BluRay/DVD Reviews

Attack on Titan Part One

By • Sep 22nd, 2014 •

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Most anime that makes it onto American television is easily recognizable by its formula: seemingly invincible hero against tons of bad guys (usually monsters or humans with supernatural powers), which he fights by a mixture of martial arts and having beams shoot out of his hands, ridiculous costumes, even more ridiculous hair, a tournament for a few episodes to fill time, and a tone that wavers wildly between tense, deadly serious, sometimes brutal violence, and goofy cartoon shenanigans. ATTACK ON TITAN, which made its American broadcast premiere on (where else?) Adult Swim’s relaunched Toonami block this year, differentiates itself quite a bit from what normally gets a lot of mainstream exposure.

The show takes place a century after nearly all of humanity has been killed by ‘Titans’, humanoid giants that can regenerate lost limbs, are practically immortal, and can only be killed by slicing the small of their backs. The remaining humans live in a land-locked country surrounded by enormous walls that keeps the Titans out. One day, the Titans break through the outermost wall of the country, as our three main protagonists, who are just children at the beginning of the story, barely escape into the second-outermost walled city and get more than an eyeful of death and trauma on the way out.

The three main protaganists are Eren, a brash and impulsively violent young man, Mikasa, a stoic, no-nonsense female lead, and Armin, a booksmart, good-natured kid with an interest in the world outside the supposedly Titan-proof walls. All of them have lost either their homes or families thanks to the Titans, and join the Scout Regiment, a military operation that protects humanity from the Titans. From here, a sizable supporting cast is introduced and, of course, the Titans once again break through the walls.

With the exception of some very sparingly used comic relief, ATTACK ON TITAN’s tone is very dark and humorless, with some memorably stomach-turning images. In probably the most disturbing scene, a character is trapped in a Titan’s belly, which is strewn with decaying bodies, severed limbs, and a hapless fellow literally drowning in viscera.

The animation is mostly stellar, although the budgetary and time limits of weekly TV sometimes rears its head. Crowd scenes tend to turn into a series of still images being panned across by a camera, presumably to save the budget for the elaborate action sequences. The pacing is exceptional for TV anime, with the exception of one very jarring long dialogue scene that comes in right after a major plot twist and brings the show to a grinding halt for a couple of minutes.

Both the Japanese and English voice casts do a great job with the material, with Bryce Papenbrook as the English voice of Eren being quite a stand-out. Hiroyuki Sawano’s music score is appropriately bombastic, and meshes perfectly with the show’s tone.

The video and audio quality are very good on both formats, with an occasionally expansive 5.1 mix for the English dubbed track (the Japanese gets a serviceable high-bitrate Stereo track).

There is an utterly ingenious viewing option on the disc, called ‘Marathon Play’, which plays all of the episodes contained on the disc, minus opening theme, ending theme, recaps, and next episode previews. I’m kind of amazed more companies haven’t gotten behind this kind of play option, although I’m assuming the skipping of episode-specific credits could create a legal problem for larger companies such as Sony or Lionsgate.

Supplements include a near-hour-long look at the production of the English dub, that also works as sort of a behind-the-scenes of Funimation and its associates, which is surprisingly fun and informative. The ‘Fly Cadets, Fly!’ shorts are cartoonish, goofy takes on the characters and setting that aren’t terribly entertaining and presumably would have worked better in comic form rather than limited animation.

Overall, ATTACK ON TITAN is great entertainment, compelling and different enough to appeal to viewers who normally don’t go for anime. Funimation’s Blu-Ray set is a tad expensive, but is worth picking up if it goes on sale. The second DVD/Blu-Ray volume of the show is due in September, the show is currently being broadcast on Adult Swim, and a second season is beginning in Japan in just a few weeks, with an official subtitled simulcast.

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