Attack On Titan review

Attack on Titan (or, as its Japanese name actually means, "Advancing Giants") is an anime with the premise that 100 years ago, a pseudo-medieval human race was beset by the "Titans": enormous human bodies with the intelligence you'd expect from a slime in a fantasy RPG, but incredible strength, rapid healing of any wounds, and an insatiable hunger for human blood. Unable to win the war, the humans managed to construct three massive walls and retreat behind them. Now, after 100 years, a unique titan appears and breaks a hole in the outermost wall. The human soldiers are armed with special maneuvering gear that allows them to essentially fly in a Spider Man-like manner, swords, and the knowledge of an extremely precise weakpoint on the Titan's body that allows you to actually kill it.

The show has a strong protagonist, very strong emotional impact, and a good soundtrack, but I can't recommend it.

Let's start with the misandry: it has the *most* egregious deployments I've ever seen of the double standard on assault.

Sexist tropes

In episode 1, the protagonist Eren commits an act of minor violence against an asshole which was reasonable in the circumstances, and his sister Mikasa drags him away and throws him into a wall for it. It's bad enough that he's completely helpless as a same-age girl drags him down an entire alley (even a much weaker person can put up a fight against this), but then he doesn't try to retaliate, and in fact he's somehow *less angry than before she attacked him*. The writer wants to show us that girl is infinitely more powerful than boy, that violence is the solution to a misbehaving boy, and will ignore basic choreography and psychology to show us.

This isn't just sexist, it's out of character for both of them. Mikasa is supposed to be stolid and protective toward Eren, not physically abusive. Eren is reckless, pugnacious, and anything but a boomerang bigot who wouldn't hit a girl back if she hit him first.

It gets even worse in the next episode. Here Eren is yelling at their friend Armin for despairing, and Mikasa punches him in the head. He falls over and cries. (Again, being assaulted makes you not angry. Assault is the solution to a traumatized boy doing something you don't like.) Then she force feeds him the bread Armin got for them that he said he wouldn't eat because other people needed it more. I'm not exaggerating this in any way! Nobody would have tolerated either of these scenes if they had been a male character lashing out in violence against a female.

Even outside of that shit, Eren is the most severely under-glorified character I've ever seen. It's just awful. He's a male damsel in distresss. When he isn't captured (which I'd estimate to be half the source material consumption time), he's either losing a fight, getting otherwise embarrassed, being useless while other characters get stuff done, or using his unique power he has through no virtue of his own and which relegates him to the position of dumb muscle for the other characters to use. And that still usually ends with him going back to being captured.

Glorifying a character

After where the first season of the anime ended (I continued the story in the manga because the second season of the anime wasn't out yet), the story just gradually went to shit. It died a slow and painful death. Aborted foreshadowing, gloryfying monarchy, using a flashback to avoid telling the audience what the POV characters knew until after it mattered, raising more and more mysteries without answering any, and going so long without mentioning the final enemy of season 1 (who was never killed) that I literally forgot she existed.


Don't have POV characters lie to the audience

Despite all these horrible flaws that make it not worth watching overall, there's a lot done right in Attack On Titan; there's a reason I kept watching despite the gross sexism in the first two episodes.

It contains a great example of the dignified rescue approach that I wrote about in one of my first articles. The flashback in the Trost arc that explains how Eren and Mikasa met. When they were little, Mikasa's parents were killed and she was kidnapped by three human traffickers or whatever. Eren and his father found the scene. His father calls the police, but Eren decides they won't arrive in time and runs off after Mikasa himself. He finds the murderers and, instead of magically outfighting them, he picks off two using clever tactics and deception, then thinks that's all of them, enters the room and unties Mikasa, but as soon as she speaks the third one comes back and pins Eren to the wall, choking him. Mikasa picks up a knife and stabs the remaining enemy to death while he's distracted, returning the save.

Rescuing agency

Not only did it avoid damselizing Mikasa, the scene showed us the origin of her personality. In the scene, she hesitates to take action until Eren prompts with "If you don't fight, you can't win" (a piece of advice that she looks back to for motivation later), showing that at that time she was as submissive as you'd expect a damsel in distress to be, but the experience changed her in a very believable way. She lost both her parents that day and Eren, being her savior, naturally became the most important person to her; so she tries very hard to protect him after that, event to the extent of wanting him to flee from combat: before the battle for Trost, where they're sent to opposite sides of the city by their commanders, she tells him, "If the battle gets chaotic, come find me, I'll protect you!"

Besides that beautiful scene, the first season of the anime was just really powerful. It does a great job portraying the fear of battle (unlike most other stories) and how much the stress grates on the minds of soldiers. A particularly glorious scene was in the battle for Trost, after half of Eren's team is crushed or eaten alive by the first Titans they meet, including Eren himself (or so they believe). Mikasa arrives on the scene and finds the rest of them hiding on top of a building sulking in despair. She gives a motivational speech and gets them all back on their feet. Amplified by the music it plays, I almost cried watching that scene for the first time; I might have if I had been watching it alone.

Another really great scene was in the forest of tall trees (yes, it's called that). This is after Eren and the others join the scout regiment, a branch of the military that ventures outside human territory to gather information and maybe pick off some titans without risking civilian lives. They're chased into the forest by a special, intelligent Titan. Their orders are to ignore their comrades being picked off and keep leading it deeper into the forest, following a plan that their leader hasn't explained to his troops (not because he doesn't think his comrades deserve to know, but because he suspects there's a traitor in their ranks, and he's right). In this situation, Eren has to choose between trusting the commander or stopping to confront the titan. Levi (a soldier between Eren and the commander in rank) even tells him that both choices are reasonable.

Surpsinigly, Eren chooses to trust the commander, but the plan ends in disaster, with Levi's entire squad being killed, and so after that Eren tries to take back his choice and confront the special Titan using his Titan transformation powers, but he loses the fistfight and the situation turns out even worse because he tried to reverse his decision. Imagine the guilt. Not to mention the scene succeeded in a very rare feat - giving the hero a choice and portraying both options as reasonable.

Another great scene is inside the innermost wall where Eren and co. lead one of their friends that trained with them into a trap, suspecting that she is the traitor. They turn out to be right, but she turns into the special Titan from the forest before their trap is quite ready, and when Eren tries to transform to fight her (which involves biting his own hand so hard that it bleeds profusely), it at first doesn't work. He ends up trying it a second time, mutilating himself to a horrifying extent, and it works. What I want to praise about this scene is the way it uses extreme gore in an entirely appropriate way. Most of the time I find extreme gore scenes a bit difficult to watch, and this was no exception, only it was a good thing.


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