Talking Movies [National Anime Day]: Akira

Though anime traces its origins back to around 1917, its characteristic visual style first rose to prominence in the sixties through the works of animator Osamu Tezuka and developed a worldwide audience throughout the second half of the 20th century through its focus on the detail of settings and use of dynamic camera effects. To celebrate and appreciate this distinct style of animation, 15 April has been designated National Anime Day, giving anime fans the world over a chance to voice their admiration through conventions, cosplay, or a general sharing of their memories and experiences of anime.

Released: 16 July 1988
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
Budget: ¥700 million
Cam Clarke, Jan Rabson, Lara Cody, Tony Pope, Lewis Arquette, and Bob Bergen

The Plot:
The year is 2019 and Neo-Tokyo is plagued by corruption, anti-government sentiment, and terrorism following Tokyo’s sudden destruction on 16 July 1988. Amidst the chaos, biker Shōtarō Kaneda (Clarke) uncovers a diabolical government conspiracy when his friend, Tetsuo Shima (Jabson), acquires incredible telekinetic abilities after a motorcycle accident that eventually threaten an entire military complex.

The Background:
It’s hard, if not practically impossible, to talk about anime without mentioning Akira; pretty much single-handedly responsible for the popularity of the genre outside of Japan, Akira remains an incredibly influential and popular animated feature and, arguably, the principal reason why anime remains so prevalent in the western world. Akira began life as a cyberpunk manga series written and illustrated by Katsuhiro Otomo. What was initially thought to be a short work of only ten chapters ended up ballooning into a 120 chapter piece that was serialised bi-weekly in Young Magazine from 20 December 1982 to 25 June 1990. Akira proved such a success in its native Japan that Otomo was approached to publish an English language version in 1983; indeed, Akira is often credited for introducing manga to Western audiences, and Otomo was eventually intrigued at the prospect of adapting his story for the screen…as long as he retained creative control, which meant not only collaborating on the screenplay, but also helming the adaptation, which was the most expensive anime film at the time. In a first for the genre, Akira used pre-scored dialogue where the dialogue was recorded first and the animation was keyed to match it and over 16,000 animation cels were used to bring the story to life, although Otomo later expressed disappointment at making the anime before the manga was finished due to how many omissions had to be made. Although a moderate success at the Japanese box office, Akira eventually grossed $49 million worldwide, and its success on home video basically kick-started the widespread release of anime outside of Japan. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of anime will be unsurprised to learn that Akira is held in extremely high regard; critics praised the dubbing and presentation, especially the slick animation and kinetic action, and film went on to be extremely popular and influential on a generation of writers, filmmakers, and creators and is widely regarded as one of the greatest anime films ever made.

The Review:
I feel like it’s important to preface this review by saying that I’m watching the original 1989 version of the film, dubbed into English; I know a lot of anime purists” might take exception to this, but I always prefer a dubbed version over subtitles or the original Japanese language as it’s easier for me to digest it and understand the content. Secondly, I never really cared for Akira; I’ve seen this version, and the 2001 re-dub, a few times both dubbed and with subtitles and, while the animation and attention to detail and the premise has always intrigued me, it tends to lose me about halfway through so I went into this viewing a little hesitant, to say the least. The film opens on 16th July 1988 to dramatically set the stage for its narrative by showing the utter obliteration of Tokyo from a massive energy blast; thirty-one years later, Neo-Tokyo was built on artificial islands nearby and all that’s left of the once bustling metropolis is an ominous crater. 2019 Neo-Tokyo is both a technologically advanced civilisation and a crime-ridden cesspit full of seedy bars and dilapidated back alleys. It’s in both of these locations that we meet our two main characters; abrasive Kaneda, the leader of a biker gang known as the Capsules (who are embroiled in a bitter feud with the rival Clown gang), and Tetsuo, a young, embittered member of the Capsules who both idolises Kaneda and is envious of his iconic high-tech bike. A brutal high-speed chase between the Capsules and the Clowns is cut short when the cops arrive to chase them off and, amidst all of this, the city is under lockdown following a student riot; armed police are called in to help manage the chaos, and end up shooting an armed man as he tries to desperately protect Takashi (Barbara Goodson), a young boy with a wizened appearance who exhibits incredible psychic powers when under stress.

A chance encounter with a strange child causes angst-ridden Tetsuo to develop incredible powers.

The streets are thrown into chaos as the cops use gas to disperse the crowd, and Tetsuo takes a bad fall from his bike after running across Takashi; Takashi’s abilities attract the attention of Masaru (Bob Bergen), a fellow ESPer, who leads Colonel Shikishima (Pope) of the Japan Self-Defence Forces right to him, resulting in Takashi, Tetsuo, Kaneda, and the rest of the Capsule gang being apprehended. While the injured Tetsuo is transported away, Kaneda and his gang prove too clueless to be involved in the greater concerns of anti-government protesters and resistance fighters, and are released from custody. However, Kaneda spots Kei (Cody) amidst the suspects and, taking a shine to her, manages to trick the cops into releasing her alongside them by claiming she’s part of his gang, though she rebukes his advances afterwards. At school, Kaneda and his gang are severely disciplined for their actions, which only riles the anti-authority biker up even more; he and the Capsules attract a lot of female attention for their bad boy antics, but he’s in no mood for socialising after the night he’s had, and openly criticises Tetsuo for “showing off”. Only Tetsuo’s girlfriend, Kaori (Barbara Goodson), shows concern for the boy, and he goes to her after escaping from the military facility; traumatised by his experiences, and fearing for his life, he steals Kaneda’s bike and prepares to leave the city with Kaori, but their escape is cut short by a group of vengeful Clowns. They attack Kaori, humiliating and hurting her as Tetsuo is held helpless and, though they’re saved by Kaneda and the Capsules, Tetsuo is angered at Kaneda’s constant interference in his life. Suffering from crippling headaches, nightmarish visions, and a voice tormenting him with an unknown name, “Akira”, over and over, Tetsuo is easily detained and returned to the facility for further observation by Shikishima’s staff.

Shikishima is a complex soldier who takes the ESPer’s word, and threat, very seriously.

Shikishima acts as the stubborn, pig-headed, yet surprisingly complex antagonist of the feature; convinced that there’s a mole within the executive council and determined to shut down any anti-government sentiment and apprehend anyone who learns of the ESPers no matter the cost. With no time for political games, Shikishima is more concerned with identifying and controlling telekinetic abilities so that the military can gain a formidable weapon without the risk of mass destruction exhibited by Akira; when Doctor Ōnishi (Lewis Arquette) identifies that Tetsuo has the potential to become as powerful as Akira, Shikishima orders that he be subjected to a series of painful and invasive procedures to unlock that potential but warns that the angst-ridden biker is to be terminated the minute any danger arises. Despite his implacable, hardened exterior, Shikishima seems to have a greater deal of respect and admiration for the ESPers in his employee and care and thus takes Kiyoko’s (Melora Harte) warnings of Neo-Tokyo’s impending destruction very seriously. Although he is disgusted at how quickly the city has degenerated into a den for hedonistic excess and believes that the people have lost their way, he’s not a scientist or an optimist and instead sees the world in very black and white terms and from a strict military perspective of action versus inaction, with little room for debate or hesitation between these extremes. Unfortunately, the supreme council fail to heed his warnings or to grant him the funding necessary to prepare against Kiyoko’s prediction; instead, they cast doubt over Akira’s existence and involvement in the last World War, call the colonel’s integrity into question, and would rather bicker and squabble about preparations for the upcoming Olympics, which only enrages Shikishima. Determined to track Tetsuo down and contain him before his powers reach their full, destructive potential, Shikishima takes control of the government and the entire military in a coup d’état and engages Tetsuo with the military’s full force, which results only in countless soldiers perishing and tanks being destroyed by Tetsuo’s raging powers, which allow him to form protective shields, toss back tank shells, and tear apart an entire bridge in his fury.

Tetsuo is a slave to his emotions, consumed by rage, then envy, and then his own monstrous body!

Kaneda continuously runs across Kei and is so besotted by her that he even tries to downplay her first kill and ends up following her to a resistance safehouse; there, he learns not only that they are trying to free the ESPers from their confinement but also that Tetsuo has become the military’s newest test subject, and he agrees to join their efforts both to help his friend and get close to Kei (and he’s allowed to if only to serve as a patsy for the resistance’s actions). While at the hospital, Tetsuo is plagued by vivid and disturbing nightmares of both his childhood, his destructive powers, and the mysterious Akira, the most powerful of all the ESPers who once potentially represented the next stage in human evolution. Akira’s power was virtually limitless, but when the government tried to take control of him, he lashed out in self defence and caused the catastrophe that decimated Tokyo. His remains are kept in cryogenic suspense beneath the Olympic Stadium’s construction site, and Shikishima has no desire to see that destructive power unleashed once more, and takes a vested interested into making sure that the remains stay dormant, though Akira still has a strong influence as many zealots in the city foretell of his destructive return. Sensing that Tetsuo’s powers are raging out of control, the ESPers try to kill him before he can awaken Akira and trigger another catastrophe; however, despite them being more adept at creating illusions and wielding their psychic powers, Tetsuo’s abilities are exacerbated by his anger, confusion, and trauma, which makes him more than a match for them, to say nothing of Shikishima’s forces. Revelling in his newfound powers, Tetsuo is driven to near insanity, lashing out at friend and foe alike with a maniacal glee; he kills a couple of his former comrades in search of Kaneda’s bike, garbs himself in a dramatic cloak, and is heralded as the returning “Lord Akira” for his immense powers. Despite Kiyoko’s best efforts, Tetsuo exhumes Akira’s tomb and is astounded to find that the feared psychic is nothing more than just organs and remains in jars; Kaneda attacks Tetsuo with a high-powered laser rifle and berates his friend with taunts, only to be outmatched by Tetsuo’s powers and at the mercy of his power-drunk friend. Despite losing at arm to Shikishima’s orbital cannon, Sol, Tetsuo proves his superiority by flying into space and obliterating the orbital weapon before constructing a replacement mechanical arm for himself. Although Kaori tries to comfort him, and even Shikishima tries to talk him into returning to the hospital for treatment, Tetsuo’s powers grow dangerous and out of control; wracked with constant pain and mutating at an alarming rate, Tetsuo metamorphosises into a horrific, foetus-like monstrosity that is only stopped by the ESPers reviving Akira and drawing him into a singularity.

The Nitty-Gritty:
The animation quality in Akira remains almost unparalleled; the feature-length anime definitely set a standard for all to follow with its gorgeous chase sequences, intense attention to detail, and slick, striking character designs. Neo-Tokyo is a neon-drenched metropolis that owes more than a debt to Blade Runner (Scott, 1982) and, alongside that classic science-fiction thriller, helped popularise the “cyberpunk” art style and genre. The city is ruled by the classic class system, with the lower-class and impoverished literally fighting for survival in the filthy back alleys and the upper-class living in opulence and luxury in the high-rise skyscrapers, far above the violence on the city streets. Neo-Tokyo is under constant threat from terrorist attacks by resistance fighters, who set of explosions across the city and cause anarchy in the streets in a desperate effort to fight back against an oppressive government. The city is alive with advanced technology, from futuristic motorcycles, flying craft, and complex machinery to monitor and contain the ESPers, the city, and the people and this is juxtaposed with rancid sewers and the comparative squalor of the alleys and lower street levels. The facility where Tetsuo and the other ESPers is kept is both a sophisticated military hospital and a bizarre nursery for the decrepit, child-like psychics, but the triumph of the modern age is Sol, a weaponised space station that Shikishima turns on Tetsuo in a desperate attempt to destroy him before his powers can rage out of control.

Akira is full of horrific imagery and body horror as Tetsuo’s powers rage out of control.

One thing that separates Akira from other traditional cartoons and animation is the gritty, unabashed adult themes and content in the feature; biker gangs race through the streets at high speeds, with little protection and even less regard for who they hurt or the damage they cause in their wake, curse words are dropped with reckless abandon by the hot-headed youngsters who make up our main characters, and bodies break and blood splatters as characters beat and pummel each other. This latter aspect is only escalated by the trigger-happy Neo-Tokyo police, who brutally gun down Takashi’s handler without a second thought, and both the visions Tetsuo is plagued by and the horrific mutations he undergoes as his powers rage out of control. Tetsuo is tormented by hallucinations of demonic toys and, angry and afraid, lashes out at everyone around him to leave orderlies and guards a mere bloody mess on the hospital walls. As Tetsuo’s powers grow, his ability to control them wanes; overcome by pain and hatred, he lashes out in a mindless fury and ends up becoming a rampaging monstrosity that kills Kaori and threatens to absorb Kaneda, the ESPers, and Shikishima. This replaces Tetsuo’s fanatical lunacy with outright panic as his body refuses to listen to his demands; as if the sight of him raging into the upper atmosphere with a bloody mess where his arm once was wasn’t bad enough, the sight of this grotesque mass of screaming flesh and muscle engulfing everything in its path certainly escalates the stakes of Akira from one boy’s madness to a disaster that potentially threatens all life in Neo-Tokyo and beyond.

Kaneda’s confrontation with Tetsuo results in widespread destruction…and the birth of a new God!

Tetsuo is a tragic figure, one filled with conflicting emotions of abandonment, resentment, and anger; the more his abilities grow, the more overwhelmed and out of control he becomes. Finally given the power to strike back at those who seek to use or hurt him, Tetsuo’s confusion and fury are only exacerbated by the ESPers, Shikishima’s vendetta, and even Kaneda, who mocks his friend even as his body horrifyingly transforms. Realising that they’re not powerful to oppose Tetsuo, the ESPers revive Akira, who sucks the monstrous beast into a sphere of pure light. Kaneda is drawn inside this singularity and relives Tetsuo’s memories of his traumatic childhood, a time of abuse and fear where he idolised Kaneda; the ESPers willingly enter the singularity as well in an attempt to rescue Kaneda, and their memories of being subjugated to experimentation are also revealed to him. Shikishima, Kei, and Tetsuo’s remaining friends watch from a safe distance as Neo-Tokyo is engulfed by the singularity, destroying it in much the same way as its predecessor was obliterated some thirty years ago, and the ESPers are able to return Tetsuo to the remains of his home so that he can help Kei during the development of her own psychic powers. As for Tetsuo, the feature concludes with the ESPers and Akira using all the power at their disposal to help him fully transcend beyond the mortal realm; having tapping into the limitless energy and primordial power that exists within all humans, Tetsuo ascends to the level of an omniscient God and, to herald his birth, gives life to an entirely new universe! This, honestly, is not massively clear by the finale which is an ambiguous and surreal series of images, memories, and half-finished sentences, but brings the film to a conclusion that I have to say was very much out of left field considering it started off as a simple tale of an angsty gang of bikers.

The Summary:
Even now, after a few viewings of Akira, I struggle a bit with this film; while it’s undeniably beautiful to look at and full of some absolutely stunning animation, its surreal metaphysical undertones always knock me for a loop. Like a lot of anime and manga, there’s a lot happening here, from street-level violence and social discord, to childhood trauma, to government experiments and children developing psychic powers. It’s definitely a very complex and multifaceted world, with a lot of layers and sub-plots happening all at once that some characters, like Kaneda, aren’t entirely aware of; people revere Akira as some kind of prophet and saviour, resistance fighters bomb buildings and kill to try and expose the government’s experiments, and shrivelled up children with telekinetic powers bring toys to life in the most disturbing way possible. I think the concept has a lot of legs, however; this idea of a screwed up little biker kid being empowered by these destructive abilities and lashing out at the chaotic world around him leads to some of Akira’s most dramatic and memorable moments, and the relationship between Kaneda and Tetsuo as these kind of traumatised kids with a chip on their shoulder bonded by a lifetime of hardship results in them being the clear standout characters. Shikishima is also surprisingly well-rounded, and every character, even the ESPers, is seeped in shades of grey rather than being morally black or white. Of course, Akira will forever be remembered and praised for its slick and detailed animation, which results in some stunning chase sequences, dramatic moments, and grotesque imagery to really inspire the viewer to think about what they’re seeing, what it means, and rethink their surface evaluation of these characters. It can be a lot to take in, no doubt, but the visuals and narrative intrigue are well worth taking the time to give Akira a watch and, if it hooks you, check out other similar anime or even read through the manga if you want your mind blown even further.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of Akira? Which of the characters was your favourite and what did you think to the morally ambiguous nature of its cast? What did you think to Tetsuo, his emotional outbursts, and his eventual monstrous transformation? Were you a fan of the film’s cyberpunk setting and the escalation from street gangs to psychically-endowed children? How did you interpret the ending, and were you a fan of how the story wrapped up? Have you ever read the original manga and, if so, how does the film compare as an adaptation? Was Akira your introduction to anime or did a different feature make you a fan of the genre? How are you celebrating National Anime Day today? Whatever you think about Akira, or anime in general, sign up to drop your thoughts below or drop a comment on my social media.

Screen Time [National Anime Day]: Attack on Titan (Season One)

Though anime traces its origins back to around 1917, its characteristic visual style first rose to prominence in the sixties through the works of animator Osamu Tezuka and developed a worldwide audience throughout the second half of the 20th century through its focus on the detail of settings and use of dynamic camera effects. To celebrate and appreciate this distinct style of animation, 15 April has been designated National Anime Day, giving anime fans the world over a chance to voice their admiration through conventions, cosplay, or a general sharing of their memories and experiences of anime.

Season One

Air Date: 7 April 2013 to present
UK Distributor: Netflix, et al
Original Network: MBS/NHK General TV
Stars: Bryce Papenbrook, Josh Grelle, Trina Nishimura, Jessica Calvello, Lauren Landa, Matthew Mercer, and R Bruce Elliott

The Background:
Attack on Titan began life as a Japanese manga written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama and has been published in Bessatsu Shōnen Magazine since September 2009. Drawing from personal experiences regarding the fear of strangers you cannot communicate with, the isolated and enclosed nature of Japanese culture, and the Muv-Luv visual novel series (âge/5pb, 2003 to 2016), Attack on Titan was very well received, selling over 100 million copies by the end of 2019 and quickly etching itself into worldwide popular culture. As a result of the manga’s popularity, Attack on Titan has been adapted into videogames, live-action movies, and an ongoing anime. The anime was produced by Wit Studio and Production I.G, directed by Tetsurō Araki, and dubbed into English by FUNimation Entertainment. Like the manga, the anime was received generally positively, with critics praising the storyline, animation, and music but criticising the crudeness or the titular Titans and the bleakness of the story’s tone.

The Plot:
For a hundred years, the last vestiges of humanity has lived in cities surrounded by enormous walls that protect them from gigantic man-eating humanoids referred to as Titans. After his mother is devoured by a Titan before his eyes, Eren Yeager (Papenbrook) vows to join the Titan-hunting Scout Regiment alongside his friends Mikasa Ackerman (Nishimura) and Armin Arlert (Grelle) and rid the world of the Titans once and for all.

The Review:
In a world where we are literally swamped with all kinds of bat-shit crazy ideas for manga, anime, and videogames, Attack on Titan offers what can only be described as a “unique” premise: one day, about a hundred years ago, the gigantic cannibalistic Titans simply showed up and started eating humans left, right, and centre. They appeared seemingly out of nowhere and decimated humanity, driving them behind fifty-foot high walls and to the point of near extinction. Since then, humanity has lived in relative peace, training generations of soldiers to battle the nigh-indestructible Titans and scout out new areas for expansion and the acquisition of resources. The titular Titans are gruesome, disturbing creatures; ranging in height from around three to fifteen meters tall, they vary in appearance from constantly-grinning or alarmingly stoic-faced naked humanoids, to twisted, frenetic freaks and skinless, steam-emitting monstrosities. Deceptively fast and light despite their enormous size, the Titans are superhumanly strong and constantly regenerate from any injury unless attacked at their one weak point at the base of the neck. The Titans generally attack without reason or mercy, devouring humans not for sustenance but, apparently, simply out of some kind of base instinct (though more intelligent Titans do exist).

Horrific, intelligent Titan variants pose a real threat to humanity’s survival.

The Colossal Titan (which is so huge that it can peer over the walls that keep humanity safe from the Titans) systematically destroys the weakest part of Wall Maria to allow its brethren to enter the outer area of the city. This act alone earns the Colossal Titan (and the Titans in general) Eren’s hatred as it directly leads to the death of his mother and kick-starts his entire crusade to hunt down and destroy all of the Titans. Later in the season, Eren and Squad Levi encounter a skinless Female Titan that specifically targets Eren and is capable of hardening its skin at will and is smart enough to cover its neck when under attack. Similarly, the Armoured Titan is not only highly resistant to the army’s anti-Titan cannons but methodically picks and choose its targets, unlike the horrific Abnormals, which run and skitter around in an unhinged frenzy.

The Titans are practically unstoppable and have driven humanity to near extinction.

Honestly, one of the best parts of Attack on Titan is the Titans themselves; they are horrific creatures that are cold, unmoved, and seemingly unstoppable. Just one Titan is capable of swatting attackers right out of the air, stomping on them, or chomping down on them in the apparent blink of an eye. Often, two or three Titans are seen as a significant threat to the populace and those trained to protect them but, other times, soldiers (specifically the army’s more highly-skilled individuals) will be able to cut Titans down almost effortlessly and, yet, the Titans continue on regardless and it is stated at one point that humanity has never, in a hundred years, scored anything close to a significant victory until the episode “Primal Desire: The Struggle for Trost, Part 9” (Koizuka, 2013).

The O.D.M. allows the characters to perform superhuman feats.

Opposing the Titans are the city’s military; trained in the use of Omni-Directional Mobility Gear (O.D.M.), these guys are able to fly all over the place thanks to the O.D.M.’s gas-powered grapple hooks. Once mastered, the O.D.M. pretty much turns every character into Peter Parker/Spider-Man as they swing, fly, and rappel all over the place with superhuman skill and ease, attacking Titans with their swords and yet, despite all their skill and extraordinary physical prowess, they are still splattered into mush or devoured by the hundreds in seemingly every campaign, willingly throwing their lives away even when escape would be a far better proposition. Attack on Titan centres around three human characters: Eren (the hot-headed, idealistic protagonist), Mikasa (Eren’s stoic, but highly skilled adopted sister and self-appointed bodyguard), and Armin (their childhood friend who is more of an academic than a fighter). Of the three, Eren is easily the most relatable and interesting; wracked with guilt after never appreciating his mother and haunted by fragmented memories of his father, he is driven by an unrelenting desire to succeed in the military, join the Scout Regiment, and experience life beyond the walls of the city to hunt down and destroy every Titan he finds. Eren is quite the flawed character; despite his bravado and commitment to his mission, he struggles to master the O.D.M. gear, is far less capable at battling the Titans than Mikasa or Captain Levi (Mercer), the military’s most decorated and powerful soldier, and isn’t as well-read as Armin.

Somehow, Eren is able to transform into the Attack Titan to take the fight to the Titans.

However, his heart cannot be denied; in the face of a Titan assault in “First Battle: The Struggle for Trost, Part 1” (Ezaki, 2013), Eren immediately takes command and leads the charge against the Titans. Briefly paralyzed with fear in the face of the Titans’ awesome power, he barely hesitates to sacrifice himself to save Armin from being swallowed by the Bearded Titan, apparently dying in the process. Luckily, however, Eren later resurfaces in his own Titan form, the Attack Titan, apparently mysteriously having the innate ability to transform into a Titan when injured and with a clear, defined goal. At first, and sporadically throughout the season, Eren cannot fully control this transformation and struggles to understand it; understandably, it causes a lot of fear and mistrust amongst his fellow soldiers, who constantly treat him either with respect and awe or terror and hatred, and his superiors constantly flip-flop on whether to use his powers to aid them or simply execute him.

Levi is the army’s most formidable soldier and a decorated Titan killer.

Eventually, Eren is assigned to Squad Levi and the direct scrutiny of Captain Levi, a stoic but superhumanly capable soldier who is equal to the strength of a hundred fully-trained soldiers. Levi is the anime’s standard detached, bad-ass character, slicing up even the near-unstoppable Female Titan in a whirlwind of blades and fully prepared to sacrifice his entire regiment (comprised of the army’s best and longest-living Titan hunters, it must be said) to protect Eren.

Though stoic, Mikasa has a natural aptitude for combat.

Levi’s demeanour is largely mirrored by Mikasa, a damaged young girl whose entire family was slaughtered before her eyes until she was saved by Eren, the two of them killing her attackers in a mindless fury. Since then, Mikasa has attached herself to Eren, following him everywhere, even to military school and out into the 104th Regiment. Though not quite as stoic as Levi, Mikasa is nevertheless capable of killing entire swarms of Titans all by herself through some innate physical prowess that is never really explained. It’s hinted numerous times throughout the season that Mikasa’s feelings towards Eren border on something more than friends and family but both are quick to either brush off this suggestion or are far too focused on the far more prominent threat of destroying the Titans.

Armin is the weakest and most annoying of the three protagonists.

Finally, there’s Armin, easily the weakest and most annoying character of the three. Many episodes either grind to a halt or entirely focus on one of the three debating the merits of teamwork, humanity, or reliving their memories and feelings through long-winded internal (or external) monologues or flashbacks but never is this more annoying when the focus is placed on Armin. The weakest link of his regiment, Armin’s prowess lies more in academics, strategy, philosophy, and introspective analysis; he’s quick to give in to despair (though, to be fair, so are a large number of the anime’s soldiers and characters in the face of the Titans’ inexorable threat) and to stand useless and in fearful awe in the midst of a heated battle where untold numbers of his friends and peers are decimated by the Titans to incessantly monologue about his shortcomings or the bravery of others.

Hange Zoë is easily the worst and most annoying character of the season.

Still, as annoying as Armin is, he’s got nothing on Hange Zoë (Calvello), a military scientist who is so incredibly obsessed with the Titans that she has been driven to what appears to be near insanity. Loud, obnoxious, and exploding into a crazed frenzy at the drop of a hat, Zoë wants nothing more than to study and investigate the Titans, growing uncomfortably close to captive Titans and disconcertingly obsessed with Eren and his unique physiology. Though her experiments and studies have uncovered numerous helpful insights into the Titan’s composition and nature (and has led to the creation of numerous weapons to bring them down or kill them), her character is largely both uncomfortable and annoying at the same time as she often cares more for the well-being of the Titans than her fellow humans.

Many of the supporting characters are easily forgotten until they suddenly die.

Rounding out the cast are a number of expendable soldiers and civilians; sure, most of them have names and character traits but it’s largely pointless to remember them or grow too attached as they are liable to either get splattered into a bloody mess, eaten alive, horribly dismembered, or found as little more than a bloodied and mutilated corpse. Often, another character would lament their comrade’s fate and I would find myself struggling to remember who they were, what they did, or when they last appeared. Interestingly, the city is made up of varying classes, each of which experience life within the walls differently and views the military, and the Titans, in different ways: many criticise the need for expensive military ventures and pursuits, others are living comfortably deep within Wall Sina, while those in the outer areas live relatively underprivileged lives. Like a lot of post-apocalyptic narratives, I have many questions regarding the world of Attack on Titan; I’ve looked into the series and researched it a little bit to get some answers regarding the history of this world and how the walls and city were erected but, in the context of season one, we get very little information regarding how the city was built and how they survive.

I have many questions about the city, its society, and the lore of this world.

For some reason, currency and wealth is still a thing within the city; many of the wealthier citizens are frustrated at their “taxes” paying for what amount to little more than suicide missions against the Titans and the Royal Family live in opulence within Wall Sina. Equally, there is a lot of mention of rations and finite resources; every time Titans breach the walls and cause a mass evacuation, food and supplies are strained so badly that it is often seen as a good thing when hundreds of soldiers are killed by Titans so that the city’s resources can last a bit longer. I have many questions regarding this: shouldn’t the city just be entirely focused on training soldiers, fortifying their defences, and building a military society rather than giving people the option of living passive lives? Why is money and wealth a thing? How can money really mean anything in this type of world? Where do the resources come from? How were all these houses built, to say nothing of the walls that protect the city? How do the citizens even have the means to build anything with such finite resources? Why aren’t the soldiers, especially the veterans, better at killing Titans when the creatures are largely predictable, have a well-known weak spot, and seem so cumbersome and slow despite their surprising speed and daunting strength?

Eren isn’t the only one who can transform into a Titan, raising many questions for season two.

These questions are generally disregarded in season one and, for the most part, it works; despite characters knowing a lot about the Titans’ physiology, the creatures and their origins are a complete mystery to the characters and they are constantly forced to learn as they go and endure horrific losses to gain slivers of new information about them. How Eren, and others, are able to spontaneously produce Titan bodies is left obscure and the motivations of the Titans’ cannibalistic ways are up for debate at this point. The season ends, however, not only with the knowledge that Eren is not unique as Annie Leonhart (Landa) is revealed to not only be a traitor to the humans but also capable of transforming into a Titan herself, but also that gigantic Titans are encased within the walls of the city, ending the season on a massive cliff-hanger as we’re faced with the knowledge that human-to-Titan individuals are more commonplace than first thought and that there is more to the history of this world than we, and the characters, are aware.

The Summary:
I had heard a lot about Attack on Titan for quite some time; I am not, by my own admission, the most well-read anime fan as I find a lot of the most popular anime films and series to be dense almost to the point of being impenetrable and with so many episodes (most of them being filler or padding) that I just don’t have the time or patience to fully invest my energy and effort.

There are so many monologues! It really grinds the pace and action to a halt.

However, when I saw Attack on Titan was on Netflix, I figured I’d watch a few episodes and see if it hooked me. Within three episodes, I was interested enough to carry on but, by around episode fifteen, the series had started to lose me. I quite liked Eren’s flawed character and the constant life and war lessons he was forced to learn through numerous encounters with the Titans and characters like Mikasa and Levi helped make the anime exciting and engaging when it was actually focused on action rather than constantly slowing the plot down with endless monologues and prattling on and on (often, inexplicably, when characters are moving at high speeds) about teamwork, friendship, and the futility (or glory) of war.

Attack on Titan excels whenever Titans are onscreen or the action picks up.

Attack on Titan excels when it focuses on the Titans and the action-packed assaults against them; seeing Eren and his fellow soldiers swing and fly all over the place, either being crushed, devoured, or successfully cutting down the creatures is exciting and gorgeous to behold and really showcases the detail and intricacies of the anime’s smooth and slick animation. Sadly, though, entire episodes can go by without the merest hint of action or appearances by the titular Titans; while this can lead to some interesting character development, more often than not episodes drag their runtime out focusing on characters who quickly die, strategies that immediately fail, or retreading the same ground about Eren, Mikasa, and Armin’s characters and backstory.

Some flashbacks and slower moments help flesh out the main characters.

Occasionally, our protagonists will learn and grow as characters, which is nice to see, but often they’ll learn a lesson or some self-confidence in one episode only to immediately have to relearn this again in the next (or subsequent) episode. It makes for a disjointed pace and gives me far too much time to think about the rules of this world and questioning how their society even works much less proves so unreliably effective against the Titans even with years of experience in fighting them. As a result, despite the massive cliff-hanger at the end of the season and what I’ve read of how the plot develops later on, I can’t see myself coming back to Attack on Titan again. At least, not the anime, anyway.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What are your thoughts on Attack on Titan? Did you enjoy the series or, like me, did you have issues with its plot, pacing, and content despite its interesting premise, creatures, and characters? Did you ever read the manga; if so, do you prefer it to the anime? Perhaps you prefer the live-action films, or the Attack on Titan videogames; if so, which is your favourite and why? Which character, or Titan, is your favourite? Do you also find Zoë and Armin annoying characters? How are you celebrating National Anime Day today? Whatever you think about Attack on Titan, or anime in general, please do leave a comment below.