Shingeki no Kyojin – 02

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The feel-good hit of the season this ain’t, but Shingeki no Kyojin is still pretty darn good.

At this point Attack on Titan is looking like a strong contender for the top tier of new shows this season.  I’d slide it a notch or two below Gargantia for sure, and possibly one or two others, because there are a few things that are keeping me from giving myself over to it unreservedly.  Nevertheless it’s clearly a series of substance, and with a time-skip occurring already it’s just possible it may be ready to step up a level as soon as next week.

For two episodes, the tone of the series has been unrelentingly bleak. We’ve seen first-hand just how weak the humans of this world are against their enemies, and just how horrific those enemies are.  I don’t know if this kind of mental beatdown will continue to be effective for two full cours, because all the hopelessness and despair might eventually have a numbing effect.  But I suspect the series is going to have a more varied tone than that, and that these first episodes are intentionally so dismal because the author is trying to show just what drove the main characters to be the people they became.

There’s clearly a big story at work here, and so far we’ve only gotten a few bits and pieces of it.  As we saw in last week’s eyecatch, mankind’s defenses consist not of one wall but three – three walls which apparently contain the entire known remnants of the human race.  And with that comes prejudice – against hicks from the border towns such as Shiganshina, and resentment at having to share their precious food with them when boatloads of refugees start showing up.  And even that was a near thing, as 10,000 humans died in the attack that destroyed the town, and forced the entire human population inside the inner wall, Rose.

There’s no question that this is a compelling premise, and effectively presented.  So far, I don’t find the character side of Shingeki as compelling, and that’s what’s keeping me from considering it on-par with the very top shows of the season.  I feel a connection to the situation Eren, Mikasa and Armin find themselves in, but less so to the characters themselves.  Eren is coming off more or less as a standard shounen lead, anguished about his weakness and vowing to be strong.  Armin (who I believe is narrating) hasn’t shown anything beyond the basic physical weakness that defines him yet, and as for Mikasa we’ve just basically seen that she’s tough as a two-bit steak and determined to keep Eren from getting himself killed.  What I’m seeing right now is unexceptional characters in an exceptional situation, which is where this series loses ground against something like Shin Sekai Yori for example, where the characters were the equal of the moment.  But we may yet get there – and even if we don’t, there’s certainly nothing wrong with plot-driven series if the plot it as good as this seems to be.

The other thing I’m finding a bit distracting is the animation.  It’s generally quite good, and some of the backgrounds are truly beautiful.  But we’re seeing enough of this double-border effect with the characters – making them appear as cutout figures against a still backdrop – to make me think it’s a stylistic choice.  For me it’s not working – it’s a needless irritant when I’m trying to focus on the action at hand.  Apart from that the character designs are unusual and quite appealing, and I’m liking the intelligence behind the writing.  The exchange between Mikasa and Eren after Armin scammed enough bread for the three of them was very interesting, a collision between her imperative to survive at any cost and his that a life isn’t worth living unless it’s a life lived freely.  For the moment, she has the right of it – three children in the situation they’re in are powerless enough that survival is itself an accomplishment, and the only way to get stronger is to live long enough to do it.

With a sizeable chunk of the human population (mostly the refugees) sent off to certain death simply to allay food shortages, it’s clear the human authorities aren’t being set up as saints here by any stretch of the imagination.  This isn’t just a story about survival against the titans, it’s loaded with politics too, and with Eren and his friends joining the army it now moves to another stage.  I still have a lot of questions about the mythology behind this premise – just where the heck does a fire-breathing super-titan fit into the equation? – but that just proves that the stort is effectively pulling me in.  I think we’re headed for something good with Shingeki no Kyojin, and I’m still hopeful we could be in-line for something great.

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ED:“Utsukushiki Zankoku na Sekai (美しき残酷な世界)” by Yoko Hikasa

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30 comments

  1. m

    the anime goes two ways at the moment
    while it's good in giving more detail about the wall-breach (there wasn't much mention on the civilian side in the manga), which made it more realistic, on the other hand, having kaji yuuki…. no eren… talking just makes this show harder to like.

  2. R

    What are you talking about? Kaji Yuuki was very good this episode (I could feel Eren's rage) and he also has prove that he can be a very good voice actor (ex: Satoru).

  3. Opinions may vary. I find him pretty awful every time he tries to anything emotive, and Eren is no exception. I don't think the character is especially well-crafted after two episodes, but his performance isn't helping. If it's working for you, great.

    I think he was fine as Satoru, but I don't think he brought anything to the performance especially – he just stayed out of the way, which as good as the series was is perfectly fine. It was as low-key as you'll ever her him most of the time, and that's why it was several notches above his usual standard.

  4. i

    Its rage or tone like that which should make beating children legal. God he was annoying.

    Satoru was also a completely different role. More intelligent and calm. Eren is just headstrong/stupid.

  5. R

    Oh come on Enzo, he was more than just fine in Shinsekai. He brought alot of maturity to the role and if the voice of Eren will be like that last bit in the episode, then yes it's gonna work just fine for me 😀

    But really there are far worse perfomances this season that Kaji, at least he sounds young enough to portray a teenager coughKamiyacough xD

  6. m

    i think ishruns described it right, it's the nasal voice coupled with his lines as eren that got on my bad side. nothing against him particularly, so no offense intended, it's more of the characterization

  7. M

    Characters are like Satoru though are the exception more then the rule. A majority of his performances just aren't incedibly good.

  8. l

    Glad I wasn't the only one who had issues with Eren's voice. SSY's Satoru was more aloof-emotional, which seems easier to pull off for this particular voice actor, compared to Eren's emo-emotional.

    Other than that, decent ep. My main worry is still the source material. Story-wise, it's gone downhill in the recent dozen or so chapters, which leads me to believe the anime will have a stronger first half than second if it sticks to the original.

  9. i

    I thank Misa for shutting Kaji Yuki up. I agree completely with you that the premise and story are top notch but the weak characterization holds it back. But I think this is more a result of how the story is told then the characters themselves being unremarkable.

    In Shin Sekai Yori, we had a slow build up with the knowledge that all is not well (after Saki's initial narration of the past) in which the children came to life. Attack on the Titan did not use this route and chose to capture its audience with a dark and bleak battle for survival from the start.

    Also was it me or did Kaji Yuki sound better after the timeskip. It was only a moment but I thought he sounded less nasal.

    Assuming it to be a sprawling epic of a series like GoT, I think that with its double cour status we might get more action and plot than characterization; opposite of the norm but it is a big story and after these first two episodes I don't care too much for Eren and co. so bring on the Giant Killing!

  10. G

    The three main characters will get fleshed out more over the coming weeks to explain their backstory and why they are the way they are.

  11. No manga spoilers, please.

  12. e

    Interesting enough, both Eren and Mikasa this episodes are having flashes/visions of something, and she notes that's not the first time this happened to her. Armin so far seems immune.
    Eren's dad is up to something with that syringe of his in the boy's 'nightmare' sequence. I wonder if that's some kind of supahspecial serum. Has he been injecting Mikasa too and their visions or whatever they're experiencing at times are a side-effect?

    At the very beginning of the episodes we're told the Giants/Titans popped out seemigly from nothing and suddenly about one hundred years before. Hmmmm… for now I'll stick to artificial mutation theory. Meanwhile our flayed superTitan of the week this time comes with armour (?) and barbecue abilities! Between the border cities (food bait!), sudden appereances of Titans, serum, visions, the age of the walls and the higher-ups sending survivors surplus into battle… giant experiment. Rather than the livestock analogy they might be more like guinea pigs.
    /SPECULAH

    —-
    I'm still loving the thick borders btw :p
    But the winner visually speaking for me is the ED. I'm a sucker for pencil/chalk/charcoal-like rendering. And I do like the song (truthfully I'm quite liking the music side as a whole here so far). Plus grown-up Mikasa is really easy on the eyes.

  13. G

    This series very much reminds me of Claymore.

  14. h

    Ohh, I get it. Conspiracy theories. Here we go!
    (Disclaimer: if you think this sounds like a spoiler, I promise I know nothing about the show/book/manga/LN beyond what I just watched, and I thank you graciously for the compliment)

    Backstory:
    Humans have been at war with one another for centuries, until it got so bad one warring faction engineered a super-weapon. Cue the Eoten. By making sure to build up their fortifications beforehand, the leaders of this supposedly clever faction saw to it that their lands would be defended against both their (human) enemies and (superhuman) creations alike while their super soldiers ran around killing everyone else. Using religion as a tool to control public opinion, the walls were deified and residents discouraged from wandering around or exploring the outside, as well as from joining the token "reclamation Legion", whose true purpose is amassing all the good-for-nothings in society to either fight the Empire's wars in secrecy or serve as food for its Eoten soldiers. Some regiments also serve a role in taming or suppressing experimental and rouge Eotena. The population is ruled by a King and a council, as well as a shadowy organization charged with keeping the Empire's secrets, and the population is divvied up by class, the lowest classes being closest to the edge. The major 3 classes are separated by walls meant just as much for protection from giants as from each other. This is one reason why they exist in such a number and geographical arrangement rather than simply military buffer zones. Sounds pretty standard post-apocalyptic/dystopian anime fare so far, right? But wait…

    How are the Eotena produced? Somebody like the Doc (Eren's dad this generation, for extra punch) spreads mild diseases around lower-class towns as a pretext for injecting various people with the Eoten Solution without arousing suspicion. The chosen people (everyone else gets the real vaccine) start to display the markers of transformation or other strange symptoms and are moved into quarantine where they are pronounced dead under the doctor's care, but are really shuttled off to various outposts throughout and outside the borders where they will become one of many (sometimes experimental) classes of Eoten. Or, again, food, or both, depending on the circumstance (some failed experimental subjects are used as food for the Eotena, etc).

    But now, as of the start of the anime, we've reached a tipping point. There is revealed to be massive, region-wide starvation at the moment, due to a combination of two forces: a severe geographical drought, and the expansion of the population too much within the walls. The Empire desperately needs to keep its inner/upper-class circles well fed while remaining in full control over their lands and other strategic positions outside the walls. The strategy of selecting the lowest members of the lowest class to join the Suicide Legion is insufficient for the situation at hand, so the government solution essentially amounts to purges, but purges with benefits — not only would the entirety of the lowest classes (here, 20 of the Empire%) serve as food for the starving Eoten armies, but they would free up food for the rest of the population (first by slave labor in wasteland reclamation, then as "recycle" in the form of food for the starving super-soldiers). But that's not all — this also presents a golden opportunity for the government to award the population of the inner rings, which has been on the rise for generations, the possibility of expanding into the outer walled areas without fear of uprising. Squelching uprisings is a critical point for many reasons as I will share, but one reason is to ensure the complete safety of the upper classes while retaining full ideological control over everyone; no uprising means no dissent, no dissent means no weakened government. And no weakened government, no questions; no questions, no exposing the secret that kept the citizens of the Empire docile and obedient.

  15. h

    So why does the government care so much more about the people in the inner rings? Well, because of class differences, for one. The people in the center, as the episode states, control all of the resources, have all the minerals, and house the king and government. But a concentration of wealth is not a concentration of food — notice how the poorer folks closer to the edge are primarily farmers. A red herring from the episode seems to imply that wealth flows from the center to the lands beyond, but anyone knows this isn't how stratified societies operate. Wealth flows the other direction, maintaining the status quo for "hundreds of years." Wealth created by a regime breeds loyalty to the regime, and loyalty is another reason the governments favor the upper classes. They are ideologically and geographically closer to the government's eye, too. Also, the fruits of the human experiments are localized there. Remember, the range of human experimentation breeds enhanced humans (products are not just the dumb-looking Eoten roaming the wall) who believe themselves entitled to anything. The innermost wall actually contains Eoten, too, just really smart ones who are less… hulking and disfigured. As much as the walls keep (or kept, in past tense) enemies outside the city, inner walls are just as much used now to keep people in the outskirts from getting in (as was seen already). Because of the elevation of the Empire on a hill, it provides an excellent strategic location for both surveillance and combat.

    So why send the giants against their own people? And why now? The astute reader will already have figured this elegant (but grizzly) solution out. Here are some reasons, starting from the most obvious:
    – Emergency feeding for the Eotena and controlled human population reduction (the most "dangerous" residents are actually targeted first to prevent realization of the truth "Their purpose, Their origins", such as Eren's mother specifically due to her connection with the Doc)
    – Immediate alleviation of the famine conditions (especially those emerging in the higher classes) by seizing foodstuffs from the abandoned outer wall region and capitalizing on the free low-class refugee labor for wasteland reclamation
    – Repression of all possible resistance among the refugees, whose hatreds are directed against a scapegoat "other." Eotena serve as a diversion and misdirection from government mishandling, including closing the gates on some people still inside, as observed. It is fairly common domestic policy to create a sense of external urgency/emergency to secure governmental powers at home while keeping the masses placated.
    – Facilitate the acquiescent disposal of the remaining refugees by providing an "enemy" for them to justifiably rally against. Most human beings would retaliate if a leader told them all to die, and some needed to be captured alive regardless for long-term food-stock and even…
    – Experimentation. What better a time to experiment on novel war techniques, drugs, strategies, and weapon tests of enormous scale than during war time? There's a limit to what you can get away with while at peace. Here we see an opportunity to conduct large-scale Eotena experiments, war-readiness tests (of both Eotena and their human cattle), drug trials, and test the bounds of government ideological control.

  16. h

    Finally, why are there always a few people who return from Legion activities? Wouldn't they have seen the truth and spill the beans? Nope — they are unfailingly new or existing government agents. They are specifically responsible for returning home to reinforce the existing propaganda and status quo. They also even participate in the killing of other escapees to ensure nobody gets away. (The Eotena seen milling around the Wall normally are just manning the Gates to protect the city from potential returnees as much as other external threats.) Some recruits are told the (partial) truth outside and offered an ultimatum — die or become an agent. Ether feed the system or feed the Eotena. Agents are promised safe passage home and even admission into the higher classes. Otherwise, they are either eaten or used in Experiments. The fate of any Legionnaire depends solely on the state of the food supply and any ongoing conflict.

    But then why THIS MOMENT for an attack? And if the Legion is comprised solely of government agents, why wait until right after they return to attack? The obvious red herring is that the government wanted them to rally the Eotena, lead them to the city, and then stick around to assist them in their invasion — or the cover-up. But this is not quite correct. The government leaders (who were already assembled by the time we saw them receiving updates on the violence, I should point out), had just discovered that someone among the returning Legionnaires just then had spilled the beans, and so the Eotena are mobilized immediately to annihilate all suspected members, their contacts, their families, and any potential seeds of insurrection they may have produced. This is part of the reason the wall has inner loops, by the way — to control flow of information and people into and out of the boundary towns garrisoning the Legionaries. As mentioned in the episode, it also ensures that they are the easiest place to attack from the outside. Efficiently crushing potential insurrections from the source and all that is quite important, you see. A rapid response was needed to catch the legionaries and any of their potential contacts before they could escape or form a plan for organized insurrection. The attack therefore came before anyone was prepared (except, it should be noted, people like Eren's dad, who gave Eren a key and left right before the attack). As Eren points out, it's when you're least prepared you're most defenseless — and therefore the easiest to purge before the information sinks in. Sinking in — belief — is a real issue here, remember, as information travel is controlled by the heresy taboo — one shouldn't speak of the outside at all, much less defile the sanctity of the walls, which themselves are revered as an aspect of God.

    What did/does Eren's dad have "locked up" in his basement? Otanoshimi. Although you might be able to guess by now. 😉

    That day, Mankind remembered the terror of Their domination. The ignominious shame of life in Their birdcage. But They are not who Mankind believed. They are face of Mankind, the face of the Empire.

    —-
    Other speculative scenarios that are related to or incorporated by this theory:
    – "Wool" series with nuclear fallout replaced by uncontrollable super giants. Similarity collapses with the wall breach.
    – Eotena are aliens who really do keep human "cattle" and have lived off the land and bodies of Legionnaires, but for whatever reason — forced by drought or simply because their leaders have finally arrived/evolved — they want more food.

    (Wow, much longer than I expected. But I am quite proud of myself. I think I came up with something really cool. Thought I'd share. Now I'm in love with this show more than ever).

  17. A

    I think I get what Enzo meant about Kaiji Yuuki in these kind of roles, all too familiar with his shtick. Sounds a bit too forced to me as well.

    As for the episode, the way they tell us about the human 'sacrifice' was really sort in a 'matter of fact' manner. Almost nonchalant there. Just to show how hapless humans are in the current situation.

    I'm interested to see what does Eren's father know about Titans, what Mikasa is seeing in her visions.

    Lastly, Super Titans are awesome!

  18. M

    Isn't Kaji Yuuki's grating whinging part of his job here? Eren is pretty irritating – he only enhances that. Hopefully that "bread" sorted him out. I don't think anyone brought up how Kaji went out of key as child Eren. As a seiyuu he should keep in character at least. Maybe he's just eager to slip back into an older lead like Satoru and Oscar where he can demonstrate better form.

    "I feel a connection to the situation Eren, Mikasa and Armin find themselves in, but less so to the characters themselves…" I felt that same thing towards Shun, Maria, Mamoru, Satoru and Saki. So far, I'd say both shows are on equal footing in terms of unexceptional characters. Although Mikasa is pretty darn amazing to put up with all this shit.

    My greatest concern is the world building at this point. How exactly did they manage to find time to build those walls with those Eotenas looming about? I wasn't too fond of how the child character designs changed to young adults within the space of a year, at least in signals that things are moving towards the meat of the story.

  19. K

    "My greatest concern is the world building at this point. How exactly did they manage to find time to build those walls with those Eotenas looming about?"

    I have a feeling we are supposed to question that. I think this series isn't just an action/survival series but there is a mystery to it at as well.

  20. M

    I hope that's the case. Usually I'd just waive it off as a contrived shounen premise for the sake of gory action, but wit studio has put so much into this series already I'm hoping the narrative can maintain substance to match that. I'm certainly intrigued to know where they'll take things from here (elianthos' speculah is also gearing my interest).

  21. K

    I agree with what people are saying here. I find the world and story way more interesting than the characters. Eren's volume has been on max for two episodes. I understand his situation but shut up!

    I am wondering where these Titans came from and how the humans built a massive three layer wall while fending off Titans. Even the Armored Titan and Giant ones seemed to be things they never saw before.

  22. G

    I actually think SSY is about the same level as Kyojin here in terms of characterization, and I would even go as far as saying Kyojin might hit a notch above SSY if it capitalize on its potential. Yeah, the execution is not exactly subtle and it could've been better, but they are in a pretty extreme situation, which makes extreme reaction better justified than it would be in most series. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I believe nuanced characterization is easier to achieve in more mundane situations because there is no overpowering emotion driving the characters to make them come across as "archetypical" , unlike in this case where there is an dominant emotion at play here given the circumstances. But I guess we'll see how it goes.

  23. t

    Having now read the manga,I say if you want to beat the crap out of Eren when he opens his mouth then Yuuki Kaki is doing his job right (of course enzo would say he's a natural at it 😉 )
    One of the defining traits of Eren is that in general he gets into trouble because he's gonna piss off someone in the room when he says something.

    Now maybe you can question why the mangaka would have someone like that as his MC (won't really comment on that because of spoilers) but Kaji isn't turning a charming hero into a whiny brat, he's playing the whiny brat like he's supposed to.

  24. Yeah, that doesn't shock me – as I said, my issues with Eren are largely with the way he's written. Though the performance certainly isn't helping.

  25. K

    Please tell me he at least stops yelling

  26. a

    Second the yelling question. Also goes with Enzo's point, I thought that introduction last week with Eren yelling about how he's more morally righteous than the guards was just jarring and really poor writing.

    But after this week where Eren is literally force fed maturity from Mikasa, I sometimes wonder if maybe it's an intentional parody of standard shonen leads lol. A pipe dream I know, but it would make much more sense given that the writing in other areas so far is noticeably higher quality (Eren's mother's muffled "Don't leave" was just chilling).

  27. t

    I'm not answering that because first off I know enzo doesn't like it much when future events are talked about and also because this is the anime and you can't exactly judge the amount of yelling based on the manga,it'll depend on how the staff interprets the material and on potential anime original scenes ( the whole "I'm not eating bread" rant is anime original for example).

  28. m

    i think that's a matter of adding detail (which they're good at), and adding anime-original events. they're making eren out as way too much of a righteous kid. it's not that bad in the manga

  29. T

    I find it amazing that no one mentioned Hannes' VA; I'm not familiar with who's voicing who, but that 'I couldn't face the Titan' scene made me uncomfortable. The actor just nailed it- the voice of someone trying to be strong, but pushed beyond his limits.

    I felt like the episode reached its climax with the break-in of the Armored Titan and then just… tapered off. The bread scene wasn't bad in itself, but it's maddening for an adrenaline-fueled Titan wall tackle to be followed by a scene of old men having an argument. The scene with Dr Jaeger on his coach was a bit jarring as well, since it's not immediately related to the following scenes.

    They've padded the writing, but since it makes things more understandable (Armin's bone with the army regarding his grandpa) I'm reserving judgement. Eren is more of an idiot here, but when we look at the big picture, he's a kid- it's not out of character.

    As for those who mentioned the yelling- we'll probably have to put up with it for some time. Eren is hardly likely to be calm in the middle of carnage.

  30. Fujiwara Keiji is a legend in his own time, so it's not really much of a surprise he gets a scene like that right. I didn't find his work to be so exceptional that it struck me as something I had to call out, but it was certainly rock solid. He almost always is.

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