(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)
It’s been six years since the anime adaptation of Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan first aired and despite the countless side and main characters who have been brutally killed, and the world-shattering revelations we’ve experienced, it feels like the story is just getting started. This means there’s no better time to give this show a try!
For those who haven’t seen the show yet, Attack on Titan follows a group of teenagers living inside cities surrounded by three enormous walls that protect the last vestiges of humanity from gigantic humanoid “Titans” that devour people seemingly for no reason. One day, the outer wall is breached by a colossal Titan and thousands died following the attack, including the mother of Eren Yeager, our protagonist. The show then follows Eren as he vows to join the military so he can kill every single Titan he can find.
From there, we get an intricate and thrilling story of hopelessness, fighting to find your place in the world, and a series of twists that keep changing everything you think you know about the world of the show. Also, there’s plenty of action. So let’s get to why you should be watching Attack on Titan.
What Makes It Great
The first thing you’ll notice about Attack on Titan is how brutal it is. Within the first 15 minutes, Titans have already breached the wall, and we see innocent citizens being either crushed by falling debris, squashed under the feet of the giant monsters, or picked up and slowly eaten alive by them. Indeed, most of the show borders on horror, and there’s plenty of horrifying and disturbing imagery that may very well haunt your nightmares if you’re a fan of the genre.
From the very first episode, we get a sense of how bleak the world of the show is, as the opening narration tells us that as the Colossal Titan breached the wall, it sent humanity a reminder that they are “not meant to continue living” since they have no hope of defeating the Titans (heavy stuff for a first episode).
That being said, the characters do fight back. If you ever wanted to see a bloodier version of Spider-Man, then this is the anime for you! The military in Attack on Titan is equipped with “omni-directional mobility gear” or a cross between Batman’s grappling hook with Spider-Man’s web-shooters, not to mention a couple of pretty cool-looking swords! This being an action show, Attack on Titan features some of the best animated choreography for action scenes out there; expect lots of kinetic and fluid animation, with hyperactive camera work that puts you right at the center of the action.
Then there’s the music. Composed by Hiroyuki Sawano, of Kill la Kill fame, the score of Attack on Titan is equal times emotional punches and rousing J-rock anthems that will have your blood pumping within seconds. Sawano knows exactly when to pull on your heart strings with a melancholy melody as characters reflect on their miserable existence, and then have you screaming your lungs out with a war cry as you prepare for battle with the doomed scouts. This is without mentioning the incredible opening themes by Linked Horizon, all four of which (so far) will easily land on your daily workout playlist.
And speaking of characters, Attack on Titan has a massive ensemble of characters, and not all of them die! While at first glance most characters may seem stoic and emotionless because of their situation and job, you’ll quickly start noticing the subtle ways they let their personality come out. Plus, I dare you watch this show and not think of Chris Evan’s Captain America every time Commander Erwin Smith gives an emotional speech.
What It Brings to the Conversation
I wrote in another piece recently that Attack on Titan has many similarities to early seasons of Game of Thrones, especially when it comes to its mythology, sense of mystery, and world-building. After all, our protagonists are members of a military group that defends the giant walls from man-eating monsters, and they are ridiculed by other members of the military and the high-born.
But Attack on Titan actually builds on that mythology and gives its audience satisfying answers as well as build a massive world where everything is connected. Though you don’t need to watch the episodes more than once to follow the story, the show does reward repeated viewings. Just like George R. R. Martin in his A Song of Ice and Fire book series, Hajime Isayama loves foreshadowing and parallels. Almost every development and plot-twist can be traced back to small hints sprinkled throughout the entire show, making you want to go back and realize the entire answer was right in front of your eyes all along. And it’s not just about foreshadowing, but callbacks and payoffs too.
Those who were disappointed at a lack of payoff to several themes or subplots in the HBO show can look forward to the third season of Attack on Titan, which serves both as its version of Endgame but also makes you feel like everything you saw before was just the prologue. This season spends a lot of time making characters reflect on and think back to happier times, as they come across familiar places and faces. There’s a sense of nostalgia that permeates Attack on Titan, as it puts pathos at the forefront of its narrative and makes it a point to make sure everything that is set up will eventually pay off in a huge way.
And those payoffs usually have to do with the villains of the show. Attack on Titan has in the span of merely three seasons evolved from a simple action story about survival into a war tale of horror and the cycle of violence. Where the Titans are just mindless, man-eating behemoths, there are far more complex villains in Isayama’s world. As the story progresses, politics and human conflict becomes more prominent and we start seeing the world through more characters’ eyes, allowing the audience to experience different points-of-view, different ideologies and moralities. Likewise, the cyclic nature of violence plays a central role in Attack on Titan, and as the audience learns more about the backstory and history of the world, there’s a sense of tragedy and inescapability to the violence and destruction that makes the deaths feel all the more tragic and results in the audience questioning who exactly they’re supposed to be rooting for and who is in the wrong.
Why Non-Anime Fans Should Check It Out
For newcomers, getting into anime can be a long and arduous endeavor. Many anime shows require viewers to be familiar with Japanese culture or at the very least the genre in order to properly follow along and not be put off by some of the weirder tropes.
Attack on Titan is a great gateway anime because it lacks most of the tropes and stereotypes usually associated with anime. The show takes place in an unnamed dystopian world that looks more like medieval Europe than it does modern Japan, so there’s no need to be familiar with Japanese culture to follow the series. Likewise, there’s little fanservice in the show, and by that, I mean gratuitous sexuality. Being that we mostly follow soldiers, there’s no panty shots or women’s clothes bursting off their bodies, something that is off-putting to newcomers and veterans alike.
The premise of the show is also simple enough to be engaging right out of the bat, as humans fighting monsters to survive is a well-explored genre in the West, and the action and storytelling are compelling enough to make even the most indifferent person interested.
Watch This If You Like: Game of Thrones, The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra, The Walking Dead
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