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