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How I Learned To Stop Hating and Love "Attack on Titan"

Eren, attacking on a Titan. Get it? Yeah, I'll show myself the door.

On this day, a critic received a grim reminder. He lived in fear of opinions, and would sometimes be disgraced to proclaim that he was completely wrong about something. I'm talking, of course, about Attack on Titan, a show that I've taken numerous jabs at over the the past year. Yet here I am, thoroughly enthralled and addicted to the series, and ready to drop money on merchandise, which rarely happens. The last figure I bought was Mylene Jenius from Macross 7, and that was after watching the show for over half a year.

So what changed? Why is Attack on Titan suddenly one of my new favorite shows, even rivaling lifelong obsessions like Serial Experiments Lain and (dare I say it) Evangelion? I'm not totally sure, but here are some contributing reasons for why I'm starting to believe the hype.

The Protagonists Are Well-Written Stock Characters

It's miraculous that they're not crashing the fuck into each other.

I've seen a lot of fans lauding Attack on Titan for its incredibly original characters, some saying that they're something unlike we've ever seen before. Some fans, like a personal acquaintance of mine, talk at length about complex psychological breakdowns of the characters, taking the stance that they're complicated and intricate and "deep." But I see things a little differently. The cast of this show is one we've seen before. The determined hothead who is hellbent on revenge. The stoic badass who's sworn to protect somebody. The coward who wants to stand on their own and stop relying on others. These are not complex, original characters, by any stretch of the imagination. But to me, that's not a bad thing. I love original characters as much as the next guy, but there is something to be said for compelling archetypes.

What makes the AoT cast work so well is that we know their score, we know what they're going to do next, and yet, every move manages to captivate. I chalk that up to the well-written dialogue and character interactions, as well as the interesting and compelling backstories. More specifically, Mikasa and Levi's. Sure, their characterization isn't the most original original, but their past is a visceral, brutal tale told very well, yet filled with enough mystery to keep us wondering what else is driving them. So, basically, the characters are driven by the plot, and their familiar, archetypal nature makes it easier to care about them.

Glaringly Obvious Flaws Tend Work In Its Favor 

Somebody talked shit about Mikasa's waifu, obviously.

All anime has flaws. I know, it's not something we like to think about, but it's absolutely true. Serial Experiments Lain is brilliant and subversive, yet its molasses pacing throws some off. I love the living hell out of Macross 7 for its music, fun characters and over-the-top action, but it's full of unnecessary plot threads and jarringly stupid twists. The thing is, a truly good show has flaws that fans can point out and love along with the good stuff. Attack on Titan is not exempt from this, and is in fact one of the reasons I've fallen so deeply for this show. Undercutting the enthralling narrative are moments of absolutely ridiculous melodrama that you can't help but to laugh at. Offsetting the beautiful action sequences are ridiculous titan designs or a sudden drop in animation quality. Contrasting the brutal atmosphere of the show are out-of-place humor that's funny not because of it being genuinely humorous, but because its implementation is ridiculously misplaced sometimes.

Evangelion is a fantastic series in all respects, and perhaps the best anime I've ever seen. But it has stuff like this too. Animation that gets laughably bad. Jarring contrasts between the dramatic and comedic. Things that come out of left field and blindside the viewer with their over-the-top nature. The thing is, fans embrace these flaws, accepting them as a part of the show. That's how I feel about Attack on Titan. Sometimes, I'm genuinely enjoying it because of a particularly engaging narrative twist, or an energetic action sequence. Others, I'm laughing at how ridiculous the characters are acting, or how stupid a random fart joke is when it's thrown at the end of a tense sequence. Both reactions, though, are positive, and the entire time I'm enjoying it. And isn't that why we watch anything?

It Goes "There" and Doesn't Back Down

Truly, the "all you can eat" titan rib buffet episode was a special one.

Most series about plucky, determined protagonists going up against an oppressive force have a tendency to do something. That thing is relenting, or stepping down when stuff gets intense. Think about that for a second. Instead of Naruto deciding that Gaara is a bastard and finishing off, he empathizes and becomes friends with him. Goku usually doesn't kill his foes, and quite often tries to reason with them. Point is, very few shows of this nature take an Evangelion route, where everything ends in crushing death and despair. And while I wouldn't argue that Attack on Titan is nearly as bold as that series was, and I don't think it ever will be, I can't help but to admire its willingness to smack down the viewer with pure, unbridled misery. People die horrible deaths and stay dead, backstories are absolutely grim and depressing, and long-winded spiels about triumphing over evil get interrupted quite frequently by violence, tragedy, or just a random titan popping its head up.

This series doesn't want its protagonists to be happy, nor does it want the viewer to be. When the script hits, it hits hard and without any mollycoddling. You want Eren to triumph in his first battle? Too bad! You want Jean to realize that he's a capable, responsible leader? Nope! You want Mikasa to always swoop in and save the day? Not gonna happen! That's not to mention the fact that this show is morbid as hell, with blood and gushy sound effects occurring consistently. These enemies are not unhinged psychopaths with a hatred for mankind, or a secretly lovable rogue. They're seemingly unstoppable forces of nature, lumbering beasts motivated only by bloodlust, at least at this point. And because of that, coupled with the consistent downer note of the show, you want the protagonists to triumph even more.

Female Characterization Isn't Shit

Sasha, probably cheering about potatoes or something.

Oh, man, I can hear the cries of "SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR" from miles away, but considering who uses that term, it doesn't faze me. See, one of the main reasons I've really fallen for this show is the fact that the female characters are something more than single-minded stereotypes, or deliverers of fan service upon the unwashed masses. I'm not saying that the series does anything particularly unique or special with its female characters. Far from it. But it does pull a George R. Martin and actually treat the female characters with equal status and autonomy as the male characters. This isn't a testosterone-fueled, male protagonist revenge fantasy in the slightest. Instead, we see a cast who, despite being cut from a familiar cloth, have their own unique motivations and aspirations as to why they fight or don't want to fight. I adore Mikasa, Sasha and Annie in particular, as they all bring something unique to the table and make you root for them.

And while I'm partial to fan service if it's done correctly, far too often do shows focus squarely on delivering 2D T&A as opposed to making their characters even remotely interesting. And even if they do, they put them in a plot that becomes problematic and somewhat offensive if you put even a modicum of brainpower towards it. I'm far from what I'd call a pure, innocent purveyor of anime, as plenty of shows I've enjoyed have fan service coming out of the asshole. But many shows don't have it in complement to a good story, or interesting characterization, which is where they fall apart. Attack on Titan does a great job of avoiding moronic fan service (it really does have any, to be honest,) and of making the female characters more than just "female characters." Instead, they're just people, like the rest of cast. That's more than I can say for a lot of entertainment these days.

Ultimately, It's Just A Good Fucking Time

Does this look like the face of mercy to you?
Really, when it gets right down to it, Attack on Titan is just a fun, bombastic thrill ride. It's violent, visceral, engaging, and funny, packed with characters that are instantly interesting and easy to empathize with. By leaps and bounds, it's better than most anime that comes out these days. And while perhaps it doesn't approach the cerebral thrills of The Flowers of Evil, the creative burst of fresh air that is Space Dandy, or the bittersweet masterwork of drama brought to you by Kids On The Slope, it doesn't matter. Honestly, that wasn't the creators' intention to begin with, I don't feel. It's supposed to be dramatic and action-packed, nothing more, nothing less.

So, on top of everything listed, Attack on Titan is perhaps the most fun I've had with an anime since I got into the medium over a decade ago. And that's saying a lot.


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