Out of all the reasons for watching something, this took some beating. I’m usually drawn in by the director, soundtrack composer or – shock, horror – other people’s opinions, but for Shingeki no Kyojin it was that infamous animated gif cutting between a girl chomping resolutely on a baked potato and the resulting reactionface of the drill sergeant. You know the one. This.
In the event, the whole COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES thing cracked me up just as much when viewed in-context: the running gag of Sasha’s Breadservice gives the occasional moment of irreverence and levity to sweeten a generally brutal and gory post-apocalyptic scenario. Maybe it’s alluding to taking pleasure in the little things when life is so bleak, or possibly drawing a comparison between one human’s insatiable appetite when humanity itself is at the mercy of an enemy that consumes us in the same way? Maybe I’m over-thinking it.
Because over-thinking Shingeki no Kyojin is the last thing I should be doing. It’s one of those visceral, non-intellectual pieces of TV that’s all about gut feeling, speaking from the heart in the heat of the moment and putting higher brain activity on hold for a while. It’s pure blood-soaked spectacle, noise and adrenaline; not quiet reflection and complex allegory. That said, some viewers have compared the premise with Japan’s own historical cultural isolation, and there’s the issue of the ‘insular’ nature of otaku culture, which is an interesting train of thought too.
The stark simplicity of the story’s premise is really effective, and kicks up some brilliant and extreme character study among its protagonists. A recurring theme is struggling against the odds, taking risks because the price of failure is absolute: humanity’s on the edge of annihilation and its back is against the wall…except a stonking great Titan is about to kick that wall down and eat you. And your mum.
The over-the-top theatrical style of the show is something you either dig or you don’t. My beef (mmm…beef. *drools*) though is with the pacing which, at the time of writing, is stomping slowly and painfully out of a mid-season slump. I’m guessing it’s in a certain shounen style of storytelling, summed up by the old gag, “how many Dragonball characters does it take to change a lighbulb?” (the punchline being, “only one but it takes seventeen episodes.”)
The sluggishness is something I can live with because I’ve accepted that it’s in the ‘people fighting a lot and talking about fighting even more’ anime tradition and besides, there’s ample time for characterisation – namely through battlefield psychology. The characterisation is actually where my bigger problem of the story lies.
I know I’m not the only one who thinks this, so I don’t mind stating it publicly: Mikasa isn’t all that great as a heroine. Yes, I normally go weak at the knees for the aloof, beautiful-but-deadly kuudere archetype but that usually-winning formula failed to click with me this time. Her backstory was well done: in keeping with the overall style, there’s loads of bloody violence and shocking brutality, and we even see a visual representation of her decision to become the person she is in the present: as in, we *literally* see her mind break, which really shook me!
Beyond that though, what actually is there to her? Her devotion to Eren is reiterated ad nauseam as are her outstanding combat skills. That single-mindedness and untouchable strength are where I find the limitation in the way her character is constructed. Because she’s untouchable, there’s no sense of peril. Yes, it’s cool to watch the prettiest and strongest soldier beat the bad guys and emerge triumphant, but…it’s actually predictable to me now.
If Mikasa can no longer provide the heart of the tale and Eren’s most memorable feature is his neat transformation ability, what emotional anchor is left for me to hold onto? Who is courageous and skilled, entertaining and endearing, prone to human frailty yet does the right thing when the going gets tough? The answer’s simple really.
Mightier than the sword
It feels a bit weird to be bringing up realism in a story about humanoid creatures whose size flies in the face of biomechanics, and of course 3D manoeuvring gear whose adherence to more engineering-based mechanical laws is so questionable, but in the human element at least it’s a breath of fresh air to see the members of the army behaving like ‘normal’ people. I must confess that I felt more when Sasha’s attack in episode 8 resulted in her having a minor breakdown than I did during all of Mikasa’s (larger amount of) time on screen. It felt more genuine; more REAL.
I think it’s because Sasha’s little quirks make up a more complex picture of a person than Mikasa’s personality does. Rather than being driven solely by a promise to protect one person, Sasha throws herself into the training, does very well despite her idiosyncrasies making her a bit unpredictable, then swings between chirpy up-and-at-‘em fervour and utter despair when her fortunes change. Mikasa’s a bit hard to relate to despite the simplicity of her motivations, but when I see Sasha on the battlefield or interacting with the others, my impression is completely different.
So I’m sorry that I can’t completely warm to the character who is supposed to be the star. It’s just, some of us think that Sasha is effing awesome. Some TV shows make you laugh, some make you cry but it’s been the first time since watching Fate/Stay Night that an anime show has made me want to go make a sandwich.