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Review: “Attack On Titan Part 1- Blu-ray (UK Edition)”: FEE FI FO FUM, I SMELL QUALITY AND THEN SOME!

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MANB3527_BD_Attack_On_Titan_3DIf you look at the fairy tales many of us grew up with, there are several common elements: brave knights, beautiful princesses, evil sorcerers, and, of course, giants. It’s a fairly simple concept- take something commonplace like a person or animal and transform it to something several times bigger. A stomping leviathan that makes the ground tremble and views its smaller cousins as pests or food. It’s a simple concept that can actually be quite terrifying, as Attack on Titan proves.

Roughly a century ago, humanity was besieged by the mysterious arrival of the gigantic Titans (whether this is our future or an alternate world isn’t fully clarified). Nude, deformed humanoids, the Titans possessed tremendous size, strength and speed, along with a seemingly insatiable blood lust that led them to feed exclusively on humanity. The small remnants of human race were able to retreat to a reserve ringed by three successive high walls large and strong enough to keep the Titans at bay. In a village in one of the outer walls, Eren Jaeger leads a frustrated life where he longs to see the legendary wonders of the outside world. His enthusiasm is shared by his best friend Armin but dissuaded by Eren’s adopted sister Mikasa. Eren plans to join the Scout Team, the military force that forgoes the safety of the walls to push deep into the territory lost to the Titans. However, such thoughts are halted when an unprecedented colossal Titan emerges outside the wall, damaging it enough for the hordes of smaller Titans to pour in and begin devouring the citizens. Although the trio are able to escape to safety, Eren’s mother is devoured by one of the nightmarish creatures. Now refugees led by Eren’s promise to annihilate the entire Titan race, Eren, Mikasa, and Armin all enlist with the armed forces that are humanity’s slim hope.

In some ways, Attack on Titan is a familiar story for anime. There’s certainly no shortage of ‘cataclysm of the past leads to a threat fought by the youth of today’ stories coming out of Japan, with mecha shows often offering variations of the tale. However, this one is much bleaker in tone and combines that formula with elements of American zombie movies. The idea of war against the Titans is effectively an illusion of human ego: an idea spelt out by the opening narration and the incredible opening song. The walls are a pen and the terrified humans are livestock, robbed of their dignity by the giant invaders. The result is an atmosphere that feels altogether different from the aforementioned works. As opposed to those where the mysterious, brutal enemy are a consistent pain, here the impact of the Titans is so absolute that humanity has little option beyond huddling in a corner in sheltered fear. A society exists within the walls (implied to become richer the further one makes it into the rings) but it’s a mockery of the species that once spread far across the land. This really helps sell you on the anger and indignity felt by Eren, with his view that humanity should be free to roam in safety and explore all the natural wonders of the world.

AttackOnTitan_Part1_2The enlistment of our initial main trio also introduces us to the remainder of the similarly-aged main cast, each with their own reactions and aspirations. This angle is slightly similar to the popular genin trainees of Naruto, but here it comes off as a more sincere look at the horrors of war, with the cadets having to struggle with a situation where even adult superior officers flee in fear and there’s no promise that all of the youngsters will be surviving. The majority of the 13 episodes presented on the set focus on their collective first campaign against the Titans and no punches are pulled. Characters are snuffed out in the blink of an eye and although discretion cuts are employed, the psychological trauma and physical horror may prove too much for some.

Although human efforts against the Titans are mostly ineffectual, the armed forces do put up a good front. Given that they exist near solely to combat potential Titan threats, their key weapon leads to one half of the show’s most impressive visuals. Termed 3D manuvering gear, it’s a gas powered thrust harness which fires retractable anchor lines and stores a limited number of swords. We learn quickly that the sole way to down a Titan is a precise strike at the scruff of the neck, although even making it to such a vantage point is extremely difficult. The result is a series of very well coordinated aerial battles that often blend traditionally animated characters with CG produced locales. Wit Studio do a brilliant job with these sequences, even adding flourishes of characterisation (there’s a scene where the more general swinging style of Eren is juxtaposed the more involved and daring style of skilled Mikasa).

AttackOnTitan_Part1_1The production as a whole looks great and you can easily see why it quickly made a big name out of Wit Studio, benefitted further by the clarity of the Blu-ray format. It’s especially impressive because original creator Hajime Isayama’s art isn’t exactly the greatest the comic industry has ever seen. Wit have taken that factor and allowed it to stand more equally with the factor of story. The intentional grotesqueness of the Titans is kept, resembling deformed looking man-children who blur the line between photo realistic and caricature. They’re inherently creepy both in design and movement and I really want to praise Takaaki Chiba for his work on the latter. Anime often seems eternally married to speed lines and telegraphing movement. Not so here, where the Titans move with a vicious and savage intensity, often surprising the audience just as much as the human characters. Even their basic movements are disturbing, looking like a human body that has forgotten how to coordinate itself all while their permanent grins and glazed over eyes suggest the disturbing reality that all their behaviour is pure baseline instinct.

Having already watched the show via its original Japanese simulcast run, I was intrigued to see how well FUNimation did at dubbing it. They have indeed recruited a fine cast of talent, to a degree that managed to surprise me. One area I was particularly curious to see was if the dub could match Yuuki Kaji’s portrayal of Eren. Kaji has a very distinct voice and ability, really nailing the often psychotic homicidal rage Eren slips into when discussing his hated enemy. Although he takes a few episodes to settle in, Bryce Papenbrook proves himself every bit his Japanese counterparts equal and nails the hot blooded intensity the role requires. I’d only recently become familiar of Papenbrook via Durarara!! but he’s someone I welcome more of (though sadly, he doesn’t call anyone ‘boobylicious’ this time round).

The rest of the cast are also solid, barring some handicaps from having watched the original. It’s particularly jarring to me to hear Armin voiced by an actual male after becoming accustomed to Marina Inoue’s voice, even though Josh Grelle does a fine job.

The sole extras are a pair of dub commentaries for episodes 3 and 13, respectively. Much like the dub itself these are highly enjoyable, offering a good mix of discussion, trivia and banter. FUNimation always seem aware that commentaries are optional and as such audiences should feel taking said option doesn’t feel like time wasted.

AttackOnTitan_Part1_4A collector’s edition is also available, shipping in more luxurious packaging and offering a further disc of extras including a Making Of, clean versions of the opening and ending and 13 SD style parody animation shorts focusing on the main cast while still in training. I’ve seen some of these already and they’re fairly amusing, especially if you’re a fan of specific characters.

Attack on Titan is a title that I’d say deserves to be seen. I talk pretty frequently about the dangers of hype but I’m genuinely lost to suggest a series that matches quite what this one is doing. If you’re tired of giant robots, magical girls and slice of life shows, I’d heartily recommend it. Indeed I’d even go further to say this is the rare title that might well hold appeal to those who don’t usually watch stuff from Japan.

Buy it now, but probably online in case there are Titans roaming your town.

 

Toonzone interview with three of the key staff of Attack on Titan

(contains a spoiler for the episodes in this set)

Wit Studio Panel at MCM London Comic Con October 2013

 

Attack on Titan is available on DVD and Collector’s Edition Blu-ray

from Amazon UK.