Transformation; Attack on Titan Episodes 9-10

Shingeki_no_Kyojin_-_10_[CD0548EB]_Jun 12, 2013 10.30.10 PM

illegenes: I’m starting to notice a trend when it comes to Shingeki. It’s not the most subtle trend, but damn if it’s been pretty repetitive for the past 2 and a half months.

[EREN SCREAMS AS RANDOM SOLDIERS A, B, AND C,  – WHOM  WE DON’T REALLY KNOW ABOUT – END UP GETTING EATEN. THE CAMERA ZOOMS INTO A GRINNING TITAN’S FACE AS HE CHOMPS ON SOLDIER A. RANDOM BLOOD SPILLS.]

[MORE SCREAMS.]

[DRAMATIC SPEECH ABOUT HOW THE WORLD IS CRUEL AND HOW HUMANS ARE WEAK. EVERYTHING IS A LIE AND IS TERRIBLE. THE HUMAN LIFESPAN IS INFINITELY SMALL AND AS SUCH, UNABLE TO BE FULLY REDEEMED BY THE THOUSANDS AS WE’RE ALL WORTHLESS IN THE END.]

[FIGHT SCENE WITH REALLY GOOD PUMPED UP MUSIC]

[A VAGUE STATEMENT ABOUT HOW HATRED IS VALID IN THIS WAR AND HUMANS MUST PERSEVERE]

[RANDOM SHOCK SCENE THAT MAKES NO SENSE WITH DRAMATIC MUSIC INSERTED IN]

[END SHOW]

I might be getting a little tired of it. I’ve addressed that my main issue with Shingeki is that it lacks catharsis because every moment feels exaggerated and reproduced. It follows a strict script, but that script is lackluster because it fails to address things outside its very narrow scope. There is this sense of constant DOOM and then constant UPLIFT and it repeats, and the result is a very endless tumble down a rocky mountain, with no end in sight and no steering wheel at all. Ironically, Shingeki is predictable, but it also lacks control over carefully nuancing each area of it storytelling, which leads to a flawed and rather unemotionally resonating plot. I’m going to make a League of Legends analogy here as well and say that I feel like all the characters – or rather, the show itself – is like a nerfed and unskilled Akali; it goes in and deals some burst damage, but it never actually finishes what it’s meant to do, and so instead of actually having a powerful and intense show we have something of a plot that darts in and lands us a shock and then jumps back to normal rhythm. When instead, what Shingeki could be is a show that punishes its characters carefully and timelyactually allowing the audience to feel a sense of loss and shock and making the struggle very real and very desperate.

I’m pretty sure these type of expressions show up every 4 seconds.

That realness and desperation is lost especially with the newfound reveal of Eren being a Titan, who now has the ability to smash away Titans and not only come out winning, but unharmed. Remember that exciting moment when Eren lost a couple of limbs, and we were all concerned because if Eren managed to make his way out of the digestive system, he’d be scarred forever? With the Titan power, Eren can regenerate limbs pretty darn easily. It takes away any sense of loss the show was trying to go for, because now we have a main protagonist who can heal himself almost infinitely, and we have soldiers being eaten up – soldiers who aren’t even given backgrounds.

To make my point a little clearer, I could contrast this with an equally intense shonen animanga, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. The main protagonist of FMA is a boy who breaks the taboo of nature and alchemy itself, and suffers deeply because of it. He loses and arm and a leg, and his brother ends up losing his entire body. That loss is prevalent throughout the entire series – Edward is only able to regain what he lost when he triumphs against Truth itself – a long journey that doesn’t just teach him physical skills of endurance, but mental and elemental ones as well. Edward is constantly reminded of the sin he committed as a child, and that is what powers him to fight and live on. Sure, Edward is able to get a mechanical leg and arm to replace the limbs he lost, but the series makes sure to emphasize the loss Edward has suffered and can never really come back from. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood teaches us that pain is a lesson that is valuable as much as it is hurtful. In Attack of Titan however, we don’t feel the same loss. The show is about Eren and these soldiers, but we never really feel or experience that sense of loss that is so prevalent and exaggerated throughout the series. Eren loses his limbs, only to get them back again. That rage he feels for the Titans is compromised by the fact that he puts more energy into screaming childishly about killing them all instead of actually acting on it. Oh yes, he killed a massive group of Titans as a Titan – but that’s the point! He manages to have a super convenient power, which only minimizes any sense of loss that empowered Eren and is basically a giant backdoor key if mankind is in trouble. In other words, the key emotional value is lost. That idea of struggle is lost.  Shingeki almost seems to make fun of loss by using it as a constant and hackneyed blow episode after episode, instead of using it sparingly and creatively.

Of course, Shingeki is not a show about subtlety, and I’m not asking for it to be! Series can still be great without being slow paced and cautious. What I think the show needs to do, however, is to sort out its priorities. While Shingeki is no Shinsekai Yori or Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, I feel like the show would highly benefit from taking a look at how both shows rely on emotional value in order to emphasize perseverance and loss. Shinsekai Yori is highly nihilistic and as brutal as Shingeki but what tied me to the show and its characters is how it managed to cohesively blend excellent character development with unpredictable plot twists and leave a lot of room for the the audience to ponder about rather than sticking information down its throat. Fullmetal AlchemistBrotherhood is much longer than Shingeki but both share a large cast – yet FMA manages to make a lot of its characters compelling by tying in their sense of sin with the main characters. Here, in Shingeki, we’re introduced to many characters, but it’s been 10 episodes and we only really know two of them. The rest of the bunch hardly have anything significant or interesting about them (this is excluding Levi, who turned out to be my new favorite male character – the Eren I wanted from Day 1, alas). And lastly, both FMA:B and SSY creatively expanded worldbuilding, exploring new areas and questions while leaving little plot holes. Shingeki could learn from this as well, instead of focusing on just how terrible the world can be to these characters.

With that said, I’ll be reading the manga from this point on (with everyone telling me that the manga is infinitely better than the anime) so maybe – hopefully – my perspective will change! I still end up enjoying Shingeki despite the shortcomings, so hopefully knowing what will happen ahead of time may make me more excited or understanding of the situation. I guess we’ll have to see!

wendeego: Right now, Attack on Titan is one of the best-selling manga in Japan. It won the Kodansha manga award for shonen in 2011, the same year that Chihayafuru similarly won for shoujo. It was also nominated for the Osamu Tezuka prize the next year, along with Chihayafuru and the winner, Parasyte mangaka Hitoshi Iwaaki’s Historie. This is good material, and by all accounts difficult to mess up. So why is it that with every episode of Attack on Titan, my reservations regarding the handling of the material grow more and more?

With this episode, I feel like the pace of the series has slowed to the point where it’s beginning to actively affect the story as a whole. While Titan is able to mine a lot of value out of character interaction and introspection, as I’ve said many times before I feel like it’s really at its best when the characters are charging right into the face of death, literally throwing everything they have into the pursuit of survival at the cost of what makes them human. The fact that the first several volumes of the series neatly subdivide into about two or three arcs means that while the manga remains incomplete, the anime could at least adapt the first two arcs before devolving into the kind of glacial pacing expected from Shonen Jump shows. At the moment though, the series seems to be running in slow motion. Part of it might be that manga is naturally a faster-reading medium than anime, but not only do scenes like the confrontation in episode 9 seem drawn-out to the point of melodrama, but if I’m correct episode 10 covered less than a chapter of the manga, if even. There’s been a significant amount of original material in the Titan anime thus far, particularly the series’s second episode, but while early bits and pieces served to establish character and lay background these later bits feel unnecessarily dragged-out.

I’m willing to assign a fair amount of the blame to the director, Tetsuo Araki. When the series began, I was hoping that Araki (being very good in his earlier shows at intense, “no going back” pacing and kinetic actions scenes) would be a suitable fit for Titan despite his apparent total lack of understanding of what makes humans tick. Death Note and even Guilty Crown could be exhilarating at times, but the former has hampered by its lack of empathy for anyone in the cast (particularly female characters) and Guilty Crown was so incompetent and exploitative that it verged on comedy at times. Araki has a tendency to go over the top in every scene, and while over the top works for stuff like David Production’s stellar run on Jojo, I’ve reached the point where I’ve realized it’s not a perfect fit for Titan. More than simply being a kick-ass action series, Titan is a show that requires making you feel pain and/or anxiety as people fail, break or are eaten. Without this empathy, the series risks erring in exploitation rather than catharsis. Not just a modicum of subtlety, but at the most basic level a variety of tone is necessary, and throughout the Titan anime it becomes more and more clear that Araki’s means of conveying that SHIT HAS JUST GOTTEN REAL is having the characters yell about it as tears stream down their faces. The style worked in the manga, where the art was just grungy and unsettling enough for everything to fit together, but in the anime it can be (as Natasha has noted time and time again) too much.

That said, episode 10 redeems itself a bit in my mind because it marks the first time in the series when Armin, the most vulnerable and human of the central trio, finally comes into his own. Faced with seemingly impossible odds and given the go-ahead on a decision of almost paralyzing importance, he turns to Eren and Mikasa (one able to transform into a Titan, the other a frighteningly efficient soldier) only to realize that they trust him to pull it off. Even more importantly, they’ve always trusted him, even as he’s been bullied and kicked around by Titans and pushed to the very limits of his physical endurance. Eren is “technically” the main character of Attack on Titan, but I think it’s scenes like this that prove that Armin and Mikasa are equally as important in the grand scheme of things. The presence of a central trio vaguely parallels something like the Naruto, Sasuke and Sakura triangle in Naruto, but rather than the traditional set-up of “hero, rival, love interest” the main three in Titan are more like family than anything else. Eren, Mikasa and Armin are flawed in some way, almost fatally so. But they all rely on each other constantly, from Eren pulling his two friends into the skeleton of his Titan form, to Mikasa pulling Armin out of his funk, to Armin saving Mikasa from becoming Titan food in an earlier episode and inspiring Eren to dream of outside the walls. As much as Armin draws from his own personal reserves when he stands up to the soldiers who are pointing a cannon at his best friend, it’s those connections he has to Eren and Mikasa that push him even farther forwards.

Ultimately, Armin “fails” in his mission; the soldiers are stopped by a higher official, rather than by his impassioned words. But it’s worth realizing that Armin makes an enormous amount of progress in this section, ascending from a seemingly useless boy beset by constant anxieties, to a soldier willing to lay everything on the line to protect those closest to him. Armin may not have Eren’s superpowers or Mikasa’s inhuman strength, but he’s all the more valuable as a character because, despite his inherent humanity, he refuses to back down. And the moment where Armin salutes to the enemy and shouts his determination to the walls, striking out against the fear and confusion that surrounds him, is the moment where the anime best does justice to the source material. If only it was able to pull that off more consistently.

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