If Sword Art Online was the hyped anime of 2012, it seems like Attack on Titan has taken that position for 2013. I’m frankly not even sure how I heard about this show, or how I knew that it had been hyped, which perhaps just goes to show how loud the attention it was getting truly was. I generally consider myself out of the loop as far as anime news goes (most news, really), but somehow I heard that it was really, really good. Of course, upon hearing about the show and mysteriously absorbing a large amount of positive impressions, hipster me dug his stubborn heels in and protested, more or less, that “the majority of people are idiots, and so their opinions on things like this are probably wrong or misguided,” and so I just ignored the hype and continued to trawl through the depths of Hulu looking for something above average to watch.
Fortunately, I have seem to have learned somewhat from hipster me’s rather abysmal judgment history (Sword Art Online, Fairy Tail, How I Met Your Mother) and decided two nights ago to watch the first episode of Attack on Titan.
For a quick plot summary, human live inside three sets of gigantic walls, built to protect themselves from extinction at the hands of a species of predator known at the Titans. At the beginning of the show, people are babbling on about how the walls haven’t been breached in 100 years, so obviously…the Titans get through.
Attack on Titan follows a boy named Eren, whose city is the one overrun by the Titans at the beginning of the story, along with his friends Mikasa and Armin. The plotline falls quite neatly into the shounen genre, which is essentially the Japanese equivalent to a coming-of-age story. Granted, I have only seen the first six episodes, but thus far I have not been really surprised by any of the plot points.
The surprising thing about this show is the skill with which it taps into the essence of living as a human. The emotions of fear that the Titans evoke are effective on an almost primal level. One comment I read online said that this had something to do with the human fear of being knocked off the highest rung of the food chain. The more I think about this, the more it makes sense. Humans, physically, are completely unequipped to live out in the wild: we have no fur or claws, even the physical prowess of our best athletes can’t compete with those of many animals. Yet, because of our ability to create things, we have long been at the very top of the food chain. Because of this, I think that it is almost impossible for us to comprehend what it would mean to be prey to a hunter our technology cannot overcome. Attack on Titan taps into a part of the human existence that most of us have never experienced before. The fear is palpable, immediate and reaches out of the screen to grab you.
The show is undeniably violent. It does not shy away from bloodshed, from heavy blows, from the agony of loss. Like Fullmetal Alchemist, this is the show’s greatest asset. It pulls no punches, it refuses to look away. You are not allowed to look upon the deaths you see and casually continue watching. They are weighted, as they ought to be. In this way, the violence is not gratuitous; it rather shows things the way they are. If there is one thing I care most for in art, it is truth, and Attack on Titan allows the truth to shine through, even if it hurts to watch.
The most potent example of this comes at the end of the first episode, which, to avoid spoiling the impact, I will attempt to not speak much about. Suffice it to say that the final minutes of the first episode are gut-wrenching, terrifying and tear-inducing. And they will hook you into the show mercilessly. If you were not invested in the characters up to that point, you will be come the end of the episode. The sheer emotion of those five minutes will reach in to your heart.
To sum it all up, Attack on Titan is not a show I would recommend to anyone simply on its merits. It is not something you sit down and watch casually for a bit of fun. It is addicting, immersive and intense. Expect to have to think. Expect to feel. Expect to hurt. But if you allow yourself to see it, you can find the truth and the beauty that comes from humanity.
A couple of other random thoughts after 6 episodes:
- Parts of the show really reminded me of the book Ender’s Game. Training kid soldiers and the like.
- The most terrifying thing about the Titans is that they are essentially gigantic, naked, powerful human beings with clown faces and an insatiable appetite for human flesh. So, no, it’s not cannibalism, but Titans don’t appear to be much more than a twisted version of humanity.
- Once again, I find an anime that explore the question of sacrifice. What is a worthwhile cause for which to sacrifice yourself? Can you do more by dying or by living?
- Oh, yeah, there are some really cool action sequences and some really fascinating technology.