If you’ve had a conversation or two about anime or manga during the past year, there’s an excellent chance that someone has mentioned Attack on Titan. It’s fast become a blockbuster and Anime Reporter is about to tell you why, reviewing Part 1 (episodes 1-13) of the Attack on Titan anime series. Some readers will be aware that Anime Reporter has covered the first thirteen volumes of the manga to date, taking the story much further than the plot of this review. This article is focused on the anime completely distinct from the manga series for the purposes of review, though anyone interested in getting started on the series who wants to know which version to go with can feel free to skip down the page to the Anime vs. Manga section of this post.
Attack on Titan (or Shingeki no Kyojin in Japanese) is set in a world where humanity lives within the borders of three gigantic walls. Only the bravest and most skilled of soldiers dare to venture outside the outer wall, Wall Maria, for outside is the territory of the titans. It has been one hundred years since these giant, powerful creatures first appeared, unceasingly hunting and devouring humans, never seeming to tire or grow bored. These titans range in size, but even the smallest is far larger than any human and though they often vary greatly in their appearance, they all look more or less human, often with twisted, bizarre facial expressions. They don’t seem to talk, or even really to think. It’s only clear that they flock towards large groups of humans, devouring anything they find.
This is the world to which Eren, Armin and Mikasa are born. Eren is a tough, stubborn kid determined to see the outside world at any risk. Mikasa is a solemn, intimidating child whose fierce devotion to Eren seems limitless. Armin is a timid, incredibly bright kid who typically relies on Eren and Mikasa to get him out of the trouble his mouth gets him into. These three live an uneasy existence dreaming of the world outside the walls, until one day, hell comes to their doorstep.
“And just like that, everything changed. At that terrible moment, in our hearts, we knew home was a pen. Humanity, cattle.”
A colossal titan, far taller than any other titan had ever come close to, appears without warning, taller even than the towering Wall Maria. Within moments of its appearance, the titan has kicked a hole through the wall and its smaller siblings are swarming upon Eren’s home city. Making horrific matters somehow even worse, another titan, capable of barrelling through solid rock at great speed with its armoured hide, makes short work of the city’s inner wall. Eren, Mikasa and Armin are forced to leave their homes and many of their loved ones behind, never able to forget the giant, ludicrous beings tearing their neighbours apart without a thought. The three children become refugees, starving and scrambling inside the outer of humanity’s now two remaining walls. The only comfort from the atrocities they’ve witnessed is the thought of becoming soldiers and killing the titans that have pushed them so far towards extinction.
This is where things get really, really interesting.
Five years later, the trio are just that little bit more grown up and enlisted to become soldiers. There’s a lot of studying to be done, a lot of saluting and a hell of a lot of conversations reminding everyone of exactly how terrifying titans actually are. There’s also a wee bit of training with the Omni-Directional Mobility Gear, a pretty nifty, gas-propelled wire system which can send troops swinging and slingshotting with speed and precision that would make Spider-man pack away his skin-tight onesie in shame. It’s not easy, but it’ll take every ounce of training to keep these cadets alive in the big, bad world of titan-slaying.
Actually, they could probably do with a lot more of all of the training because once things kick off, the body count run high. These fresh-faced soldiers may have seen a titan or two in their time but that doesn’t mean they’re prepared for it when things get hairy. The action is undeniably fast, with the omni-drectional rig making things just about a fair fight, but not much more than that as titans are much stronger and faster than their vacant expressions would have you think. The soundtrack is seamless, carrying emotion and tension with ease. Action scenes become increasingly intense under the momentum of heavy orchestra or pounding drums and the effect is truly captivating. The animation is nothing if not glorious, with a variety of styles and methods flitting on and off screen, capturing layers of action, emotion and drama without becoming a distraction. The character design is pretty faithful to the original manga, with an emphasis on heavy, dark lines and deep shadow work but where it really shines is in action, with soldiers flying around faster than the eye can follow and looking pretty darn snazzy in the process. Titans are haunting, serving as something altogether more ghastly than their closest relative, the zombie, the semi-translucent shading of their skin makes them all the more ghoulish and their fixed expressions only seem more sinister and menacing over time.
Yes, this show has action, blood and more suspense than this anime reporter has felt since Death Note. But it’s more than that. This is a story of loss and pain and more rage than a human body should be able to contain. Eren, Armin, Mikasa and indeed, the entire human race are scarred beyond repair by the unending destruction that the titans bring them. That’s what the titans really are, at the heart of this series. Their contorted expression are cruel mockeries of human emotion, they are, every inch of them, reminders of grief, rage, terror and hopelessness. They are the fear and guilt that survivors are woken by, they are reminders that the world can never be the same. This series packs more anguish and a clearer representation of the pointlessness of human destruction than any series I’ve seen in a very long time. Soldiers are not just faced with taking down titans, they also have to wrestle down their own desperation and grief on a constant basis. Adrenaline and heartbreak go hand-in-hand with this one.
Only the utterly squeamish or those who simply can’t abide a heavy dose of emotion with their intense action-scenes should consider missing out on this series even a little.
Before moving on to the final score, I’d like to take advantage of the fact that this portion of Attack on Titan was covered in manga form in an earlier review here. For anyone interested in starting this series who’d like to weigh the anime against the manga, I offer the following comparison:
Attack on Titan: Anime Vs Manga
With any series, there can often be a tremendous difference in the overall experience between watching an anime and reading the manga. While many people claim that reading the Death Note manga can feel much more drawn out than watching the anime series (we will not be discussing the live-action incidents for now), there are certainly many who feel that the anime versions of One Piece and Naruto are often slowed down by recaps and filler arcs and that the manga is a much smoother reading experience. Many fans lean heavily towards one medium or another. The following is only for those who may have trouble making up their minds.
While the plot is consistent between the two versions of Attack on Titan, at least this far into the plot, there is a drastic difference in the experiences of watching the anime and reading the manga. These differences are heavily weighed in favour of the anime, without a doubt. If there is one weakness to the Attack on Titan manga, it would have to be that the artwork can often feel a little too cluttered and often lacking in necessary detail. (For example, when reading the manga initially, I at first failed to realise that there was anything special about the armoured titan at all, though his abnormal behaviour is made vitally clear from the get-go of the anime.) With the blend of animation styles used in the anime, scenes are not only clear, but a sheer pleasure to watch. More than this, the already dynamic action scenes and violent renditions of the manga are taken to entirely new levels with sterling special effects and a seamless soundtrack. The manga, while an absolute pleasure to read, could never hope to capture the Omni-Directional Mobility Gear in action like the anime does and characters are presented with just that little bit more detail that makes viewing a more pleasurable experience.
Although it’s early days for the series, it doesn’t seem like pacing will be much of an issue, with scenes firing ahead with dynamism, pausing only when the tension of a scene requires it.
As it stands, the manga is much further along in its plot than the anime, but this is the only advantage which it has over its animated sibling. Officially, in this reporter’s opinion, the anime series is more than worth the wait.
The Final Verdict
Attack on Titan Part 01 is available on DVD and Blu ray (Age rating 15) from Manga Entertainment UK from Monday 15th September 2014. For more information, check out the Manga Entertainment website and Facebook page.
93% – “Must-See!” – Attack on Titan is a smash hit and with undeniably good reason. The faint of heart might want to give this a miss. Everyone else might just find themselves with a brutal new favourite anime!