Monday, June 23, 2014

Attack on Titan Recap: Episode One

Right off the bat, let’s start with some disclaimers. THIS IS NOT FOR CHILDREN, NOR THE SQUIMISH. I know, I know – you’re a paragon of steely resolve, your sinews are made from Wolverines cigar gristle and are Ford tough. Congratulations. HOWEVER, this is an anime that is brutal right out of the gate. That’s what makes it so interesting; this is a world where humanity is on its last leg and the audience is left on the edge of their seats hoping that SOMEBODY is going to survive.

Obviously major spoilers, we will be looking at the series in depth, poking at nooks and crannies and looking at characters and plot and why AoT has gained such insane popularity. There will be cursing, there will be blood. Some of the screen caps may be graphic (I will actually try to not and be too graphic with them, I don’t know who is looking at my blog).

Attack on Titan is unique and is actually phenomenal story telling which includes many elements; fantasy, mystery, politics, military campaigns, camaraderie, sacrifice and hope. If you can get past the brutal nature of the story its worth watching. All right, let’s get into it:

Attack on Titan Episode One Recap: The Fall of Shiganshina

See, what did I say right out of the gate brutality? The first 30 seconds gives you the summary of the plot; sweet little Medieval-esque town is the new smorgasbord buffet for the mysterious Titans (giants) who have overcome their defensive wall. Outside the gates, soldiers on horseback and 3d maneuver gear (we’ll get to that waaaay later) are outclassed by the terrible giants roaming the forest, we don’t see what happens-but!

Let’s not start there, let’s start earlier in the day before all this happened.

Meet Eren, who seems to be having terrifying prophetic dreams that will pass right by the audience until the end of the season. (Get used to that face, he's going to make it a LOT.) He’s the hero of the story even though I have to admit, I never really warmed up to him as a character.

Meet Mikasa, Eren’s adoptive sister and bonified badass. It becomes apparent very quickly that she has been placed in charge of Eren’s well being because, well, he has the survival instinct of a suicidal lemming.

Welcome to Ye Olde Medieval Town; it’s never really made clear whether this is in the same universe as ours but humanity was unable to develop and grow because of Titans, whether the world ended and was relapsed back to a medieval state, or whether this is an alternative universe. Highly developed technology exists side by side with simplicity.

Eren and Mikasa wander around a sleepy, beautiful town set inside that vast walls that protects them from the outside world. People are complacent; they shop at picturesque markets, the woman wear quaint peasant skirts and aprons, the men wear suspenders and smoke pipes.

Eren is apparently on familiar terms with the city’s guard, who have nothing better to do than get drunk and play cards as they have absolute faith in Wall Maria, the outmost shield against the Titans. By this point you would think they are about 90% proof alcohol, given the red-faced sloshed countenance. Eren screams in rage at their slovenly state. WHAT IF THE GIANTS COOOOMMMEE!??

Can you sense the foreshadowing already? Don’t worry, it will become as obvious as a hammer to the head later on.

The gates open and the soldiers return home. Eren is super excited. What glory to be a soldier, fighting giants, seeing the outside world- Yeah, no. True to reality, the life of a soldier is not a glamorous one and even less so when you are fighting insanely powerful creatures that are the size of a two-story building.

How brutal is it?

Ask Moses’s mother.

Who receives just the arm of her son as the rest of him is inside someone’s stomach.

The soldiers have a breakdown and basically scream WE’EEERREE USSELESSSSS and HUMANITY IS DOOOOOOMED, DOOOOOMED I SAAAYYY.

This doesn’t faze Eren, who is all JUSTICE, FREEDOMM!! MURICAAA!!

Mikasa is all, ‘Dumbass.’

Take a good look at domesticity amongst the Yeager household because this is the last Happy Times moment you’re going to see.

Mikasa spills the beans on Eren’s ambition to become a soldier and he promptly flips his shit again going FREEEDOMMMM, JUUUSTIIICEEE, CAAATTLLEEE!!! That last part is Eren comparing the complacent happiness of the city to that of cattle. Life ain’t worth living unless something is trying to eat you, I guess. Also, Eren’s frequent FREEEDOOMMMM, JUUUSTIICCEEE!! war cry is something you better get used to right now because the boy has emotional issues, to put it lightly.

Mommy Yeager doesn’t agree but Daddy Yeager is all meh – tell you what, Eren, when Daddy comes back from Doctoring rounds he’s going to show you the basement! Yea, sounds ominous. Also a major key point in the entire plot; you could say that the entire underlying storyline revolves around Eren’s basement, so keep that in mind.

Alrighty then, had enough domestic squishiness? Good, cuz’ its time for people to die.

Eren runs away in a fit of rage because people just don’t UNDERSTAND his insane drive to DO THINGS. Mama Yeager asks Mikasa to look after her batshit crazy son, because otherwise he’ll end up killing himself.

Meet Armin, our third tier of main characters who the plot mostly focuses on. He’s being bullied again by plebian thugs who just don’t understand his insanely high intellect. What’s interesting is, is that right off the bat we are shown the themes of our three main characters.

Eren. Who charges straight forward, without thought, without care, without intelligence and proceeds to attempt to beat the shit out of whatever problem is plaguing him.

Mikasa, who has cool emotions, ability to reason and high combat ability (those thugs freaking crap their pants before they run in terror before her) and, Armin, whose body may not be physically as capable as Eren’s or Mikasa’s but has incredibly high intellect and a strong will.

I also want to take a small moment here to do a little analysis of AoT and why, even from the first episode, I liked it so much.

The anime breaks the tropes right off the bat with Mikasa and Eren. Eren is highly emotional; he’s guided by, let us say almost fanatical, reasoning. He’s clumsy, he’s not exactly bright, he constantly needs to be rescued.

Mikasa is stoic, almost has no emotion, is smart, capable, physically powerful, and very good at combat.

The roles have been reversed – Eren takes a traditionally feminine role in storytelling and Mikasa takes the masculine. Even more extraordinary is the fact that Mikasa isn’t hyper-sexualized with scanty clothing, giant tits and close up crotch shots. My God, it’s revolutionary from an anime stand point. This just…doesn’t happen in anime.

One other point I wanted to make that we will revisit later is the realism the show is portrayed with. Or at least, as much realism as possible when the enemy is a traditionally mythical creature. AoT makes damn sure you understand the ramifications of war and battle. There is no glory in it. Often it is brutal and you don’t get a homecoming parade.

The Titans are the one mythical, fantasy point in the series but the characters are very real human beings, with their faults and weaknesses. There are no Super Saiyan’s, magical powers, disproportionate physical strengths, or other over-the-top gimmicks that a lot of anime uses.

Humanity is weak, and you feel it. If they are going to win against the Titans they are going to have to step up their game. Anyhow, let’s get back to Really Obvious Foreshadowing.

The Trio are relaxing talking about how awesome it would be to see the outside world. Eren reiterates his insane desire to be a soldier and Mikasa goes, ‘Dumbass.’

Armin goes on to talk about the complacency of humanity and says, ‘just because we haven’t been attacked in over a century doesn’t mean the wall couldn’t come down today’

Uhhhh, shit. You went there, didn’t you Armin?

Because guess whhhaaaaatt?

Yup. That’s bad. That’s a fucking 60 meter giant who is just standing casually over Wall Maria and is about to give a howdy do.

And down goes the wall. IT’S FEEEEDING TIME!

OH THE HUMANITY. By kicking in the wall, the giant already does insane damage to the city and people are crushed flat by the flying debris. Armin tells them to run but Eren says, our mother is in that direction. For once Mikasa doesn’t disagree and both take off towards their home, which is going to be overrun by Titans very quickly.

You see where this is going?

Of COURSE, Mama Yeager ain’t dead, just pinned by debris. We have to make this Fridging super dramatic, you know?

MamaYeager knows she’s screwed and she tells Mikasa to take Eren and run but Mikasa doesn’t want her to die either. Finally, Hannes the soldier shows up and is all I’LL SAVE YOU!!

But yea, no. One look at the Titan and he turns around and runs. (Seriously, who wouldn’t? Look at that fucker – it’s terrifying. I’d run screaming too.) The final moments of the episode are spent with Eren and Mikasa, being taken away by the soldier, watching as Mama Yeager is dug out of the rubble aaaaaand eaten in front of Eren’s eyes.

For those of you who don’t know what Fridging is, it’s a trope used in storytelling (often in comics) where a male protagonist loses a female love interest (or mother, female relation) in a particularly horrible way, so his character is further developed and given a reason for vengeance. Nearly always, it’s the woman who dies and dies horrifically and female characters are rarely if not ever given a vengeance storyline to further the development of THEIR characters. Mother’s, sister’s and lover’s are quite often the victims of brutal rape and murder, and this is done so often in storytelling it is now a trope.

(Honestly, I should do an entire essay devoted to One Piece’s Mother problem – holy shit, EVERY SINGLE MOTHER EVEEEEEERRR showed in One Piece are brutally killed so the characters have Tragic Backstory. At least Oda gives us a few female protagonists instead of entirely male, but that’s a rant for another time.)

All right, end of episode one. Have I frightened you away from Attack on Titan forever? Don’t be scared, there are plenty of good scenes in AoT and phenomenal story telling. Come back next week for episode two.

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