Attack on Titan promotional poster.
Every otaku is watching it. Every cosplayer wants to do it. The internet is wild about it. I'm talking about Attack on Titan, or Shingeki no Kyojin, this year's hottest anime.
A brief synopsis: Attack on Titan focuses on Eren Yeager, his adoptive sister Mikasa Ackerman, and their friend Armin Arlert, who live in a world where the last survivors of humanity live in cities surrounded by gigantic 50-meter tall walls to protect them from Titans, huge humanoid monsters who devour humans. After a colossal Titan destroys the wall and leads to the invasion of the Titans and subsequent destruction of their home and brutal death of Eren's mother, Eren vows to enter the army to destroy all the Titans. The story is about humanity's attempt to fight the Titans and regain the outer Wall all while trying to solve the mystery of the Titans.
Running for a mere 14 episodes thus far, Attack on Titan's popularity and hype outshines most anime from the past few years. Why is this?
Kickbutt action scenes
Attack on Titan's action scenes know how to make your heart race.
With the 3D maneuvering gear, a device that screams Steampunk Spiderman, soldiers battle the Titans in stunning action sequences. There is a fearless, breathtaking aspect to each time soldiers engage Titans, and a sense of immense victory when the Titan is slain or immense horror when the Titan wins and devours the soldier. AoT keeps battle scenes fresh and keeps the viewers guessing, as every battle is life-or-death.
Even if you've never watched the show, doubtless you've at least heard or seen the opening or a parody of the opening. "Guren no Yumiya." The opening is so epic, I don't believe anyone has the gall to skip it. The soundtrack to the show is made of amazing, and is equal parts terrifying and invigorating, depending on the scenes. An unmemorable soundtrack detracts from a show or video game greatly, but a great soundtrack like we are given in AoT helps give the show life.
Strong characters everywhere
Annie literally flips Eren on his head in Episode 3, and instead of being offended, he wants to learn from her.
While Eren, the main character, is quite static, motivated purely by his desire to destroy all the titans, the show is chock full of well-developed characters that make up a lovable, dynamic group of soldiers. By watching the characters grow and mature, it's impossible to not grow attached to each and every one of them, and to root for their survival.
What also makes Attack on Titan so worthwhile is the strong cast of female characters and the lack of fan service. Many anime tend to sexualize their female characters, but not so with AoT. Mikasa protects Eren and Armin, and an officer remarks in the show that she is "worth 100 soldiers." Annie teaches Eren a lesson in sparring, and when a bulky male recruit teases her, she literally flips him on his head. Sasha, a quirky food-lover, is hilarious but also has a backstory furthered developed in the manga. The only romantic attachment established in the show is one of Ymir, another female character, towards Krista.
The female characters are never put down because of their gender, and are regarded just as highly as any other soldier. This helps bring in the female audience who oftentimes feel excluded by shows that clearly pander to the Male Gaze or have female characters that are regarded as less than the male characters, or shounen anime that simply don't have female characters.
The diverse cast in AoT are capable, strong, and most importantly, human. Together, they are able to carry the show through its many twists and turns.
A+ plot development
The plot, while suffering from some pacing issues (17 minutes of internal dialogue + 5 minutes of actual action scenes per episode), does a great job of showing the struggles that humanity could face if we suddenly were at the bottom of the food chain. What is the weight of one human life compared to the survival of humanity? What does a human do when cornered and helpless? What does it take to fight in the face of unwinnable odds?
The anime challenges other "shounen" style anime such as Naruto/Bleach/One Piece (which coincidentally I dislike strongly) by challenging the notion that courage is easy to come by. Plot twists everywhere keep the viewers guessing and watching every week. Attack on Titan also has an underlying conspiracy/mystery plot surrounding the Titans, their origin, and what lies in the basement of Eren's house, details of which are still being explored in the ongoing manga.
An example of some of the gorgeous animation in Attack on Titan, from Episode 3.
Now I'm an animation nerd. There's nothing more beautiful to me than well-animated shows and movies. Attack on Titan delivers with stylized designs, high-paced action scenes as mentioned, breathtakingly animated scenery, a well-animated opening, and an absolutely gorgeous ending sequence. Seriously, go watch that.
Overall, Attack on Titan fully deserves its popularity in my opinion, and I'm excited to see what it delivers in the next few months. The show is currently available for streaming on CrunchyRoll. Do you watch Attack on Titan? What are your thoughts? Why do you like the show?