Saturday, October 19, 2013

Shingeki no Kyojin - Review

Studio: Wit/Production I.G
Year: 2013
Genre: Action, Military, Post-Apocalyptic 

Synopsis: [ANN]
"Several hundred years ago, humans were nearly exterminated by giants. Giants are typically several stories tall, seem to have no intelligence, devour human beings and, worst of all, seem to do it for the pleasure rather than as a food source. A small percentage of humanity survived by enclosing themselves in a city protected by extremely high walls, even taller than the biggest of giants. Flash forward to the present and the city has not seen a giant in over 100 years. Teenage boy Eren and his foster sister Mikasa witness something horrific as the city walls are destroyed by a super giant that appears out of thin air. As the smaller giants flood the city, the two kids watch in horror as their mother is eaten alive. Eren vows that he will murder every single giant and take revenge for all of mankind."

Better late than never, I'm finally getting around to review the most popular anime of the season (and probably of the year) and I'll be lying if I say I didn't enjoy it, but a perfect anime it is not. Still, I must give credit where credit is due – Shingeki no Kyojin has been a fantastic visual experience beginning to end, Studio Wit, along with Production I.G must have worked their animators to the bones to deliver this mind-blowing anime blockbuster. I was getting a tiny bit worried when they started recruiting animators through twitter. Yes, you heard right, twitter. To think they were short-staffed on such a big project while in the heat of production is disconcerting, but luckily whatever trouble they had didn't reflect in the workmanship as they managed to pull it off with a near-perfect score.

Okay, enough with the intro, let's get down to some real business. Shingeki no Kyojin is one of the most original anime in recent memory and honestly, with every season populated by series waving the fanservice flag, it's just the type of anime I had been looking for. I've commented on this before in my first impression post, the antagonists in this show – namely the titans, are vastly different from anything I've seen of any anime. They are savage, brute, and act purely on animal instinct; in other words, aside from being physically overpowering, they don't make very interesting opponents, which also means there is a limit to how much weight they can pull plot wise. Like I had predicted, the crux of the mystery isn't how they can be killed – though that was also fascinating – but why do they exist in the first place and the connection they could possibly have to humanity. It sure took a long way to get to the first major twist of the show as the pacing seriously dragged in the Trost arc. I must admit, having Eren transforming into a titan wasn't something I had in mind, but all the same, it makes for a convenient way for humanity to fight back – to defeat the enemy, one has to know the enemy inside out, literally. Thinking back, we had some not-so-obvious hints near the beginning of the series when Eren's father gave him an injection. Not surprisingly, Eren's new identity doesn't sit well with everyone, fear is aroused in the politicians hiding inside the comfort of their fortresses away from the bloodbath of the battlefield, and perhaps more than anyone, they are not willing to take any chances for they are concerned for their own asses (a bit of SnK politics for you). With execution impending, the Survey Corp led by Levi bails him out on the condition that he must prove his usefulness to mankind by embarking on a mission to bring back the secret stored in his basement, now deep into the Titan territory after the foray. SnK has a penchant for epic revelations, so of course the mission doesn't go smoothly – a female titan who apparently possesses human intellect appears out of no where with a fierce intent to chase down Eren. Armin, with his unusually keen senses and deduction skills, comes to the conclusion that the female titan must be a hybrid like Eren. Well, betrayal hurts, the culprit is none other than Annie, a comrade and a friend. In truth, it wasn't hard to deduce her identity considering how much the titan resembles her physically. The plot thickens and plunges us deeper into the mystery as now we have someone voluntarily choose to side with the titans, and more importantly, someone who will go to great length to protect her/their secret. Ultimately, it brings us back to the bigger picture – just what are these giant, man-crunching creatures? Could they actually be genetically related to humans after all? Maybe the products of some science experiment gone horribly awry? Well, I don't know about you, but I'm damn excited to find out.

There is no question Shingeki no Kyojin is a breathtaking anime in its ability to tell a story on an epic scale. It's quite clear the events unfolded thus far is setting up for something more dramatic and shocking than anything we've already seen. Packed with eye-popping actions, creatively devised plot twist, and a diverse cast of characters, I think it's a show that did more than enough to entertain. I don't think it's fair make any conclusive judgment when we are only half way into the story with so many questions yet to be answered, for instance how the humans managed to build those giant walls without getting completely wiped out in the process is beyond me, I do hope it gets addressed at some point. For those of us who don't read the manga, we will have to wait for the second season to be surprised, which I'm sure will be on its way once the manga progresses far enough. Honestly, with its massive popularity and plethora of merchandises, Shingeki no Kyojin has to be the anime with the best chance of getting a sequel.

Praises aside, despite many people hailing this anime as the new masterpiece, I must say I don't entirely share the popular opinion. Make no mistake, I think it's an excellent series, definitely one of the best of the year, but it's a flawed series lacking the essential thing that could elevate it to the rank of masterpiece in my book – well, to make things simple, Eren is my biggest beef, there is something about him that's extremely difficult to like. Shingeki no Kyojin is a special series and it deserves a better hero. Now Eren is not a downright atrocious character, but as the centre piece, he is a flat personality lacking in dimension. My impression of him hardly changed throughout the series, just as he hardly developed as a character. Yes, he is short-fused and determined, but these qualities have been there since day one, and over the course of the series, as they were relentlessly harped on but rarely expanded on, I found myself gradually desensitized. I think it's important for someone in Eren's situation to possess fortitude, but when it's emphasized to the point where the character is defined by it and nothing else, it fails to engage me on a deeper level. I have similar concerns in regards to Mikasa, though she's a hell lot more tolerable than Eren. Her presence in combat is something to behold, and in all honesty, she is responsible for some of the best fights in this show, but even her badassery doesn't compensate for a lack of characterization. I would like to see Mikasa develop on her own terms, not just in relation to Eren or anyone else. She can be so much more than Eren's eternal protector who exist solely for his sake. On that note, the amount of interaction between Mikasa and Eren is seriously inadequate, disregard the flashback, the series doesn't provide nearly enough reason for me to empathize with the deep bond they seem to share. Now I do like Armin a great deal, and when you consider he's the weakest fighter in a show where action takes the biggest slice of the pie, it says a lot about how affective his character has been. It's a lot easier to relate to Armin precisely because he's weak, terrified, and self-conscious in a hostile environment that amplifies his vulnerability. But despite admitting to his weakness, which is a sign of being introspective, he perseveres in the face of challenge and remains independently minded when the situation calls for it. To put it simply, he scores points with me because he's multifaceted and has potential for growth. This series has a sizeable cast, almost too large to get a clear picture of, and to tell you the truth I can hardly remember any of their name. Well, Captain Levi is the exception probably in anyone's book, the austere leader with a glare of death and heart of gold is just not someone you can dislike. I look forward to seeing more of him in the future. The nature of the series demands a large cast, so I don't suppose I should fret over how forgettable most of these characters are, what they represent collectively seems more important.

Moving on to the animation and music – not much to say here other than offering my most sincere praise. I have already raved on how visually impressive SnK is, but it doesn't hurt to say it again – yes, it is gorgeously animated and sets a new standard for actions in TV series, though it's not a caliber I expect to be treated to very often. And my god, never thought CG could interact so perfectly with traditional 2D – rarely do you see camera angles this dynamic. The movements are animated with so much precision that while I was watching, I felt myself being caught in the middle of it. If I really want to nitpick, I have to say I'm not the biggest fan of the thick border of the character design, but it's a small complaint. Finally, the music, one word – epic (I seem to use this word a lot and really, you can hardly blame me). It resonates perfectly with the scenes, especially going into a battle. My satisfaction similarly extends to the OP and ED, they are both beautifully and creatively animated, and paired with music that accentuates the feel.

Okay, I think I've ranted enough, so what's my final verdict? SnK is a thoroughly enjoyable blockbuster that's dramatic, thrilling and all in all very memorable, but it needs improvement on the character side of things. Oh one thing I forgot to mention, the blurbs of information during intermission is a fantastic way to provide background details, somehow it lends legitimacy to an already amazing series. I'll admit I am being quite harsh because in my opinion it's overhyped to some extent, but I also think the positive far outweighs the negative, it's just as someone who needs to feel a connection with the characters to fully embrace a series, SnK falls short for me. This is of course speaking in relative terms, SnK easily outperforms most of the shows out on the table this year, so it is not an anime you want to miss.

Final Score: 8.5/10 

1 comment:

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