That day humanity remembered the terror of being ruled by them. The humiliation of being kept in a cage.
So begins the first episode of the anime series Attack on Titan, as the Colossal Titan rises above Wall María to the horror of the city’s inhabitants. The wall’s breached, and a hundred years of peace are over forever.
Here are some words I can use to describe this anime’s first season:
“Intense” is by far the best description I can give it. In fact, it is such a perfect description that from now on I will use an intensity scale based on this when describing other works (and there will be some future reviews with “intense” as the best description as well). This anime is a Titan 10. 10 is not necessarily the highest level of intensity, but for the purposes of scale calibration I will use it as the point of absolute awesomeness intensity. (Of course, levels of intensity vary according to every person’s stomach).
But before going into detail about what makes Attack on Titan intense, let’s touch upon what it is about:
So we are on a world. I guess it’s supposed to be Earth, perhaps the Earth of an alternate reality, perhaps another planet, sort of how Middle Earth, or Earthsea, or any other totally fantastic world might be another planet on another universe. They don’t delve into that much detail, but they don’t have to. All you need to know is that this is a quasi-medieval world mixed with some steampunk technology, and that one hundred years before the start of our story, giants popped into existence and wiped out most of humanity. Those that survived built a huge walled city that has two more concentric walls within protecting other… cities, I suppose. The outermost wall, named Wall María, protects the part of the city/country where our hero, Eren Jaeger, lives with his family and adopted sister Mikasa. The walls are too high for the giants – the titans – to climb and invade the city, until one day a titan of colossal proportions appears out of nowhere and destroys part of the wall, creating a breach through which the lesser titans can get in.
At this point I should mention that the lesser titans reason for existence seems to be devouring humans.
So the first wall’s breached, chaos ensues, Eren and Mikasa barely escape, and while Eren’s father was away on an errand his mother dies a horrible death which Eren is witness to. This death was the introduction to the series’ gore and… well, the intensity I have been talking about. Attack on Titan isn’t pulling punches when characters die; it shows you their deaths in a way that you suffer their loss almost as much as the characters in the story do. It makes you look. And considering how the mindless titans’ way of dealing with people is by eating them alive, it’s pretty frightening to look at.
So of course this is the catalyst our hero needed to finally go over the edge and train to kill titans. Actually, he already wanted to train and join the corps that kills titans before all of this happens, but now this wish becomes an obsession. So he, Mikasa and their best friend Armin join the military, eventually working their way into the Survey Corps – the ones that leave the “safety” of the walls to venture into the open and scout (and kill) titans. There are plenty other mysteries that pop up little by little as the series progress, but I won’t spoil that much to you.
At its core, it’s not a great story. Nothing really special about it, just humans trying to survive the horror that besieges them. And that’s fine. What actually makes Attack on Titan so special are the technical aspects. For one thing, the cinematography is beautiful. Just look at those screenshots I have been posting and tell me you aren’t impressed not only with the look of it but with the sense of scale. The editing and direction are spot on, with the action sequences deserving special recognition; the steampunk tech that I alluded to earlier helps the soldiers move faster by using a device employing grappling hooks and steam propulsion to navigate a la Spiderman among buildings or forests. This adds much dynamism to the action, and the combination of all these elements makes for a complete cinematic experience. Add to that the gore and the realisation that no character is safe (think Game of Thrones here), and every time you see a titan and an action sequence you will catch yourself gripping your seat tightly while thinking “fuck, fuck, fuck, who will they get this time?!?”. Fear is an essential part of the series. There’s no chivalric heroism to speak of here; everybody’s scared shitless of the titans, and with good reason. Sure, there are the typical badass characters from every anime that appear to be fearless, but they are no heroes. They know what’s at stake, and they know their limits. For most characters, though, the very human emotion of fear grips them whenever a titan is nearby, and that’s contagious. The world seems to be clouded with despair, and so rising above this reality and doing your job – however dangerous and/or suicidal it might be – is the true heroism in Attack on Titan.
The story’s plot twists are good enough to keep your attention beyond these technical aspects I mention, of course, and there’s always a cliffhanger leaving you craving for more. Attack on Titan isn’t so much a masterpiece of literature as it is a roller-coaster ride with great animation storytelling. A definite must-see.