Shingeki no Kyojin Series Anime Review
They’re as annoying as houseflies.
Adapted from the manga written by Hajime Isayama, “Shingeki no Kyojin” or “Attack on Titan”, is an anime set in a dystopian world where humans are preyed upon by titans who stand many meters above them. Because of this danger, much of humanity have been forced to live behind high walls, built in three concentric circles. At the center and safest zone is where the king and noblemen live. As we move out to the second and then third areas, there are more farmlands and rural villages where the poor live. In much the same division, the military of this world is divided into three as well. The Military Police who protect the King and keep order within the walls; the Garrison who patrol the walls; and the Scouting Region who venture out of the walls.
Enter Eren Yeager, the hero of our story. We see him as a small child with the wish to join the Scouting Region, since he has always wanted to see what was beyond the walls. Armin, one of his best friends, has shown him a book talking about a salty sea and mountains of fire beyond. It is here that we learn all is not right with the world. Books about the world outside are banned, and even when Armin and Eren converse about it, they do so in hushed tones. The walls not only keep the titans out, but also prevent the people from venturing too far abroad.
This heavy censorship is prevalent throughout the whole of the anime. From a soldier not being told the exact plan to the small snippets of information between scenes with the title being “Disclosable Information at this Time”, we get the sense that the world is akilter. Human life, freedom and the chance to live is not valued. When the outermost wall was destroyed by an attack, forcing people to move inward and lose land, they were all sent on a march to their deaths by titans. Lesser land meant lesser food produced, so of course all the poor people had to die, probably with some of them knowing they would. Though I suspect most not knowing that the fat cats are profiting off their deaths.
Death to the titans! Death to the poor!
This duplicitous nature of the government isn’t limited to policy concerning the poor only. At the close of the last episode, we see that within the walls are titans. What else is the government hiding from the people? What is in Eren’s basement? Eren’s decision to act on limited information cost him all of Levi’s scouting troop, and it is here we see the true price of censorship. Without the freedom of information, man cannot make truly free choices. He can only react to circumstances and hope for the best.
But of course, it’s easy to say what should have been done and what should not after the fact is over. During a war, and make no mistake there is a war going on in this anime, choices have to be made quickly and sacrifices have to make. Annie and Armin understand this philosophy well and we see Eren slowly awakening to his new found freedom throughout this anime. He is now presented with the choice of becoming a titan and defeating his old friend/crush.
Saving dat ass.
But it is merely the illusion of choice. The decision of whether to band together with his friends, Armin and Mikasa, or to side with Annie, was made at birth because he was born within the confines of the walls. On either side, we see the destruction killing people brings. Annie’s titan form is subhuman and grotesque, with exposed muscles and infinite teeth. And yet she spares a friend, and cries over losing Eren, still retaining humanity and showing that it must hurt her on some level. Eren lost his mother and is subsequently forced to fight his friends because he is the first human to become a titan. As he stands in the tunnel and beckon Annie to enter, to go around the walls and into freedom, we see that he struggles and wishes that his friend really wasn’t a titan he had to fight.
We are not all born free no matter how much we fight. A documentary on Isayama I watched showed that as a young boy he was 10kg lighter than his peers. Being physically not as fit, and yet yearning to be strong, the anime of Ultraman and the like was what he watched growing up. In the iconic franchise, humans could become as mighty as a giant fight on par with godzilla monsters. And yet when questioned what he was most afraid of, he said he was afraid of girls making fun of him. This might be why Mikasa was created – a heroine who would protect Eren and always be loyal to him, almost to a fault. Isayama’s fear was people and it is other people that brings about corruption, greed and monsters that Eren must fight.
Another factor that influenced the creation of Attack on Titan has to be Isayama’s love for history and art. There are many references within the manga to historical art work and Norse mythology in our world, which might be missed in the fast-paced anime. In fact, there was controversy surrounding Isayama for saying that he modeled Dot Pixis after Imperial Japanese General Akiyama Yoshifuru. And yet, is Dot Pixis really on the side of light? In his speech saying it was okay for his men to go home, he instead evokes the fear they felt and how their family would feel the same fear. There is no freedom of choice there. Dot Pixis knows he needs the men to die for their cause. His depiction in the manga is a lot darker, with wrinkles and sunken eyes, that was somehow lost in translation in the anime.
But what is ever present, like a looming titan itself, are the walls. Much like Japan closed itself off from the world and was ripped open by modernisation in the Meiji era, so were the walls punched through by genetically engineered titans. Even in the manga, we aren’t certain of their origins yet, but it is clear that it has something to do with Eren being injected by his father. And what is a feature of modernisation? The freedom of information. This advanced technology and the correlation in the loss of lives can perhaps be seen in another important point of Japan’s history- the atomic bombs. The initial attack was also conducted by two titans – the colossal and armoured, perhaps in reference, or maybe purely coincidence. By smashing through the people’s complacency over the decades, they are once again exposed to the titans and the outside world, and the evils of their government in marching them to their deaths. The titans bring with them information, but only at a price.
The anime is an action-packed world of wonder, with death-defying flights through the air with the 3D Maneuver Gear. Coupled with the cliffhangers at each episode’s end, it is an anime that one must thirstily watch through. And yet, that is not how the manga was written. Attack on Titan was initially supposed to be published in Shounen Jump, provided Isayama wrote it in a more Shounen style. He refused, and thus the manga was published in Bessatsu Shounen Magazine, a monthly publication. This extra time allows Isayama more breathing space to plan out the story, but it also has its drawbacks. How do you capture an audience’s imagination to be hyped up for a manga after a month?
By writing a mystery. You have not experienced a cliffhanger, until you have to wait a month for the next installment of Attack on Titan. The manga reads as more of a mystery because of its pacing and the way each mystery is presented. Coupled with the gore and generous use of dark space, it is a horror mystery. References to this genre can be seen in the first opening of the anime with the text on the black backgrounds reminiscent of pulp horror books. The liberal use of blood and titans chomping through humans is another indication of the true genre of this show. What should really captivate one is the mystery surrounding the existence of the titans, the wall, and Eren himself, all of them fighting for their own ideals of freedom.
Why are you looking at me suspiciously? Stop looking!
What is a good horror mystery without a little foreshadowing? And it is here that Isayama excels, dropping hints early on in the show and manga that only the most astute of audience could pick up on. From Annie’s fighting style to…. shhh. Manga spoilers, so I won’t go on.
Indeed, what this show lacks is an adequate ending. With the manga still ongoing and no announcement yet of a season 2, I can speculate why that might be. It is probably better to wait for the manga to end, since Isayama is known for his foreshadowing. The animators might not know a key scene was missed out in the transition to anime. Or even worse, they might add a filler scene which might clash with the future. The anime was a masterpiece in its use of filler, highlighting Levi’s sacrifice in pushing Petra’s body off the cart. In this filler, we see more his personality and leadership style. And indirectly, Erwin’s as well.
There are no good or bad people in this manga, only people trying to make the best of their given situation. Even our hero ultimately made the decision to kill Annie and thus transform. Even though he stayed his hand at the last second, the decision was made and in that, Eren was changed, becoming a monster as well.
The sorrowful lows and joyful highs of the anime was accompanied by beautiful orchestra music and singing. Both OPs and EDs were a joy to watch, though personally I preferred the first OP due to its references to the horror genre of the manga. It also emphasized the true meaning of the title. Attack on Titan – to wage war on the titans.
If I had to pinpoint a downside to this anime, it would have to be the predictable personalities of the characters, much like in most shounen anime. Armin, the weak, but smart one. Eren the brash, hot-headed boy who hulks out, and Mikasa, the unwaveringly loyal heroine for our hero. However, their actions are what make them stand out. Due to Isayama’s creativity, their decisions and movements are unpredictable, much like real people. At first glance, Mikasa seems to have no reaction to Eren’s death, but unlike what typical heroine would do, which is burst into tears, she goes on a titan-killing rampage. An action that is most usually reserved for boys in shounen is carried out by a girl. It showcases both her rage, strength and sorrow in one action, and also shows Isayama’s handling of female characters- free people in their own right.
As I watched through the show, there is the slow dawning realisation. The people cannot return to their old lives again. With the unveiling of the titan within the wall, and the hole in it, there is no way one can stay in the olden ways once touched by information. But we know, just as strongly as Eren thirsts for freedom of the outside world, so does the government wish for the status quo to remain. And so, the battle against an immovable titanic government continues…