Review: 'Attack on Titan' [Fantasia Festival 2015]

There are two main ingredients to the Attack on Titan anime. First, the Titans. Giant, disturbing creatures shaped like sexless men and women and, and always with horrifying grins plastered across their faces. They reach down, plucking up helpless humans, and they eat them. Titans rip people apart, grind their skulls between their molars, and sometimes even swallow them whole. It’s a lot of fun to watch.

The other ingredient is yelling, and not just that of those aforementioned helpless humans, the ones destined for an encounter with the gut flora of an impossibly tall humanoid monster. No, in the grand tradition of anime, pretty much everything is shrieked. Feeling determined? Better yell that so the next town can hear. Did someone ask you a question? Why not yell your answer the way a total psycho would.

Fans of the show will feel right at home with the film, at least at first. The Titans look properly titanic, sporting appropriately horrible smiles as they chow down on their victims, and there is more than enough yelling to get the point across that, yes, geeks, you are home.

Except… it’s short, and at 90 minutes, it’s really short. Now, there’s such a thing as overstaying your welcome, and that’s to be avoided, too, but this film tries to rush through the highlights of the equivalent of eight episodes of the anime series, which works out to over three hours of material. That’s a lot of context, a lot of build-up, that audiences of the film could do with seeing.

For context, ws with the anime (and presumably the manga upon which both it and the film are based), humanity is in this film still clawing its way back after a devastating onslaught by the Titans. For a century, people have been living inside three concentric walls which are high and strong enough to keep the Titans out. That, until an especially enormous and powerful Titan comes and tears down the first wall. That’s when a squad of warriors strap on these omnidirectional cable-firing devices that let them zip through the air like gas-powered Spider-men, taking up swords and trying desperately to carve through the Titan’s weak points, located on the nape of their necks. Nothing less than the fate of humanity is at stake.

The great strength of Attack on Titan, leaving aside the bonkers battles between the Titans and humans, is the constant, overhanging fear. We know that the Titans are coming. We know that there is little even the most hardened warriors can do to face them. This is a society that has been on the brink for centuries, now quivering in fear because their last hopes, the walls, are crashing down and the monsters have returned.

This sort of atmosphere works only when there is time for it to develop, and this is time the film can’t afford to give. From the moment Titans first appear on the scene and begin to harass our heroes (Haruma Miura as Eren Jaeger, Kiko Mizuhara as Mikasa Ackerman, Kanata Hongō as Armin Arlert), it’s time for war. We’re swept up into the insanity of running and hiding from the monsters, to losing and rediscovering friends, to turning right back around and bringing the fight to the monsters.

When are we allowed to be afraid? There’s a brief sequence in which an attempt is made at just this, but it ends too soon, and then we’re right back to what is more or less a generic giant monster movie. Grins aside, it’s not particularly frightening.

On a character level, there’s not much happening here. There’s hardly any time for the protagonists to develop, so there’s not much to distinguish one from the other. Big character moments, huge things that should elicit fist pumps and gleeful whooping… are just cool. And they are. They’re cool. But they could be more.

For this sort of movie, Attack on Titan is alright. It looks pretty good, the battles against the Titans are fun, and it’s a short, fast-paced ride once the monsters join things. It’s a shame the human element is so weak, and that there’s not enough time to properly establish a mood, but it’s summer, and this is silly enough that there's enjoyment to be had watching it. If you don’t mind ridiculously loud dialogue and pretty uninspired characters, there are worse ways you could spend 90 minutes.