Does Attack on Titan Still Hold Up?

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After four long years of waiting for AoT season 2, we go back and check whether season 1 of Attack on Titan still holds up today

Occasionally, I like to look back at the biggest anime of past years and see how they hold up nowadays. Some that were hotly contested while airing have gained strong, loyal followings like Kill la Kill. Others that were once at the very top experienced a tumultuous fall into flame war-level debate like Sword Art Online. So, with the second season of Attack on Titan finally airing after nearly four long years of waiting, I figured now would be a great time look back at one of Tetsuro Araki’s many hit anime series and see how the first season holds up.

In the distant past, mankind was nearly brought to extinction at the hands of the Titans: carnivorous monsters whose sole purpose seemed to be man’s destruction. In response, humanity fled behind a series of concentric walls to keep the Titans out. Inside these walls, Eren Jaeger dreams of traveling outside to see the world beyond, and he plans to enlist in the military’s Survey Corps to venture out into the world.

However, tragedy strikes as a massive Titan breaches the outer wall after nearly 100 years of peace. Now Eren and his comrades must find a way to stop the Titan menace from gobbling up their territory and their fellow countrymen.

Attack on Titan
Can anyone stop the Titans’ reign of terror? Source: Kotaku

Attack on Titan shows a mastery of hype unlike any of its contemporaries.

I’ve talked before about how Araki is a hype genius, and AoT is one of the best examples of his directing prowess. Hardly a single shot goes by without some kind of interesting framing or symbolic shot composition to add whatever emotion is needed to a scene. Granted, this doesn’t always pay off, as with the infamously over-the-top screaming in the first episode. When it does pay off, however, it easily qualifies as some of the best action directing in TV anime.

Even on my fourth viewing, it still feel fresh and exciting. The terror of the wall coming down, the deaths of hundreds of civilians and soldiers alike, the dramatic speeches of characters as they go into battle: this is an incredibly enjoyable series solely on its aptitude for being entertaining.

Further rewatches have also given me time to examine the show’s themes a bit more. While there’s nothing really “deep” or intellectual about it, Attack on Titan’s portrayal of humanity in its more dire hours speaks its disquieting message about human nature clearly and effortlessly.

Unfortunately, the actual plot of AoT has a few kinks that need working out.

For starters, the series isn’t all that great at hiding plot twists, though occasionally it does get this right, such as in episode 5. The big story arc in the second half comes to mind as something I figured out almost immediately on my first viewing, and it made the arc a bit slower than I would have liked. Unnecessary lapses in emotional confidence and overly wordy sections of internal monologuing also bring the series down a bit.

However, there isn’t anything that wholly detracts from the core narrative, though this might change depending on how later plot points eventually play out.

Attack on Titan
Also screaming. Lots and lots of screaming, and not always the good kind. Source: Amino Apps

The cast of the series also work wonders on keeping the thrills alive. Normally, I would consider simplistic characters to be a mostly negative point, but the streamlined personalities of AoT’s cast actually seem to be a benefit for the time being. There are no sidebars to flesh out a character’s back story unless it directly serves the plot’s progression. This is essential in a fast-paced action thriller like Attack on Titan. Eren’s rage-filled resolve, Mikasa’s borderline psychopathic loyalty, and Armin’s tactical ingenuity nudge the series in whatever direction it needs, and the supporting cast provides excellent humanising moments along the way to keep the story grounded.

And then there’s the body count.

If this is your first time watching this series and you like getting invested in characters…well you’re gonna have a rough time. AoT has become infamous with how it carelessly turns its main cast into Titan chew toys, and it’s not any easier to watch on later viewings. I ended up a sobbing mess the first time I watched episodes 21 and 22 because Araki knows exactly how to frame a body drop in the most heart-wrenching way possible.

Animation-wise, this series is an absolute blast. I’ve been constantly singing Araki’s praises throughout this review, but the animation team definitely gave it their all as well, from epic action set pieces to intense facial expressions.

I was even surprised by how well the CG holds up, and there’s quite a lot of it. It almost never feels out of place, mostly because it’s moving by so fast that you don’t even notice it – exactly how good CG should be. I’m very thankful that Wit Studio and Production I.G. helmed this project, turning the manga’s ugly and often unfinished designs into works of gruesome art.

Striking linework and intense coloration are just some amazing aspects of AoT’s animation. Source: Attack on Titan Wiki

And of course I couldn’t let this article end without discussing the other master of hype, soundtrack composer Hiroyuki Sawano (Kill la Kill, Guilty Crown). This is definitely my favourite Sawano work so far, combining bombastic orchestral melodies, eerie electronic tones, and blazing guitar riffs. All of it stands in service of adding hype, intensity, terror, or whatever it needs to the story, yet it’s also a fantastic standalone work.

This might actually be one of my favourite anime soundtracks of all time, something I do not state lightly as a classical musician.

While there are a few more chinks in the armour than I remember, Attack on Titan stands tall as a solid work of dark action fantasy. I’m still concerned with how season 2 and possible later iterations will turn out though. The manga certainly hasn’t given me much hope. Regardless, I will anxiously await the end of season 2 to judge it firsthand.

My Rating: 8/10

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