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Anime Review: Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) Season 1

Posted by Carlo Jose San Juan, MD on Sunday, September 29, 2013
Shingeki no Kyojin - Attack on Titan    I'm not a big anime follower.  The only ones I ever got truly invested in were few and reasonably far between (Dragon Ball Z, Super Dimensional Fortress: Macross, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Macross Frontier, and Blade of the Immortal).  I would hear about One Piece, Bleach, Naruto, and whanot but I just couldn't seem to get myself to give them a chance.
    For several months, the same was true about Attack on Titan.  It took a lot of pushing and clamor from comic convention attendees passing by my table to get me to even remember the title!  Finally, in Cebu Comicon 2013, a sketch request from a fan of the series got me to look at images from the TV show.  The images I saw got me interested so that night I watched some related YouTube uploads.  Eventually I checked out every episode to that date!  It surprised me that I got hooked so quickly.  Such is the ability of the show to suck you into its world, getting you to suspend disbelief completely.  What follows is my opinion on the first season (at least I'm hoping for more).


    The main premise of the show's setting is that mankind had been pretty much annihilated by gigantic humanoid beings popularly known as Titans and its remaining population lives within the safety of three massive and vastly-spaced concentric walls.  The Titans have a huge craving for consuming human flesh and do not seem to be interested in anything else.  The walls do a good job and have kept these European-esque people living happy lives in safety from the giants for roughly a millenium or two.  Then one fateful day, a colossal Titan appears and breaks through the outermost wall, spilling Titans into the town within who readily feast on human beings.

    I do like that the show reached deep down and channeled the fear of being gnawed upon.  Thankfully, though teetering on the fine edge of tastefulness, the show limits itself to depicting the most gruesome images just offscreen, allowing the viewer's imagination to fill in the blanks.  And that first true scene of someone slowly being carried to a Titan's gaping jaws with the subsequent burst of blood is so chilling that the emotions elicited are significant until the end of the season.

From left to right: Armin Arlert, Eren Jaeger, and Mikasa Ackerman

The Warriors Three

    The story starts off with three children as its main protagonists.  There's Eren Jaeger, a high-strung yet determined boy who likens his existence within the walls to that of livestock; there's Mikasa Ackerman, a "half-oriental" girl (and quite possibly all that's left of the Asian-esque races) who has remarkable command of her physical being and attributes.  As a result she's well-known in the city's bullying circles as the best there is in wielding fisticuffs.  She also happens to be Eren's adoptive sister; and there's Armin Arlert, a physically weak yet incredibly intelligent boy who is the best friend to Eren and Mikasa.  Their simple lives, of course, make a tragic turn once the Titans invade their city.  They then decide to join mankind's armed forces once they are old enough.

    The relationship between these three kids amidst the Titan-dealt carnage becomes apparent as the first few episodes roll on.  Eren's the leader, Armin's the brains, and Mikasa's the brawn.  Mikasa in particular gives a jolt of life to every scene she's in as she plays the role of Wolverine to Attack on Titan's X-Men.  I love it when she asserts herself during scenes of heightened and intense drama to bring everything back to the ground.

Band of Brothers

    They eventually enter boot camp and begin their journey to the coveted chance to fight back against the Titans.  Here, one can say the number of primary characters increases as the original trio's fellow cadets are distinct, likable characters in themselves, no matter how minor they may seem at first.  In the end they get to decide on which group of mankind's military to join:  The Military Police, who maintain order within the innermost wall and serve the King; The Stationary Guard, who defend the walls directly; or the Scouting Legion, who explore the areas outside the walls and are considered mankind's main offensive force against the Titans.

    It is during this phase when the series suddenly becomes grounded and we experience the familiarity of being in a classroom full of new people.  Some become friends, some rivals.  There is a year's jump in time, however, which can be a bit jarring at this point as the main trio of characters suddenly age what seems like far more than just a year.  Their simple, old-school attire is changed to a modern uniform too which effectively changes the mood.  The sudden introduction of so many more characters can seem daunting but so distinct are they that it's remarkably easy to become familiar with them.  There's also a sudden injection of comedy which, after a few episodes of seriously super-serious seriousness, can fall flat and feel out of place.  But it gets the job done in the end and I look back at this time with some fondness.  Like high school, the entire group's training was the simplest time of their lives in hindsight.

    Because things get crazy again.

Ninja Steampunk Spider-Men
    Some of the best action from the series comes in the form of 3-D Maneuver Gear usage.  It is the primary weapon-of-choice for a soldier to take down Titans.  A couple of hip-mounted gas-propelled grappling cables controlled by triggers on their sword handles enables a soldier to swing spectacularly from building to building and more importantly, up to the height of a Titan.  That theoretically takes away the height advantage of a Titan and allows a soldier to strike any point of its body.

The series' first opening credits sequence


    Like many animes, Attack on Titan is quite violent and I wouldn't recommend it to kids below seven years old (and that's being kind).  The despair is vivid and the graphic nature of the violence, while suggested, is obviously graphic even in the mind's eye.  But unlike many animes, this one is easy on western palates.  Names are strikingly European-based, making it easy for non-Japanese to identify them.  There's hardly any of the sugary-sweet uber-cuteness that I personally usually associate with animes.  The soundtrack and score is phenomenal, mixing a wide array of genres like but keeping a hard rock edge to it.  If you have means to get it, I highly recommend it to soundtrack and score buffs.

The Horror!

    Make no mistake, a significant portion of the first season is horrifying... which is great!  For a long stretch it seems like mankind can't seem to catch a break and the resulting despair is incredibly visceral.  The fear on the faces of soldiers about to meet their end in the smiling jaws of a Titan and the subsequent screams are blood-curdling.

The Animation
    Attack on Titan's animation is above-average but even it isn't immune to some cheap trickery.  There is one scene I felt lost in due to such tricks.  But overall I felt it is really quite good.

Gender Equality
    One of my favorite things about the series is that there is no distinction between male and female "jobs".  Men and women have equal footing here.  Including the chance of being eaten alive.  And refreshingly, no fan service.

    All in all, the first season had its flaws but nevertheless stands out as the best anime I've experienced in a very long time.  Recommended.

Tags: attack on titan  shingeki no kyojin  review  season 1 
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About the Author

Carlo Jose Caz is a practicing licensed physician, professional voice actor/talent, writer, and cartoonist. He has been working on the Callous comic strip since 1996, winning several of The LaSallian's Silver Quill awards for his work. He has written several published short stories. He currently lives in the Philippines with his wife and two children.


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