I know I’ll once again take a lot of flak for comparing this series to Kakumeiki Valvrave, but despite the obvious difference in overall quality (again, Shingeki is certainly better) there are some pretty important commonalities between the two. Most especially for me is that I find myself laughing almost non-stop when I’m not sure I’m supposed to, and that enjoyment of both shows requires a sort of all-in acceptance of the sheer absurdity of what’s about to happen. It’s less about Valvrave-like asspull plot twists with Attack on Titan but more about the sheer preposterous, almost JoJo-level bombast witch suffuses every frame and every double-outlined character.
This is one of those shows where I’ll be very tempted to go back and read the manga once the airing is over. I’m curious (but not so much as to want to be spoiled now, so please save your responses) as to whether this series would have been signifcantly different with a less balls-out nutjob of a director than Araki Tetsuro at the helm. I’m sure this was never going to be a low-key story, but I could see it having a certain majestic tragedy to it in the hands of a more subtle director. Araki simply doesn’t know where the brakes are – when he drives there’s only one pedal, and he isn’t afraid to use it. It’s undeniably effective, and the pairing of Araki with the material has produced one of the most adrenaline-infused thrill rides in recent anime history – but as I said, I’m curious as to whether it was the only way the show could go, based on the source material.
The elements of Attack on Titan are basically very simple, apart from the fact that they’re packaged inside a very complicated and mysterious mythology. We have Eren acting like a caricature of every bad shounen protagonist ever written, Mikasa obsessing over him, non-stop snarling and shouting and close-ups of eyes burning with rage, and utter, brutal devastation. If this series has excelled at anything it’s at showing just how huge the gap between the humans and the titans really is. Even if they have a weak spot – the back of the neck always seems to be a popular choice for weak spots in otherwise invulnerable creatures – the hits just keep on coming. Not only are they huge and voracious, but their heads grow back when blown off and their bodies regenerate when cut in half. Turns out they can move pretty damn quickly and jump, too. Seriously – being 15 meters tall isn’t enough of an advantage?
While the action sequences are the full-on breathless rush they set out to be, it’s the mystery of the Titans that still interests me most about Shingeki no Kyojin. We got some exposition at last in the form of a remembered lecture from military training – that’s where the info about heads and bodies regenerating came from – but it really raises more questions than it answers. Nothing we know – in real-life or this series’ mythology – can offer a plausible explanation for why a creature exists that eats only humans but doesn’t need to eat them to survive (certainly not evolution). Why should the Titans exist simply to wipe out humanity – and if they do, why haven’t they done it already? That seems to be the fundamental contradiction at the center of many – I see no evidence whatsoever that the Titans couldn’t have wiped out humanity if they’d wanted to. And while it makes sense to think they consider humanity as livestock and always want to keep a breeding population around, that makes sense only if their primary interest in humanity is as food. And once again we see the Supertitan seemingly disappear into thin air once his work (breaching the gate) is done.
In any case, when they do attack, the results are predictable. Great pains are taken to show us just how corrupt and self-absorbed the royalty of humanity is, interested only in their own survival (and of course, shown gorging on sweets as a contrast to titans gorging on brave young soldiers). There does seem to be one soldier in the interior, Cmdr. Dot Pixis (Tanaka Masahiko) – whose name seems as if it came from a character edited out of ReBoot – who takes his job seriously. But the sense is that the real enemy here is the King and the leadership of the human race – the big question is just how literally that turns out to be the case. “Let them die!” the fat aristocrat squeals – and indeed, the troops are doing plenty of that. Thomas and Mina are titan snacks, among others – proving that having a name doesn’t offer character armor in this mythos. And when characters die in this show, you feel it – even with some discreet editing it’s grotesque and almost comically graphic.
This whole “attack on Trost” sequence is a riot of well-choreographed action (even if it is a bit too CGI-reliant for my taste). Araki really does have a gift for this sort of thing, and he’s obviously got a good team working with him – human soldiers on their zip lines flying everywhere, running up walls (and slamming into them with killing force), Titans with their arms flailing and teeth chomping, swatting the humans like mosquitoes… It’s a riot, and the oddly cute faces of the Titans (one of them looks like a jolly 60’s holdout who followed the Grateful Dead) make the whole affair even more disturbing, yet uproarious. The sheer terror the young soldiers face at the notion of going to battle with them is very well-presented – this is not a glorious battle against a worthy foe, a la Kingdom – this is a suicide run against an enemy that never loses, and one that’s almost certain to end in a hideous death.
As for the dynamics of the lead group, for me it’s still the weak point of the series. We see a Mikasa who seems genuinely uninterested in anything but sticking to Eren like glue, and Armin so terrified at the idea of combat that he’s barely able to move or speak. As for Eren, I still find him pretty insufferable with his constant barrage of GAR speechifying and reckless behavior in battle. This all builds to a scenario where Wavy Gravy is about to consume an Armin who’s paralyzed by his terror, and Eren saves him by literally pulling him out of the Titan’s gullet – only to seemingly be eaten himself, as his severed arm drops to the ground. I don’t get a whole lot of suspense out of this cliffhanger development, as I don’t believe for a nanosecond that Eren is really dead – though I’d be lying if I said the notion doesn’t sort of appeal to me. Selfishly, of course, that would mean we wouldn’t have to listen to him anymore but more importantly, it would be a really radical and unconventional plot twist worthy of George R.R. Martin. It’s going to be milked for at least a week it seems, as the next ep looks to be a flashback episode for Mikasa – but I expect Eren will be back and in full voice before long.