Shingeki no Kyoujin – 25 (End) and Series Review

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This finale left pretty much everything hanging, but one thing I can say for certain: for a change, this is an anime on my watching list for which a second season isn’t remotely in doubt.

One of the complaints I heard about Attack on Titan before this series even started is that it was pretty stingy on actually revealing anything.  Well, we got through 25 episodes and based on what we’ve seen in the anime, I think that’s a pretty fair assessment.  Certainly there were moments when the mythology was jerked ahead by a nugget of new information, but in a sense it seems to me that looking back, it’s surprising how little actually happened in 25 episodes which packed in so much action.

Taking stock of where things stand at the end, I think the biggest change is really that the status quo has been overturned, likely in a pretty big way – and that would be true even if it weren’t for that little surprise after the ED credits.  In fact I think one might almost argue that was Erwin’s ultimate goal here, as much if not more than capturing Annie alive.  It was a huge gamble, no doubt, but despite his lack of military success what’s set Erwin apart from the other human leadership (apart from Pixis) is his ability to think large and willingness to make shocking sacrifices for the greater good.  In this case that was up to and including his own life, which I think he was quite prepared to surrender in exchange for blowing the cover off the facade of Stohess.

Of course, capturing Annie alive would have been more than just a nice little bonus.  It was the nominal point of the operation and would have yielded immediate and tangible benefits that would have secured the future of the Recon Corps without a doubt.  If there was one most galling frustration about the lack of resolution here for me, it’s that we were never told what drove Annie to do what she did.  I suspect that’s because doing so would have revealed most of the major mystery of the story itself – just why this conspiracy exists in the first place – but these little teaser flashbacks about her father and some horrible thing he did just didn’t do a whole lot for me.

I feel there’s an implication here of a major contradiction in the series itself, namely that the mystery is more interesting that the conflict that will surely follow it’s uncovering.  That leaves the incentive to drag and drag its reveal, because the author knows that in doing so he sucks the life out of his story.  It’s like one of those TV shows where two platonic friends forever tease that they might get together romantically, and it’s the tease that ends up driving the show.  Eventually they do the deed, and usually all the life goes out of the series after they do.  Either they settle down happily and the narrative is effectively over, or it degrades into an on again-off again soap opera that quickly loses its appeal.  The writers know this and drag the moment out for as long as they can, but they know that it’s the price to be paid for the premise they’ve chosen – sooner or later they have to give the audience what it’s waiting for.

As usual, the finale of Shingeki is about as subtle as a kick in the nuts, but still makes a pretty big impact (though not as big as a kick in the nuts).  You have the church full of wall-worshippers, turned into pudding by Annie’s falling form (social commentary noted).  These scenes of devastation and death are classic Araki-Isayama sledgehammer savagery, but they’re important so that we understand just what Erwin’s strategy has unleashed on the innocents of Stohess.  It all comes down to the issue of making sacrifices that Erwin keeps harping on.  It also points up just how much was lost when Eren hesitated at the moment of truth yet again, allowing Annie to freeze herself inside what’s for now an unbreakable cocoon after she loses her battle to Eren at last.

In the aftermath of the carnage we get a trial, where the Governor (Ishizuka Unshou, a big name in a little role) confronts Erwin about the price paid for his adventurism.  This sequence felt as if it could have used a lot more time, to be honest – it seemed as if he and the Survey Corps were let off the hook way too easily, based on the information we have at our disposal.  For all the sound and fury of the finale, somehow the moments that stood out as significant were ones that were quietly sneaked in: the eyecatch story about the miner and the foundations of Wall Sina.  And a very strange moment when Jean pauses while leaving the room where Eren is recuperating from his wounds, in Mikasa’s company (my read on that was Jean thinking, “You’re just not worth it” about Eren, but that’s just a guess).  It seems as if most of the complaints from manga readers about the finale surround the fact that a bunch of conversation between Eren and Armin was changed to Eren and Mikasa, which is sort of humorous to me.  In fact I see their point, of course, because between Eren’s constant winging and Mikasa’s vapid adoration, these two are pretty much incapable of having an interesting conversation at this point.

Ultimately, it’s largely this lack of real character interest that prevents me from classifying Attack on Titan as a truly elite series.  I did grow to like Armin, Jean and Erwin – and Annie has potential for the mystery behind her if nothing else.  But the lack of meaningful relationships in the show limits how much emotional impact it makes on me.  The frustrations in the stalling and prevaricating on the conspiracy are frustrating, too, but that’s a back-handed compliment – it’s only because the premise is so ingenious and compelling that I care enough to be irritated.  There are also some pacing concerns, and I think the anime produced some clunkers (mostly the eternal “Trost” loop) in pursuit of making the timing work to end where it did.  These are the perils of adapting manga that are works in progress, and in truth this series would have been best if it had been something like Hyouka in terms of odd format – 21 episodes.

Whatever one might feel about this series itself, it can’t be denied that it’s an extraordinary phenomenon in anime terms.  When all is said and done there will be other anime that have outsold AoT in raw numbers of dics, but my feeling is that this show has connected with a broader demographic range than any anime since Evangelion.  In all my time as a serious anime fan, Shingeki no Kyoujin is the only show that I’ve seen reach the consciousness of large numbers of people who normally ignore anime.  This is the show that’s cracked the non-traditional demographics in a big way.  On top of that – as any visit to Comiket or a major doujin fair would tell you – it’s also managed to appeal to every major subset of anime fans, no small feat in and of itself.

The question of just why that is is an interesting one, but probably one that necessitates a long post dedicated entirely to the issue.  Obviously the balls-to-the-wall action and sheer dramatic volume of the show are part of the draw, but there’s clearly something a lot deeper here.  It seems that people connect to the core premise of Shingeki in a very elemental way, anime fans and muggles alike.  The notion of humanity in a cage, possibly of its own design, is a highly compelling one (the montage of the Canada Geese soaring over Wall Sina as Armin and Jean – the two most thoughtful members of the main cast – watched was well done, if not especially subtle).

It’s clearly the premise of Attack on Titan that draws people in, because less so than for any similarly successful anime in recent years this show relies little on character.  In looking at most other commercial blockbuster anime of the last half-decade, nearly all of them have a strong component of fetishizing at least one character that capture the imagination of the fanbase.  The fact that this isn’t true here is, I think, another reason why this series has a broader demographic reach than the likes of the Monogatari franchise or Madoka Magica, to the point where it’s become culturally relevant to the general public both in Japan and abroad.

As to the question of what the future holds for the show, Isayama-sensei noted in an interview last week that he’d like to finish the manga in 20 volumes (currently, there are 11).  It seems as if it’ll be two years or so before the manga reaches the point where the anime can directly continue this timeline, but this franchise is such a cash cow that I can’t see the money people sitting on their hands.  We have the live-action film due, and I’m dead-certain we’ll see anime fill that two-year gap – most likely side-stories or prequels in OVA or movie form, or perhaps a TV series based on the gag manga set in high school.  You simply can’t apply the normal rules to Shingeki no Kyoujin – this is not merely a franchise, but a cultural phenomenon of once-in-a-decade proportions for anime.  I certainly don’t see it as exceptional enough to merit that in terms of writing or execution, but it is damn good – and compared to most commercial blockbuster anime, a freaking masterpiece.  If this is the show that helps to spark an overall uptick in popularity for anime as a whole, that can only be seen as a very good thing.

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24 comments

  1. K

    I remember reading somewhere before watching this series that there was no good place to end this. I guess they meant that the ending wasn't going to feel conclusive which is very true. Of course I am glad they ended it this way and didn't do a an anime original ending. While there is no 2nd season announced and it might be a long time, I am sure we will get one.

    I enjoyed the series but it is more because it was kind of a fun show to watch on a weekly basis. It's a bit bombastic and lacks depth but it's entertaining (well except those eps with Titan Eren moving a rock). I would say it had the best action of the year but not much else that makes it stand out for me. As for characters my favorites were Jean, Armin, Levi, & Annie.

    In looking at most other commercial blockbuster anime of the last half-decade, nearly all of them have a strong component of fetishizing at least one character that capture the imagination of the fanbase

    Not sure if I entirely agree. Levi (who is really just a side character) is extremely popular for one thing. He tops the polls and is even getting his own manga spin off. And while I don't get it myself Levi/Eren is extremely popular with Fujoshi. Lots of merchandise reflects this as well with Eren, Mikasa, and Levi being the main merchandise focus. So there is definitely a lot of character focused merchandise for this show & it is selling well.

  2. R

    Popular character selling themselves as toys happens since Disney. Pokemon isn't fetishizing Pikachu in the same way figure makers do with Madoka "Beach Queen" figures.

    Enzo is pointing out that the last few blockbusters had at least one sexualized character.

  3. Z

    Levi/Eren is popular with fujoshi because of the dominant/submissive relationship thing they had going on. Edward Elric/Envy was a similarly popular pairing.

  4. e

    @Zeta Zero: pretty much. Doujinshi or official manga of the yaoi breed tend to fall into that template most of the time. It's ingrained since the vocabulary Pretty hard to excape that dominant&active (popular bonus: figurative a**hole) seme/submissive&passive (literal a**hole if there's very explicit content) uke template.
    Right now I can't recall a single 100% yaoi title where the swapping happens on both the figurative and who does the plugging front. The closest are arguably a few works by Est Em – she does tend to skirt on the insertion bit and rarely goes for the pwp route. Actually if you are ever going to pick one yaoi auhtor to sample she's d be the one I – and Matt Thorn – would suggest – , the Cat And Mouse + Carp sequel ( technically published in a josei magazine) by Sotona Mizushiro of After School Nightmare fame and the seinen slice of life about a gay main couple and lots of food porn Kinou Nani Tabeta by Yoshinaga Fumi.
    A few 'true' yaoi ones go against grain in terms of age (older uke), looks (the uke built and demeanor and vibe being as 'manly' as the seme or near there ) or dynamics/behaviour outside of the bedroom.
    But going back to SnK doujinshi I'd bet one pizza most of the Levi/Eren ones feature Eren as the uke…

  5. m

    I'm a fujoshi but shipping levi and eren is like shipping chocolate ice cream (yum) and a candy wrapper. Maybe you bloggers have influenced me too much, but I have come to see Eren as a slightly annoying person. Levi x Mikasa is interesting XD

    Oh well, shipping's too subjective anyway. As for seme/uke sterotypes..I suppose this isn't the place to have that discussion XD *sneaks away*

  6. K

    Richard, I don't think you have seen some of the merchandise.

    I admit there is no fanservice in the show but that doesn't stop them from selling Eren & Levi body pillows. So I don't really see how that is different from Madoka Beach Queens.

    Hey I bought a Levi figure for myself so not that Im complaining about merch.

    As for Levin/Eren I am surprised Levi/Erwin isn't the more popular pairing for various reasons *shrugs *

  7. Z

    @ Elianthos80: Exactly what you said.

    @Kim: I suspect those two characters have too much respect for each other for it to be popular. I've seen it, but it's definitely in the minority.

  8. R

    >Richard, I don't think you have seen some of the merchandise.
    I admit I did not. It's no different.

    Still, it's rare for such a hit to have no fan service in it.

  9. m

    I ship Levi and Erwin XD As for fanservice, (as twisted as this maybe) Titan Annie…? According to someone I know, that's indirect fanservice whatever the hell that means lol.

  10. Z

    That's stretching it a bit. Although I suppose some will get their kicks whichever way they can.

  11. m

    I know right -_-

  12. D

    Most of the manga reader's complaints about this episode aren't about Armin's dialogue being cut, but mostly due to the nature of the wall reveal. What was a hugely impactful and expertly event in the manga that drove the narrative in an entirely different direction in the manga was relegated to a cheap post-credits sequel hook. Read chapter 33 of the manga, the chapter that corresponds to this episode, and you'll see what I mean.

    Anyways, all in all it was a good adaptation I have to admit. It was much, much better than I expected it to be going in as a manga fan, and since it started so strongly it built up my expectations to a level that I got nit picky when it didn't fulfill them, even if it was a much better adaptation than I could have hoped for. What I will have to say is that I am annoyed they cut important bits of character development simply for the sake of anime original action scenes.

    Speaking of character development, your gripes with that should be fixed with the first half of the second season, since it gives a focus to the rest of the 104th outside the main trio (and their tag-along, Jean).

  13. D

    "expertly crafted", I meant to say. Really, it was the biggest shock in the series so far and I don't think the anime did it justice with its slow zoom to the wall. In the manga it was incredibly sudden and made your head spin.

  14. p

    > These are the perils of adapting manga that are works in progress, and in truth this series would have been best if it had been something like Hyouka in terms of odd format – 21 episodes

    Which makes me wonder: Why don't more anime shows adapt "odd format" broadcast schedules like Hyouka?

    Instead of the rigid 24-26 or 12-13 episodes, why not 21? Or 17? Or 15? Or 28? Or other "odd" formats like that? Surely we can all name dozens and dozens of shows off the top of our heads that could have very much benefited from having these "odd" schedules. So many shows are plagued with unnecessary filler episodes simply because they have to fill in all the regular 12-13/24-26 broadcast slots.

    Anyway, do you plan on reading the rest of the chapters, Enzo? The anime ended somewhere around chapter 31-33. I don't remember exactly which chapter. But considering that there are only 49 chapters so far, I don't think it should take too much time to read the rest of the chapters the anime hasn't covered yet.

  15. R

    Because more episodes = more BD volumes.

  16. m

    and they gotta fill in the season I guess?

  17. Honestly, I'm in no hurry to read the manga. When a few more questions have been answered, maybe I'll pick it up.

  18. S

    Yeah don't pick it up lol. You'll just have more questions to ask, cause that's literally what the manga does, give's more questions and speculations.

  19. R

    Main manga rabid fans complaints over Stohess arc adaptation:
    1) The titan in the wall cliffhanger, now a tease. Best cliffhanger shonen manga had seen in years played off as a silly hook.
    2) Levi getting cured.
    3) Eren being able to use fast regeneration fueled by RAGE.
    4) Eren wining the fight.
    5) Annie being over-antagonized.
    6) No background to understand Eren's hesitation about fighting Annie (Because of 5).
    7) The titan in the wall (anime) being revealed during sunset. This is major.
    8) Stohess being nearly obliterated. Burning everywhere. The anime shows many times more damage.

    Stohess arc adaptation was overall disappointing. I wished it had the same treatment as Trost or the expedition. Most of the changes were done to make it more conclusive.

    I just hope this last episode gets redone for the premiere of the inevitable second season.
    _________

    >it seemed as if he and the Survey Corps were let off the hook way too easily
    The court is actually interrupted by a messenger.
    >a very strange moment when Jean pauses while leaving the room
    Araki took a very subtle small detail in the manga and created a first plane of it.

    > I think the anime produced some clunkers (mostly the eternal "Trost" loop)
    IMO, the worst thing about the production were the +60 minutes worth of recaps we accumulated so far. Enough to make 3 more episodes.

  20. H

    As willing as I am to go with whatever just about any show throws out there, THIS was the show that that didn't hold for. For myriad reasons, it just made me bristle with annoyance, and maybe it was because it could have been so much better. The physics could have been tightened up with just the barest amount of research. The story could have been so much better with just a little thought, rather than just being a "Isn't this SO COOL!!!!" show. When this and Valvrave started, Valvrave annoyed me more, but at least it gave me an out with "Science!" and "Space!". This never did, so where Valvrave came to not constantly breaking my suspension of disbelief, this show constantly crossed it.

    Plus, it was sooooo sloooow. I must have thought "Get on with it, already" dozens of times. It just felt like the series exemplified the saying "Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Ultimately, we find out nothing, we make no story progress except hundreds more people died with every operation. At the beginning, the humans have got nothing. At the end, they still have pretty much got nothing. I just found it very unsatisfying and unimpressive, even (or especially) considering the epic scale it was going for.

  21. s

    wasnt Hyouka 22 eps? am i mistaken

  22. H

    Yes, it started a couple weeks 'late' in Spring 2012.

  23. s

    yea i knew it was 22 eps….I like that episode format

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