DVD REVIEW: ATTACK ON TITAN (PART 1) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: TETSURO ARAKI / SCREENPLAY: HIROSHI SEKO, NOBORU TAKAGI, YASUKO KOBAYASHI / STARRING: BRYCE PAPENBROOK, TRINA NISHIMURA, JOSH GRELLE, ROBERT MCCOLLUM, DAVID MATRANGA, MIKE MCFARLAND, ASHLY BURCH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Over a century ago saw the appearance of the titans, gargantuan humanoid creatures driven by nothing but the instinctive and seemingly senseless imperative to consume humans. The survivors of the subsequent slaughter retreated behind vast concentric walls too high and strong for the titans to pass. There they lived in uneasy peace for a hundred years, until the appearance of a colossal titan four times the size of the largest previously seen and another with an armoured carapace, both of which smashed though the outer wall as though it was wet tissue, allowing a horde of the monstrosities through to overwhelm the outer cities and force humanity behind the next wall.
That turning point was about thirty seconds into the first episode. The speed at which Attack on Titan gets underway leaves barely enough time to catch your breath as it lurches into its heavy plot of dogged survival in the face of total annihilation. The only thing resembling a lull are a couple of early episodes that blast through the five years the viewpoint military cadets are in training, with more than a few echoes of Full Metal Jacket about them. Then just as their preparation is complete and they receive their assignments, a second titan assault commences and the series’ true intensity begins and never relents.
Inconceivably huge, prodigiously strong, unaffected by pain and capable of regenerating faster than Wolverine, the titans are nigh on unstoppable. A small weak spot of the back of their necks is the only way to permanently bring them down and to hit it first means getting within range of their all-consuming jaws. But, despite all that, it’s their physical resemblance to people that make them even more terrifying. Akin to just-off facsimiles, they’re like imitations of the human form created by someone who doesn’t quite understand it. The proportions are wrong, they lack definition and the face of each of them is stretched into a perpetual and humourless rictus while they glare impassively at the tiny humans like small children scrutinising the movement of insects.
The human aspect of the series is largely focused around military cadet Eren Yeager, who from first impressions seems to be incapable of feeling any emotion other than anger. While many people join the military out of a sense of duty, responsibility, or a desire to make a difference, Eren does so due to a seething, vitriolic, primal hatred of the titans. He doesn’t see them an enemy, or even an oppressive force of nature, but an aberration to be wiped from the face of the earth, their very existence worthy of nothing but base contempt. His rage also extends to humans who offend his moral sensibilities; a flashback episode sees him repeatedly stabbing a murderous slaver with a declaration of “this is what you get for being what you are!” after informing him in no uncertain terms that, not even an animal, “you’re a disease!” The fact that his name more or less means ‘Saint of Hunters’ is unlikely to be a coincidence.
Although Eren and his fellow cadets increase in confidence as their training progresses, their conviction in their abilities soon crumbles after coming face to gigantic face with their seemingly indomitable foe, giving way to abject terror and uncontrollable despair as the merciless carnage persists. When the fighting briefly subsides to a blood-drenched standstill, survivors do all they can to remain sane as their minds attempt to fully process the horrors they have just borne witness to, while the broken and masticated corpses of their friends lie around them. This has now become their lives: fight a seemingly futile campaign against an almost undefeatable enemy and they may get to live a few more days cowering in fear, awaiting their inevitable devouring. It’s a bleak and hopeless outlook, but one that makes for addictive viewing.
Although the relentless pace causes numerous sequences to stretch out over several episodes, it’s nothing like the infamously lengthy battle sequences of Dragon Ball Z. The story never drags for a moment, and the density of events means that there is always a lot happening in a comparatively short space of time, while the almost constant action will likely lead to you into binge watching without even realising it. Before you know it, you’ll have burned through every episode, only to leave yourself bereft and impatient for the series’ upcoming second half.