You know, it’s not like I wander the world on the lookout for things to take the piss out of. Attack on Titan first came to my attention when I saw cosplayers dressed as members of the Survey Corps wandering around Comic Con. They had mechanical contraptions (indeed, are there any other kind) strapped to their outfits, over smart looking little tan coats. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking at when I saw their enthusiasm slowly melt under the brutal sidewalk sun, but it seemed like something I may want to be involved with. This Attack on Titan (sic) Anime looked like it might be interesting, even good. People whose opinion I trust about these things said things like, “It’s awesome.” and “Oh man, you gotta see this! It’s the tits.” But it pains me to say, Attack on Titan is not “the tits.” Also, this is not the start of an article called “Let’s Slobber All Over the Knob of: Attack on Titan” – that wouldn’t fit into the header. Don’t be silly. Instead gather up your emo teens, because today we’re going to show that 50 million people can be wrong – this is the Takedown.
Alright, let’s do what the writer couldn’t and make this coherent. The story starts with a 12 year old Eren Jaeger (Jaeger is German for “Hunter” and Eren is Japanese for “asshole crybaby”) in a small town that lies on the border of Wall Maria – a massive wall that protects the outside world from titans. The rest of the world has been taken by these things, which look like smiley, dopey drunk people, with massive appetites that just want to eat people.
Anyway, spoiler, the arrival of a titan that doesn’t look like a boozed up baby breaks the wall and a whole bunch of titans get in. Somewhere along the way Eren Jaeger’s mom gets eaten, and he basically loses his mind. The whole first episode then more or less plays out like the first grisly 15 minutes after Hometown Buffet opens.
(Full Disclosure – this episode of the Takedown has been brought to you by Hometown Buffet. Hometown Buffet: Tastes the same when it comes out.)
So Eren, and his equally plot armored friends Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Arlert manage to escape from the town of wherever, and they pledge themselves to getting revenge or something. I don’t know. There was a whole bunch of crying and I tuned out.
Shortly afterwards they join up with the military and we meet a bunch of people I would not care about if they owed me money. Along the way the cadets all learn the use of this Omnidirectional Maneuvering Gear ( the same mechanical contraptions the cosplayers were wearing). By this point I was tired of everybody and thankfully, in their very first battle the smart titan shows up again, more of the dancing baby titans attack, and Eren gets eaten. Proving once and for all that you should chew your food, Eren gets better and turns into a titan. A giant monster throw-down commences and hooray, the day is saved.
Over the course of a few more episodes a bunch of people from the Survey Corps are introduced just long enough so that you can vaguely remember them when they are horribly murdered later. They are led on a mission outside the walls (where the titans are – goodness!), and as fate would have it they are attacked by titans, including a giant Female Titan (capitalization theirs) who proceeds to horribly kill everybody whose name you only remember when a survivor screams it in anguish. It turns out that this new titan is immune to the normal tactics of the group, and worse, seems to know what those tactics are. It would seem, like a broken sewage trench, the plot thickens.
As a total aside. Whomever is in charge of marketing over at Crunchyroll really needs to reconsider their ad placement. Watching a titan mindlessly devour dozens of screaming soldiers is not the lead in you want before trying to sell me on Red Lobster’s All you can Eat Shrimp. Anybody at Crunchyroll that wants it, can have that hot tip gratis.
Back with the plot, the Survey Corps leads the Female Titan into the woods, because I guess they couldn’t find a dark alleyway, and attempt to capture/kidnap her. Of course, they fail, and in the process discover that, like Eren, other people can turn into titans. With a little bit of clever thinking/planning/plot contrivances, the Survey Corps leads the person who is secretly the Female Titan into an ambush. Eren goes all super saiyan or whatever there is a another titan battle. After which the Female Titan is captured. Then, that’s basically it. I guess there’s going to be more episodes coming out later, but if I gave a shit you’d have to measure it in Planck units.
With that out of the way, I’m gonna go grab my chainsaw and we’re going to talk about genre. Specifically, let’s talk about genre as it pertains to anime because a lot of what is wrong with this show happens at around the episode 7 mark. Don’t get me wrong, there a lot of things to hate Attack on Titan for before episode 7. It’s not like the show was good, or watchable or just a good old fashioned misdemeanor before then. Oh no, but at least the core premise was sound. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
At the start, Attack on Titan was a “Cadet/Military” show, mixed with a heavy dose of body and dismemberment horror. In this admittedly broad category, a collection of characters join some organization to fight something. Generally the hook is that there is something odd about how they go about doing whatever it is that they need to do. An example is Dominion Tank Police. There, a collection of cops join the nominal Tank Police, and get involved in solving crimes which leads to the rest of the plot that I won’t spoil for you here. The fun is that they have tanks. That’s the neat hook.
Attack on Titan follows the same rough contours of this genre. The main heroes join with a military organization, are issued sharp looking uniforms that they can freely customize (because anime) and learn to use an esoteric weapon system that allows them to fight some threat. In this case it’s the Omnidirectional Mobility Gear. I’m not going to even try to lie to you – I think the OMG earns its abbreviation. I mean, look at it:
Those little side things are grappling hooks and there’s some sort of gas rocket system on the back. Along with that those “scabbards” hold a bunch of extra blades like a disposable razor. Please do not misconstrue any of this for the OMG being realistic, or functional or whatever. They exist in the same anime fantasy as Iria’s Whip Sword or Dandy’s Space Surfboard which is to say totally pointless and still somehow cool.
Mixed with the OMG, the titans make for an interesting threat. The OMG is hardly foolproof and the battles are visually distinctive. This blends with the body horror elements, since these poor sods then proceed to get wrecked, chewed up, and then literally spit out afterwards. Still not perfect, but at least an interesting use of the premise.
Then in episode 7, Eren freaks out and turns into a titan that can somehow control itself. At this point, they shifted genre and if you listened closely, you would have been able to hear all the fucks I gave evaporate. It’s not that he just turns into a titan, but it actually grows around him and he controls his body from somewhere in the neck area. I wanted to say it shifted into Kaiju territory, like Godzilla, but then I realized that’s not the case at all. You see, other cadets can do the same trick, and control their giant titans in the same way. Hmm, where have we seen that before?
So yeah, Attack on Titan had an interesting premise, lost faith in what it was doing and then decided, “you know what the kids like? Giant things that smash each other.” With the one thing that this show had going for it flushed into the sea of mediocrity, the whole show just falls apart. I was bored and eventually started rooting for the titans to just fucking eat everybody and get it over with.
Let’s talk about Charlie Chaplin. He was an actor, director and film theorist from back in the ‘20s and he was also the last guy who would ever be able to pull off wearing that mustache. He had a theory about eliciting emotion from an audience. I’m paraphrasing here, but he was of the mind that the tone needed to vary from scene to scene. That way you could create some sense of juxtaposition within the audience’s frame of mind. If something is funny, if the next thing is sad it has more of an emotional impact. The same thing is true in the other direction. When you go from super sad to sorta funny, the parts that are funny are really funny by comparison. For example, Up spends the first 10 minutes making you feel like shit and the rest of the movie trying to make it up to you. For me at least, that movie is emotionally brutal because it can masterfully chain “dead cancer wife” into the Cone of Shame and back again. This works with most emotions, not just funny and sad.
With that in mind, Attack on Titan fails so hard at this it makes me want to think up a new word that is somehow more full of fail. A Gwyldor perhaps? One of the first scenes has a member of the Survey Corps returning the dead hand of another member back to the the deceased family. There’s lots of sad. It’s so sad and over the top I giggled when action lines sprang out of them like like they were powering up.
Minutes later, Eren’s Mom gets eaten, and he makes a sad face. This one comes with sparkly tears like his tear ducts produce 100% glitter and 0% feels. But here’s the thing, these all happen within a very short period of time and there is very little in the way of a pallet cleanser to wash the tears out of my mouth.
This is a seriously dour show, only it seems to confuse depressing with deep. It’s not a deep show. At the end of the day it’s a show about teenagers that fight mindless giants. Maybe you want to go digging and there’s a metaphor for kids and adults or something, but you can try to make the point without crying all the goddamn time. Eventually the crying gets boring, like that friend who cries when they get sloppy drunk. You tried to care, but eventually you just stop asking them to go out with you. Attack on Titan is that person and after today I will not be returning its calls.
Of course, you can do both and the show will be better for it. Even staying within the confines of anime, Samurai Champloo manages to mix together emotions in a masterful way while also having a consistent tone. So when it’s funny it’s funny, and when it’s serious you want the characters to be okay so that they go back to being funny. Attack on Titan literally has a guy who cries because he cried.
There are people out there who will undoubtedly say, “but the characters in this show are so great!” To that I say, “which of the dark haired, dead eyed ones in the scarf is your favorite? You have your choice of Y or X chromosome.” No, the characters in this show are as well thought out as the plot and just about as thin. Don’t believe me? Then let’s play a game.
Let’s start with the character (insert name here) who is from (insert place here – probably in the outer Wall Maria section) who has decided to join up with the elite Survey Corps because of (insert tragic death of family/loved one/friend/pet) and is a stone cold whiner about more or less everything. I found it easier when I had to remember who was who to keep track of their hair color. Armin is the blond boy. Annie is the blonde girl. There’s another guy with short blond hair, and he made so much of an impression on me I can’t even be bothered to look his name up. If you’ve seen the show, you know who I am talking about and for a million Armenian dollars you couldn’t name him either.
Even better, the default look for every single person in this show is the haunted stare, but with the choice of downwards, middle distance or thoughtfully skywards. The problem is that in order to feel even the faintest bit of empathy you really need your characterizations to be strong. Coincidentally when members of Eren’s crew start getting eaten like McRib Sammiches by smiling titans, the show acts like it has earned the overblown reactions of these character’s deaths, but the audience is still trying to figure out, “wait, I’ve seen him before I think. Right?”
The only exception is the Potato Girl – Sasha Blause. I hardly know anything about her, but she’s the only gods forsaken character in this show that smiles. Coincidentally, any time she was in any sort of danger whatsoever I actually cared. I know, I’m just as shocked as you that my black heart is capable of caring.
Of course, that’s not really the show we have. Instead, Attack on Titan is GrimDark to the extreme, characters in coloring books have more personality, and the one thing, the one actual thing the premise had working in its favor was abandoned so that we could watch second string Gundam Meat Puppets. It’s like this show is trying to drive people away from it. The bloody cherry on top is that people will watch this, and decide based on it that anime can’t be good. “This is the most popular anime right now? Oh, well this is boring. I guess anime isn’t for me.”
Attack on Titan is so bad it will drive people away from some of the other, exceptionally good things that anime and manga have to offer. Or 50 million people will decide this is what they think is good, and they will put the whole format in the cold, dark ground. That sadness would be worth the action lines.
And that, is the Takedown. Based on the sheer number of people that love this nonsense, I’m assuming some hate is incoming. Go ahead and drop all personalized anger charges into the comments. Or, if you know what you are talking about and want to hang out with the cool kids, feel free to defend my intellectual virtue.
In the meantime, if there’s anything you think needs the critical Eye of Sauron cast upon it, let me know.
Until next time.