The story of Attack on Titan is that humanity has been overrun by man-eating giants known as the Titans. The survivors of these monstrosities live in cities safeguarded by massive rings of walls. Among its denizens is Eren Jaeger, who wishes to go outside the walls and see the world for himself. His dreams are indirectly realized when a colossal skinless Titan breaks a hole into the wall, allowing the giants to flood through.
It’s been years since an anime has captured the imagination of both the East and the West. Whatever formula director Araki Tetsurou is using to produce hits seems to be working, as his project, Attack on Titan, looks to be the biggest thing since his previous work, Death Note. The attention is quite deserved since Attack on Titan is a unique concoction of horror, fantasy and steampunk propelled by a compelling setting, striking visuals and cleverly placed mysteries.
Right from the beginning, the anime presents a dark, apocalyptic setting filled with man-eating monsters and oozing with despair. Despite the rather suicidal odds, mankind launches a counteroffensive using steam-powered hook shots that fling them from building to building and onto the Titans. Much of the show’s engagement is derived from this core concept. It’s a novel scenario about facing inevitable extinction, not unlike a world overrun by zombies, but with the sliver of hope that with the ingenuity and bravery of man, the impossible can be cracked.
Much of what sells the world is the director’s strong visual realization of it. The choreography of the characters flying through the cities is exhilarating. The animators have done a fantastic job of capturing the energy and freedom of a person flying through the air in their 3D maneuver gear, though as a result, actual animation is often very sparse in any other scene. Complementing the animation is the music, which has a grandiose quality to it and provides the necessary weight to the grave moments.
The characters are reasonably compelling and come across as real human beings, but they are actually secondary to the setting. Despite being the lead man in his own shounen action cartoon, Eren Jaeger’s strong words and rash actions are rarely rewarded with anything other than deep, gashing cuts to his pride. At times, he looks rather stupid and ineffectual, but that seems to be the point: he is one cog, albeit the main one, but nonetheless one cog in the rather sizable narrative.
The biggest flaw of the show is its pacing, which starts off fine in the beginning but slows down to a slog a couple of episodes in. By the end of the first half of the series, extended recaps fill the first few minutes of each episode, forcing liberal use of the fast forward button. Additionally, what little content there is should have been condensed into a fraction of the time. While some build up is necessary before any kind of climax, the show has a tendency to meander a tad too long, causing many episodes to feel unnecessarily padded.
With a rather biting edge, a truly foreign world and remarkable visuals, Attack on Titan is an undeniable gem that has the potential to reach far beyond the purview of normal anime fans. It’s not the most emotionally racking or cerebral anime out there, but it’s a thriller that will leave you excited for more.