My Critical Overview video of it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuksPExT32k
Attack on Titan (AOT hereon) was the most overhyped title of its year, pretty much like Madoka Magica and Sword Art Online (SAO) were in previous years. And just like those, it does not live up to its hype, as pretty much no show ever does. It is a high seller that will be talked about for some time, and eventually end up being a big disappointment. And yes, I have read the manga so I know what I am talking about regarding later plot points.
Just like it happens with all overhyped mediocrities, the thing that made it so famous is mostly the premise. It has a setting where mankind is almost wiped out by giant monstrosities and gets cornered behind huge walls. They thought they were safe there until a giant manages to break down their fortifications and lets the monsters into civilian areas. Terror and death spread as people die defenceless by the thousands and the rest need to retreat to other fortified lands where they work almost as slaves to support the overpopulation and the lack of food. From this description you are presented with a most interesting action / survival / horror, which is very graphical and doesn’t hold back to depict gore as the giants chew and swallow people. You are really intrigued to find out how they can possibly survive against these monsters.
Sounds amazing enough for anyone to jump into the show but surely not because it is original. It is actually quite basic and overdone; there have been several similar stories over the years, from Blue Gender to Claymore. Heck, the very same studio made afterwards Owari no Seraph, which is the exact same premise, but with vampires. It just came out in an era where 90% of anime are effortless softporn and moe; so it sticks out easily. If it was made along with Death Note or Code Geass, it would get a fraction of the hype it has today. Also, it is not a harem with schools that pretends to be deep and serious by having an apocalyptic story that is there as nothing but unused backdrop, like in the cases of Chrome Shelled Regios or Total Eclipse.
The main problems are still present though; so let’s go over them, one by one.
1. AOT is a SHONEN, oozing with coolness and not a mature or sensible SEINEN
That translates to lots of eye-rolling moments. It is NOT a mature story despite having mature themes; and if some think otherwise they are simply ignorant. It’s all here, the cheesy dialogue, the 1 dimensional characterization, and the overused shonen shenanigans. The enemy seems undefeatable at first but then some obnoxious emo teenagers get convenient superpowers and defeat them by the dozens. That’s right; everyone has jutsus and hidden evil powers inside them, just like in Naruto. And don’t give me any excuses of the sort “There is no other way such a story could be told.” I have read manga such as Biomeat Nectar, Parasyte, and Dragon Head, where you have a pretty similar situation and they didn’t have any of the crap that happens every 5 minutes in this show.
2. Characterization is quite basic and even laughable at points despite the attempts to make the cast mature and serious.
Take the protagonist for example. So obnoxious! Remember Naruto and how he always screams “I WILL SAVE SASUKE DATEBAYO!” every 5 minutes to the point you want to strangle him? Well this one here is not any better since all he does is yelling “I WILL DEFEAT ALL THE GIANTS DATEBAYO!” It has that irritating always-angry, totally-stupid shonen thing you find pretty much everywhere and no amount of dramatic backdrop manages to make him anything more than that. This guy was BORN angry; not became because of the titans. And just like all typical shonen heroes he has special powers, special family, special friends, is plot armoured, and in general has everything working to his favour despite being nothing but yet another ill-mannered youth. But hey, we gotta pamper our main audience somehow and this effortless stereotype works just fine; so why try harder?
Other characters include:
- An aloof girl who loves potatoes and talks like a retard; because all shows need a comic relief idiot.
- A local aristocrat who exists to show what a selfish asshole he is, letting everyone die just so he can escape with his money and not thinking about it twice; since as well all know adults in shonen are all assholes and only teenagers are the goodhearted folks who do all the work and save the day.
- Kidnapers who kill and sell people as prostitutes, just so we can hate them and wish them dead 10 seconds after they are introduced.
- Some scaredy cat boy who is always crying and panicking, just to show how cool is everyone else. Worthless and irritating as Reki from Claymore and yet another proof of why this show is not better than Claymore. They pretend he is a mastermind when it comes to planning ahead, but in reality he is the only one who sometimes thinks, while everyone else is an oblivious idiot. So technically he is a normal guy surrounded by retards.
- And let’s not forget the protagonist’s “not-blood-related-sister” who seems WAY too interested in him to the point she can’t exist without being a needy pet with constant withdrawal syndrome. How else would we have the obligatory brother-sister love thingy going on?
You can literally describe most of them in 10 words as the way they talk and act will border a slapstick comedy half the time. Everything they need to express, they do it by yelling or crying like maniacs, even when the situation hardly calls for them to act as such. Or when they try to be serious for a change, it still comes off as comical. You see a guy in the first episode giving the severed hand of a dead soldier to his crying mother and saying with a serious face “This is all we could salvage. And by the way, your son died for nothing. HERP!” Lol man, what kind of a military leader is this guy? Was that supposed to make me feel sad? I am laughing at it.
You may be fooled to think they have depth, since most of them get flashbacks full of tragic childhood moments and stuff; but let’s be honest, all secondary characters in shows like Naruto and Bleach have those too and they are still nothing but cardboards to the story and eventually one dimensional archetypes instead of real people. AOT is not any different, as each of them is there just to cry in a corner, show us his tragic past and then go to fight the giants until he realizes he is completely worthless before the hax skills of the main characters and simply stops caring afterwards. Literally all secondary characters are neglected and forgotten a few episodes after they are introduced.
3. SHHHHOOOOOCK FACTOOOOORRRR
Something rather un-shonen for the time it came out, was the numerous deaths of secondary characters. Not many convenient survivals and resurrections here; if you are caught by a giant, he is going to rip you to pieces and eat you while you are still alive and screaming. That makes the tension ten-fold compared to the average of its kind. That still doesn’t save it in the longrun of course, since it is nothing but SHOCK FACTOR to make the audience gasp with blood and violence and not some actually tragic death of important characters you will never forget. You only notice the gore and not the people experiencing it. I will never forget the Nanto fighters in Hokuto no Ken because they were part of the plot and did far more than being emo in a corner before kicking the bucket. These here? Who are they? You will forget them 5 seconds after they are dead. And even the novelty of the high mortality rate lost its edge, since soon afterwards shows like Akame GA Kill, Knights of Sidonia, and Fate Zero did the exact same thing. Not even that feels that special anymore.
4. Plot Armoured (Titan?)
And despite the high mortality rate, eventually you realize it is something that counts for secondary characters. They serve only as cannon fodder in this show; they exist just to cry in corners, die miserably, and fool the unexpected to think no one is safe in this story. The major ones on the other hand, get the usual shonen package: Plot armoured with hax powers, like Wolverine’s super fast regeneration and Spiderman’s super fast agility to forever survive any giant attack. They are oozing with the rule of cool and dwarf everybody else in importance, thus trashing the whole survival / horror aspect. If the audience cheers for them, as they wipe out armies of undefeatable (for everybody else) giants, the tension is gone; it is still all about who is more overpowered and cool. The tragic parts also become meaningless, since it all comes down to the usual magic superpowers and poser fighting, as in the case of any run of the mill action shonen.
5. The mystery aspect is quite weak
At first you are thrilled to find out why the giants are eating people. They don’t need food to sustain themselves. They don’t have a personality or even intelligence which makes them grotesque and terrifying for not understanding their motivations. Well, most of your questions won’t be answered, since the story is left incomplete, and the little bits that get explained only serve to make you realize there wasn’t much to it. Half the interest most will show in this anime derives from the gore (which is cheap and eventually shallow) and the other half is the mystery of the unworldly enemies (which will fade away as soon as it is eventually revealed). So even if you are watching this for the thrilling emotion, you are bound to hate it after you realize it wasn’t that good to begin with. It pretends to be far more than it actually is; and that is a most basic zombie apocalypse scenario. The city is the mall, the titans are the undead, and the steampunk spidermen are the people trying to survive.
6. Weak world-building
It is full of interesting ideas as far as the setting goes, from detailed maps of how the human lands are run, to blueprints of how their cannons and steam engines that make them fly work. Later on you get even basic politics and religious fanatism as the people react to the new giant attacks and all of a sudden some kids get hax powers. It makes it far more interesting than some generic RPG world full of fortified cities and wilderness crawling with monsters. It’s not TOO detailed though and the truth is most of them are there for show since they don’t matter much in the longrun. You think those rotating cannons, the titanium swords, or the steampunk spidermen do shit against the giants? All you need is a few angsty teens with hax superpowers nobody else can get even if they wish it all their lives and you are set. And even if you just stick to the setting itself, it is quite simple despite its secondary details. The whole world is basically either houses where people live in or wilderness where titans roam around. Many claim that since the story is a mystery you are supposed to slowly reveal, it is excused for everything to be so basic. That still doesn’t change the fact that all you know about the setting is that there are some giants surrounding a city that looks like 3 perfectly drawn homocentric circles. Even a baby can do better than this.
7. Slow pacing
The early episodes have extremely fast pacing but then it snails down to almost a halt. The first five minutes go wasted on summaries of things we saw just in the previous episode, and there are even recap episodes for events that don’t need more than a few minutes to describe. In a way this is a positive trait since it invests time into letting the viewer to immerse in the mood of the show. Much better to running through the events while leaving everyone and everything unfocused or not looked into. Sadly the mood is the only thing they focus on. Not much time is used to flesh out the characters or the setting, and in the longrun all secondary cast and the funky steampunk technologies are meaningless, neglected, and completely forgotten.
8. Overused tension gimmicks
The script heads for a constant thrill, which because of the slow pacing, makes every major event to last for several episodes, constantly ending with a cliffhanger. Although this can be a nice motivation for the audience to anticipate the next episode, they do it so many times and for events that could practically fit in only one episode. Tension loses its meaning if it happens all the time without proper relaxation points and after awhile you no longer find it exciting or edgy, exactly because it is always like that. You get used to it, it doesn’t look awesome anymore, and because most of whatever happens in it is about people you don’t care about, it becomes boring.
9. Plot Driven
Although this is not an issue with everyone, it is still a problem. The characters have no control over the events of the show; they are just reacting to them. No matter what happens, they will never choose what to do next; the plot is going to force them into what to do next. It makes sense for that to happen in stories that have to do with death and survival but it sure makes them pass as drones and unable to progress or develop further on their own will, despite their hax superpowers. This takes away their significance, which is already very thin since you forget them 5 seconds after they die.
You don’t even get a resolution to all this mess, since the manga is still ongoing, far from over, and with an equally slow progress. You won’t get any reward at the end and you will have to wait years for a second season.
11. It looks nice but that is all
As far as the artwork goes, there are big aesthetic differences between the manga and the anime adaptation. The manga feels very crude when it comes to proportions and perspective. It has very rough outlines to the most part and it feels incompletely drawn at points or even with blunders in anatomy. I can’t say it was very annoying; it sort of improves later on and it fits a story based on crazy stuff. The anime has improved considerably these minor issues and even included a catchy chorus OST to make it even more intriguing. At the same time it censors most of the disgusting scenes where the giants are chewing people and replaced them with blood spills falling while the gore is left out of screen. If there is something I didn’t like, that would be the body figures. All giants seem to be randomly drawn and all human soldiers look like they have the exact same body figure AND uniform. It’s not like big boobs for girls or huge biceps for men would make it better but it sure feels weird to have everybody being skinny and flat-chested. The only thing that differs is the face and occasionally some rosy lips to point out THAT PERSON IS A GIRL. Furthermore, there are major quality drops throughout the show, since at some parts you get fluent animation and detailed artwork which make it look amazing, while in others you get static images and crude character figures which makes it look lame.
12. It is still a fun show to watch just for the excitement, instead of yet another moe school life thingy
I do agree though that as a whole AOT manages to build up tension right away. Even if you are aware of how corny it plays out it is still not holding back in violence; the average Narutard is definitely going to like it. It is also refreshing to see a show that is not about high school club ecchi comedies for once, as is the canon for almost all modern anime. As for me? After truly good manga such as Battle Angel Alita and Battle Royale, this was unintentional satire than tragic or scary. No veteran reader or viewer is going to give it anything more than a good time waster status, because down to it, it is a silly shonen when it could easily be much better as a mature seinen.
As for the hype this show got? In one year from now some other anime will come out to blow your brains out and people will be saying “That is truly awesome, unlike AOT.” Meaning, history will repeat and AOT will join the ranks of SAO.