Attack on Titan season 1: A review

A review containing spoilers of the first season of ‘Attack on Titan’’

Ever since completing the second season of the Hajime Isayama written series ‘Attack on Titan’ for the first time I never really felt the urge to continue as more episodes were released. I described my experience as exciting yet hollow, and the further the series went it seemed this didn’t change. While I always found appreciation in technical elements of the filmmaking, such as its animation and the musical score by Hiroyuki Sawano, I seemed to be disappointed by the “writing”, an appropriately vague justification for my disliking for the series as I was definitely not experienced in the field of media consumption, at least in the way I approach it currently. But as episodes of the third season got increasingly highly rated, to the point of many of its episodes standing on the top of IMDb’s most highly rated tv-episodes among shows like Breaking Bad, Mr. Robot and Bojack Horseman, I found myself more intrigued than ever as to what quality the show had that I might’ve missed on my first visit. But I don’t think I expected to miss so much right from the beginning.

By far, ‘Attack on Titan’s most impressive element is how it establishes itself, whether it would be its characters or the world they live in. And while I can only speculate, I think this may be why the series had such enormous popularity since it’s incredibly easy to get into. And while this can turn into a double-edged sword which we will discuss later, it is an aspect I would be remiss to not go over. And the best example of this would be the titans themself. While we see glimpses of what they look like, episode one barely has any surface-level development of what the titans are but rather sets up a mood and presence that makes it so that you already know what the titans are even when you haven’t seen one. From Carla Yeager reacting to her son saying he wants to go outside the walls, to the Survey Corps coming back after a mission lacking what used to lie behind their eyes, there is a powerful sense of the danger the titans have imposed on humans. It keeps the mystery the titans thrive on and makes the scene at the end of the episode extremely emotional as everything that has been set-up is paid off. And this is emblematic of what’s so good about the first episodes, they are incredibly efficient.

What I mean by this is how well the series disguises its expositions and developments with very basic narrative elements and does so in a way that doesn’t rush over anything or slow to a crawl. Episode 4 is set 2 years after the previous, a narrative device I have seen many use as an excuse to not write important development between characters. And while I could see a version of the series where we see these two years in more detail, which may give some more camaraderie to the main cast, taking the pacing into account I don’t think it’s worth it. Episode 3 is already a good substitute to the general training process I could see the soldiers going through, and so going over it again for let’s say two more episodes would just ruin the pacing for no real reason other than following some arbitrary “good writing” rule. And this is what I again find so intriguing about the establishing episodes of ‘Attack on Titan’. I feel like it lets me into the process of how to write a series like this, which needs to convey as much information as quickly as possible. You could say the writing is very transparent, but in a way, I think there’s a lot to learn from. I would go as to say that the first eight or so episodes are a pretty great screenwriting teacher. Not because it’s the most well-written piece of media I’ve witnessed, but because it wears its techniques on its sleeve. 

But it leads me to my central problem of the series. With such an exceptional setup, I feel it is almost bound to disappoint in some way the moment the series starts answering questions and developing itself, especially for a series so reliant on mystery and not understanding the world. And the aspect the most reflective of this, ironically enough, would be the titans again. 

In the eight-episode of the series, it is revealed that inside of the mysterious titan that has helped the cast get to the HQ during the battle for Trost lies Eren Yeager, who was seen eaten by another titan hours prior. This marks a change in direction the series goes into, where I think some of the mysterious intrigue to be found in the titans is lost. While we gain surface-level knowledge of the titans at times, the core of their being is very much kept hidden. Giant human-like creatures that eat people for the sake of it is a very creepy premise that should be kept that way. So when it is revealed that normal people could potentially be inside of the titans, or at least that a human can turn into them, so early on in the series, it removes just enough information about the titans that they stop being intriguing to me. And the thing is that I wouldn’t really be complaining if I couldn’t almost see a version of the series where this wasn’t a problem.

In episode 17, Armin encounters an intelligent female titan during the 57th exterior scouting mission which seems to be looking for Eren and has no other objective. Over the next 6 episodes, the scouting party is slowly informed of the danger the titan could have, until captain Levi decides to direct the formation into a large forest. This all culminates into a number of action scenes, and they are without a doubt some of the best action direction I have seen in anime in a long time, if not ever. It is incredibly exhilarating and interesting to just look at. I can’t really say it in a smart way, it’s fucking dope. There is a shot where a soldier shoots a grappling hook next to the female titan, she grabs the wire and drags the soldiers so she can mash them into a tree, and then another soldier swings towards the screen and the female titan grabs their wire and throws them to the ground. The depth used in these animations is honestly incredible and the only time I’ve actually wanted to see anime in 3D, amazing stuff. But it is here where we encounter the problem I brought up, and the potential I think was lost here. 

While I love practically every scene the female titan is featured in, the only problem I have again is that we know too much about her. There are still questions we might have for sure, but because the idea of turning into a titan was established earlier in the series, we can almost immediately predict that this is the case for the female titan. And it doesn’t diminish any enjoyment to be found in the scenes, that would be hyperbolic and the spectacle is still phenomenal. But storytelling-wise, I think there’s a lot of lost potential and reflective of how too much information is given at times. if anything, the forest sequence is where I think the reveal would be suited the best, since it would make the mystery much more intriguing than I already felt it was, and would make the surprise when the female titans appears again after having been eaten alive much more powerful. And while it may seem incredibly nit-picky to spend two paragraphs on being mildly annoyed at how the development of the titans are handled, I think it’s worth bringing up

But after having experienced it all I am extremely impressed, especially for a series I wasn’t very intrigued by on my first visit. The writing is very efficient and conveys information and themes of humanity I will go into more depth on in a bigger analysis of the series when season 4 is complete, and Tetsurou Araki’s directing is some of the best I’ve seen in recent years! And while I’ve expressed my problems with the series, I feel they’re mainly noticeable because of how great everything else is in comparison

Strong 8 / 10

Holy shit…

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