Fame and phenomenon are big things and hard for any property to reach. When international markets come up, it’s even harder to reach these highs. Yet Shingeki No Kyojin–better known to English audiences as Attack On Titan–has managed to reach a popularity and enthusiasm level similar to Battlestar Galactica or Breaking Bad. This is a show where American audiences, myself included, have been watching new episodes the day they premiere in Japan.
An odd mix of terror, horror, and fantasy, Attack On Titan is probably one of the most engaging shows I’ve ever seen.
Eren Jaeger is a teenager who has grown up trapped behind a wall designed to protect humanity from a race of giants that have devoured most of humanity. Hating life within the walls, Eren wants to join the Survey Corps so he can see the world and take it back from the Titans. Most people consider him a fool, even his adopted sister Mikasa, and best friend Armin.
Then the largest Titan of all appears, reigniting humanity’s stagnant war of survival. Resources become more scarce than ever, the rich and influential do what they can to exploit the mass hysteria, and giants start eating people. When I say the Titans eat people, I don’t mean that they do it for food. No, the Titans are eating us for fun.
And that only covers some of what happens in the first two episodes.
Attack On Titan often acts like any other fantasy action anime, such as Bleach or Naruto. Then the Titans attack and the tone shifts to the bleak and terrifying, much like Berserk. And just when you don’t think it can get any worse, it develops the narrative ruthlessness of George RR Martin’s books.
While the characters are often placed in categorical roles–Eren has great resolve, Mikasa is the best soldier, Armin is the great strategist–the setting and the plot are the biggest draws. In watching Attack On Titan, there’s always a great sense of “What’s going to happen next?” There’s a natural desperation to the setting, which gives the military aspects a greater sense of tension and suspense.
Because of this, Attack On Titan masters a fine balance between terror and horror. You’ll be horrified by the events that you see, but you’re so terrified that you can’t possibly let yourself look away. Blending this balance with a feudal society makes Attack On Titan a strong example of dark fantasy.
And just when you think the show has finally fallen into a genre that’s easier to stomach, a new detail comes up that brings all those sensations back. There are triumphs, but they are so rare they make you cheer. Most of the time, the characters are struggling to survive, not just fighting, but often failing their battles. This is a world where humanity is near the brink of extinction and the only way to survive is to stand united and take the fight back to the Titans.
My description on this might seem a bit simple, but a fantasy story that has a religion based around Walls is doing something very different. I don’t want to give anything away, but I want you to watch this show. Do it for entertainment, do it for artistic reasons, do it to see masterful worldbuilding in action, but you should watch it. You won’t be disappointed.