At the 2013 Saboten Con, which was held here in the Phoenix area, we all heard a lot of buzz about a new anime called Attack on Titan. The show’s popularity was obvious from the full conference room for the panel discussion on the upcoming season. There were also showings of the actual episodes, which were restricted to 18+, supposedly due to graphic violence, so I was unable to attend with my son. Intrigued by all the fuss, I vowed to check it out.
The first thing I realized was that the title is a mistranslation. There’s no place called Titan (certainly not the famous moon of Saturn) being attacked. Instead, there are beings called titans which attack humans, and are attacked in return. So it should either be Attack of the Titans or Attack on the Titans. Like a lot of anime, this show was based on a manga, which was also released as a light novel.
Secondly, the claim of graphic violence was a gross exaggeration; I would rate it a PG-13. True, people get eaten by titans, but this is typically shown from a distance. As such, it’s no more violent than Grimm’s Fairy Tales, in which people were eaten by giants and monsters all the time. The one possible exception was a flashback scene in which the main protagonist, at the age of 9, uses deadly force to rescue a friend from murderous human traffickers. Yet surely this episode, bloody as it is, provides valuable lessons in “stranger danger” and the importance of self-defense.
My third observation is that the show’s immense popularity is at least partially deserved. The action is gripping, the characters engaging, and the art style is interesting, especially when portraying the titans. The opening and closing themes are much better than average, and surprisingly relevant to the show – though not all the lyrics are subtitled. Having said that, I’ve seen many science fiction animations that were better done and less hyped.
One of the strangest things about Attack is its backstory – though admittedly, many anime have strange premises; if you’ve even seen Speed Grapher you know what I’m talking about. In an unspecified future, humans fall prey to a race of giant humanoids called Titans, who seemingly come out of nowhere. Perpetually hungry, they devour almost the entire human race, except for the inhabitants of one city, which judging by the character names, seems to be somewhere in German-speaking Europe. The surviving city has three concentric 50-meter-high walls to protect its inhabitants against the predators. This enclosed area has just enough agricultural land to feed its people, and there the human race survives for a hundred years.
As the series begins, a “colossal titan,” larger than any ever seen, arrives to kick a hole in the outer wall. Dozens of hungry titans pour in to devour the population of the outer ring. Our unfortunate protagonist, a teenage boy named Eren Jaeger, escapes with his two best friends, but not before witnessing his mother being gobbled up by one of the marauding giants. He then swears to exterminate the entire titan race.
The weird thing about the Titans, which makes the whole plot line a bit difficult to swallow, if you’ll pardon the pun, is that they’re both slow and stupid. They don’t speak or wear clothing. They vary in size from 3 to 15 meters in height, and mostly look like giant naked men without genitalia (probably omitted more for reasons of censorship than plot.) Yet they are surprisingly difficult to kill, and never lose their appetites for human flesh. They are perfect “eating machines,” like two-legged land sharks.
What’s more, human technology has at this point devolved to something like a steampunk level. The only way a person can kill a a titan is to don a special jet pack which allows him or her (it’s an equal opportunity army) to fly close enough to stab the Titan in its only vulnerable spot, the base of its neck. Often as not, this maneuver results in the demise of the soldier rather than the Titan.
Though I won’t give any spoilers in this column, I will say that my guess about the Titans’ origin, which I made about 4 episodes in, was substantially correct. Another aspect of the show I greatly appreciated was its stealth libertarian message: the city government is portrayed as being incompetent to defend the people and callously indifferent to their fate.
On a scale of 1-5, I would give the show a 4. I recommend it to anyone who likes science fiction action and doesn’t mind a little blood. You also need to have the capacity for a Harry Potter-esque suspension of disbelief. Be advised that the tragic events of the first 2 or 3 shows are really disheartening. Keep watching; it gets better.
Episodes of Attack on Titan are available for streaming on crunchyroll.com and funimation.com.