Happy Halloween, Happy Katana fans! Today, I’m going to embark on a much-anticipated new direction in my articles. In the past month or so, I have found my life consumed by a new manga/anime series. This marks the beginning of a series of articles pertaining to said series. Anyway, without further adieu, let’s jump into this.
If you’re an anime or manga patron, you’ve more than likely heard of, if you haven’t read or seen, a series entitled Shingeki no Kyojin, also refered to by it’s rough English translation, Attack on Titian. Based on the already-popular manga, SNK has been made into an anime that has literally taken the world by storm. From fanart on Tumblr to forum chats to anime conventions the world over, it’s getting to the point where it’s damn near impossible to say the word “anime” without someone bringing up Shingeki no Kyojin. Yeah, it’s that popular. Today, I’m going to take a critical look at the anime, not the manga, to see if this show is really worth the hype it’s created.
This review will be based on plot, animation, characters, and music.
*Before you read any further, heed this warning: I am writing this article under the assumption that the reader is aware of the major events of the series. If you are currently watching the anime, I strongly suggest that you hold off on reading this. I will avoid post-anime manga spoilers, but this article does contain massive spoilers for the anime. Please don’t complain about them, because you were warned.*
Plot: First things first, a plot summary. The series follows three main protagonists, Eren Jaeger, his adopted sister Mikasa Ackerman, and their best friend Armin Arlert.
One-hundred years prior to the start of the series, mankind was plagued by their first natural enemy: Titans, gigantic humanoid creatures whose only purpose in existence is to devour humans, despite having no apparent need to eat in order to survive. Humanity was driven to the brink of extinction. What few survivors remained built a society behind 50-meter walls that kept the Titans out. The walls were named Maria, the outermost wall, Rose, the middle, and Sina, the interior. There, humanity enjoyed a century of peace.
After the peace is shattered by the appearance of the Colossal and Armored Titans, unique Titans that succeed in overtaking Wall Maria, Eren and Mikasa witness their mother being devoured by a Titan, and Eren swears to eradicate them all. Eren, Mikasa and Armin join the military, and finally, the Survey Corps, a branch that focuses on fighting the Titans on their own turf to re-take Wall Maria. Eventually, Eren realizes he has the ability to transform into a Titan, and the basement of his home in Wall Maria may hold the secret to defeating the Titans. But before they can get there, they must re-take Wall Maria, which is much easier said than done.
Yeah, that’s a basic summary that doesn’t even begin to touch the events that transpire in season one.The plot for SNK is truly one-of-a-kind and you won’t see anything else like it. Cliches are nonexistent; you don’t see Eren running around being some kind of invincible demi-god (more on that later). This is a war, and that is made painfully clear, as at any given time, you can see characters that were built up to be really cool and likeable die horrible, agonizing deaths. Then, you proceed to see characters close to that character completely lose their shit and succumb to the depths of despair and depression. One such case is when, after Mikasa was informed of Eren’s ‘death’, she literally lost the will to live and almost let herself get eaten on purpose. Her memories of Eren rekindled her will to fight, but if Eren hadn’t saved her in his Titan form, it’s very probable she would have died. Even though Mikasa possesses an extreme talent for fighting, she’s still nearly defenseless without her 3D Maneuver Gear (the devices they use to grapple onto the Titans and buildings), like any human is.
The level of strength between man and Titan is a constant theme. The biggest example of this that stands out to me is early on in the series, during the Battle of Trost. Eren and his fellow graduates fresh out of training are forced to fight Titans. And most of them die. Even Eren is eaten, though that awakens his ability to turn into a Titan. Either way, this episode is a reality check. Even though they’ve graduated, they’re still only human, and are therefore damn near defenseless against these things. Their training taught them the means to fight, but their survival ultimately comes down to their own abilities. In a way, it’s very realistic.
Is this plot depressing? Yes. Hell, yes. Are there multiple scenes that have brought me to tears. Yup. Have I witnessed characters I love meet their end in horribly gruesome ways? Mm-hm. That’s par for the course with SNK. This is not an anime for the faint-hearted. It ruthlessly rips your heart out, throws it in a grinder, then turns it into processed dog food time after time after time again. And you know what? I love every second of it. Prior to a friend of mine talking me into watching episode one, I had no experience with Shingeki no Kyojin, apart from watching a few random scenes on YouTube. I hadn’t read the manga and had no idea what was in store for me. I distinctly remember the end of episode one, when Eren watched his mother die while screaming and sobbing, I too had tears in my eyes. This is a show that made characters so likeable, so relateable, so real, that I felt sorry for them to the point where I cried after a single twenty-four minute episode. That is just amazing. Here’s that scene.
So yeah, the plot is just amazing, and the way the episodes are presented are emotionally draining, but there’s more to SNK that that. The storyline itself has no contradictions, is full to the brim with plot twists that are almost impossible to predict, and as the manga goes on, far more questions have been raised than have been answered. Additionally, every episode and chapter ends in a way that compels the viewer to keep continue moving forward, despite the ever-looming fear that every installment could mean the end of a character you love (as a Mikasa fan myself, this fear has consumed my life). I’ve never seen an anime with a plot better than Shingeki no Kyojin.
Characters: Remember what I said about real characters? Here I will be exploring that idea in detail. In the future, I plan on doing article-length character analysis of every major character in the series, but here I’ll shorten it to the main three and a few other random instances where I feel characters have felt very realistic.
Eren is anything but a traditional protagonist. While a typical hero is driven by a great sense of morality, honor, pride, or a desire to make the world a better place for everyone’s sake and not just their own, Eren takes every stereotype and crushes it. Having lost his mother to Titian, creatures that he already despised to begin with, Eren’s motivation to join the military and eradicate the Titans are based purely on his bloodthirsty need for revenge, not his desire to improve the world. While it is true that he has expressed that he wants to see the world outside the walls, that was mainly Armin’s impact on him, and he didn’t really show initiative until his mother died.
Eren is an extremely violent person. As young as age nine, he killed two grown men in order to save Mikasa from a life of slavery when her parents were murdered by human traffickers and she was kidnapped. It’s unclear if that was his first act of bloodshed, but it’s still highly alarming for a child nonetheless. Though Eren does have some sense of morality (he’s risked life for his friends on at least two occasions), his anger often controls his emotions.
Perhaps my favorite trait of Eren is that, even though he’s the main protagonist, he is pretty weak as a fighter. Outside of his Titian form, he’s only killed one Titian, manga included, whereas people like Mikasa and Levi, who posses no special powers (besides being complete and utter badasses), make Eren look pretty pathetic at times. That is a quality that makes Eren very real. He’s not an overpowered main character; he’s human. He has powers, but his powers are pretty much the only reason he’s still alive. He’s not some kind of god, and he’s far from invincible. He’s, at the core, just a very angry boy that has lost his mother and wants to avenge her, and he does so with an unbreakable spirit.
Mikasa, unlike Eren, is calm, collected, and rarely shows powerful emotions. This is largely due to her past. When she was nine years old, she watched as both her parents were killed in cold blood, then she herself was kidnapped. Eren helped her escape by killing two of the slavers while she killed the third. Eren gave her a scarf and she was accepted into his family in the aftermath. However, she was heavily traumatized by these events and the damage to her mind remains, even six years later, very much permanent. Since her parents’ deaths, she has been very withdrawn and after she lost her foster mother as well, Mikasa devoted her entire existence to Eren’s protection. She forced herself to become an unstoppable force of nature, mainly because babysitting Eren is a never-ending and very difficult job for her.
On the surface, Mikasa seems about as close to a cliche as this series gets – most anime have that one badass character that lacks any emotion whatsoever, and outshines everyone around them by a mile. However, Mikasa is more emotionally unstable than most people would think. She just hides it very, very well. My reasoning for this comes from one scene in the manga, which I’m not going to bring up in this article, and two scenes in the anime. Remember when she was going to let herself eat eaten just because she thought Eren died?
And then there’s this scene.
This fucking scene. I can’t even begin to describe how hard I was bawling like a fucking three-year-old the first time I saw this. In the episodes leading up to this, we’ve seen so much character development and growth from Mikasa. We’ve seen her horrible past, how she came to be so attached to Eren, only for her to believe he was dead, and she almost kills herself. Then she finds out that he’s alive, and has an emotional breakdown upon realizing that she still has a family, that the most precious person in her entire life is still there. A “typical” badass characters doesn’t have reactions like this. To be frank here, Levi is the character that fills that role, not Mikasa. Levi has never been shown being anything besides cold, indifferent and, on one occasion (upon finding that his entire squad died), angry.
No, Mikasa is very much a real character. She’s the powerhouse of the main three on the surface, and while she alone possesses more talent than all of her fellow graduates combined, she, in reality, wants nothing more than to return to the peaceful life she once had with Eren and she’s willing to go to any lengths to ensure that happens.
Last but not least, Armin. Poor Armin seems to have become the laughingstock of the Shingeki no Kyojin fandom, but he’s arguably the most realistic and by far the easiest character in the entire series to relate to. Armin, unlike Eren and Mikasa, possesses absolutely no aptitude for fighting whatsoever. In his first encounter with the Titans, he froze in fear (a perfectly understandable reaction, considering he’s literally just watched five people he’s trained with and lived with for three years get devoured), and Eren had to rescue him. Later on, he had to face Mikasa and explain to her how her brother died. Armin’s talent lies in his ability to think, making him the best strategist in the series. He’s also extremely persuasive.
Armin represents what most of us would be in this universe: a weak human with no real talent, who is easily frightened, and chooses to fight with his mind rather than his body. I’m not really sure why Armin gets a reputation as being a ‘crybaby’, considering that Eren cries a hell of a lot more than he does, but, regardless, Armin’s emotions are very real. As mentioned above, the fact that he lost the will to fight during the Battle of Trost is completely justifiable. I dare anyone else to put yourself in a position like that, then tell me with a straight face that you could remained composed. By the way, if you think you could, I must accuse you of lying.
Armin is by far the most human character in SNK, and I think we can all relate to him. We’ve all felt inferior at times, and we’ve all been in situations where we felt like we were the weak link, like we were letting everyone else around us down and was nothing but dead weight. So, once again, I must reiterate my confusion as to why Armin is so passionately despised by the fandom. I really don’t get it.
This part is getting rather long, so I’ll bring up one last character that has acted very human: Hannes.
Hannes is a member of the Garrison, the branch of the military that maintains the walls and aids the Military Police in day-to-day duties within the cities. When the Titans first broke through into Eren’s hometown, Hannes attempted to save his mother by fighting a Titan closing in on her. However, when he came close and got a good look at it, he became too frightened to fight and, instead, grabbed Eren and Mikasa and carried them to safety, leaving their mother to die. Really, can you judge him? Imagine you were in that situation. All your life, you’ve heard these horror stories about how these monsters decimated the human race in years past, and you’ve never had any contact with them. Suddenly, one day, you come face-to-face with one, and find you’re too scared to fight it. That’s what any person would do. That’s a natural human reaction.
Music: If you’ve been watching all the extremely emotional YouTube links I took the time to insert into this article, you’ve probably noticed how absolutely amazing the music in Shingeki no Kyojin really is. If you haven’t, feel free to go back and watch them, because they prove my point perfectly. Specially, I’m referring to the epic theme that plays in the scene where Eren’s mother dies and Armin’s speech. That swelling piece of musical treasure has become iconic to SNK, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.
This anime utilizes a mix of instrumental, Japanese and English songs throughout to set the mood in various different ways. Here are just a couple examples of this:
And by the way, if you haven’t seen the openings (the best openings I’ve literally ever seen), here they are.
The credits are just as good, but I’m not going to hyperlink them. I think I’ve made my point. SNK has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard in an anime (or TV show in general), and they build the atmosphere flawlessly.
Animation: It’s gorgeous. Plain and simple. The amount of time and effort put into drawing these characters really shows, and they have some of the most emotional and expressive faces I’ve ever seen in animation. Have you ever just taken a look at their eyes? When the point really needs to get across, a common technique the animators use is to zoom in on eyes, which are some of the most beautiful images in the entire series.
Just a couple examples:
Also, great detail has clearly went into the designs of the Titans. They are scary as fuck, but at the same time, look incredibly stupid and, in one case (the Aberrant that Mikasa chases and kills), even comical. The worst in terms of just being creepy is, without a doubt, the Smiling Titan. Ya know, the one that killed Eren’s mother. I can never get over that thing’s face.
In addition to character designs, the animation style itself is just wonderfully dark. It doesn’t feel like a cartoon; it feel very much like something meant for mature audiences. Any and all scenes with the usage of the 3D Maneuver Gear just feel so epic, like you’re they’re flying though the air with the characters. That’s something this anime does well in general: it sucks you and and doesn’t let go until the end.
Final Thoughts: I have never, in my entire six plus years of reviewing music, movies, TV shows and video games, found something so utterly flawless that I could literally find no issues with it whatsoever. I didn’t think it was possible, but the anime for Shingeki no Kyojin has does it. I am extremely critical when it comes to reviews, but there’s nothing bad I can say about it. The plot is flawless. The characters are deep and real. The music is goosebump-inducing. The animation is beautiful. I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. I’ve gotten so angry and riled up that I’ve shouted at my computer screen. I’ve been mind-fucked by plot twists. Mikasa Ackerman has become my favorite fictional character of all time. There is nothing more I can say about this anime. It is a masterpiece and a legend in its own right, and deserves every amount of hype and praise it gets. There may not be such a thing as perfection, but SNK is as close as you’ll ever get.
Plot: 10/10 – A heart-breakingly realistic storyline that has no flaws, no contradictions, and is constantly keeping the viewer itching for more.
Characters: 10/10 – They are extremely realistic, act on real human emotions, are very three-dimensional, and have their share of flaws that make them seem even more complex.
Music: 10/10 – The music flawlessly sets intense emotion throughout the series, varying from sad to inspirational. It is truly one of the greatest anime soundtracks of all time.
Animation: 10/10 – It’s perfect for the dark tones in the show, and the characters especially are very expressive.
Overall Score: 10/10 – I can guarantee you this is the last time you’ll see something I review get a 10/10.