Attack on Titan Part 1 TITAN sized Blu-ray review

Attack On Titan Collectors EditionIt is one of the most anticipated anime releases of the last few years, where the mere mention of its name can cause a room full of people to stand up, scream and go crazy. I am of course referring to Attack on Titan and thanks to Manga Entertainment, UK fans can now get their hands on it.

The synopsis tells us that several hundred years ago humanity was all but exterminated by a race of giant creatures called Titans. The surviving members of the human race then create a haven for humanity, one that is broken up in three zones each separated by a giant wall, Wall Maria (the outer wall), Wall Rose (the middle wall) and Wall Sheena (the innermost wall). The crux of the story takes place over one hundred years after this, when one day out of the blue, having not attacked for over a century, a giant 200 ft tall Colossal Titan appears out of nowhere and destroys Wall Maria. The city inside is overrun with small Titans, who set about killing all the humans that stand in their way. Our hero for this piece is a Eren Jaeger (voiced by Bryce Papenbrook), a head strong young man who longs to see the world outside the walls that he feels have held him prisoner his whole life. He hopes to achieve his goal by joining the Scout Regiment of the army, a goal that is not supported by his adopted sister Mikasa Ackerman (voiced by Trina Nishimura) and his mother Carla (voiced by Jessica Cavanagh). Tragedy strikes however when during the aftermath of the Colossal Titan’s attack Eren’s mother is devoured by a Titan in front of him. Unable to do anything to help her, Eren vows to avenge his mother’s death and destroy all the Titans. Supported by Mikasa and his childhood friend, Armin Arlert (voiced by Josh Grelle), Eren joins the military in the hope that one day his dream of avenging his mother will come true. Will Eren succeed? What challenges will he and the others face along the way? What is the big twist everyone refers to? Well you will have to watch it to find out as you will not get any spoilers here.

This release comprises of the first 13 episodes of the series and is split across two DVD’s or Blu-ray discs depending on your choice of format. The anime has been created by Studio Wit, which was setup in 2012 by producers at Production I.G. (Ghost In The Shell, Psycho-Pass, The End Of Evangelion) under the company’s subsidiary, IG Port. It is no surprise that with such an abundance of talented people to draw from and the success generated from the manga, the studio were under pressure to deliver the goods. But did they? Are the thousands of fans who swear by this anime right in considering it to be one of the best in recent years? I am not sure.

I found myself a little underwhelmed. This was due in part to not one thing, but in fact a collection of many little things. The story itself I found to be a concoction of various anime tropes such as:

  • A lead character who witnesses the death of one or both their parents/loved one
  • A lead character who uses aforementioned death to drive their revenge
  • A supporting character who has sworn to protect the lead character
  • A mysterious absent parent who bestows an item on the child that will no doubt lead to a plot revelation later on in the series

I could continue the list, as there are in fact many more tropes littered throughout the first 13 episodes. The point is that even though you often find many of these in almost any anime you see, normally you can get around this by crafting them in to something that the audience has not seen before. However, in Attack on Titan I felt that this was not achieved in the way it could have been, as the viewer is constantly reminded that these tropes are the reason for the characters decisions and flaws. After a while this did begin to wear me down a little as I felt like these elements were being thrust upon me in such a way as if to say, ‘Look can you not see that this is why they are doing this?’ Granted there was the odd occasion where the writers managed to catch you off guard by using the tropes to lull you into a false sense of security and then completely do the opposite to what you were expecting. However these instances were few and far between.

The other part of the story that irked me somewhat is that unlike shows such as Naruto before it, which actually shows the lead character develop into a powerful ninja over a long period of time, Attack on Titan instead chooses to move the story forward five years over a period of three or four episodes. In doing we only see glimpses/montages of the training that Eren and his friends go through. As such we are left with characters that are where they wanted to be, but we have little idea what they went through to get there. It left me with little (if any) emotional attachment to the characters.

AttackOnTitan-Part1-TitanIt would seem that this is due to the anime having over 72 supporting characters and so the writers do not have time to fully develop all of them. The only flaw in this plan is that with the large number of supporting characters all needing some form of screen time, you do find that the core three characters have their stories told at an accelerated pace. Where this does benefit the story is when you come to the actual Titans. Compared to the rest of the characters they have a comparatively short amount of screen time and so anytime you do see them you are left wanting more. The other good point about their lack of screen time is that throughout the first 13 episodes, very little is revealed about them and their origins which actually helps to build up the mystery that surrounds them. I found myself comparing them to the Weeping Angels in Doctor Who (who in the first few appearances we knew very little about, which only added to their sinisterness). There is of course the argument that this type of character development does not suit the quick pace and style that the anime is aiming for, an argument that I am actually conflicted about accepting.

One other area that has a huge impact on the story is the simple fact that in Attack on Titan, no one is safe. In fact, much like the TV series Game of Thrones, the first 13 episodes see a lot of characters get killed, with their deaths often brutal and unforgiving in their portrayal on screen. The inclusion of this in the series does work well, as it adds not only a sense of drama to the story but also a sense of realism, as like in real life war, no soldier is safe in battle and in Attack on Titan this point is hammered home.

Another important area of any story are the themes that underpin it and in this case Attack on Titan has several. Whilst some are directly related to individual characters, some are related to the anime as a whole. For example, the theme of revenge is attributed not to just Erin’s story but also to the overall story in the form of revenge that humanity seeks against the Titans. This is where Attack on Titan does manage to hold its own, as despite having multiple themes littered throughout the story, the anime manages to keep track of them and deal with them all in a fairly concise manner.

One area where Attack on Titan excels is with the art and animations that it uses. The best example of this can be seen in that of the Titans, as the artists have given them a basic design with very little in the way of features and made the focus on their faces and movements. The facial designs may vary on each Titan but they do have one thing in common; their expressions are made to be very childlike, displaying very little sign of intelligence. It is a decision that is executed superbly, heightening the sense of evil and malevolence about them, especially when they smile or change their facial expression.

This is then complemented perfectly by the way that they are animated, in that they move at a very slow, sluggish pace, which at times is almost zombie like, due also in part to their size. The reasons that this works so well is that you are lulled into a false sense of security by all of the above and then, out of nowhere, they smile or move more swiftly, bringing about something unexpected which shocks you.

AttackOnTitan-Part1

Titans aside and the rest of the characters and backgrounds are designed well. The only thing that stands out here is the fact that the black lines around the characters seems to be thicker than you would normally find on a traditional anime character and as such adds a sense of cell shading to the characters. The buildings and backgrounds are also drawn to be fairly basic and drab in some cases, a move which is done to highlight the bleak and unforgiving nature of the world that they are in. Art director, Shunichiro Yoshihara, made an interesting choice with the inclusion of matte painting or still images in the place of actual animated images. It’s odd considering the rest of the animation, especially the battle sequences and parts where the characters are charging across rooftops are animated to give a 3D feel. Granted there is the occasional small animated piece on these still images, but the jump from an action scene to one of these still shots (even though they still have a voice track) just seems to be an unnatural break in the pace. This could have been the intention, but considering their placement is sometimes during non-key moments this seems to be an unlikely reason. That said, other than this niggle the animation is fantastic and in many ways sets a high standard for the studio. Although it is hard to see how they could better themselves in the future, it does make me curious to see how their style progresses.

As with most anime releases at the moment, Attack on Titan is packaged with both a subtitled version featuring the original Japanese audio and the US dubbed version. The dub for this particular title was done by Funimation – they bought it for the US market and it is directed by industry veteran Mike McFarland, who has most recently been the voice director of Rebuild of Evangelion, One Piece and Wolf Children. It is hard to argue with his work on Attack on Titan as it is frankly brilliant and his choice of voice actors for the roles further shows off his talent, as under his direction they deliver great performances, even if for the first few episodes all Eren seems to do is shout and scream. What’s more is the fact that he has managed to cast the 72 supporting characters (including putting himself in the show as Jean Kirschtein) and get a great performance from them too. It shows that in this case he was more than certainly the right man for the job. Of the main voice actors, Bryce Papenbrook (Sword Art Online) does a good job as Eren, despite the aforementioned screaming, as does Josh Grelle (Ben-To, Guilty Crown and Pyscho Pass) in his role as Armin Arlert. Lastly Trina Nishimura (Space Dandy, Ben-To) almost steals the whole show with a brilliant portrayal of Mikasa Ackerman, in which she is able to convey a sense of strength and power with barely a rise in tone or even a scream.

AttackOnTitan-Part1BattleThe orchestral soundtrack for Attack on Titan is another highlight as it is beautifully scored and rarely, if at all, sounds out of place. In fact it fits the piece so well that you often forget that the show has a score. The opening theme, Feuerroter Pfeil und Bogen (紅蓮の弓矢 Guren no Yumiya, lit. “Crimson Bow and Arrow”) by Linked Horizon is by far one of the best opening themes in recent memory thanks to the hook at the beginning and will no doubt have you humming it after you have heard it a couple of times.

As if to highlight the fact that Attack on Titan is a special release, Manga Entertainment has released a collector’s edition that features a DVD of extras, a booklet called Notes From Beyond the Wall, and special packaging that is designed to fit both Parts One and Two of the set. The extras themselves include the Making Of Attack On Titan, Textless Opening & Closing, U.S. Trailer and Chibi Theatre: Fly, Cadets, Fly! Days 1-13. This may sound like a good amount of extras on the surface, but once you delve into the content you find yourself faced with an informative making of documentary that focuses solely on Funimation and how they acquired the show and did the dubbing, while the Chibi Theatre is just a collection of cutesy cartoons that appear to have been taken from a website or used on television to promote the show.  All of this leads to what in many ways is an average set of extras. What’s missing is more content related to the Japanese production of the show and how it was created.

Overall, Attack on Titan is certainly worth a purchase. Like most things it has its flaws and most of these occur in areas where perhaps you would not expect them if you were seeking to call this a classic anime. For fans, they will likely be swallowed up by the hype that the show has generated for itself, for it does push the boundaries in certain areas, such as the soundtrack, art style and on occasion animation, meaning that it certainly has strong points. Atack on Titan will hold your attention and is one that you can be proud to have as part of your collection.

Attack on Titan Part One is released on September 15th by Manga Entertainment on DVD, Blu-ray and Collector’s Edition Blu-ray, with prices starting at £24.99.

 

 

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