This review of has certain elements of the most recent episode of Attack on Titan. If you are wary of spoilers, please be careful.
This season's biggest anime is easily Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin). I've seen lots of people talk about it and wonder out loud if they should watch it. While in most cases, I recommend it as much as I can, sometimes I catch myself wondering why I like it. Why is it this season's hottest anime? Because sometimes this show can be crushing and depressing. Yet at the same time, the mystery and action at hand is so enveloping, you oftentimes lose track of just how invested you've become.
Attack on Titan takes place in a world where humanity has been brought to the brink of extinction by mysterious giants, referred to as titans. They appeared suddenly one day and began devouring humans with what is literally a single-minded purpose to wipe out all humans. Not only do they have no interest in other animals and regenerate any damage inflicted on them, they don't even require nourishment from eating. They simply prefer killing people by eating them. Their seeming invincibility combined with their sudden and massive appearance drove humanity into a corner, forced to live in a three walled fort that must be no bigger than a large island and culturally freezing what was left to the medieval ages.
The titans are effectively the whole point to the show. They continue to be a mystery even in the manga which is much further in. Yet they are such a destructive, almost natural phenomena which immediately demonstrates to the viewer the feelings of despair that would arise from living like cattle in fear for 100 years. Even though the show takes place during a time where technology and methods have been developed to fight back, whenever titans appear, tragedy and madness are sure to follow.
The only way to kill is a titan is to cut in the nape of their neck. To do this, the military invented equipment known as 3D maneuvering gear. It's essentially a harness around the hips which fires gas operated grappling hooks, and it comes with swords with disposable blades. With intense training, a soldier can zip around the landscape and slice at a titan's only weak point, causing it to disintegrate Resident Evil-style. Any other method of combat isn't practical enough to destroy the weak point and the 3D maneuver gear is the government's closely guarded lost secret. Perhaps the last of lost technology from before the time of titans.
The series focuses on Eren Jaeger and his bloody vendetta against the titans. As a child, after nearly 100 years of peace, the titans suddenly broke through the outermost wall where he lived and his mother died in the invasion. Alongside his adoptive sister Mikasa Ackerman and friend Armin Arlart, they enlist in the military to fight the titan threat. But 5 years larer, as soon as they finish basic training, the inner wall humanity had retreated to is breached as well and within the span of the first few episodes, we see the terrorizing affect titans have on the seemingly incapable humans. Women wail in despair, men scream like children, and blood flies everywhere as titans treat humans like toys and the people can do nothing but mentally shut down from the horror.
Once again, the titans are a large focus as an antagonistic force. Not only are they already larger than humans, but some are uniquely aberrant, with strange qualities and quirks such as leaping through the air and being covered in hard armor plating. The mystery of what exactly the titans are is quickly magnified early on with another twist to the problem. Eren is capable of transforming into a titan that can fight back.
How can Eren transform? What does that mean in relation to other titans? Or other humans? And how can this be used to win the war? It's a mystery on top of a mystery.
It's at this point where I want to acknowledge that I feel I haven't been adequately described why Attack on Titan is so good. Only I actually have if you've stuck through all this. Besides the focus on the titans, the world building in Attack on Titan is thorough and dense. And yet everything is delivered within the first few episodes. Anything more is simply the icing that is the unknown that will be fun to speculate and discover. We get a sense of the setting (which is interestingly limited due to humanity's shrinking territory), we learn of how powerful the antagonists are, and we learn that despite the dystopian outlook for the protagonists, fighting back is still an option that defines the heroes of the series. Everything about the world that's needed to make it believable is presented for our digestion and it helps to draw us in.
Of course, I should also mention the beautiful animation. Production IG always produces some top notch work and in this case, we get sweeping, red tinged vistas with giants wandering through towns, piercing expressions of hopelessness and rage, and probably the biggest selling point for fans of the manga, seeing the 3D maneuvering gear in action.
In the opening theme alone, we see a soldier in slow motion as he displays the acrobatic potential of the 3D gear. What we could only imagine in still manga, Production IG has now re-imagined in what is frankly the coolest display of acrobatics and human motion I've ever seen. With the grappling hooks resting on their hip where the human body pivots the most, soldiers will swing, spin, twirl, and flip effortlessly through the air and around the local architecture along with a few titans. Some characters do 720 spins before slicing through titan necks. The moment a charcter manages to get to a titan's weakpoint are some of the most striking moments in the show so far.
So why should you watch Attack on Titan? Why should you believe all the hype and commotion about it?
The plot will draw you in. Once you think you've gotten comfortable with the status quo of how the mystery is panning out, a new one appears to grab your attention again and make sure you don't slip out.
The animation is fluid and quality. The juxtaposition between the towering titans, the fleet humans, and rows and rows of static architecture they weave through truly make the action portion of this show stand out in between the dramatic moments of hopelessness.
It might be difficult to separate my opinion from the ongoing manga, but I feel Attack on Titan deserves every bit of praise it is getting and then some. This is like Gurren Lagann for me or Fate/Stay; it's the stand out choice for this season.