OP: “Guren no Yumiya” (紅蓮の弓矢) by Linked Horizon
I think it was a pretty much a given that this was the most anticipated premiere of the season by most standards. It topped the LiA poll and the RC poll, the manga by Isayama Hajime is widely adored, and it had what was effectively Production I.G.’s A-list – calling themselves Wit Studios here for whatever reason – behind the production. The previews were stellar, the budget looks huge, and all the pieces were in place. Indeed, in place for a premiere that had every opportunity in the world to be a letdown due to such huge expectations.
It’s always nice when a show like that manages to justify the hype, and Shingeki no Kyojin does just that. While the first episode isn’t perfect it’s damn good – it reeks “classic” from every pore. This looks like it has a chance to be one of those watershed anime that used to be more common – lavish, violent sci-fi epics that rely on grand stories and imagination rather than self-important and self-aware dialogue. While Araki Tetsuro’s directorial record isn’t spotless, he’s clearly competent with sprawling action series and in working with veteran writer Kobayashi Yasuko there’s every reason to think the team here is good enough not to screw up the good thing that Isayama’s manga seems to be.
Attack on Titan grabs you right from the opening sequence, a shot of a giant red hand on top of a 50-meter high stone wall – the first clue that very big and very bad things are happening here. That’s a bit of foreshadowing but most of the audience surely knows where the series is going, so it acts more as a whetter of appetites for the madness to come. The premise sees humanity trapped inside a huge stone wall (three of them, as it turns out) built to keep out the giants that terrorized and feasted on them a hundred years earlier. The walls have done their job – the community inside the walls (which is a gorgeously accurate depiction of a medieval European castle town) has lived in safety for the last Century, but at quite a price.
The character side of the story seems pretty stock, at first glance. The hero is Eren Jaeger (Kaji Yuuki), the young son of the town doctor who rails against living like “livestock” and longs to join the Recon Corps, whose job seems to be to venture outside the walls to explore the possibility of taking on the Titans, but in practical terms seems to be to get killed and eaten. He’s close with much-feared Mikasa Ackerman (Ishikawa Yui), who I’m guessing is an orphan whose parents died of illness as she seems to live with the Jaeger family. Their other friend is Armin Arlelt (Inoue Marina), a frail lad called a heretic and bullied for arguing that humanity must someday venture into the larger world. Also making an appearance is Hannes (Fujiwara Keiji, who breaks with his tradition by surviving the first episode), a member of the town guard that Eren derisively calls the “wall repairers”.
It remains to be seen whether anything on this side of the equation will prove the equal of the compelling sci-fi premise. Eren has the makings of a pretty conventional lead – a big-mouthed kid who doesn’t know how good he has it until the truth is thrust upon him – and realistically, Kaji Yuuki isn’t going to get anything out of the character that isn’t on the page. We’ve seen this general kind of zeitgeist many times, but the larger plot is so gripping that I’m not sure it matters. When the walls are breached by a kind of “super-titan“, the scenes that follow are pretty harrowing, especially where it concerns the demise of Eren’s mother. Though she urges the children to flee and leave her to die, trapped under the wreckage of their house, she still whispers “Don’t go!” when Hannes forcibly removes them from the scene. And Hannes’ abandonment of his initial plan to save everyone by killing the Titan approaching the house is amazingly effective in the way it’s shot.
I have a lot of questions – how did humanity find time to build huge 50-meter walls without titans knocking them down? Where did the titans come from in the first place, and the super-titan? But right now I don’t think it matters so much – it’s enough to just be absorbed in the drama viscerally. And Attack on Titan is an unapologetically dramatic show, make no mistake – lots of shouting and crying, menacing chorale soundtrack, rains of blood. It all works splendidly in the premiere, one of the most epic we’ve seen in a long time. The character designs take a bit of getting used to and there are some very odd moments in the animation where it appears as if characters are cut-outs moving against a still background – whether this is done for effect or represents an early cost-savings measure I can’t say, but I don’t think it works too well if it’s the former. But overall the look of the series is suitably lush and some of the background shots are truly lovely, and the Titan designs are as creepy and terrifying as they should be. The manga is still ongoing so there’s always the chance that the series could go off the rails with an original ending – it’s recently been confirmed as a two-cour – but this looks as close to a can’t-miss proposition as anything on the schedule this season.