I broke my cardinal rule of anime-watching to watch this show, as it came so highly-recommended. I normally refuse to watch subtitled shows, which many “real” fans of anime and manga will scoff at. Why do I refuse to watch subs? Because reading the subtitles focus my attention away from the visuals on the screen and because I don’t understand Japanese vocal tones and so the vocals add nothing for me. Both subs and dubs depend on the translation, and assuming the translations are equivalent, I will understand more and get more out of a dubbed show.
However, I was so interested in the premise of Attack on Titan that I lost patience in waiting for the dub and watched the entire show. Initially, I decided I didn’t like the show, as it focused on tactics rather than strategy and because the pacing of what I found interesting – the exploration of what titans are, what the walls are, and what the hell happened to the world – was excruciatingly slow compared to the time given to the characters and the action sequences. However, after mulling things over and playing Feng Lee’s Attack on Titan tribute game (which is amazing and free), I decided it was actually a really good anime, and even would include it in my top ten. I was just focusing on the wrong aspects of it, and I suspect that what I am really interested in will begin to be revealed soon, though at a slower pace than I might want.
What makes Attack on Titan a good show? Well, firstly, it has my two favorite openings of all time. Secondly, it has a fascinating premise that it actually explores: one day, around the year 700ish (I think), mysterious gigantic, sexless, deformed humanoids appeared and, out of not hunger but apparently bloodlust, began eating humans until they were almost wiped out. The survivors now hide behind three enormous walls, hemmed in by the titans outside. The show begins when the outer wall is breached by a sixty-meter high titan, which draws you in and gets your attention really quickly.
I don’t like all of the directions the show has taken the premise in (particularly the Titan Shifters; I dislike them as it makes the Titans less uncanny and frightening), but overall it’s been solid. The world creation is not incredibly detailed, but passable; I am not convinced that the economosociopolitical would work, but there’s a conspiracy hinted at here that might make it better. Still, I am drawn into the world of Attack on Titan, which is what really matters.
The characters are also all right. The main three – Eren, Mikasa, and Armin – are all lackluster cutouts, however. Eren is your standard young protagonist whose main talent is sheer willpower and charisma (in the vein of One Piece‘s Luffy and Fairy Tail‘s Natsu), who I don’t like and doesn’t develop. Armin is your standard weak, smart boy who undervalues himself and comes to realize his worth later (however, like Eren, in season 1 he didn’t develop much). Mikasa is your standard badass woman who is absolutely perfect and good at everything and fanatically devoted to Eren. She also hardly develops, save in her backstory a bit.
The secondary characters are where Attack on Titan really shines. Jean is the best-fleshed out character by far, but you see much more convincing characters in Petra and her companions, Mike Zacharius, Levi, Erwin, Hange Zoe, Dot Pixis, Keith Shadis, the Military Police chief (whose name eludes me), Sasha, and Connie. They were all much more believable and they developed a lot more than the main three. Of course, these secondary characters are only developed so that they can later die horrible deaths. More than anything else, this show really hits home emotionally; you grow to care about the characters, and then when they are taken away, you feel it. This show is an action anime at its heart, but it shows you the casualties of war and conflict. The deaths are not nameless faces or numbers; they are real people who suffer and then die.
The themes of loss and the horrors of war are the central themes of the show, I think, and they are very well done. That being said, the mystery reveals are slow-paced, and the focus is on the micro aspects of war and loss (tactics), rather than on the big picture (strategy), which I personally don’t find as compelling as others. I do think the show is overrated, but by by no means is it bad; it is really good. I will probably rewatch this when the dub comes out (and I will certainly watch Season 2), and when that happens, I strongly encourage everyone to watch this show!