Attack On Titan Is Good So Far, But Doesn't Live Up To Its Potential

Thanks to an amazing title sequence and an imagination-capturing low fantasy world, Attack on Titan has been one of this season's most popular anime. Five weeks ago, I even proclaimed it one of the five animes you should be watching.

Unfortunately, despite all it has going for it — and it certainly has some amazing aspects, no doubt — it is a series that has failed so far to live up to its own potential.

Good — A Dark Inventive World

Perhaps the greatest star of Attack on Titan is not a character but the world in which the story exists. In a world filled with the mysterious titans — who seem to have no goal or motivation other than killing humans — all of mankind hides behind three great walls in an attempt to survive. Moreover, the way humanity attempts to fight back against the titans — by making the average soldier into a sword-swinging Spider-Man proxy — simply excites the imagination.

But just like Berserk, Attack on Titan keeps its story more or less tense and grounded by showing the mortality not only of the random grunts in the background but also of the supporting cast. Everything is filled with constant tension as the question seems to be not “if your favourite character will die” but “when your favourite character will die.”

Good — A Strong Female Lead

One of the three main leads in Attack on Titan, Mikasa is clearly the break-out character of the series. While Armin is the thinker and Eren the leader, Mikasa is the one-man army of the group. She is calm, skilled, and intelligent — and the only one of the three who seemingly has no problem slaughtering titans left and right.

But behind the calm veneer is a deep and interesting character. Every moment she's on screen is captivating — whether that's exploring her back story, watching her confront a selfish merchant, or discovering exactly how she reacts to encountering her greatest fears.

Mixed — The Mother of all Cliffhangers

[This section contains major spoilers, skip to the next section to avoid them] Attack on Titan spends its first five episodes focusing almost fully on Eren. Then, at the end of the fifth episode, we see him lose a leg and an arm before being swallowed by a titan. And then we wait and ponder. “Did the creators of the show really kill the main character only five episodes into the story? No, of course not.” But then one episode passes, then another and another. His death is played completely straight even though it’s almost impossible to believe.

It takes nearly three full episodes before we find out what happened to him — a horrible, agonizing wait for a cliffhanger to be resolved. As a critic, I respect the creators for sticking to their guns and being fully committed to the bluff that the main character was, in fact, dead. But as a viewer, I hated it. Each week I tuned in to see how exactly he survived (because, let's face it, shows never kill off the main character before the final climax) and was instead shown some other character's backstory or watched as the plot followed some characters I wasn't nearly as invested in. Basically I was shown everything except what I wanted to know. It was maddening.

Bad — Too Much Talk, Too Little Action

Attack on Titan brilliantly sets up tense situation after tense situation and then spoils them by indulging in endless inner monologues. This is one of the pitfalls of adapting a manga into an anime. On the page, stream-of-consciousness angst flows as fast as you can read. However, in an anime, the same passage slows down to the speed of talk — turning a one-minute exploration of a character’s thoughts into a ten-minute digression. These moments are the bane of Attack on Titan. And worse, they are as frequent as they are tension-killing.

Many of the show's conversations have the same effect as the inner monologues for the same reason. In manga form, they seem to be covered in a matter of seconds, but in an anime they become long and drawn out — making you wonder how the characters were really in any danger if they could afford to talk for 20 minutes about what to do.

Bad — Uneven Pace

But the conversations and inner monologues are not the only problem with pacing. The overall pace of the first half of the show is odd as well. While the first four episodes are somewhat standalone stories from different points in the main characters’ young lives, from the fifth episode on, the series suddenly changes into a serialized epic with no end in sight.

So, if you enjoyed the first few episodes of the show, each week you'll find yourself waiting for the end of the arc so you can get on to the next adventure — only to discover that there are full episodes of nothing but angsty conversation padding out the episode count.

It seems that the first few episodes would have been better served as flashback episodes interspersed throughout the “Battle of Trost” arc like how the Mikasa origin episode was used. Instead, by putting these episodes at the beginning, it sets a false pace for the viewers and makes the major arc seem even longer and more drawn out than it would have on its own.

Final Thoughts

In the end, the first half of Attack on Titan has the potential to be great, but fails somewhat in the execution. The world is captivating and the characters are excellently developed, but the show's pace is a major thorn in its own side. So while I have been enjoying much of what Attack on Titan has to offer, I find watching it week to week, cliffhanger to cliffhanger, to be nearly unbearable.

However, while the first half has its mistakes, there is nothing to say that the second half won't learn from them. Join us here in 12 weeks when we look at the second half of Attack on Titan.

Attack on Titan currently airs on Tokyo MX in Japan. It is streamed with English subtitles on Crunchyroll and Funimation.


    Defence of Trost (pt 9)...........................


    Attack on Titan may just become one of those things where I read the manga for the dialogue and watch the anime just to see the action scenes animated.

    Last edited 03/07/13 9:46 pm

      Yeah that's exactly what I'm doing now. The pacing of the anime is pretty bad.

    Episodes to watch (As of 03/07/2013):
    Episode 1, 2, 5, 8, 9 &13
    6 out of 13 episodes and that's all you need for plot. The rest is boring slow paced filler crap. They have one whole episode dedicated to Eren's inner conflict which does nothing more than create the motivation to do what needs to be done.

    As for Mikasa being a "strong female lead" WHAT ARE YOU SMOKING!? Mikasa is a third tier character. She hasn't developed jack crap since episode one. Her motivation is "I will protect Eren because he saved my life once/I love him" There are throw away characters with more personality and development.

    Armin is so annoying and is just there to yell encouragement and piss his pants.

    This show has been one of the most lackluster of the season. The terrible pacing, next to no character development when heading into the halfway point of the series, the very generic post-apocalyptic setting that substitutes giants for zombies/vampires/aliens; these are just the tip of the iceberg for the amount of wrong in the series that people seem to be blind to... And all the "OMG BEST ANIME EVA!" coverage on sites like Kotaku is not helping.

    And yes, I'm aware the manga is good; I'm reading it. But the manga does not translate well into an anime.

      I think of the season this probably started the best and by far has the most potential... but the terrible pacing has taken what should be an amazing anime, and made it barely watchable.
      Your selection of episodes to watch is pretty accurate, in particular the 10-12 set of episodes have been some of the worst paced stuff since Naruto/[insert other shounen jump anime here].

      At this point; it feels like they could have made a truly amazing anime if they'd aimed for 13 episodes for the season (rather than 26 or whatever it is).

      I'm a huge zombie apocalypse fan, so I guess that's why the titan thing resonates. Also, they're so damn creepy with their smiling...

      I like Mikasa. She's definitely second-fiddle to the useless Eren, and her motivation is pretty weak, but I found her to be a stronger character during training at least, and in her interactions with her squad, away from Eren during the Defense of Trost.

      Which, to be fair, is like many strong, independent women I know whose brains turn into complete mush when it comes to the love of their life, who people 'just don't understand' etc.

    AoT suffers terribly from Dragon Ball Z syndrome where it takes 3-4 episodes for characters to decide to do something. Seriously what's with all the talking and internalising?

    Uneven pace you say? Why it almost sounds like you are watching an Anime serial -_-

    I believe this is relevant.

    "You can't just slap SnK's OP onto everything."?

    Au contrair:

    The angsty filler conversations are a common sin of a lot of anime IMO.

      I don't even notice it that much anymore, it's kind of expected.
      ..By the way, are we still on Namek?

    The pacing has only been bad on a couple of episodes....Criticizing an anime this good is like pointing out the flaws of a beautiful women.

    Definitely Agree with what's being said here as the first 8 episodes just jumped straight into the fray with little to no meaningless diversions, but it's a little disappointing how they are filling the episodes with too much dialogue now.

    Slow pacing? I've been watching Initial D since it started...THAT'S torture.

    No matter what you say, the popular of this animation is non stop and this is enough to prove how good this animation is. Just like dragon ball, bleach , naruto etc., can you say every episode of them are not boring?

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