I really wanted to like this anime. In concept, it’s basically a zombie-mecha anime. The background art was fantastic and the mood music by Sawano Hiroyuki was very strong. I just wish that the potential that existed was properly utilized. All told, it felt like they could have been great, but just failed in the execution.
PURPOSE: Weak. It wasn’t clear what the anime was trying to do. In the beginning, it appeared to be world-focused – about humanity overcoming an insurmountable threat. However, it very quickly tried to make it character-focused anime – more about the effect of the world on the characters and their psyche. Looking back from the end, it wasn’t ever clear exactly what the anime was trying to accomplish. One serious problem with the overall purpose is that it kept revisiting the same themes, which essentially stagnated the path of the story. What happened was that progress that was made both in the world and with the characters reverted to an earlier point. Without a solid and clear path forward, it tended to make the entire anime stagnate.
CHARACTERS: Decent. Most of the characters were cardboard cutouts. Generally if you look at the characters, there was very little in terms of complexity or even growth. The main characters suffered from “king of the pirates” syndrome, where they often and loudly told us their only driving goal. That goal didn’t take on any depth or substance throughout – it was an oft-repeated tagline that represented a singular, yet shallow purpose. In the main group, only Armin had something approaching solid depth of character. He was learning, improving, and refining his view of the world. That said, Levi was a superbly done character. He had great depth and subtlety to his personality. The way he was developed mirrored the overall theme of “becoming inhuman to save humanity.” Yet, he was never a “bad” guy. There was obvious internal struggle and many very human moments. Sadly, Levi wasn’t given nearly enough screen time. Aside from these, the only character that hinted at something interesting was the general, but they didn’t really explore him.
WORLD: Decent. Again, here we have hints of some really interesting things going on both inside and outside the walls. However, there wasn’t enough there to really explore those aspects. As it was, the world was tiny – most of the anime was done behind the second wall and you had a tiny glimpse behind the third. There was really nothing done to expand the world beyond the walls. For the viewer, they too were off limits.
PLOT: Decent. As it was, it was fairly standard, but done in a fairlycompetent fashion. There was a solid and logical progression of events that drove both the world and the characters. However, there were some issues with the plot. As is fairly common in related genre, they dwell far too long on angst and use it as a substitute for solid plot. Angst usually resolves with a decision that changes the course of the character. In this case, it was a temporary course change, since they often regressed back into more angst. When the same plot point comes up again and again, it loses the impact of the characters’ internal struggle, and negates forward progress made.
STORYTELLING: Bad. There was a great deal of filler in this anime. Often, it was a scene completely unnecessary to what was going on or even yet another jaunt in fearful angst. Compounding this problem was the way scenes were ordered. There were quite a few scenes that would have been appropriate or even strong if placed at a different point. As presented, it often rendered those scenes unnecessary or, worse,an obstacle to the progression of the story. Particularly jarring was “the big reveal,” which was treated as though the viewer should have have seen this coming, even though those pieces of information were not really presented to the viewer. Most galling is that this anime seems to be fixable through proper cutting and editing.
Sadly, the poor use of storytelling continues with their use of violence. Normally, violence is a highlight that propels the story forward. However, the violence in this anime didn’t really do anything. It really was there for little more than the shock value. You can only see someone getting eaten or stepped on so many times before it loses its impact. Even more, the fights were shockingly dull. Mainly, the fights lacked cleverness or uniqueness. Only the last handful of episodes displayed more varied and interesting combat – the kind that should have been seen throughout the anime.
PACE: Bad. The pacing and tempo of the anime was wholly crippling. For most of the anime, every time they managed to build solid tension and plot momentum, it very quickly stalled. Worse, it tended to stall for several episodes at a time. This contributed to the stagnation because they built to an important point, but then delayed the payoff for too long. The lack of appropriate pacing presented a huge obstacle to character development, the use of violence as a plot device, and prevented the creation of atmosphere. For the characters, they dwelled too long in places they shouldn’t have, and reverted progress made. As a consequence, almost all the characters were little more than cardboard cutouts. Violence itself was a victim of this stalling. Many solid, violent scenes that progressed the plot were then “punctuated” by long sequences of talking or running. During these sequences, additional violence was the simplistic “squash the squishy” type, which gets old, fast. The same complaints mentioned above hamstrung the creation and maintenance of the mood. Most galling, the anime showed that it was capable of maintaining solid pacing and tension, mostly in the last handful of episodes.