makes it pretty clear through implication in the training exercises exactly how Titans are best defeated using the gear, without technobabble to weigh things down. I’m also a pretty big fan of how the series uses the eyecatches to convey information usually found at the back of the manga volumes – pretty neat, and useful too!

2. I’m pretty impressed with how well Titan’s been able to flesh out its (admittedly large) cast of characters thus far. Not all of them are particularly memorable at first glance, but the writers take care to give each and every character at least one or two interesting or important scenes. Again, Titan is at its best when the characters are in motion and there’s very little of that here. That said, taking time to lay a proper foundation should start paying dividends as early as the next episode, where if I remember correctly the series leaps into its first big arc. I also think it’s worth commenting on how in general Titan treats its female characters way better than the majority of shonen manga. There isn’t really the diversity you see in stuff like Fullmetal Alchemist or even Hunter x Hunter, but I still find it pretty refreshing how Titan treats its cast of male and female soldiers  pretty much equally. Even Sasha, who could easily be dismissed as a comic relief character without real motivation or ability, performs a quick save at the end of this episode by impaling a falling soldier’s leg with her climbing gear and saving him from sudden death. Hidden depths, people!

3. Worth acknowledging: Eren, our typical shonen lead driven more by stubbornness than anything else, actually learns something this episode. He’s spent the series thus far blinkered by his own ideals, putting all of his effort into each and every activity without even considering how much doing so actually benefits him. What he realizes in this episode, though, is that not every person in the military is bound by the same obsessive idealism as he is. The fact that the top ten scorers on the test are given a chance at policing the inner circle rather than the walls of the great city hint at an underlying corruption festering in Eren’s homeland that he up to this moment probably hasn’t even considered. If anything, taking the straight path to success leads to increased comfort and security; if Eren is to pursue something actually meaningful, the only way is to deviate from the military hierarchy and commit to something totally out there. Keep this in mind, it’s already clear this early in the series that if humanity is to come out from under the thumb of the Titans and win back their freedom, they have to break down walls, whether they be sociological or physical.

It’s also worth observing the effect Eren’s words have on the people closest to him. Eren’s not the most interesting or sympathetic protagonist, he verges dangerously close to shonen cliche at times with his proclamations of rage at the Titans and general naivete, but it’s clear from this episode that his words have already played a big role in influencing his friends and peers into stepping out of their respective comfort zones. He’s not the smartest, the most capable or even the most interesting of the cast thus far, but his impact on the rest of the cast has already been fairly seismic.

4. Tetsuro Araki as a director is totally incapable of subtlety, Titan is not a subtle manga, but that moment at the end of episode 4 where the Colossal Titan suddenly appears out of nowhere was absolutely perfect. It’s a moment that’s almost comic until you realize exactly what it implies in both the current moment and the coming days: now that a hole’s been busted in the wall, these kids you’ve come to know over the past few episodes are going to have to put their lives on the line whether they want to or not. Suddenly that cushy job protecting the inner circle of the city doesn’t look quite as cushy as it once did. As for the immediate, human consequences of the oncoming Titan invasion and what it means for our protagonists…we’ll have to wait and see until next time, won’t we?

illegenes: I’m going to kind of put my thoughts out in a similar format, ‘answering’ the topics that wendeego has covered. Needless to say, this episode was pretty jam packed with characterization, comedy, and drama all at the same time without feeling too heavy. With that in mind, let’s jump to what this week’s installment had to offer us!

1.  I think it’s worth noticing that Wit Studio hasn’t actually finished Attack on Titan yet. Whereas it’s usual to have an anime fully created before it airs, there are times when production is still going on when the show is airing, and Attack on Titan is such an example. So it’s understandable that the quality will be irregular until the production team can meet solid expectations. And that’s fine! I don’t have any qualms with minor drops in quality, as long as they aren’t detrimental to the soul and purpose of the story. So far, Attack on Titan has managed to be aesthetically pleasing and informative – like Wendeego said, the little eyecatches are really great and are properly used to cover or explore tactics and general knowledge that the show can’t go into because it’s pressed for time. I’m personally still confused however, as to how the Titans will be defeated. Wendeego might already know the juicy bits, but something that slightly bothered me were, once again, details that are just far too convenient to be called as plot holes. For example, why are Titans vulnerable at the neck? How did that Giant Titan just pop out of nowhere??? These questions are piling up, and while Attack on Titan is no Shinsekai Yori, I would like to have the comfort of knowing that eventually these questions are going to be answered (Wendeego tells me yes, but I stil remain….suspicious.)

2.  I am glad that the show has decided to spend these two episodes to take a look at some of the characters we’ll probably be getting used to over the next couple of weeks. But to emphasize a point Wendeego makes: female character treatment. Shounen series are hardly the ones to really give proper coverage and treatment to female characters, but so far, Attack on Titan seems to be doing a good job of making sure that girls aren’t just the damsels in distress and can actually play a decisive role in battle. My wish that Potato Girl would be something less of a comedic stunt and an actual character was granted this week! Annie is pretty fucking badass and won’t take your shit! Mikasa’s role continues to be as pivotal as ever as she serves as both a foil and support to Eren’s arc, which is really interesting. I hope to see more of this soon. But that said, I do with Attack on Titan would emphasize that you don’t have to be a soldier to be interesting. Much like Winry’s important presence in Fullmetal Alchemist, I would enjoy seeing a spectrum of empowered women who don’t necessarily physically fight to be awesome. As Mikasa said herself – you don’t need to be a soldier to contribute to battle.

3. Oh, Eren. I’m still in the process of warming up to him, and I can’t say I necessarily like him – I do wish the show would focus more on how his anger shapes him as a human being rather than trying to display the fact that he’s a born and bred leader, managing to overcome his faults with ~resolve~. It is nice to see his butt being whooped every now and then, whether it be through gear or combat training, and I am glad that he was able to learn something and most importantly, rise to the challenge of facing the Titans more than anyone else at the end. It’s tiring to see protagonists do all the talking and never actually doing anything and changing, but Eren seems to developing into a decent protagonist, so for the time being, I’m satisfied.

4. It’s great that we’re entering what’s probably the start of an intense battle! It’s not that I don’t enjoy training arcs, don’t get me wrong – in fact, I’m a huge fan of them, as they tend to be the center of a lot of character development and interaction. Take Hunter x Hunter‘s Greed Island arc, for example. I know plenty of people who dislike the arc because it’s so positive in outlook and isn’t as action-packed as everyone would like, but to make up for that, it really paves the way for the Chimera Ant Arc and develops Gon and Killua’s relationship really well. Likewise, Attack on Titan‘s ‘training arc’ has introduced us to our main players in battle while giving some insight into Eren and his relationship with Mikasa.  There’s also the really interesting discussion about how flawed the soldier system is and how it’s used to attain comforts in society rather than actually becoming a soldier and fighting the battle (something I’d like to be expanded on with political maneuvering and all). But whereas Hunter x Hunter has an infinite amount of episodes, Attack on Titan only has 25. So it makes sense then, that we have a big timeskip, and that our Titans are back to conquer the city. I’d like to know why they decided to come back five years later (to add to the list of really big questions that are bothering me) but hey! Let’s enjoy the human snacking while we can.

All in all, I think what’s important is this. Attack on Titan separates itself from traditional shounen manga because there’s a constant sense that everyone is doomed. Lives can be easily cast away, and we’re constantly reminded that we are fish trapped in a wall. Wendeego states that these people have to ‘free’ themselves both psychologically and socially while fighting the Titans. I would argue that the Wall in this show stands for a different reasons. We’ve often seen how shounen protagonists can unburden themselves and use their (continuously) untapped potential to the max, almost like a deus ex machina. Here, in the world of Titan, there is no such option. The kids are bound by their gear. They are trapped by high walls of realistic proportions. There are simply some walls you cannot break because you’re a human. And that’s why humans are fragile and can easily die. It’s an incredibly nihilistic perspective, I agree, but it also sets up the atmosphere that these contributions and fights are all worth something of value. As Eren said himself – countless of humans have died, but in doing so, they have given large amounts of tactical knowledge that can be used to better fight the Titans. So while death looms in every corner, every brick of the wall, and every Titan’s teeth, it makes that one fight, that one last stand all the more important. Humans cannot break their walls. But they can use those walls to climb to greater heights, and I think that’s the best message that Titan sends in the end.

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14 responses to “Bolt from the Blue; Attack on Titan Episode 4

  1. Pingback: Spring 2013 Update: Space Bros, LN Adaptations, Crime Edge, Nyaruko-san, and Horizon! | Chromatic Aberration Everywhere·

  2. Just nitpicking, but I’m pretty sure Sasha was pretty talented. As noted in the eyecatches, she was in the top 10 of the training class.

  3. Yes. I like gender equality at Attack on Titan. No designated girl fight. Even the strongest and the first rank graduation soldier is Mikasa, A Woman, At shonen manga. Just wow.

    • Yeah! I’m still on my toes with actual ‘gender equality’ but I am glad to see that some female characters are taking the headlights. Hope to see more Mikasa in action soon!

  4. I don’t think acknowledging human limitations is nihilist. This isn’t Gurren Lagann after all. Plus, the end of the episode is pretty upbeat even after the titan’s apparition. The tone clearly is “time to strike back!”

    • Acknowledging human limitations isn’t necessarily nihilistic, but I do think that punishing humans for their limits is. I’d argue that the tone seems to be rather serious than upbeat too; there’s no sense that ‘We can do this!’ is happening. On the contrary, it’s more like ‘Shit has gotten real, and this is just the beginning.’

      • I guess we’ll see. The fight hasn’t started yet, all bets are open. If it really is hopeless, I don’t see how the manga could have ran as long as I’ve heard.

        • From what Wendeego and others have told me, the constant mood of Attack on Titan IS bleak – a lot of people end up dying in horrible ways, even before you get to know them. With that in mind, I think it’s appropriate to say that there’s a sense of desperateness, not hopelessness (the two can often be confused, but they mean two very different things) and that’s what drives a lot of the Corps.

          • That’s what I’m saying though. Things can be bleak and desperate, but the characters can accomplish stuff, however little. Therefore it’s not really nihilist, is it?

            But I’m talking without knowing, so…

            • Hmm, you seem to be misunderstanding my intent. “The kids are bound by their gear. They are trapped by high walls of realistic proportions. There are simply some walls you cannot break because you’re a human. And that’s why humans are fragile and can easily die. It’s an incredibly nihilistic perspective, I agree, but it also sets up the atmosphere that these contributions and fights are all worth something of value. ”

              When I say this, I mean that Attack on Titan seems to have a nihilistic perspective – that life is meaningless – but it also at times seems to go against this (this is the same with Shinsekai Yori, which I would also call nihilistic). As for people actually accomplishing something at the moment, instead of a collective gain, I’m not so sure myself. We’ll have to wait till Saturday to find out, but in essence, I think SnK does portray itself as nihilistic but it also has non-nihilistic elements. It’s important to understand that nihilism and empathy can coexist, and SnK is one of these mixes.

              • Maybe it’s a question of perspective, but I really don’t see how human limitations correlates with lack of meaning. I don’t!

                It’s probably telling that you would call Shinsekai Yori nihilistic, because it isn’t. It doesn’t make any existential statements(or even questioning) and its ultimate message is that change is difficult, but worth thriving for. I think you’re confusing near impotence(which the characters in both series suffer from) for lack of meaning.

                To me it just seems like a leap in logic. Please, tell me if I missed something so I can understand your reasoning.

                • I’d argue that SSY is somewhat nihilistic because as much as Saki tries to improve the system, there are clear pieces of evidence that shows otherwise (the fact that they have to resort to the cat system once again, despite wanting to not do so). I think it’s important to understand that parts of a show can be nihilistic, but the entire show itself may not be completely nihilistic as a whole? Shinsekai tells us that we can change, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Saki’s contributions to society will not instantly change what has happened and the mindset the society holds re: queerats and oppression. But she hopes that her actions might pave something for the future, and that hope is the warmest part of the entire series.

                  So therefore, when I say that SSY is nihilistic, I would argue that not ALL of it is, but a lot of it is. Human contributions MAY be worth something of value, but 23 out of 24 of the episodes retain a nihilistic perspective – that Saki couldn’t save anyone, etc. In the same way, I think Shingeki would say that human lives are easy cast away and that people are like bugs that can be squashed easily by the Titans, but that doesn’t mean that the entire battle is meaningless. So therefore, parts of SnK are nihilistic (the fact that people are going to die without actually contributing), but not as a whole (these deaths spur Eren and his friends to fight on despite the prevailing differences in strength).

                  • I see where our misunderstanding comes from then. I would argue you’re mistaken for taking individual elements of a whole, and characterizing them a nihilistic as if they stood by themselves.

                    Does every human being in Gurren Lagann have their impact on the events of the story? Obviously not, some of them even die before doing anything. And Gurren Lagann is one of the more anti-nihilist shows I know!

                    My perspective is perhaps best illustrated by Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Not every character has an equal influence on the story – if any at all. But they all have their stories and put meaning into what they do, regardless of their importance on the grand scale of things.

                    And ultimately, these are stories. The characters are our window into the world they live in, and their actions are the only ones that matter. So maybe Saki gets dragged along with the events of the story and nameless humans and queerats die without accomplishing anything onscreen, she still punts meaning into their deaths. Maybe Eren’s mother dies as she didn’t serve any other purpose but being stuck under rubble, but Eren put meaning into her. This matters.

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