This weekend as part of the Scotland Loves Anime festival both parts of the live action adaption of hit anime Attack on Titan got their European premieres. The films have been subject to some controversy and criticism, particularly that all of the European characters in the anime are portrayed by a Japanese cast whilst retaining ill fitting Western names, the omission of some popular characters, and that the security forces appear to be dressed in Nazi-esque uniforms, something that wasn’t present in the source material. Having enjoyed the anime I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to see for myself.
In a dystopian future where the world has been decimated by massive man eating creatures called Titans, humanity has retreated behind three layers of massive walls. The Titans haven’t been seen in over 100 years and some people are becoming restless, even disbelieving in their existence. We join main characters Eren, Armin, and Mikasa as they head toward the outer wall sharing talk of what could lie outside. Could there be oceans? Could there be freedom from the threat of death by Titan? Part of the answer is quickly made apparent as a colossal Titan appears standing taller than the wall and proceeds to smash a massive hole in it, opening the way for a mass of smaller Titans to unleash devastation on the city. The Titans devour their way through a massive portion of civilisation in a shower of blood and guts.
Here the first of the films problems shows itself. The Titans should be basically human, but be gruesome, terrifying horrors. They are simple-minded beasts that live only to eat, and should chill you to the core. Now in some cases this is true, some are quite disturbing, but the first one we see has a gormlessly stupid grin on its face and eyes so far apart they’re almost in his ears; He look like a Fiat Multipla car with those stupid goggley headlights. The second is a dwarf with a ridiculously elongated head that resembles a garden gnome. For the most part the Titans are clearly people in makeup and fat suits stomping around and CG’d into a ruined cityscape, like some drunken hippies dancing on a model village. There’s a lot of viscera and horror in the consumption of a panicked civilisation so the scenes are actually still quite effective despite the sometimes comedic monsters.
Picking up two years later Eren and Armin are now members of the non Nazi dressed portion of the military whilst Mikasa is missing, presumed dead. The young men embark on a mission to plug the whole in the wall with a myriad group of scared survivors cum soldiers. Here the second problem in the films shows itself. The anime and manga source material has a large cast of distinct characters and this has been reasonably reduced, yet until part two there isn’t really a core of individuals with their own personality. They’re mostly interchangeable and it doesn’t really matter who is who in the end. Almost all of them is a whiner, miserable to the core, and I quickly felt that if the Titans were to eat them I’d be quite happy. There’s some comic relief from two characters Hans (crazy weapons fanatic) and Sasha (always hungry) and the only other character of note is Shikishima, leader of the forward survey corps, but mostly as he’s a massive douchebag. The biggest issue is that the two prime offenders of torn-faced unlikeability are Eren and Armin. It doesn’t help that the acting isn’t particularly good either with much of it overly exaggerated, particularly in Shikishima’s case.
Plot wise I think it works rather well. As there’s a vast amount of material to draw from which has a hugely popular fan base there was always going to be things that wouldn’t make it to a 90 minute (per film) run time and thus people who wouldn’t be happy with that. Part one retains a lot of original plot whilst slicing out some large chunks, but the pacing would’ve suffered terribly if we’d had to sit through some of the episode spanning scenes that feature in the anime. As it is the important plot points are there, and part one ends very well with a major plot point remaining almost intact even so much in the special effects being around 1:1 with the anime. It’s smartly done but the translation to live cinema does make it look kind of silly.
I actually enjoyed part one despite the criticisms above. I’d heard the reception of movie wasn’t so warm and so I went in with fairy low expectations. It sure isn’t an Oscar winner but it doesn’t quite deserve a Razzie either. Worth a watch I’d say.
But then came part two…