Shingeki no Kyojin – 08

Shingeki no Kyojin - 08-10 Shingeki no Kyojin - 08-16 Shingeki no Kyojin - 08-28

Well, the “what” turned out to be pretty much as expected – hopefully we get down to the “how” next week.

I was walking around in Kiba yesterday.  It’s very much a working-class commuter neighborhood, about as far from the bright lights of Akihabara or Shibuya and their countless tourists as it’s possible to get in Tokyo.  I glanced down a little alley and saw a signboard in front of a barber shop, and whose face should be staring back at me but that of the Armored Titan, drawn in chalk?  You know you’ve achieved cross-over success when you see an anime used to hype a barbershop in Kiba, and Shingeki no Kyojin looks poised to be one of the biggest mainstream hits in recent anime history.  The BD/DVD pre-sales are excellent, and just about every volume of the manga is charting simultaneously.  Attack on Titan is on the verge of passing into phenomenon status.

It would be interesting to delve deeper into the psychology of that and what it says about marketing anime in the 2010’s, but that’s the subject of another post – and as always, there’s plenty going on in the series to keep everyone busy.  What Shingeki lacks in character subtlety it makes up for in plot overload – between the perpetually evolving mystery/conspiracy plot and the simultaneously manic action plot, things never really slow down long enough to get boring (and on the downside, rarely long enough to allow a character to have more than a superficial moment).  I get the sense that Isayama-sensei isn’t fundamentally all that interested in turning this series into a character study – the cast is there to move the plot perpetually forward, not to think too much along the way.

As expected, the titan-attacking titan turned out to be Eren – or, at the very least, had Eren inside its stomach (and it had Eren’s eyes too).  Just exactly how all that came down is still unsettled – presumably Eren’s dreams about strange injections from his father have something to do with it – but the reveal itself is certainly the banner headline this week.  Both in terms of the plot itself and the construction of the narrative itself it’s a game-changer – Eren is back, and presumably will continue to be the center of the story.  The fact that a human could somehow control or become – whichever almost doesn’t matter – a titan changes the balance of power in a very strategic way, if it can be harnessed, as we saw quite clearly this week.  Heck, Eren even grew back his missing arm and leg.  It’s no surprise that he’s seemingly going to be tagged as an enemy by the human authorities, but given that I’m more than confident that those authorities are spectacularly corrupt at the very least and possibly far worse, he should wear that lack a badge of honor.

In point of fact, Ishiyama has given us one character who does think too much along the way, and that’s Armin.  Like everyone else his emotional crises are very much of the subtle as a sledgehammer variety – “I’m useless, so why should you listen to me?” is certainly a trope but it’s rare you actually hear a character say it out loud.  Still, Armin stands out in this cast as someone who’s only weapon is his brain, and it was nice to see him prove useful at last (notwithstanding Mikasa’s comment that his intuition had already saved she and Eren once).  It was he who seized on the idea of using the Eren-titan as an ally, and he who drafted the plan the use the antique weapons found inside the supply depot as a way to take out the seven mini-titans loitering around the gas supplies (have we always known there were so many size classes of titans, even little chihuahua ones?  I don’t remember being told that before).  From a plot standpoint this seems to be his role – to act as a stand-in for the audience, and to pause while the JoJo-esque raging is happening all around him and ask what’s actually going on.

I thought the reactions of Mikasa and Armin to Eren turning up inside a titan’s belly were interesting.  Mikasa was simply overcome with emotion at seeing him – it really does seem as if her sole purpose in life is repaying him for the debt she sees herself as owing him (and the whole being in love with him thing).  Armin eventually allows himself a few tears too, but even here he can’t himself thinking about what’s happened.  Armin is the one who’s likely going to ask the questions we should all be asking – just WTF is going on here?  Mikasa is too busy being relieved to care, I think.  There’s also the vital question of just how much of this experience Eren is going to remember, if any, and whether (please say yes) his personality is going to be different for having undergone it.

As for the rest of the cast, some like Connie and Sasha (it’s very disconcerting that Kobayashi Yuu is using her exact Outa Shou voice here) still seem ticketed either for titan-feed or comic relief (“I’ll spank you for that later.”).  But it’s just possible that Jean may be carving out a niche for himself as a meaningful character.  What we haven’t really seen yet is someone who seems well suited to actually lead.  Eren has the rousing speech down but even setting aside the recent twist he’s basically a lone wolf type, and a jerk most of the time.  Mikasa is cartoonishly skilled but not especially interested in other people besides Eren and Armin, and Armin himself may have the brains for it but not the confidence – and physically weak soldiers rarely make strong leaders in combat situations.  Jean fits the reluctant leader trope, first of all – he’s a cynic, and with good reason – and while he’s competent he’s not superpowered physically.  Maybe he’s enough of a regular guy to understand the psychology of the soliders under him, and smart enough to make good decisions when presented with a set of tactical variables.  It might be a reach, but I’m still looking for a character to really identify with here, and maybe there’s a chance he could be one.

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32 comments

  1. l

    I thought it was obvious in the previous episode that that Titan is Eren. While this is confirmation that he was the Titan or was piloting it subconsciously, the mechanism for doing so is what interests me. If the Titans are people "piloting" it, it begs the question as to who created them and what is their ultimate purpose. Could it be a form of rebellion against the corrupt fat cats that govern the nation?

    This show is all event and plot driven. I do not expect any improvement in character building and development. It's a waste of time to lament the lack of good characters and just go with the flow of the bombastic events driven story.

  2. q

    I agree completely, I was about to post a similar comment in regards to the plot driven nature of the story. Enzo, I really feel there is almost never going to be true character development because it's not what the show is meant to have, likely according to the manga (which I have not read), as well as the director.

  3. M

    It does have character development, but that doesn't mean you need to relate to the characters on an emotional level (we can all empathise with what they're going through, strangers and all)- there's just a need to understand their motives in the grander plot.

    Needing to identify with characters to make a great show is a modern myth. The ancient Grecian stories are proof of that.

  4. R

    I agree that emotional connection is not a requirement for a good character. But it's precisely that what some people look for when going thought a story. That's a decision that should be respected in my opinion.

  5. M

    Inversely, a lot of shows that don't adhere to that philosophy (e.g. Psycho Pass) get quite a bit of flak in the modern anime community.

  6. a

    Jumping back to the original post, I agree the "piloting" mechanic will probably relate to many of the big mysteries. It also helps to finally explain the pinpoint aspect of the Titans' weak spot. Up until now I couldn't grasp why knocking off a Titan's head, which usually involves severe damage to the neck, wouldn't be enough to kill it.

    As for the emotional connection thing, I think it's both personal preference and semantics. Kind of like debating the difference between something being a "great action movie" and simply "a great movie." There's a difference there, but it's really up to each person and how they view that difference.

  7. R

    From that last paragraph, it is evident that the anime did a good job with the characterization of the cast. They may be a tad superficial to most of LiA reader's taste, but at least it seems that we are all on the same page about them.
    Now, it'll be a matter to see where the show goes from here and if it does something with those characters we currently understand.

    Preoders: BD Vols 3-9 have slowed down quite a bit. But Vol 1 keeps being super strong at the top. I'm expecting 50k Vol 1 Week 1 sales. And around 45k total average for this show. But it may go beyond that if it really takes off as a new mass consumer phenomenon thanks to the strong word of mouth effect that I feel this anime has.

    Finally, I really hope that Shingeki sparks a new wave of works that are not set in Japan.

  8. That sounds like a bit of a spoiler, but at least it's suggests a positive development down the road.

  9. R

    Just to it clear where I'm coming from: I noticed that the way you described Eren, Mikasa, Armin and Jean matches the manga's intended effect.
    More stuff will happen to the characters (obviously) but it'll keep being mostly a plot-driven story.

  10. R

    BtW, I also like Jean as a character. The Jean that Eren pushed against a wall in EP5 and the one from this week were different.

  11. W

    Thanks for your weekly analysis, Enzo. The depth of your writing is what keeps me coming to your blog, while I tend to read RC less and less. Nothing against the new writers, I think they're all doing a great job, but none of them write with the detail you and Divine used to. Great job.

    I agree with most of your points. The character development isn't the best in this series, and they all fit classic tropes, but it's an immensely enjoyable romp nevertheless, in a large part thanks to the animation and action choreography. One of my favourite shows this year, but personally for me, still far from the quality of Shinsekai Yori.

  12. J

    it's kind of hard to compare two different genre. One's action/mystery, while another one is drama/mystery. While the other one is focusing on the visual spectacles, SSY is more focused on the inner narrative of Saki. Not to mention SnK has a significant larger cast than SSY. πŸ˜€

  13. W

    Haha,I realise that. But I think where I found SSY more appealing personally was how much it made me think about the presented characters and world, and how realistic the events seemed to unfold. I just found it really unique, whereas SnK is what I would consider to be a very good shounen-style series with the epic battles. Both are awesome, but if I could only pick one for show of the year… =P

  14. M

    SSY certainly devoted more of its time to character interactions, but those interactions did little in making me feel something towards the characters (similar to SnK, I empathised with their predicament more than anything). Ultimately Shunn, Mamoru and Maria all devolved into plot devices just to advance the narrative further. Shun especially gave off cipher vibes. Saki and Satoru carried the show better but I never related with either of them. In the end it was Squealer I felt the most regard for.

    I dug the creativity on display but I took bigger issue with the case-by-case exposition each episode which deafened a lot of the intrigue and scope from the visceral experience for me. Lots of missed potential on that front.

    IMO, Both these shows share similarities as well as the ability to better the other in certain criteria.

  15. It's funny you should mention SSY William, because I recorded a RC podcast today and we had a little back and forth comparing these two shows at the end, "off the record". Maybe some of it will make the outtakes.

    And yes, I agree that SSY and SnK are highly different. Subjectively I think SSY is certainly the better series, but they aren't setting out with the same goals in mind. "Enjoyable romp" is a pretty good fit for AoT as far as I'm concerned.

  16. M

    Shows that are 'highly different' wouldn't inspire this much comparison.

  17. O

    Guardian Enzo, I've been reading your blog for a while now and never posted but I wanted to thank you for your hard work :)

    I pretty much agree with everything William said about RC and your review's. I also like the fact that you don't hesitate to point out the negative aspects of a show, even if it is vastly popular or hyped (hello SAO).

    About the comparison between SSY and SnK, I think the two show couldn't be more different. Maybe it is just me but I don't see that many similarities.
    SnK is like you said a very good mainstream show, whereas SSY is I think more difficult to watch, and in my opinion better so far. The difference in budget, hype, animation, pacing, character and universe development (at least for those first 8 episodes) make them very different. Even the whole background of the show is almost opposite : in SSY, the humans are super powerful and dominate another race, the Queerats. In SnK, the humans are the Titan's food.

    (English is not my native language, and while I have no trouble understanding it, my writing is not as good, so please feel free to correct me)

  18. Z

    That's interesting William I found the inverse to be true. I think I could have found SSY more appealing than I did had the narrative exposition not ruined the suspense and mystery so early on. While many thought that part of the series was well handled, as is their right to do, I found it very obvious at times.

  19. I never would have guessed it wasn't Orin – you have nothing to worry about.

    Thanks for the kind words, and it's always great to hear from another SSY fan. The relationship between commercial success and artistic merit is hardly a direct one, and if we didn't already have sufficient evidence of that SSY certainly bolsters the case. It's a truly great series whether people bought the Blu-rays or not.

  20. R

    I feel so sad for SSY as well. Definitively Japan's greatest sin of the last few years.

  21. O

    You're welcome Guardian Enzo. SSY is certainly one of the biggest flop considering how great the anime is. Even if it is an unconventional show, I don't think all of them sells that bad do they?

  22. M

    It's no 'sin' SSY flopped (more are sin is the shows that pulled in the greatest numbers that season). It was an unconventional show for the 2010s – so it was already disadvantaged because they rarely have a hope of selling well. On top of that I think there's as much apathy/ambivalence towards Shinsekai Yori as there is unremitting love. The novel did win a science fiction award but then so did Mamoru Oshii's Innocence.

    [2013 04/15~04/21 BD List]
    Shinsekai v6 sold 590 BDs, DVDs do not rank

    Glad to see P-P fare a better:
    Psycho-Pass v5 sold 5058/1353, total 6,411

    Sorry to be a dampener on your reverent reminiscence.

  23. m

    i totally totally agree with you Maxulous. I may like SSY more in terms of sheer genius, but the characters… gahh i hate them more than i hate characters in SnK. If developing them only makes them contradict and fall flat, then i would rather they just advance and focus on the plot. there are just some shows where plot far exceeds character, opposite of chihayafuru in fact haha.

    haha, and also, subtle characterizations at times more for the mature audience. some people just want GAR and action. although i do want to see more character development. especially for eren. i just don't see it coming in the manga yet

  24. m

    ohh noo… the SSY bds look so good too. the first ending in BD quality is just so goddamn gorgeous.

    let's just love the two series guys. they are so incomparable and hard to choose

  25. J

    Just a note, the whole "spanking" line is just unnecessary joke inserted by GG. The original meaning is along the line of "scolding" instead. Best not to look too much into it. Those translators are just too cheeky for their own good.

  26. R

    [Commie] –
    Sasha: "How can I possibly face you guys?!"
    Connie: "I'll rag on you all you want later"

  27. g

    From what I heard, Connie says "εΎŒγ§γŸγ£γ·γ‚Šθ»½θ”‘γ—γ¦γ‚„γ‚‹οΌ"
    Where 軽蔑する (keibetsu suru) means to scorn, to look down on.
    It can also be used in the sense of scolding.

    So its just as Jeroz said.

  28. K

    Glad you mentioned Jean as he is actually the character that stood out for me more so than Armin in this episode as one I found I could relate too.

  29. m

    Jean is actually given more attention in the anime than in the manga, which is good actually.

    on a side note, next week's characters are awesommee! so excited! especially the guy with dead eyes and black hair

  30. A

    The psychopath is back!

  31. m

    cheers for SnK having one of the most, if not most comment rate weekly!

  32. R

    "It would be interesting to delve deeper into the psychology of that and what it says about marketing anime in the 2010's, but that's the subject of another post…"

    Enzo — I am very interested in reading and learning more about this topic but will be patient…I know how busy you are.

    I very much enjoyed reading everyone's comment — love the mature dialogue, the exchange of views on characters, and the comparison between SSY and SnK. There's really no one-size-fits-all. Some of my friends simply need the bombastic and can't care less about the characters — as long as they act (or fight) and talk in moving the plot along and bringing the GAR out. Others, including me, see characters the paramount ingredient in making a show shine and captivating the minds and hearts of its audience — it's the differentiator. It's not that a well-written plot is not important — it's as important when it's fully elaborated, but when it comes with inwardly conflicted and three-dimensional characters (hello Chihayafuru), it immediately makes the story wow and gives its audience (well, me) an Aha! moment. Having said that though, it really is a personal preference, and as for me, I can see that, especially with this episode, I am starting to like SnK more than when it started, but I am very sure that I love SSY more.

    I like this episode even more than episode 6. It finally gave Armin a purpose…and he's slowly changing. I also liked the way it showed Jean's thoughts making him way more interesting as a character — even more so than Eren and Misaka. While I can't say that the plot is intricately brilliant yet with only 8 episodes in — I will be more than happy to see that coming, it certainly is engaging with its interesting mystery and jam-packed action. One thing that I know for myself, given that SnK is a plot-driven show, I need to change my way of appreciating SnK from now on — this will make me get more out of it.

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