Recently my co-worker recommended me an anime series called “Attack on Titan”. The clips on Youtube looked good; the style was pretty cool, it looked like an interesting setting and it looked like the focus was on people trying to survive in a tough world.
Having seen all of the currently released episodes, I can say that all of the above is true! The style, the setting, the story; all of that is there and is enjoyable.
The big issue with the series is that all of above mentioned qualities are wrapped in the shitty package of being an anime.
So much shit I had forgotten
I’ve gone through a decent share of anime and it strikes me that the longer you’re away from it the harder it is to get back into it. It’s like you build up a kind of immunity to all the bullshit that is endemic to the genre.
The two dimensional characters
I’m fine with characters who speak once every third episode or so to only be defined by some role. “He always puts on a facade of cockiness”, “She’s reckless but talented” or “His loss of family drives his will to improve”.
However, when your main characters get no more depth than this, beyond providing a reason for why they are defined by this “role” of theirs, then eventually the show becomes frustratingly predictable.
You have the main guy called Eren, his adopted sister called Mikasa and their friend called Armin. Let’s start with Armin. The character has four defining features:
- Being weaker than both of his two friends and therefore frequently getting help from them throughout his life.
- Being smart, getting told that he is, but never internalizing it.
- Subsequently feeling inadequate close to his friends, feeling that he’s weak and of little worth.
- Looking and sounding so female that had they not used male pronouns to describe him you’d never have guessed. Yes, this more of a pet peeve of mine, but I’m still confused by the androgyny that is sprinkled in from time to time into anime.
That’s the entire character. Any scene he participates in (and that’s a lot
considering he only gets beat by Eren and maybe Mikasa when it comes to
screen time) you can be damn sure that he’ll be feeling inadequate, Erin and
Mikasa will come reassuring him that he’s the brains of the pack and he’ll have
a moment of silence being surprised about this fact, where after the same shit
will happen in the next scene.
No effort is made to make the character evolve into anything more than above points. No flashes of breaking out of the role, no instances of the character having other talents, just a repetition of the same traits over and over. Eventually you realize that this all serves the purpose of setting up for some scene later on where he breaks from that character and realizes that “OMG they value me for my intelligence! I’m not useless!”, and sure as “anime always has that low fucking framerate” it happens about ten episodes in.
Within one or two episodes you’ve got all you need to anticipate every movement and reaction of one of the main characters without fault. What. The. Fuck.
Mikasa isn’t much better, she’s just given a different set of defining points:
- Be rather silent and mysterious. Generally stand still turned away from the camera when talking. Let your hair blow gently in the wind and cover half of your face with a scarf. Anime fans will love that shit.
- Be superbly proficient at everything you do. This goes very well with the mysteriousness and it’ll make you a good side kick.
- Due to Eren being the last piece of family you’ve got, never ever take a different path in life than what he takes. Also, have no regard for whether it’s appropriate to have this attitude, so even if the situation calls for some flexibility your obsession with having him around should always go first.
- Actually, don’t express much emotions for anything except for the presence, vicinity or well being of Eren.
As viewers we’re provided with a flashback to when Mikasa was a kid, when her parents were murdered in front of her and she was abducted so she could be sold off for “her oriental blood” (which due to the setting is a rare thing). Eren comes around with a knife, kills all but one guy who tries to strangle him. Mikasa picks up the knife, freezes up, hears Erin stutter out (while in a choke hold) that “if she doesn’t fight, she can’t win”, which is apparently enough to change her life, giving her the mental fortitude to kill Eren’s assailant.
That’s all we’re given when it comes to character development for the second most prominent character. She never changes, never ventures outside of her defined “role” and certainly does what is expected of her when she thinks that Eren has died:
- Becomes uncharacteristically reckless? Check.
- Fucks up due to this recklessness? Check.
- Loses all will to live? Check.
- Suddenly remembers important words from Eren which gives her strength to snap out of the apathy? Abso-fucking-lutely.
Eren is probably the only fleshed out character that gets to have an arc. We get to see his origins, his motivations, his failures and convictions. There’s actually some depth to him. Sure there are some clichés, but you don’t complain when he’s one of the few characters that feel three dimensional.
You know it’s bad when characters that have very little screen time become more interesting than major characters, because by hardly knowing anything about them you get to fill in the blanks and turn them into real characters on your own.
Jarring behaviour of characters
There isn’t a single non-imbecile who’d think that when everyone around you is standing on attention with a drill sergeant shouting you, it would be a good idea to eat a potato. Not even furtively, just eating with no shame.
I wouldn’t expect any officer worth his rank to completely lose his shit when looking at three kids, even if one of them is a human that could potentially transform into something menacing (which he hadn’t at that point). This despite having a large amount of cannons and a full troop poised and ready to strike at this tiny group of people. While the officer in question is freaking the fuck out, most of the low ranked soldiers are collected.
I wouldn’t think that after three years of training at a boot camp that has people dying during the exercises (among other things) you’d still have skinny, pigtails wearing, squeaky “Sailor-Moon-esque” girls around that look like they’re twelve years old and wouldn’t be able to stand up with the gear they have to fight with, and yet here we are.
Having a possibly fifty-or-more years old baron behave like a spoiled child, complete with the whining makes for very weird scenes.
The list just goes on and on. It’s as if none of the writes stopped to think “What would a real person do in this situation, not an anime character?”.
The fucking over-dramatization
HOLY SHIT GUYS, something important just happened so we’d better slow down time, blur out the sides of the screen and put in some speed-lines like we’re in fucking warp drive and zoom in on someone’s eyes. IT’S ABOUT TO GET REAL!
This shit is what makes me apprehensive of recommending any anime to anyone not into the genre. If you had a scale of emotional intensity from zero to ten (regardless of whether we’re talking about negative or positive feelings), writers of anime put a great deal of effort into wiping out everything that could be over in three-to-seven-land. The camera angles, the zooming in on people’s eyes as soon as something could elicit a reaction, the five minute shot of someone being so furious shit could spontaneously combust around that character, the gallons of tears people seem to store somewhere inside themselves and the bipolarity that seems to be a completely normal trait to slap onto a character.
It’s as if the writers were convinced that the viewers are so completely inept at picking up subtleties that the audio and imagery needs to scream the message for a prolonged time for them to be certain that it’ll penetrate.
It’s either that, or it could be blatant laziness. There’s a scene where Mikasa
has recently been informed that the only person she cares about (Eren) has died
and therefore goes on a sorrow fueled, uncharacteristically careless, hunt for
Sounds decent right? Stoic character shows weakness due to loss through her different style in battle, until eventually this emotional way of conducting battle causes her to loose control. Would be cool to see that right?
Except that doesn’t happen. Instead we get Armin fucking telling us exactly
that. “Oh look, she copes with her loss by taking it out on the titans. She’s
flying recklessly so she’ll run out of gas if she keeps this up.”
This could have been expressed with finesse, but fuck that, that’s not how it’s done in anime-land.
Please don’t do this
The worst part about this is that it’s an interesting setting to work with. The art style is solid and there’s a lot of stories that could be told about this world. If Production I.G managed to pull off Ghost in the Shell, then they obviously have the ability to turn it into something genuinely good.
Instead we get something that is marred by all of the different anime-isms that get shoved into it. When you’ve cut away all of the mold, there’s not much left of the loaf of bread, even if what’s left is really tasty.