Every once in a while, and even more frequently now than in the past, an anime appears that is completely and unequivocally shrouded in layers upon layers of hype and popularity from the anime community. It's the show that's on everyone lips, as well as everyone's TV screens. In the Fall of 2011, The Future Diary created an exceptional level of hype that had not been seen for quite some time. When the Summer of 2012 rolled along, it was time for Sword Art Online to take the spotlight, and its own popularity grew to heights far beyond that of The Future Diary. Then, in the Spring of 2013, we were treated to what one could consider the Game of Thrones or the Breaking Bad of the anime industry in terms of sheer popularity; a show that completed engulfed the entire anime community, dwarfing even SAO in popularity, but is this anime truly worthy of the hype that it received?
Our story is set in an alternate universe where, 100 years prior to the events of the story, giant humanoid creatures known as Titans appeared and began consuming and decimating the human population, though with no apparent purpose for doing so. In response, the remainder of humanity built three enormous, circular walls to encompass their entire population and keep the Titans at bay. In this world, we meet three young children Eren Yeager, his adopted sister Mikasa, and their friend Armin, as they live out their peaceful lives in the southernmost city at the edge of the outer wall, Wall Maria. This soon changes, however, when a 60-meter Titan smashes through the main gate of Wall Maria, allowing Titans to freely enter the city and devour every human in sight, and forcing those who lived in the outer districts to retreat behind Wall Rose. During the chaos, Eren witnesses his mother being eaten by a Titan, and now he, Mikasa, and Armin have joined the military in the hopes of acquiring the skills necessary to take vengeance on the creatures that destroyed their lives.
This series, as a whole, has almost completely mastered the art of building suspense, mostly through the use of very long plot arcs. There always seems to be something constantly pushing towards a conclusion, but not actually getting there until several episode later, and that push factor creates a sensation of rarely ever wanting to stop watching for fear of the resolution being just after the episode you just watched. Additionally, this series is also a master of what I call the "morale builder," something that Gurren Lagann has shown mastery of in the past, and there are dozens of moments throughout the series where, no matter how grim and horrifying the situation, it provides an uplifting or rallying feeling that both immerses you in the world its sets up and makes you root for our heroes to the bitter end.
Speaking of grim and horrifying, that comparison to Game of Thrones earlier was far from being an off-handed comment. By this I mean that I hope you don't enjoy getting attached to characters, like I do, as you may find yourself curled up in a corner at some point. In the world of fiction, particularly in action series, there is a concept called "plot armor," which basically means that characters who seem crucial to the plot's progression and the show's stability as a whole are protected from death or other nasty fates that might await them. In this regard, the plot armor for Attack on Titan is about as thick as a used piece of tin foil, and deaths of major characters are frequent and often times unrelenting. In regards to this, and on a more personal note, there are only three anime that have actually made me legitimately cry before. Two of them were KyoAni series, and the third was Attack on Titan. This show really does not care about who your favorite character is, and if you've made it this far without having had the major deaths in the series spoiled for you yet, then consider yourself lucky.
Unfortunately, there is one minor flaw with this series. There are certain points, especially at some slightly slower moments in the series, where its gets a little too over-dramatic, to the point of almost being ridiculous. This was especially noticeable during what is now referred to as the "Boulder Arc," which encompasses roughly episodes 10-12. These moments are few and far between however, and are immediately drowned out once the hype builds back up again.
On the character front, for the sake of not getting your hopes up about the prospects of certain characters living, I'll talk only about the three main characters I mentioned earlier, with the knowledge that the rest of the cast, while incredibly massive in scale, still serves as a stellar group of vibrant personalities and ideals to create a surprisingly organic social environment. As for the big three, we'll start with Armin, who takes on the "smart one/strategist" archetype. While he is fairly generic and standard at the beginning of the series, we get to see him grow into being a more varied character at a constantly shifting rate, and his skills at strategy both on the battlefield and in complex conversations are practically unmatched, often allowing him the power to save the other two from the situations they get themselves into.
Next is Mikasa, who, for the majority of the series, is portrayed as being essentially flawless, taking on the role of the unstoppable badass Titan slayer fresh out of training who also makes time to coddle her adoptive brother, and this flawlessness is built up to the point of it almost being a flaw in itself. There are, however, a few quirks to her personality that make her feel more human, but at the same time make her seem even more distant. Her only notable "flaw" seems to be her undying loyalty and devotion to Eren, often throwing caution to the wind and bolting out against orders in order to make sure he's safe. This also leads to some rather disquieting moments where her own sanity seems to abandon her and, to put it lightly, causes her to act excessively hostile towards anyone who means ill will towards Eren.
Finally, we have Eren, our stereotypical "perseverance" character whose sole motivation for the majority of the season is taking revenge on the Titans, and while this does seem like a bit of a gaping flaw for the show's main character, it's actually both understandable and sort of refreshing. His intense focus on his own rage and desires for revenge slowly consumes part of who he is, which becomes especially present at several points throughout the series that I can't go further into detail on due to massive amounts of spoilers.
The animation was produced by Wit Studios, a new studio that serves as a surrogate of Production I.G. Regardless of its heritage, for a new studio to create such a massively impressive project is beyond incredible. Not only is the animation well-polished, but it also carries its own distinctive style, most notably in the fact that its characters are heavily outlined in varying thicknesses of black to make them pop out from the background. Speaking of backgrounds, the environments are shown to be incredibly rich and detailed despite how unvaried they may appear on the surface, and the action shots give us plenty of different perspectives on this environment. As for the action itself, Wit Studios has no qualms at all with handing out incredible fight sequences by the barrel-full via an in-world tool used by humanity's military known as 3D Maneuver Gear, allowing us to break away from standard ground combat and enter the world of high-flying intensity, with soldiers bolting off of every building in sight, into the air above them, and landing blade-first on the neck of a Titan. On course, all of these brilliant combinations of animation are to be expected from Araki, who has already brought us both the intensely stylized atmosphere of Death Note and the blood-pumping action of Guilty Crown.
The dub was produced by FUNimation, and, as someone who watched the subbed version first, I have no problems whatsoever recommending this dub. From heavy-hitting new favorites like Josh Grelle and Matthew Mercer to classic icons like Vic Mignogna and Caitlin Glass, Funimation has pulled out all the stop to create one of the best dubs this side of 2010. Grelle shuffles between nervously unstable and frantically stern for his portrayal as Armin, and Trina Nishimura pulls off both Mikasa's warmth and ferocity to near perfection. My only notable flaw with the dub is Bryce Papenbrook as Eren. To be fair, this is definitely Papenbrook's best performance yet, due in no small part to Mike McFarland's exceptional voice directing, but he does still tend to get a bit "Bryce-y" at some points and lets his excessively angsty style boil over, which is a rather dangerous idea considering Eren's character. Overall though, this is a minor blemish on an otherwise excellent dub.
The music was composed by Hiroyuki Sawano (Aldnoah.Zero, Kill la Kill), and this soundtrack is definitely one of the best to come out of anime in a long time, based in heavy orchestrations and laced throughout with electronica and hard rock. From the bombastic explosions of "E.M.A" and main theme "Attack on Titan" to the insert tracks of "The Reluctant Heroes" and "Doa," this soundtrack dabbles in the art of perfection on all fronts. If it seems like I'm being much more in-depth with the soundtrack than usual, it's because I've actually purchased the soundtrack on iTunes and have been listening to it practically non-stop, and I highly recommend making this purchase as well. Both opening themes, "Guren no Yumiya" and "Jiyuu no Tsubasa," were performed by Linked Horizon and give us massive eruptions of heavy rock combined with brass and vocal choirs (and on a quick aside, I'm one of the few people that actually preferred the second theme more than the first, though the first still kicks all sorts of ass). The first ending theme "Utsukushiki Zankoku na Sekai" by Yoko Hikasa gives us a rolling ballad to play us out of each episode, while the second ending theme "great escape" by Cinema Staff blasts through with a heavy rock track. Additionally, all of these tracks except "great escape" are available for purchase on iTunes, purchases that I also highly recommend.
Overall, Attack on Titan is simply an incredible experience, combining high-flying action that could even make ufotable nervous with a dark and nearly-overwhelming sense of fear and desperation, and this anime is more than deserving of the hype that it receives. However, as it stands right now, on November 4, 2014, the series is incomplete, and there has been no announcement of a second season yet. I highly doubt that this second season will never come however, and it has been reported that the original manga is planned to be finished in about four years’ time (which actually isn't that much material for a monthly manga). In the meantime, there will be plenty of specials and spin-offs to keep us satiated until season 2 is officially announced.
Attack on Titan is currently licensed by FUNimation and is available from them for both streaming and purchase.