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Attack On Titan: Part 1 UK Anime DVD Review

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Attack On Titan
Attack On Titan
So… does it live up to the hype?

What They Say:
When the man-eating giants called Titans first appeared, humans retreated behind massive walls. After a hundred years of safety, a colossal-sized Titan smashes through the defenses, unleashing a flood of giants and carnage in the streets. Eren Jaeger watches helplessly as one of the creatures devours his mother. He vows to kill every Titan walking the earth.

Eren and his surviving friends enlist to fight against the insatiable monsters. The future looks bleak, but there’s more to Eren than meets the eye: he may be humanity’s last hope against extinction. The Titans have come to feast. Anything can happen. No one is safe.
The Review:

Audio:
The DVD release has a 5.1 English Dolby Surround Sound release and a 2.0 Japanese stereo track. Attack On Titan relies a lot on the amount of music and effects due to the post apocalyptic era it is set in, and it does deliver on that. No need to change from the default settings in English, as the audio comes through quite cleanly and concisely, however at a few instances with the dubtitles option, the English dub doesn’t sync in fully with the subtitles – this was noticeable on a couple of episodes though that is only a problem if of course you actually wanted the dubtitles on.

The Japanese audio has no select problems either – though the chibi extras did need to be turned up a notch to get the audio to a decent level.

Video:
The video quality of AoT is fantastic for the most part, in terms of animation to audio and how it flows through; there are no issues whatsoever in regards to transition and to syncing with the audio aside from the above mentioned issue. The combination of the CGI and animation as the squad spider-man their way throughout the cities goes through brilliant and in a widescreen format it has a real epic quality to it.

I will mention though during the eye catches, the subtitles for the Japanese text go through way too fast and it is hard to manage to read through everything which again, is a minor issue but still quite noticeable.

Menu:
The menu is actually really basic considering this is a top tier show in terms of marketing and popularity – all the DVDs are set on a blood red menu with the corps two sword sign in the background and the selections horizontally below the words ‘Attack On Titan’ of Play All, Episode Selection, Set Up and Bonus – whilst on the extras DVD, they simply scroll vertically all the extras available for selection (but surprisingly also with a Play All option). Nothing fancy, does its job but thought there maybe something a bit more attractive for such a high-profile release.

Extras:

What the AoT DOESN’T lack though is on the extras – there is an entire disc full of them as a bonus disc but even the main discs also have a couple of things.

On Disc 1 we have a commentary (dub) of episode 3 featuring Mike McFarland (ADR Director, Jean), Trina Nishimura (Mikasa), Josh Grelle, (Armin)and Bryce Papenbrook (Eren). Mike talks about the audition process a bit and about the popularity of the show, as Trina didn’t want to get too in-depth with the popularity of the show so she could be surprised whilst Josh had watched a lot of it beforehand – goes through audition process, the initial readings, and stuff like the screams, thoughts on the show and characters, the difference between the quiet and the loud moments, the music and how it was Bryces’ first Funi role, so a lot of topic is discussed which is pretty good considering the hype about this show.

On Disc 2 we get a dub commentary of episode 13, featuring Mike again, but this time with J Michael Tatum (Erwin, writer), Scott Freeman (Ian) and Clifford Chapin (Connie) – here, the cast talk about how they learn about the characters as they go along, about the live or die atmosphere the show showcases, as well as actor based things like the fact it was Clifford’s first proper role. Other things include talking about the style of the animation, the close ups –and just the whole deadly atmosphere the show has like how one of the actors characters dies in the episode and how you get attach to their quirks…and then the show kills them off (compares to Walking Dead/Games Of Thrones). There is a fair about to talk here and more can be discussed from it when watching the show but again, another good commentary.

The third disc is entirely full of extras. The first one is a rare behind the scenes look at an English dub creation – surprisingly we do get a fair few Japanese ones, but rarely studio looking at a dub work. We go through brief interviews with the actors and scenes guys talk about what the series is about, which include Mike McFarland (about the auditions), Trina Nishimura (reading for several characters), Morgan Garrett, J. Michael Tatum, Josh Grelle, Jamie Marchi, Scott Freeman, Vic Mignogna, Ian Sinclair, Bryan Paperbook Matthew Mercer, all give hints about how to succeed as a voice actor and the challenge for the actors described, as well as people that you don’t hear from much on releases, including Adam Zehner (VP of Acquisitions and Licencer), who talks to the Japanese and source material for best fits of their market, purchased, dubbed, marketed, working with 3rd parties for goods and such, Trenton Jons (Production Co-ordinator) who gets all the info from Japan and translations, and Sarah Lindholm (translator) – who jokes how it can be uncomfortable when working depending on the show, goes through a lot of details regarding translations with content, jokes, sexual humour, etc – as well as behind the scenes of how the actors work in their voice roles. This is one of the fuller extras I have seen in quite a while and was really interesting to watch.

We get the standard extras of the textless opening, ending and a trailer for the US release, but the other big extras was the Chibi Theatre, Fly Cadets Fly! Feature…

These were short episodes showcased as ‘days’ done in Flash which adds some much needed comedy to the show. Each day involves a problem…which always concludes with the Colossal Titan eating the characters involved as they drown in his stomach acid…before returning the next day absolutely fine. 13 shorts are done for this, which range from Jean getting jealous of Eren over Mikasa, to Mikasa getting jealous of Eren’s training with Annie…and has a contest on which of them can inflect more pain on the poor guy, to Ymir and Krista rejecting everyone to help them out in carrying stuff…because Ymir wants Krista to herself, and epic fighting over…pudding.

Yes, it is quite silly, and a nice fun little time waster to bring your depressed mind back to speed after watching bone crunching episodes of Attack On Titan.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Attack On Titan. I have literally refused to watch any of it prior to its UK licence. Despite readily having the series available on Crunchyroll, I refused to watch it because I was worried with the amount of hype the show had that it wouldn’t live up to it, and with so many of my friends both loving and hating the show, I had no idea where my stance would be on it. So now with a test copy, is it really worth the hype?

Well….yes…and no. Attack On Titan is probably one of those series that I can definitely use as a gateway for new anime fans – it has interesting characters, great action, totally unique looking in a market especially in Japan where cute girls is the main selling point…but at the same time, it recalled when I first watched Evangelion – another extremely high profile show. And had the same reaction…which was good, but not worth the pantheon it was being posted on.

Let’s go with the setting – it is set in an apocalyptic world set after a century of attacks from creatures known as Titans, gigantic beasts of horror which gladly feed on anything human that they can get if they get beyond the giant walls that the populous have erected to try and stop them. One such person in his youth who suffered these horrors was our main protagonist, Eren Jaeger, and his two friends – a strong young lady named Mikasa Ackermann and his intelligent but shy and scared friend Armin Arlelt. Eren in his youth wants to go into the outside world, but his parents are rather against him doing in, especially with his idea to join the titan fighters known as the Scouts. But when fate turns ugly as a new Titan with armour manages to crush the infamous walls and a Colossal Titan actually eats Erens’ mother, that idea suddenly gets much more in motion along with his two friends to join the army – not to just get outside, but for pure vengeance.

This is where the hype slows down a bit – when they are older and we flash forward to them joining the corps, we now get quite a few characters involved, from food stealer Sasha, to the rival Jean – the focus is always primarily on Eren (and to a lesser extent Mikasa and Arwin). The training side does slow the pace down a bit before they inevitably face the Titan – which again, was a bit predictable after the 2 episodes of training. It definitely has a set formula which makes me wonder why this series has been hailed as so original. It has protagonist syndrome, i.e. despite the fact the show seems to showcase that anyone can die, the reality is very few people who are named actually die, and the ones that do were briefly involved with the heroes, but not enough to have anybody commit them to memory. Now, don’t get me wrong, the idea in this depressing world that they have to fight giants is pretty strong, and what happens later with Eren is a nice twist *though again, a bit predictable with this formula – they were never going to kill off the lead this early* but when you’ve been an anime fan this long, and such a new series has so much hype, it definitely feels like it just was this popular because it was a breath of fresh air in a circle of moe and fanservice series. Which for new fans is understandable but not so much for the oldies out there like myself.

It does pick up though when it appears Eren is eaten by the Titan, as Armin watches in horror. We do get a bit more of a lot of the side characters, like Ymir and Krista seemingly inseparable, Connie trying to be kind of a comic relief as best as one can be in this type of world – but the series very subtly does bring forth something unusual in our lead. We had flashback to Eren and his father injecting something in him at a few points which is foreshadowing to a bit later, but the big moment before that was seeing Mikasas’ back-story, how she became part of Erens’ family, and how he saved her whilst at the same time saving him. This makes her committed to protecting him, and she totally gets the first true badass moment of the series when she goes on a rage thinking Eren is dead. But when it looks like she is doomed…a rogue Titan suddenly attacks other Titans! This catches them off guard to say the least, and even more so when after a plan to take out some other Titans is successful, the rogue finishes them off…and then Eren is revealed coming out of his body!

Now, to be fair, it isn’t made abundantly clear but it appear Eren has been part of an experiment and is able to transform into a Titan, which of course opens a new kettle of worms – are there more Titans around him? And needless to say, despite his heroics people aren’t really trustworthy around him, and indeed, a number of higher-ups do try to kill him. Fortunately, one of the older generals, Pixis (who early had a badass moment of his own humiliating the mayor which also led to Mikasa scaring the selfish mayor half to death) comes and is interested in Eren, and using him to block the walls to stop further Titan invasions.

Nothing however is easy and when Eren is able to transform into Titan form, he actually goes berserk and even attacks Mikasa, but with the help of Armin as well he does snap out of it and is able to block the wall out of the area and it ends with Eren locked up…face to face with Levi, a commander who we saw earlier take out several Titans himself and promise to keep an eye on Eren in his squad…also threatening if anything happens, he will die. It ends there as it does set up a perfect cliff-hanger with Eren now having his ability to transform into a Titan and in the hands of a hardass commanding officer, this should get interesting…

Not to say that AoT is isn’t interesting – it is. The premise is pretty good, a post-apocalyptic setting with a childhood tragedy and the promise to get something, in this case vengeance. There are of course plenty of series with a motif similar to that whether in the setting (Evangelion) or the childhood (Full Metal Alchemist) and the action is bloody, action packed, and seeing Erens’ mother about to go down the Titans’ throat is a horrifying image and sets the stage and mentality for the show. The way the battles are showcase – through huge zip lines around the cities is breathtaking to watch with some amazing music to boot. Some of the plans are really intelligent (Armin excels in this) and at least with Mikasa, you do have one legit interesting, albeit stoic but badass character. The twist with Eren becoming what he hates was kind of hinted at so wasn’t a total surprise but it still came out of nowhere, and made for an actual moment of hope for the cast which finally got solidified by episode 13.

The problem I had with it is that the cast bar Mikasa isn’t that interesting or in depth, and for an anime that seems to relish in death, the main cast seem to never be seen out of that safety. Even Mikasa who looked doomed, was saved by Eren-Titan. Eren himself seems to have just one thing going for him, which is his revenge against the Titans. He doesn’t seem to have too many interactions with his friends, and whilst he does have things in common with other teammates who have had Titan encounters, the fact is the cast isn’t that well developed in the first half of the series. The three leads do have their past explored, but even then Armin is kind of neglected just to be the weaker boy but smart to think of plans. The rest of the side characters only seemed to be defined by a particular quirk and haven’t been explored much at all, which is why the sudden deaths of a few characters who may have had a few lines with some of the leads hasn’t really caused much of an impact for me. There are a few interesting side characters, (Annie in particular seems to rival Mikasa in skill and seems to have something hidden in those cold eyes) but none of them have really been given much of a chance yet to say much.

The Titans as well are a problem because they are just literally there as an antagonist to be destroyed. They even say in the show they aren’t even fuelled by hunger, they just eat because they can. Their only interesting feature is their designs and there are some unique ones, which may become a plot point but aside as what Eren is aiming for, in particular the one who killed his mother, the show is very standard shounen in terms of good vs. evil, and if it wasn’t for the excellent area designs and battles, this would seem very run of the mill.

So why the hype? Well, as I said before, this show came out in the midst of when anime was based on selling fanservice figurines on the market, and a show like this came out of nowhere, with storytelling, blood, unique gadgets, and a Game Of Thrones like mindset that anyone can die. It took people by surprise and it got popular. And this is why it is a perfect gateway anime to people who may have dismissed anime as either kids stuff or hentai. It is not too Naruto or DBZ like in terms of the characters at least for the most part are quite realistic, these are people we can identify with, whether it is revenge for a loved one, overprotection for a sibling, thinking you don’t belong…or just wanna steal a snack or two. The action is fantastic as is the animation for said action, and the potential for the characters is all there to see, especially with Levi now entering the fray. Oddly despite the blood and action it did feel quite slow in getting to where it wants to be, and the Eren-Titan twist whilst good, was fairly predictable in terms of Eren living, though not 100% on actually the fact he turns into a Titan. For me, Attack On Titan has the potential to live up to the hype it has gained, but from the first half of the series, it is just OK. A good show, but not one I’d put to the top of the list of a backlog…

…but instead lend it to one of my friends to get them into anime. For that, I can definitely see why it has some hype.

Summary:
Attack On Titan is one of the biggest shows to come out in quite a while, and whilst it is definitely entertaining, it definitely falls into a lot of traps that a lot of shounen like shows fall into. The many characters means little development is done outside the leads, and to me, it feels like a generic good vs. evil show with no real interesting qualities with the villains. But once Eren-Titan appears, combined with Mikasa being a bad ass, a spark of freedom, and a free for all potential with Levi, there is a lot of interest for the next half and see how this works. There are a lot of things to be told (are there other human Titans? What happened with Eren’s father? Is Levi going to shape Eren or kill him?) and the first half just does enough to get ready for the second half. Combined with some excellent animation, music and fight scenes, I can definitely see why people would hop on board with this. And with the second half, let’s hope I can find room on the train…

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: B-
Menu Grade: C+
Extras Grade: A

Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: September 15th, 2014
MSRP: £19.99
Running Time: 320 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment: Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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