So as I’ve said a few times in the past, when I was in middle school, I very much enjoyed a few anime series. But I always felt like I had to hide it, because in our school culture, anime was not a “girl” thing, nor was it mainstream – the culture seemed to project the idea that only geeky boys liked it. To make it worse, all the animes I tended to like were very much “boy” animes. You wouldn’t get made fun of if you admitted to liking Sailor Moon as a kid (as long as you didn’t STILL like it – that was baby stuff after all), but anything else? Whooooo boy.*
So the fact that I loved series like Dragonball Z and Gundam Wing was not something you’d get me to admit outside of my immediate family, (and honestly the only reason that I even admitted it there was because my dad used to watch them with my brother and I, and enjoyed it just as much). That compulsion to hide that I liked these things lasted long into college.
Now though? I really don’t give a flying you-know-what. It really is true when people say that the older you get, the less you care what people think. I’m now happy to admit that I was all about giant anthropomorphic war machines and battles for earth’s ultimate fate by hulking overpowered aliens as a tween/young teen. I even have a little Gundam Sandrock action figure (right next to my Union Jack Hello Kitty Plushie) on my desk at work. I really truly DGAF anymore.
That said, while I have grown much less shy about my nostalgia for such things, anime as a whole has gotten increasingly difficult for me to enjoy.
First of all, the practical reality of many of them being centered around high school aged characters with high school aged problems just sort of turns me off as a viewer. That kind of stuff just doesn’t interest me anymore because, well, I’m not a high school aged kid with high school aged problems anymore. I’m a crotchety old lady who now sides with King Triton when he yells at Ariel for being irresponsible in Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
But secondly, the way women and their bodies are often portrayed really bothers me in more recent cartoons, and in general I feel like so many of them are purposely pandering to a specific audience with those decisions: horny teen boys. Not being a horny teen boy, it doesn’t exactly grab my attention, and in fact tends to just end up with me putting on my irritated feminist hat. I could probably end up writing a whole series of posts on my irritation with that kind of fan service, and why it’s different from the portrayal of similarly busty/sexy women in older series (Faye Valentine, Bulma Briefs, etc…), but that’s not why we’re here today.
We’re here today because I have found the first new anime series that’s been able to hold my attention since high school: Attack on Titan.
One Friday Jim and I decided to give the anime a shot after someone recommended the series to him – the first season is on Netflix (in Japanese with English subtitles). So we sat down and watched the first episode. And the second. And then the third. Before we knew it it was 8 pm on Saturday and we had finished the entire thing. Or the entire thing that’s been released as an anime so far.
I don’t think I’ve had that sort of “sit still for 8 hours watching episode after episode without even thinking or feeling bad about it” experience EVER. It hooked us immediately and reaching the last episode was devastating. Particularly since the anime ends on a HUGE cliffhanger. So we immediately turned to the manga. Jim read a translation online. I bought the English releases at BAM. And now we wait eagerly each month for the next chapter to be released and translated. We’re hooked.
But why? What makes this series so different from all the others I’ve tried as an adult and just could not get into?
#1) It’s dark. Really dark. And brutal. And if my apartment mate’s complaints about the contents of our bookcases are to be believed (which honestly they are), I am fascinated by dark and brutal. Because there’s something very human to be found in the dark and brutal. This is above all not necessarily a series about giants who eat people for shits and giggles (even though it is) – it’s a series about the way humans react when subjected to extreme pressure, hardship, and brutality – both the good and the bad of it. And as someone who has done a lot of work in topics that fall under that “extreme pressure, hardship and brutality” category, I must say, bangup job, AOT. Bangup job.
#2) Despite being set in a fictional universe where mindless, genitalless, naked giants that eat people roam about while people use gas powered grappling systems to slingshot themselves around to try to kill them – it’s very REAL. The characters are very human. They are cocky, they are fearful, they are immature, they are snotty, self-absorbed, selfish, obsessive… they are all FLAWED. Even the one character you can sort of argue as being a “Mary Sue,”** Mikasa, has some serious issues – specifically a codependence problem of obscene proportions. It even contains a fairly sophisticated portrayal of the effect fear has on different people – some people panic and flounder, while some people shine. Not every character is a hero 100% of the time, and that includes the main characters.
3) There is no goddamn fan service. The female characters are just that – characters who happen to be female. They are not sexualized for no goddamn reason, they are not merely there as “eye candy.” They are just people, and developed people with personalities and problems, at that. People who happen to have breasts and a vagina instead of a penis.
4) It’s realistically muddled. The longer the story drags on, the less clear it becomes exactly WHO the bad guys are. And that’s so true of any major conflict. The longer it goes, the deeper into depravity BOTH sides fall. Additionally, as we begin to learn more and more about the world (warning: potential spoilers ahead), the less clear it is that there actually IS a “good guy” in this conflict – which only adds another fascinating dimension to the whole mystery.
5) Everything isn’t always a happy ending. Just like reality. Sometimes the “good guys” lose. Sometimes the “good guys” die. And so it keeps you engaged. No character is safe. It keeps you guessing, while at the same time giving to a healthy dose of the reality of war.
Now the series is not without its weak points – pacing can be an issue in the anime at times particularly – but all in all, the good outweighs the bad by miles.
Now if only they’d get on with it and announce season two…
Have you seen Attack on Titan? If so, what did you think?
*Or at least that’s how middle school and high school me perceived it – whether or not I actually would have been ridiculed for it is something I’ll never know because I made a point of staying quiet about it – as I said in my Band of Brothers Review last week, high school aged me had some serious self-acceptance issues.
** A character written as TOO perfect.
[Clicking on the images should take you back to the original source – beware, spoilers may lurk there]