Tools of the Imagination

Tools of the Imagination — Attack on Titan

Attack On Titan
Produced by Wit Studio and Production IG, released 2013, available on Crunchyroll

Spider-Man meets Ultraman, but set in the past

Attack on Titan is a newcomer to the anime scene here in the US.  It’s been making the rounds online and has been growing in popularity ever since, largely thanks to the anime’s vivid depiction of rather graphic violence.

There’s no way to avoid saying this, so here it is: Attack On Titan is really quite bad.  Fans and proponents will champion it, to be sure, but it just doesn’t help that the show suffers from crippling pacing problems and a humongous cast of truly forgettable character that all look alike.  Many fans will find themselves gravitating towards certain characters simply because they visually stand out.  All of this is a shame because the premise is a promising one.

Sometime in the future past no one knows, a set of giant stone walls were constructed for humanity by ‘the gods’ to protect them from strange gigantic humanoid monsters called ‘Titans’ that eat humans.  The show opens with a gianter-than-usual Titan appearing literally out of thin air and kicking down the gate of the outer-most wall, and then disappearing again.

Our main hero, Eren Yeager, watches his mother be eaten by a Titan and pledges to wipe them off the face of the earth by joining the multipronged defense force tasked with defending, understanding, and/or killing them, depending on which episode of the story you’re watching.

The main gimmick of the show is that the characters in the defense force swing on gas-powered grappling hooks, a la Spider-Man and his webs.  It’s a neat idea that would provide some unique action sequences if the show had any real action sequences.  Which it doesn’t.  Despite a baffling reliance on swords to take down gigantic humans, the show sports staggeringly few really engaging fight sequences and seems to spend all its energy on a few ‘movement shots’ of characters swinging between buildings.

I would expound further on the plot but after 15 episodes currently available online, there still doesn’t seem to be much of one.


Story – 2 out of 5
The premise of Attack On Titan is a promising one, with the origins of the Titans and the perimeter walls quite intriguing.  Likewise, there are hints of a power struggle and classism between the different populations inside each of the walls.  Also, there appears to be a power struggle between the different branches of the defense corps tasked with protecting the city, and also with the new version of the Church.  There’s also a mystery involving Eren’s father, who seems poised to have answered every question in the world before the series opens.
Regrettably, none of this gets expounded on because the show has more pacing problems than Dragon Ball Z.  When the plot is progressed, it doesn’t so much as move smoothly as lurch unevenly.  Huge periods of time will be traversed within five minutes in the middle of an episode, including days and even years passing in a matter of seconds thank to flashbacks and montages, while dozens of minutes each episode will be wasted as characters we don’t know and likely haven’t even seen anymore argue about what it means to be humans in the face of the Titans, often while the Titans are bearing down on them.  The amount of wasted time in this show is truly staggering.
Worst of all is how staggeringly nonsensical the world is.  The people of the walled cities have only permanent cannons like those you’d find in the 1600s, but they also have gas-powered grappling hooks that are light enough to be worn on the legs.  They lack any level of advanced metallurgy yet have disposable blades for their swords.  They have flowing water into and out of their walled cities, yet the cities are completely cut off from the rest of the world that is allegedly crawling with Titans.
The Titans themselves are enigmatic.  They do not need to eat or breathe, yet exist solely to devour humans.  They have unique shapes and faces and seem to smile often.  Some attempts to explain Titans are made and it seems that there’s a very interesting story behind them, but it is exposed so slowly, when the tiniest detail is shared, it’s almost always in isolation, leaving it as a non sequitur and put to the viewer to piece together the truth.  If details were shared with any regularity, it might feel more like an engaging mystery, but the drastic gaps of time between learning any detail about the Titans makes it feel more like a story editor went through after the primary writer and tried to work in something more interesting.

Art – 2 out of 5
The art is fairly awful.  Most of the characters look uniform and uninspired.  Multiple groups of characters look identical to one another.  The only reason you can spot Eren in a crowd is because he’s usually the one scowling.  Most characters are purely interchangeable (even across gender lines) and given a single characteristic or quirk in an effort to make their lack of personality less noticeable.
Worse, still, is the inconsistency of the art.  Backgrounds are all perfectly fine, but the characters are drawn with garish and distractingly heavy linework that makes them seem excessively two-dimensional.  The anatomy of the characters is often compromised by the heavy linework, which is very strange given that the Titans themselves are drawn with uncomfortable realism.  It’s as if two (or more) artists are feuding over the less talented of the two being given the better job.

Animation – 3 out of 5
If there’s one saving grace to the show (aside from its premise), it’s that it has some very good sequences involving the swinging implements.  Once or twice per episode, there’s a really nicely animated sequence, whether it’s swinging between irrationally huge cities for a medieval society or just a Titan running.  Sadly, the animation is rarely uniform.  The swinging sequence in one episode will be vastly better in one episode compared to the next.  One episode’s Titan’s sprint will look fluid and photorealistic while the next episode’s will look jerky and uneven.  The lack of animation consistency keeps this score from being anything more than mediocre.

Characters – 1 out of 5
The characters are almost nonexistent.  Eren and Mikasa and others are put in the center of the story, but they’re given very little emotional range and narrative opportunities.  The story is clogged with unnecessary characters who exist to do nothing but be, and sometimes to not be.  Characters introduced and killed in the span of a single episode are often staggeringly one-sided and yet are still more dynamic than the main characters.  There are no really complex characters in the show; everybody is clearly good or clearly evil.  The attempt to present a complex character found well into the show’s teen-numbered episodes are laughable at best.

Acting – 2 out of 5
It feels unfair to judge the acting because the scripts are so bad.  Listening to the Japanese dub, the actors did a fine job, but what they were saying wasn’t worth listening to.

Overall – 2 out of 5
This show is bad.  It’s not overwhelmingly terrible, but it just isn’t worth sitting through.  There is a manga series that may potentially be vastly better, but the animated series of Attack On Titan feels more like a very poor rough draft than a finished product and seems amateurishly done on almost every front.  The show is still running, however, (episode 15 is the most recent episode available at the time of this writing) so perhaps it gets better.  But if the show doesn’t ‘get good’ until the late teens, that almost by definition qualifies it as a bad show.

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