Yes, this is how it starts. I take on too many projects and abandon them all.
Here's a fun fact. I'm not writing as much as I used to, so if I feel like writing, I'm going to take on a bunch of projects, even if it's ill-advised.
So what's this one? Well, my oldest friend seems to be addicted to the manga, Attack on Titan. I'll be reading it, then watching the anime, so I'll be exposed to the story twice, and this will be slightly more analytic and less fun than my other two.
What do I know about Attack on Titan? Well, a great deal, considering I've read almost fifty chapters of the manga, so I'm just going to say pretty much everything this anime is going to tell me through the episodes that have been aired (which is thirteen).
Things to take note of include Norse mythology. There's more than a bit of that. A lot of names are Norse or Nordic or Germanic. The myth of creation is particularly significant in this anime. There is a character called Ymir. In Norse mythology, Ymir's toxic flesh brings forth men and giants as well as the land. Considering how all these elements are related, Ymir will definitely be a key figure going forward, even though the full extent of her importance hasn't even been written into the manga yet.
She's also a lesbian.
I'll get to more details. But this seems to be the platform myth upon which the manga draws most heavily.
It's been compared to the likes of Berserk and Claymore. I don't really know of an anime more perfectly executed than Berserk, including what people sometimes consider a jilting ending. (Just tell me how one can portray the bleakness of the human condition any better. Really.) So that's a high bar. I'll just go with it for now and see what I can track.
The title is "To You, 2,000 Years in the Future - The Fall of Zhiganshina (1)." This gives us some information in and of itself. It takes place 2,000 years in the future. I'm not sure if Zhiganshina has a deeper meaning, but I know it's Russian--specifically a Russian ice skater named Nelli Zhiganshina--so that might locate this particular story. They're all northern European descent. That's the part of the world that's going to survive. God help us.
The anime is also addressing "you," which could refer to the viewer of some person 2,000 years in the future. Either way, we know the episode and its second part are some kind of an address.
A series of really well executed images opens. We see birds, more specifically, ducks, the fastest straight-flying animals, in a tranquil turquoise back drop, reflected in the main character's eyes. So we're introduced to the idea of freedom with a calming atmosphere, and it's in Eren's eyes, so we know it's something that's going to be important to him. Then we realize everyone--a huge town of people, somewhat medieval--is staring at the sky, or at least upward. There's a giant wall, and we get our first introduction to the titans by looking at their knuckles. The hand is bright red. Stripped of skin. It evokes a hand of god connotation, and I think that's intentional. The idea of freedom is referenced in the mini soliloquy, where the main character says we remembered the terror of being ruled by them, the humiliation of being kept in a cage.
The scene pans out, and we get the giant titan standing with his head just above a wall around a u-shaped little town. And all behind him the titan is green. So the town is dingy sort of cage, a bit the color of feces, and the titan stands between humanity and freedom.
Immediately in the next scene, I realize I'm not going to like the music. Too many beats. Too quickly after the kind of panoramic image sequence I just saw. Ummm. My taste. My problem.
This part is just designed to show off the tech of the world. We see the 3d maneuver gear which allows humans to fight titans suspended by fishing wire--or something--held into trees by barbs. The gear itself is comprised of metal cylinders. It's flashy. Interesting. But when it gets right down to it, they're fighting these giants with swords, and the man goes for the nape of the titan's neck saying he'll show it the power of humanity.
Opening sequence time. I don't want to dissect this now. So I'll get into it after a few episodes. Suffice it to say I think it's a let down. I don't like the music, there are physical scans from the manga, too many overlays, and I think the animation is stupidly choppy for what should be a high production value segment. Yep.
There are what appear to be blue daisies--the next scene reveals they have a deeper cup, bent petals, like an upward facing bluebell, so I'm not quite sure what they are. Maybe they're evolved flowers. Then a selection of images: mostly carnage, some royal insignia, fires, monsters. It doesn't make much sense to me, and I've read the manga. But it's a sign of Eren's amnesia and previous trauma.
He wakes up to see the first female main character, Mikasa. She says they should go back. And wonders if he was sound asleep. He says he just feels like he had a really long dream. She picks up some sticks and asks him why he's crying. Apparently he didn't even realize he was.
First, Eren is a Turkish name, meaning Saint. Mikasa is the only character of Asian origin so far in the series, as most of them were wiped out by titans. Her name has to do with carrying the burdens of others without complaint, and her devotion to Eren is ridiculous.
There's a brief segment dealing with the religious element. It seems like one similarity to Berserk is that the writers like to make religion look like a joke. He talks about how the walls are god's gift, and no one may defile them. Well, we'll see how long that lasts.
Back to our heroes. Eren asks Mikasa not to let anyone know he was crying. This scene sets up some key plot. First, Eren's father is a renowned doctor who rescued all of humanity from a plague at one point. Second, Eren has a very naive, death-seeking sense of justice and lust for freedom. He calls the drunken guards free-loaders, and says that staying in the walls, just eating and sleeping makes humans like cattle. I think Hannes' response is probably the most interesting perspective we get so far. "As long as they're calling us useless, things are good." He speculates, as Eren and Mikasa walk off, that Eren might want to join the Survey Corps. We're not told what that is.
Mikasa tells Eren to stop considering the Survey Corps. Eren reveals that general opinion is that its members are stupid. Mikasa is about to explain that that's not why she doesn't think he should consider it when the bells ring to signal that the Survey Corps is returning to town. Eren gets excited and calls them heroes.
Eren starts out smiling from the sidelines, but some of the corps look away from him, and he immediately knows that this is not a triumphant return. An older woman rushes forward to ask about her son, Moses, and the leader explains that they could only retrieve his arm. She says "His death helped humanity, didn't it?" The leader wants to say "Of course," but he has a breakdown and declares that they go outside, people die due to his own incompetence, and they never learn anything about the titans at all.
We infer, here, then that the Survey Corps make at least part of their job trying to find a strategy for fighting the titans outside the wall. Something else to note is that the Survey Corps wear green, a color associated with freedom, while the guards Eren spoke to wore brown.
Some guy starts talking about how their tax dollars are wasted, and Eren hits him over the head, but Mikasa grabs him, drags him away from the streets, and throws him against a wall, spilling his load of firewood everywhere. He asks what that was for. Bitch is mad. "Do you still want to join the Survey Corps?" He doesn't answer, and instead asks her to help him gather the wood. She says "There isn't enough of it to matter." The implication is that she thinks it's pointless, and he's going to die for nothing.
Some information about the walls for the commercial bookends. Sina is the center wall, then Rose, then Maria is the outermost wall. This creates a kind of caste system where the wealthiest live in the center. Eren and Mikasa live at the outer district of Maria where the southern defenses are located, despite the renown of the doctor. That might say something about the value of life or intellectual advancement in this world.
At home, the mother praises Eren for working hard, but he's lying since Mikasa did all the actual work gathering wood. The doctor is going inland to see some patients. Mikasa blurts out that Eren wants to join the survey corps. The mother gets very angry, but the doctor calmly asks Eren why. He says he wants to know what it's like beyond the wall, and if no one carries on the work, the casualties so far are in vain. The mother is still upset, but the father tells her human curiosity cannot be restrained by a lecture. He then gestures toward his key and tells Eren that, when he gets back, he'll finally show him what he has kept in the basement.
Right. This anime has way too many famous last words for one day.
The mother insists she still won't let Eren go, and he runs away, saying being content to live like cattle is more stupid.
Well, the doctor talks about unrestrained curiosity like he's experienced it. So of course this refers to his studies, and he's a Hojo-esque mad scientist.
That's only theory, but it's supported.
The next scene introduces Armin. I have to be the only person who actually really likes this character. He's getting his ass kicked, and he refuses to fight back, saying that would lower his level, and they're admitting he wins because they're hitting him instead of arguing. They're about to beat him up some more when Eren shows up. At first, this delights them, but then they see Mikasa and turn tail.
Armin is a German name, meaning "warrior" or "high place" or "protector."
It's also the name of a famous German cannibal, Armin Meiwes, who ate a person with their consent after placing an ad on the internet, but we'll leave that to Rammstein.
He's very physically weak, but he's considered the smartest tactician in the story. His name is a commentary on what makes a soldier, I assume.
Eren offers to help Armin up, but Armin grits his teeth and says he can stand on his own. This is pretty telling. Armin isn't cocky. He feels weak, and he resents having to accept help because of it. Also, since the boys fear Mikasa, that suggests that stiff gender roles have been softened. Well. At least 2,000 years in the future has some positive sides.
The three sit by the river. Armin explains that he was talking about venturing beyond the walls, and that's why the boys were bullying him. Eren wonders why it's such a problem if people want to leave. Armin says the walls have brought peace, and people are afraid that if too many people leave, it will let titans in. Eren says it's his business, and Mikasa tells him he can't go. There's a brief argument, and Mikasa simply says she never told him she wouldn't tell his parents about his plans. Then Armin says "Just because the walls haven't been breached in 100 years doesn't mean they won't be breached--today."
Finally. One of those heralds gets snapped up.
The birds from the opening fly overhead. Then there's a series of electric shocks, and everyone looks up to see the hand.
"It's one of them," Armin says, "a titan."
Until this point, no one has explicitly called the creatures by a name. People have just referred to the monsters as "them." So there's some dramatic music to go with it. I have a feeling this is to hammer home the idea that, even though most of the people in the walls have never even seen a titan, they know right away what it is, just by seeing its hand. Then the chaos begins. The giant titan, over 50 meters tall, kicks in the gate. One of the smaller titans gets inside, smiling and red, and everyone runs.
Armin tells them they have to get away, but Eren runs toward the breach in the wall because that's where his house and his mother is. Mikasa follows him, but Armin stays behind, finally revealing that he is just scared. Armin postulates it's all over, and the titans will kill them all.
Eren wants to believe that his house will be fine when he turns the corner, but part of the wall has fallen on it. He and Mikasa try to lift the roof crushing Karla, but she urges them to go. Her legs are smashed, and even if two children could lift the roof, she couldn't run. Eren insists he'll carry her, and she screams "Why do you never listen to me? Just this one last time, listen to me."
Hannes, the guard from before, shows up. Karla begs him to take the kids and run. He says he'll slay the titan approaching and save all of them. Internally, he thinks it would be easy to just save the kids, but he owes that family so much, so he must save all of them. Karla begs him to turn back. And he unsheathes his blade. But then he sees the titan, puts it away, and runs back to grab the kids.
Karla is happy at first, but then she has a brief glimpse of her old life with her family, and sadly says "Don't go" as they retreat. That entire segment there is so powerful that I wanted the episode to end with the kids being carried away. Watching the titan rip Karla in half and eat her would have been fine normally--except they did it in slow motion and showed the droplets of blood raining down in slow motion. And Hannes carrying the kids away in slow motion. It ruined a very moving scene--I'm a bitch, I don't care about this woman at all, and I almost cried--and I really hate the director.
That entire sequence is so telling of human nature. Everyone wants to believe they'll be brave, but Eren really was. Hannes really wasn't. The mother was, but she was scared, and in the end she didn't want to die alone. I'm pretty sure the next episode begins with one of Hannes' great one-liners that summarizes this better, so I'll just leave it for now.
I'll also go over themes and characters next time, since this was a two-parter.