#Review: Attack on Titan, Season 1

I have now watched the entire first season of this … show. This program. This anime. And while I’m neither in love with the program itself nor the format, there are some interesting things going on here.

The premise of Attack on Titan is that the human race, under assault of giant man-eating humanoids called Titans, has withdrawn behind three concentric walls that, for hundreds of years, have protected them from Titan attacks, but also prevented humanity from going anywhere outside the safety of their walls. In the very first episode, a Colossal Titan, one larger than any ever seen before, shows up and basically wrecks the outer wall, allowing the Titans inside. A full 20% of humanity perishes in the events that take place over the next several months, as the Titans have feasts and the humans try to fight back.

Good stuff:

  • This show does action really well. All of the Titan fights were really cool, and the Spider-Man-esque way the characters get around, via waist-mounted cable guns, never looks anything short of amazing.
  • The designs for the Titans are uniformly awesome. None of them look like any others, but they all really skate up to the uncanny valley and they are all really creepy. None of them move quite right, although some of them move much more strangely than others, and the way some of them have faces that would look perfectly normal on a banker or a grocer when they’re actually man-eating monsters is really something.
  • The actual story itself is pretty cool; I want to know more about these things and more about the world.

Bad stuff:

  • This may be a manga thing or an artifact of how Japanese translates into English– and I should point out that I watched about 80% of the season dubbed, not subtitled– but my God, the dialogue was terrible, and the melodrama off the charts. There was no set of circumstances perilous enough (or exciting enough) that they could not be interrupted for a lengthy philosophical conversation, even if the characters were, say, on horseback and fleeing from a giant, when you wouldn’t expect them to be able to talk. The voice acting in both languages has one volume: screaming. And any individual sentence would always be 20 times as long as it needed to be, with lots of recursive clauses. Even if this is how Japanese sounds to an English speaker when translated literally, you solve that problem by not translating it literally. If you’re going to do a dub, try and make the dialogue sound natural to an English speaker.(*)
  • Character design for the human characters could be better, especially since they tend to be wearing uniforms and thus dressed the same all the time. I had trouble differentiating between a lot of the characters.
  • The flashbacks. My God, the flashbacks. Again, nothing is too exciting that you can’t interrupt it with a five-minute flashback to people talking.
  • Pacing. The episodes are short, at about 22 minutes each, but there’s a couple of minutes of recap and credits at either end of that, so the actual episode length is maybe sixteen to eighteen minutes? I am not exaggerating when I say that most episodes are 14 minutes of talking about what is happening right in front of the characters and carping about philosophy and then four minutes of something actually happening, then a cliffhanger.

So, it sounds like I hated this, but the positive stuff is actually interesting enough to me that I’m probably still in for the second season– especially since the things that are crappy about it lend well to making fun of the show while watching it, which … is a way to enjoy TV, I suppose. I may try out a season of My Hero Academia before I go into S2 of Attack on Titan just to see what things are in common across the two shows and maybe recalibrate my expectations a little bit.

Also, my wife brought home the first two volumes of the manga from the library, and I read the first one, and the anime really does appear to be a scene-for-scene translation of the manga. I have not read the second volume yet and really am not feeling much of an itch to do it, so I think I’ll stick with the series for now.

(*) This may be a good time to remind people that my academic background is in Biblical Studies, and the Hebrew Bible in particular, so I have a lot of Opinions about how to translate things. My lack of facility with Japanese hurts me a bit, but I can go on for a while about this sort of thing.

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Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.

11 thoughts on “#Review: Attack on Titan, Season 1

  1. You haven’t watched a lot of anime, have you? The melodrama, the philosophizing, the flashbacks, and lengthy dialogue, that’s all pretty par for the course.
    My daughter wants me to inform you that there is less screaming in My Hero Academia, but maybe more crying.
    My two eldest daughters love Attack on Titan. I’ve only seen snippets of it myself.
    They also love My Hero Academia, which I have seen and is pretty good, though I’m not quite feeling this latest season.

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      1. One of the very best anime out there is Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (not plain Fullmetal Alchemist–it’s okay, but Brotherhood is the newer version and is better). I highly recommend it, even though it is older (well, only about 10 years old, but still…). The characters are great, the world if fascinating, the voice acting is good, and the philosphizing is actually interesting–oh, and the plot is amazing. The English dub is the way to go, it is really good. If you’re looking for other shows. It was on Netflix, at least here in Europe. Just if you wanted a recommendation to add to your lengthy list. Even people who aren’t really into anime tend to like that one, which is why I recommend it. It has some of the anime tropes, but it’s somehow not as jarring with them.

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          1. The first FMA was an adaptation of the manga, before the manga was finished, so they just made up an ending. FMA:B is a second, closer adaptation following the manga. So they start out similar but end quite differently. FMA is a good anime; FMA:B is one of the best and I recommend it to just about anyone. The dub really is excellent and I generally don’t watch dubs.

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            1. I’m taking sub vs dub on a show by show basis, I think, rather than being religious about it. I ended up watching the dubbed version of AoT, and I just watched the first episode of My Hero Academia subtitled and will watch the dubbed version next. It definitely wasn’t as screamy. 🙂


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