First Impressions – Shingeki no Kyojin

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Note to future returning armies – please watch this episode for a demonstration of how not to break the news to a mother.

OP: “Guren no Yumiya” (紅蓮の弓矢) by Linked Horizon

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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.

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  1. J

    >whether this is done for effect or represents an early cost-savings measure

    considering the way anime is produced, I don't see how having an extra borderline around the characters saves cost

  2. p

    After spending much of the past few years watching shows where most of the difficult details were done with CGI, it's incredibly refreshing to see a series where most of the animation was done by hand.

    Sure, there were some instances of noticeable CG — like when the cameras were panning around the rows of houses after the Titans had broken in — but they weren't as in-your-face as so many other recent anime shows.

    I miss the days back in 1980s and 1990s and earlier when everything was hand drawn. I hate how CGI is being used so often as a cost-saving measure that even generic cars in traffic are mostly computer generated nowadays.

  3. T

    Having read the manga (I'm not by any means far, I just bought volume 1) they prety much did the first chaptr justice. I can't say this is the type of series I'd usually jump into for the heck of it but I've found the series interesting enough to want to continue. It'll be interesting seeing the stuff I haven't read yet.

  4. i

    I've rarely seen anime made in a Medieval Europe setting. 19th century England, Japan from 0 AD to 5000 AD and various fantasy world but medieval hasn't been done to many times.

    But it was cool, it was epic and it makes me want to murder Kaiji Yuki because I can't stand him throughout it. GE when you hear just another Kana Hanazawa role do you feel an irrational hatred burn in you? Because when I hear Kaiji Yuki I do. I don't feel like I'm listening to Eren but some winy brat called Shu. He has better roles but I just wish someone who had a thousand times a better range and voice like Miyano Mamoru or Okamoto Nobuhiko would do Eren instead.

    Still other than that everything else was super. Especially the fear we can see so clearly on every character, whether up close (Hannes and Armin) or far off (Eren's mom struggling in the giant's hand). It also reminds me a lot of Kaiji, another anime with really emotional highs and lows.

  5. Well, I like KanaHana a fair bit better than Kaji Yuuki, though she's certainly way overrated (ironically, my favorite of her roles returned tonight). I'm resigned to Kaji being at the center of this and have been for a while, and I'm hoping it's going to be one of those roles that's written well enough that he ends up being a neutral. I certainly didn't enjoy his performance in the premiere, but I think the strengths of this series are elsewhere, and it should be fine.

  6. G

    This series reminds me of Claymore (another great anime series). I am glad I watched this 1st episode as it blew me away with how intense it was. Looking forward to next week and beyond.

  7. l

    So it's confirmed to be a 2-cour? So roughly 22 – 26 eps, depending on schedule/holidays/etc.

    That gives me a little more hope that they'll manage something decent. Still, the manga doesn't look anywhere close to complete, and I'd be pretty surprised if they announced the author would be ending within 6 months on Manga Updates.

    Watched this. Pretty good for the most part. Not really into the brutalist/nihilist type anime these days, but I did sit through SSY, after all.

    Same complaints as most people. No idea what's up with those thick borders. They plan to make a coloring book for kids or what? Maybe it's to show the placement of the sun, though I'll have to re-watch to confirm.

    As of right now, this is the only Spring series I intend to follow. Everything else (except that fast food demon, which surprised me) has disappointed tremendously. Still have my reservations about how they'll manage the source content and the budget though.

  8. S

    This episode was amazing.. the art is beautiful, the music thrilling.

    I found it interesting to see how they did the OP:
    E.g. blending in manga chapters and in contrast showing the detailed choreography of how the characters fight the Titans using their gear. It's like they really want the audience to acknowledge that this anime is based on a great manga, but enables you to see the kind of fluid animations which otherwise happens only in your imagination when you read the manga.

  9. S

    The gg subbers also used some other terms as the scanlators, for example "Recon Corps" in the anime vs "Scouting Legion" as in the manga. Of course the difference is in the end minimal, but there are times like these, where I wish to just understand the original japanese term itsself.

  10. m

    Commie uses Reconnaissance Legion – best of both worlds?
    GE-san, you don't have nearly enough mikasa screenshots! 😛

  11. Doing 11 posts in one weekend, TBH I wasn't too picky.

  12. .

    The manga author's very young, 26 yrs old! I almost expected some 38-50+yr old old coot typical of the industry.

  13. A

    It's just as you said: this has been one of the most epic anime premieres in a long time!

  14. t

    Did anyone else hate the speedlines, and the occasional puppet theater? The sequence with the returning recon forces was a shockingly poorly-animated and poorly-acted segment in what was otherwise an excellent episode.

    Also, I appreciate the following quote: "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." I'm looking at you, Shinbo.

  15. M

    Eh, I found it more amusing. I can appreciate the studio's attempts to save animation for the more lavish scenes and not at the expense of art style which so many lesser shows are wont to do.

  16. r

    This is one of the shows that I will totally follow! It's kinda different from the animes that I used to watch. But when I realized that the gore scenes and the giants are still lingering on my mind, I immediately re-watched Uta Pri season 2's intro to erased it. I don't wanna have a nightmare! XD But I know I'll be hook with this anime.

  17. i

    Are the English terms official yet? The anime subs use Recon Corps (this article did, too), while on the scanlations it's called Scouting Legion. I kinda prefer the latter because "Legion" sounds more badass than "Corps".

  18. S

    Hey, Commie translated the title, "Attack on Titan" (which should probably be more something like "Attack of the Titans"), as "The Eotena Onslaught". Justifying with an entire essay on linguistics, translation, and ancient Anglo-Saxon mythology. I guess how to translate the Legion's name is the lesser problem here XD.

  19. A

    Just saw it – looks solid so far, and I agree with your assessment, with a couple of reservations. The scope and the pace are all top-notch, indeed, but I am worried that the rest of the series will not match the amazing first episode. For some reason I'm worried that the quality, story-wise, may not be sustainable over two cour.

    I couldn't get into the manga a few months back – the art (character design and background) was too substandard for me to deal with. Too much of a snob on that aspect, given that I am an artist of some stripe.

  20. M

    I honestly thought this was a subset of Madhouse going in. Strong Claymore vibes, which is welcome. I'm certainly no fan of the main character, but that seems intentional. The final scene reminded me a lot of a certain part in Barefoot Gen. The acting here was better (albeit forced) though.

    My main beef so far is with the try hard OP theme.

  21. G

    A lot of veteran Madhouse staff are involved with this, so I think the comparison is quite appropriate lol. I actually think Madhouse may be a more suitable studio to handle this series, but hey it's I.G, I'm satisfied.

  22. Z

    I'm definitely following this. The animation has an oldschool feel to it where animation fluidity is sacrificed for highly detailed stills.

    How is this a Sci-Fi though? Nothing presented in the premiere shows any indication of that.

  23. M

    Good point. Although the fact that people consider the Titans handsomer than Aku no Hana's humans must be a science in itself.

  24. E

    Answering who build the gigantic wall to begin with, and how did they do such a feat, will be a huge spoiler. So, just enjoy the show for now. :-)

  25. G

    Must have been good Titans.

  26. e

    Three good Titan/Giant/Eotena sisters is one of my main theories actually. And no, I haven't read the manga. Pure speculation.
    But coming from SSY the first thoguht I had was that Giant and humans are related. Who is the queerat here?

  27. M

    Heh, the first thought I had was that this show is SSY done right.

  28. e

    @Maxulous: truthfully I think SSY did most things right. And this is just the first episode of SnK so there's still a lot of time for it to go bad :p.
    But the more I think about the Titans the more I'm sure my hunch is right: they and the humans are related, and either at least one species is a mutant of some sort (common origin/ancestor, then a) branching out 'naturally' or b) evolving [or devolving… YMMV] by some artificial trigger… experiments or magic c) the Titans are basically 'humans going Hulk ' on possibly permanent basis) or they're actually still the same species – just in a range of shape and sizes wider than ours – but nobody among the common folk inside the walls knows (anymore). I'd bet Eren's father knows something about that though and his key pendant is… well, key, provided there's still something intact in their house at basement level now.
    Calling it now. The Titans are humans. Or viceversa (who's the evolution or devolution of who? we'll see).
    And I'd still like to think the walls were built by the Gentle Giants vs the Man-eating ones.
    I'm ready for my speculah to be proven spectacularly wrong of course X,D.

  29. I liked the first ep of Shingeki, but I'm not sure I liked it as much as any single ep of SSY.

  30. M

    I'm not necessarily saying that either. My impression from this episode alone is that that narrative execution in Shingeki captured an urgent catastrophic energy that I never once felt SSY delivered in its 25ep run, it was all atmosphere. The characters here show the potential for growth which I felt was a stagnant element of SSY as well. I'm not knocking the show completely, I'm just highlighting the aspects I found lacking that were addressed in a show with a similar sort of setting.

    I'm not comfortable rating a show based on a single episode, things could go awry for SnK also.

  31. G

    Clearly the best premiere, as expected. And damn, those Titans are the epitome of creepiness. I'm seriously wondering how our MCs will counteract their monstrous power…..which I suppose would be the main point of development.

  32. e

    Must be the fine arts major in me speaking but the super-Giant flayed looks per se is not that creepy on-screen or in drawings. We all look like that underneath our skin guys and you draw a lot of flayed figures during artistic anatomy classes :p. Their eating habits and their unnerving grins on the other hand… aaaaagh.
    That said I really like the visuals, cutout effect against bg included and the few stills used. To me is a mixture of old comics stylization, vintage anime still frames and early western engravings. The latter also feel quite period-appropriate. Digging it.
    I also really, really like how detailed and borderline realistic ires are rendered in extreme close-ups.
    On the plot side of things and concerning the world structure, the nature of the giants, the city and the three walls apparently named after three female figures are thoroughly intriguing me. Plus Mikasa is looking like my kind of tough reliable girl already. Go Mikasa!
    P.S.: the dialogue with Daddy + key 'I'll reveal you things when I'm back' was so giving me Ned Stark vibes. Hope the fellow is still alive.

  33. e

    errata corrige: realistic ire—>realistic irises

  34. B

    this episode gave me the chills. how she said 'don't go' broke my heart a little. but damn those things are creepy. i'm in!

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