Attack On Titan, 2015.
Directed by Shinji Higuchi
Starring Haruma Miura, Kiko Mizuhara, Kanata Hongo, Satomi Ishihara, Nanami Sakuraba, Takahiro Miura, Hiroki Hasegawa, Ayame Misaki, Pierre Taki, Jun Kunimura.
Since the appearance of man-eating giants known as Titans more than 100 years ago, humanity has enclosed itself within the confines of three concentric walls, and a ban on all innovation is strictly enforced. When the Outer Wall is destroyed by a Titan larger than any ever seen before, the farmlands within (as well as countless lives) are lost to the mindless and indestructible Titans. Eren, a survivor of the attack, enlists in the army regiment tasked with re-claiming the fallen wall. Within him may lie humanity’s last hope for survival.
Based on the hugely successful animated series of the same title, Attack on Titan presents a new take on the story of Eren, Armin, and Mikasa. In fact, it is so new, that the story is hardly recognisable. Key elements remain, such as the first names of the central characters, the symbols of the army regiments, the omni-directional maneuver gear, and the existence of Titans and the Walls–but everything else, and I mean literally everything, is completely scrapped in favour of an entirely new story.
Part 1 follows the core trio as their lives are forever changed on the day their town is invaded by the giant human-eating monsters they once thought to be pure myth. Eren (Haruma Miura) and Armin (Kanata Hongo) join the army to avenge their town and the lands humanity forfeited when they retreated inside the Middle Wall. Their regiment is sent on a mission to plug the hole left in the Outer Wall and reclaim the farmlands. In the ensuing battles, it becomes clear that Eren hides a dangerous secret, one that could either be humanity’s salvation, or their destruction.
In Part 2: End of the World, Eren faces the mistrust of his comrades and tries to persuade them that his power can be harnessed to lead humanity to safety forever. A considerable chunk of the film is spent trying to piece together a coherent new story, culminating in the revelation of the Titans’ true nature, and a great battle for the reclamation of Eren’s hometown. The story turns into a conventional dystopia at one point, but it’s all but forgotten as we approach the end.
There is also a short post-credit sequence which may or may not be an implication of a sequel. I, for one, certainly hope they leave it alone. Three hours of this is agony enough.
There are many reasons a film adaptation will, and sometimes may have to, be different from its serialised counterpart. Shortage of time, for one, as well as feasibility of replicating difficult visuals which a manga or anime would have more freedom over, make viable and understandable reasons. Yet the VFX on Attack on Titan are nearly flawless, aided in part by the shift to a more modern setting that makes use of abandoned buildings and rubble easier to replicate than the classical, more European architecture seen in the anime. So that’s out. And the first half, Part 1, presented as a stand-alone film in many cinemas UK-wide, feels overly long in setting up an entirely new, pointlessly changed story. The two films together last about three hundred hours. So brevity is also out.
Yet someone, somewhere in a Japanese studio, thought this was a good idea, and then a lot of money was spent on creating this new vision, which not only adds nothing to what should have been a politically-charged, intrigue-filled story, but it simplifies and then overcomplicates it to a baffling degree, leaving behind a hot mess which cannot be explained.
While the Attack on Titan series is special because the stereotypes often found in Japanese animation are ingeniously subverted, the films take the exact opposite approach and reduce each of the main characters to one or two classic anime tropes. You’ve got the Shouty Main Character, the Aloof And Badass Female Character who is also a Love Interest to the main guy, the Supportive Sidekick, the Token Rival, the Flashy Prodigy who’s Too Cool For School. Been there, seen that—and no one gets to grow, change, or learn much from the events that transpire. They begin and end as one-dimensional caricatures, shadows of characters who might’ve at one point had personalities and flaws that made them real and likeable, that made the viewer care about whether they lived or died.
It’s interesting to see the modern-day twist on the setting; it actually works well, changing little of what was essential to the plot, and bringing the action forward to something we could see happening in the real world. Yet it becomes the background for some pretty OTT cliché moments, dripping with stereotypical Japanese sentimentalism and hilariously bad acting, the effect of which had an entire audience in a packed out screen laughing uproariously despite the apparent drama.
An extra layer of disappointment is found in the performance of Haruma Miura, whose Eren is a bumbling, screaming mess of twitchy facial expressions and flailing limbs. Miura’s acting chops have been proven time and again in numerous TV dramas and films, notably in his breakout role as the delinquent Hiro in the drama-romance Koizora, or as hacker prodigy Fujimaru Takagi in cyber-terror thriller Bloody Monday; it’s not like he can’t do this. He is repeatedly upstaged by the hilarious Satomi Ishihara as Hange, who is conspicuously the only character to be lifted straight out of the source material as the excitable and research-obsessed lieutenant of Eren’s squad.
But I digress. For the non-fans and those looking for a verdict, here’s the gist of it: the two films, which last over 3 hours put together, offer plenty of OTT Japanese fantasy-action, featuring giants fighting other giants set to hardcore heavy metal music, with a strong dose of conventional scifi/dystopia, occasional sentimental overtones, and cliché moments which will definitely serve to amuse. Best-watched if you’re not seriously looking for a good film, or better yet, with a group of friends and a good drinking game.
…which is really depressing, because the story upon which these films are based is actually, genuinely good. Watch the series if the concept sounds appealing to you. It’s no accident that it’s one of the most popular shows in recent years.
For those not afraid of spoilers, click on to page two to find out exactly what went wrong.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ / Movie ★ ★
Kat Kourbeti – follow me on Twitter.