The story of Shingeki no Kyojin (or Attack on Titan - whichever you prefer) is thus: the human race was brought to the brink of extinction a century ago due to the sudden appearance of giant humanoid monsters known as “titans” who devour humans for no apparent reason. Humanity then built multiple 50-metre high circular walls around the remaining population, which kept them safe for next 100 years. However one day a literally colossal titan appears, destroys the outer wall and allows the hordes of titan to feast upon the human race once again. Eren Yeager sees his mother eaten while helplessly watching and vows to slaughter every titan by joining the military with his childhood friends Mikasa and Armin to aid in the defence of humanity.
I have to admit that I like the premise a lot. While many anime series these days try to go for an overly-complicated story in attempt to either be original or appear to be deep, it’s refreshing to see such a simple premise, and one done well at that. The overarching themes of fear and humanity’s desire for survival support the basic premise very well, which allows tension to build nicely, something which is one of the series’ strongest points. You honestly feel anxious with the characters and wonder what horrors await them as they go into battle with the titans.
Do not expect a light-hearted anime. Apart from a few select moments (which usually include the infamous “potato girl” Sasha or the nutty professor that is Zoe), Shingeki no Kyojin has a very bleak atmosphere which reminds me of the Diablo video game series. Its world appears very bleak, where happiness is a fleeting luxury for its suffering inhabitants.
A recurring theme of the series is the fear and acceptance of death. Of course as soldiers, they have no idea whether or not they will die tomorrow, next week, next year or whenever. Some of the cast struggle with this, while others are much more accepting. While it is not the anime’s greatest strength, it is nice to see that the producers tried to make some of these titan-killing machines just that little bit more human and therefore more relatable considering their dire situation.
However one area where Shingeki no Kyojin slips up in my opinion is the pacing. The series is at its best when humans are fighting the titans, but you can’t just have constant fighting and downtime every now and then is necessary to break up the tension of battle. However this is handled inconsistently. One place it is done well is the training chapter. After the horror and trauma of the first attack, the audience needs a breather from all that, and the training segments deliver that well. However the parts where Eren is under suspicion from his commanding officer for being a disguised titan and whole “What do we do with Eren?” arc were dragged out for far too long. It’s not as bad when you are watching these episodes in quick succession, but on a weekly basis you really want these segments to just get on with it and get back to either Titan-slaying or something new, which it eventually does. (If I’m not mistaken, the bit where Eren and co. had a cannon pointed at them was stretched out for over an episode at least, which was frustrating).
It’s clear that Shingeki no Kyojin has had a lot of money spent on it. Animation never looks cheap or choppy and the characters look consistent throughout. One area it seems to revel in is gore. Although it is censored a little compared to the original manga, many minor characters suffer very unclean deaths with some gruesomely good “blood and guts” animation. You will probably grimace at some of the more brutal deaths (especially those delivered by the Female Titan).
Action is usually to a very high standard and entertaining. The 3D Manoeuvre Gear (which probably wouldn’t work in real-life due to excessive G-forces upon the body and the unlikelihood of producing spikes sharp enough to pierce deep into concrete through the power of being fired from distance alone) allows for some rather wonderful fight choreography and provides producers with a wide variety of options when it comes to the battles.
Character styling however isn’t quite to my liking. It suits the brutal nature of the series well but a slight lean toward a more realistic style is not where my personal preferences lie. The titans however can range from intimidating and frightening to goofy and bizarre. I don’t know whether or not this was intended to add some comedic effect but it doesn’t really work and often just makes you double-take at the occasional oddball titan (the abnormal types like the Armoured and Colossal ones look fantastic though). Another niggle I have is with a few of the more “average” titans’ movement/running cycle. Sometimes it is animated in such a ridiculous way and it rather detracts from the tension somewhat. When you have a character in a tight spot and the enemy hurtling towards them is running like they are about to wet themselves (even though titans don’t have genitals… the more you know…), along with a goofy face, it sort of dispels a chunk of the anxiety that had been built up to that point in my opinion.
I don’t really think that I need to go into Shingeki no Kyojin’s first opening (Guren no Yumiya), as you have probably seen it plastered over the internet before reading this review. I do believe however that it will be looked back upon as a classic in the future like Neon Genesis Evangelion’s and it was amazing to see how many parodies were made of it from a variety of different media (other anime, TV shows and cartoons to name a few). However, I will say that I personally prefer the sure-to-be-overlooked second opening (Jiyuu no Tsubasa).
The music used whenever the titans appear feels truly epic in scale and ominous at the same time. It gives you the indication that a few poor souls are going to become titan-food very soon. The rest of the soundtrack also lends itself well to the anime’s gloomy and comfortless world. One section of the soundtrack I particularly like are the memorable and catchy insert songs (DOA especially), which when played really aid the more awesome/entertaining segments. Thankfully, they are never used too much either, which prevent them from getting old.
Voice-acting is above-average. The actors give good performances especially during the battles, which really add to the drama, action and tension. I will say that I am not a fan of Eren’s voice, simply because he has the same voice actor (Yuuki Kaji) as Haruyuki from Accel World, whom I found to be very annoying, which has tainted Kaji-san’s voice for me personally (not that I wish to belittle his performance as generally it is pretty good).
Eren is just annoying to me. I was honestly glad when I thought he was dead for a brief moment. He has the stereotypical never-give-up attitude which most lead characters possess, which is fine, but he whines frequently and gets wound-up about his failures far too much to make him as likable as a main character as he should be. Armin however I feel is much more relatable to the audience as he actually thinks and gets scared, which allows the audience to be more sympathetic towards him as he is the one out of the main “crew” who appear to be the most human. The producers tried to give Mikasa a human side with her relationship with Eren, but she still appears to be a titan-killing machine for the most part.
As for the secondary characters and supporting cast, they are better than I expected. Yes I know that everyone seems to love Sasha, but it is characters like Jean and Conny who bring the rest of the military to life. To me, they represent the other soldiers who you only ever see in the background (usually being eaten to be honest) who like the main cast are scared and have a human side also. Characters like those two get screen time frequently, which gives the audience a look into the bigger picture and an insight into the thoughts of those who fight. Then of course you have those like Levi who are really only there to make fangirls wet, but he is pretty entertaining when it comes to titan-slaughter, so at least he has an ulterior purpose.
One aspect Shingeki no Kyojin does do very well however is character vulnerability. Characters have never felt so unsafe as one by one you witness them being fed to their enemy, and this makes the viewer almost afraid to get attached to some of the secondary cast in case they are brutally killed in the next episode (which is usually the case).
Shingeki no Kyojin is an anime that cleverly creates tension and fear unlike I have ever seen through use of a basic but strong premise. You will feel anxious for the very vulnerable characters as they go into battle even for the first time after you witness the horrors the titans are capable of in the first few episodes. This, mixed with high-budget animation and exhilarating battle choreography, makes the series engrossing and entertaining. However, I feel that the somewhat-inconsistent pacing and a sometimes-irritating protagonist hold back this anime from becoming a true great of the industry.