Review for Attack On Titan: Part 1 Collector's Edition
Would you believe that I missed out on Attack on Titan when it was streamed? Actually I refused to watch Attack on Titan when it was streamed. It’s a classic case of judging an anime by the title. There I was, happily clicking my way through Crunchyroll, when this intriguing title appeared. I was shocked to find man eating giants, and a dystopian, pseudo-mediaeval setting. I was expecting the largest moon of Saturn, and fleets of spaceships, a grand space opera. It’s like promising someone Battlestar Galactica or Firefly, and giving them Game of Thrones or Spartacus instead. And so it was that I completely ignored the biggest anime show in many a year. If you’ve read my reviews in recent weeks, you might have thought that Psycho-Pass was the biggest anime show in many a year, and true, it is the best sci-fi anime around now, and it is the best of the best. Attack on Titan is better even than that, quantitatively speaking. It has done what few other shows have managed before; it has broken out of the confines of the medium, and attracted new fans. People who have never even heard of anime are talking about Attack on Titan. It is the new Cowboy Bebop, the new Fullmetal Alchemist, one of those shows that comes around oh so rarely, and offers that scant hope that anime will one day take its rightful place in the mainstream. You can bet that I’m interested in watching Attack on Titan now!
So what are Manga Entertainment doing for the biggest anime title since Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood? Annoying that small minority of hardcore fans it seems. Every territory is giving this show the deluxe treatment, DVD and Blu-ray releases, as well as Limited Collector’s Editions. Australia and the US offer everything on disc, episodes and extras for all versions. Their limited editions offer special packaging, booklets, and physical extras, tapestries, straps, jewellery and the like depending on where you buy it from. And for the UK release, Manga have authored their discs locally, and offer episodes plus commentaries on DVD, and also on Blu-ray. If you want the rest of the extra features (standard in AU and US) your only option is to get this Collector’s Edition, which has them on a separate DVD. You also get the art booklet and special packaging to hold Part 2 as well.
A hundred years previously, the Titans came. No one knows from where, or what they wanted; giant naked beasts in human form, with no other thought or instinct than to hunt and devour humans. There was no defence, no comprehending these mindless enemies. Humanity was almost wiped out, the few survivors seeking refuge in a small parcel of land, defended by fifty meter high walls, higher than any known Titan. And so mankind has endured in relative safety for the last hundred years, a small enclave in what used to be their world. Dreaming of the outside world has become a taboo, understandable when the few military expeditions sent out to reclaim lost territory always come back having suffered devastating losses.
That doesn’t stop the young from dreaming of a free world, and friends Eren Jaeger and Arwin Arlelt long for the day that they can explore the world that they’ve been denied all their lives. It’s only the pragmatism of their friend Mikasa Ackerman that keeps their wild dreams in check. Eren’s mother certainly wouldn’t hear of him joining the Scouts that venture outside the walls and suffer such devastating losses. Then the Titans return, heralded by a previously unknown Colossal Titan that towers over the perimeter walls, with an Armored Titan that breaches those walls to let the rest of the man-eaters in. Suddenly, humanity is forced to retreat from its own, meagre remaining territory once more, pushed back from the lands bounded by the outer wall Maria, to the inner boundary of Wall Rose. And Eren’s left with an unfathomable desire for vengeance, to slaughter every last remaining Titan and reclaim the world.
Five years later, the three friends have graduated military training with flying colours, and have shunned the prestigious military police, the comparatively safe guards, to sign up for the Scouts, but they have no time to settle into their new roles as humanity’s vanguard, when the Colossal Titan reappears at Wall Rose, and the Titan onslaught resumes. This time Eren will get payback, this time Eren will have his revenge, but there’s something about Eren that no-one knows, not even Eren himself.
The first thirteen episodes of Attack on Titan are presented across 2 dual layer Blu-ray discs thus by Manga Entertainment.
1. To You, In 2000 Years – The Fall of Shiganshima, Part 1 –
2. That Day – The Fall of Shiganshima, Part 2 –
3. A Dim Light Amid Despair – Humanity’s Comeback, Part 1 –
4. The Night of the Closing Ceremony – Humanity’s Comeback, Part 2 –
5. First Battle – The Struggle for Trost, Part 1 –
6. The World the Girl Saw – The Struggle for Trost, Part 2 –
7. Small Blade – The Struggle for Trost, Part 3 –
8. I Can Hear His Heartbeat – The Struggle for Trost, Part 4 –
9. Whereabouts of His Left Arm – The Struggle for Trost, Part 5 –
10. Response – The Struggle for Trost, Part 6 –
11. Idol – The Struggle for Trost, Part 7 –
12. Wound – The Struggle for Trost, Part 8 –
13. Primal Desire – The Struggle for Trost, Part 9 –
Attack on Titan gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p resolution, on two dual layer discs. Manga have authored them locally, so we get a 7-6 episode split, as opposed to Funimation’s 9-4 across one dual and one single, but just as with Psycho Pass, it looks as if Manga used Funimation’s materials, so there should be no visible difference to the image. It’s clear and sharp throughout, with no visible aliasing or compression. Even the perennial problem of digital banding is kept to a minimum here, really only restricted to darker scenes, and then during scene fade-outs and fade-ins.
Attack on Titan’s visual aesthetic is astounding, and comes to life with impressive impact on Blu-ray. The character designs are typical anime, but are drawn with bold outlines and shadow detail to make them stand out against the backgrounds. Those backgrounds are detailed and stylish, evoking that pseudo-mediaeval feel with North and Central European architecture. The show also uses a diminished colour palette, eschewing the bright and primary (except for blood), and opting instead for autumnal, pastel shades. On top of that the animation is excellent, detailed, fluid, and atmospheric. The aerial action sequences have to be seen to be believed. The Spider-man movies should take a leaf from Attack on Titan.
I may not have seen the show when it was originally streamed, but once the hype hit, I pounced on a few volumes of the manga to see what all the fuss was about, and became convinced that this show would never get less than an 18 rating. In the end, it gets a 15 rating, but that’s down to self-censorship on the part of the animators. They choose not to show all the gore and dismemberment that you will find in the manga, and so the camera will pan away during the more extreme moments, or shadows might obscure the image. The show is no less effective for it, and in some ways it’s more dramatically effective to see someone’s reaction to a horror, than to see the horror directly.
The images in this review are sourced from the PR, and aren’t necessarily representative of the final retail release.
You have the choice between PCM 2.0 Stereo Japanese, and DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track (as opposed to Funimation and presumably Madman’s Dolby TrueHD audio and locked subs). I went with the Japanese audio as always, and was happy enough with original voice actor performances, suitably histrionic for such an over the top show. What I sampled of the English dub was acceptable enough, with the actors rising up to the dramatic challenge. Certainly the 5.1 upmix from Funimation really does enhance the show’s dynamic action sequences, and it’s a shame that the Japanese audio couldn’t have been mastered in surround for a change. Alas not a lot of Japanese television gets the surround treatment in Japan.
The sticking point as always with Manga authored discs comes down to the subtitles, as once again they are limited to only being able to show one caption on screen at a time. In Attack on Titan, with very little on screen text to translate, that only becomes an issue in the eyecatches (the bits at the halfway point of an episode where the jargon of the show is explained), and the subtitle translations flash by at that point far too quickly to read. There’s also a mistimed sub in episode 8, where one person’s dialogue subtitle flashes on screen while someone else is speaking. Other kinds of mistiming appear when characters have long speeches. They may say one line, and two lines of subtitle will flash up, they then speak two sentences, and one line will flash up.
There’s the odd typo, I noticed one incomprehensible subtitle in episode 11, but by far the most head scratching of aspects is the looseness of translation. This is a subtitle script that aims for a colloquial feel to the script, rather than remain close to the original Japanese. Even I, who’ve managed to pick up a few words, enough to be of no use whatsoever, notice when the subtitles bear no resemblance to the Japanese dialogue. For one thing, in the Japanese, the characters use each other’s names a lot more than is evident in the subtitle script. I would love to know if Manga used Funimation’s subtitles, created their own, or a mixture of the two. The subtitles not being locked on this release allowed me to watch a few scenes in English with subtitles. Most scenes had translated subtitles that differed from the dub, but then a scene would pop up with dubtitles, printing the dub script verbatim. Unsurprisingly, these were the scenes that had the loosest subtitle translation. Oh, and once again, the theme songs are only translated on the full subtitle track, not the signs only track.
The Blu-rays present their content with static menus. One thing to note is the size of the episode titles on the episode select screen. Just because you have 1080 lines of resolution to play with, doesn’t mean that you should use the smallest font you can find. I don’t want to have to get up from my sofa and trek up to the TV screen to read the names of the episodes. As usual for a Manga authored disc, the episodes are divided at random into chapters. No convenient skipping of credit sequences here.
The sole extra on disc 1 is the audio commentary to go with episode 3, hosted by ADR director and voice of Jean Kirschtein, Mike McFarland. He’s joined by the three main cast members for this show, Bryce Papenbrook (Eren), Trina Nishimura (Mikasa), and Josh Greele (Armin). Generally, I tend to enjoy those Funimation commentaries moderated by Mike McFarland the most, as he tends to actually drive the conversation around the show rather than allowing the usual actor gossip. But in this commentary, there’s still a whole lot of giggling to contend with.
Disc 2 gets an audio commentary on episode 13, with Mike McFarland again, this time with J. Michael Tatum (lead adaptive writer and voice of Erwin), Clifford Chapin (Conny Springer), and Scott Freeman (Ian), and it’s another commentary that is easy to listen to.
The Bonus DVD is available only in the Collector’s Edition. It isn’t with the standard DVD release, and neither is it with the standard Blu-ray. So only Blu-ray owning fans have the chance to watch these extra features, even if they are only on DVD. Here’s the kicker. In the US release, and the Australian release, these following extras are on the Blu-ray. Manga stripped them out for their Collector’s Edition when they re-authored the discs.
Anyway, the Bonus DVD presents its extras with a static menu, and there’s a Play All Option if you can’t be asked to push too many buttons.
The Making Of Attack on Titan lasts 50 minutes, and is an in-depth look behind the scenes at Funimation and the creation of the dub for this show, from the show’s licensing all the way to its release. It’s a nice detailed piece, with interviews with the voice cast, the ADR director, and all the various people involved in the show’s localisation to the US market.
You get the textless credit sequences, and yes, because they are on the DVD, they have PAL speed-up to the music. You also get the US trailer.
Finally, and most fun are the Chibi Theatre: Fly, Cadets, Fly short animations, parts 1-13, split into 5 sections. Attack on Titan isn’t the jolliest anime around. In fact it gets pretty dark at times, so a little bit of levity isn’t to be sniffed at. Here in these short animations, SD versions of the characters undergo training, although the results of the training turn out to be as predictable as Kenny from South Park’s demise. The total running time for these shorts is 45 minutes, and they make a perfect compliment for the episodes themselves. It would have been great if they had been placed in between the episodes, the way the Tachikoma Shorts were on the Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex discs. These are in Japanese with subtitles.
The Collector’s Edition Blu-ray also comes with an Artbox that has room for Part 2. You also get a Collector’s booklet with the release, although I have seen neither the booklet, nor the packaging for this review.
Attack on Titan is big! It’s bigger even than the Colossal Titan that appears within. This is one of those once in a generation shows that breaks out of the medium, and even has non-anime fans hooked. All of a sudden, people who have never watched anime before in their life are hooking up with this show on Hulu or whatever broad spectrum streaming service is available to them, and are talking about ‘that Titan’ show around the watercooler. It is that next gateway drug into the medium that anime distributors long for. It’s the show that brings the next wave of new anime fans into the medium, and allows for the distributors to surf the wave of its success onwards until the next, next big thing. Of course there is the odd fan or two who will be convinced that first step Attack on Titan, next step prime time TV, but painful experience has taught us that will never happen.
The good news is that Attack on Titan is definitely worth all the plaudits. It delivers a show unlike any you have seen before, a compelling story, and with well-written and engaging characters. It’s also one of those refreshing shows, just like this month’s Psycho-Pass, that doesn’t pander to otaku fan sensibilities. It tells its story first and foremost, and if it does rein back in terms of visual content, it’s less to differentiate itself from the manga than it is to conform to broadcast standards. I say it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before, but you could say that it’s a cross between Spider-man and the Incredible Hulk. The Vertical Manoeuvring Gear is certainly realised with an energy and visual impact that rivals anything that Spider-man has managed in animation or live action. While I keep expecting Eren to say “Don’t make me bite my thumb, you wouldn’t like me when I bite my thumb...” For that matter you could even call it a giant robot show, if the giant robot was a twenty-metre high humanoid, and the ‘pilot’ was integrated into its flesh and nervous system.
But there are no original stories in entertainment, just original ways of retelling old stories, and as mentioned, Attack on Titan is unlike anything else. You could even call it a Game of Thrones for the anime medium, as it eschews the futuristic sci-fi setting for something that visually at least offers a period look, an alternate historical style, by turns mediaeval and steampunk. It’s got that shonen sensibility of battling against insurmountable odds, and an epic and drawn out storyline. The Battle of Trost in this half of the series runs to nine episodes in length, which in other anime would be where you’d accuse it of padding, stretching, filling space with recaps and flashbacks. Not with Attack on Titan. It really needs those 9 episodes to tell that story, and what you get is edge of the seat stuff, thrilling, gripping and paced to perfection.
So, Attack on Titan gives us a pseudo-historical setting, shonen style anime a la Bleach, monsters, and a whole lot of sword play. It’s not my genre of choice when it comes to anime, and it takes something special like Berserk, or Claymore to really grab my attention. I was glued to Attack on Titan all the way through this collection. It could do no wrong. It sets up a very compelling story, a future, post-apocalyptic dystopia where Titans came and ravaged the world, the few surviving humans finding shelter in a small portion of land behind massive walls. The Titans merely bide their time, while the few remaining humans convince themselves that the world only stretches as far as those walls, with just the rare individual dreaming of more. It’s a great premise, one which drives the show.
The status quo is shattered when new Titans appear, able to breach the defences, suddenly reminding humanity of their tenuous grip on life. It’s a devastating attack that motivates the show’s main characters to fight back, to take revenge. While mankind is pushed even further back behind their defences, forced to make horrible sacrifices merely to stay alive, Eren and his friends get the time to train up and join the military, relatively secure behind the inner set of walls. It’s both ironic and poetic that the abnormal Titans show up again on the day that they graduate to assault the inner walls, ensuring the newly minted soldiers get baptisms of blood.
Then there is the big twist about Eren’s true nature, something that he himself is unaware of, but offers humanity its best chance yet of not only surviving, but fighting back. Yet it’s all been foreshadowed in the first episode with Eren’s father and what he’s been hiding in the cellar of their home, now way inside Titan territory. Attack on Titan is brutal and visceral, and has very little room for light-heartedness or humour. These are the darkest moments of humanity, and it puts its characters under the microscope to show how they fare against such adversity. It’s a fairly large cast too, but the story manages to keep hold of all of them, develop their stories for as long as they remain extant.
The main characters are really watchable too. Eren’s driven by his desire for revenge, coupled with dreams of seeing the outside world. Like everyone who faced the Titan attack five years previously, he’s carrying that trauma with him, but he uses that to fuel his rage, and that rage certainly manifests itself with visceral impact. Best friend Mikasa is more like the only family he has left, although she’s not a blood relative, rather someone his family took in following a personal trauma of her own. She’s devoted to Eren as a result, refuses to leave his side, and will walk into danger just to keep him safe. Fortunately she’s the strongest of them all, skilled with a weapon, and an elite when it comes to fighting the Titans. Armin on the other hand isn’t conventionally strong or particularly driven. In many ways he’s the most interesting of the three friends, as he’s the one who isn’t strong, was often protected and rescued by the others, and has a problem with confidence and low self esteem. But he possesses a keen strategic mind, and it turns out in these episodes a hidden strength of his own.
Why only 8 out of 10, you might ask? For one thing I have been reading the manga, and there’s no way that this series will cover the whole story; it barely scratches the surface, with only the final episode introducing Levi and the Scouts. At this time, while there have been two compilation movies, and certainly videogames galore, there’s been no mention yet of a second series. And I wonder if this first series can end at a point which is emotionally and intellectually satisfying enough to suffice if there never will be a season 2. The show on the odd occasion does put a foot wrong, when it has its characters standing around talking in the middle of a crisis situation, as constantly happened in Gantz, and which crippled that show. It only happens once or twice here.
The biggest issue is Manga’s presentation of it. I’m going to withhold judgement on the subtitles and not throw my toys out of the pram, as I do not know at this point if they used Funimation’s subtitle script or commissioned their own. But I don’t appreciate those moments where I recognise that the subtitles are completely different from what is spoken by the characters. That throws me out of a show. But Manga dun goofed when it comes to the extra features. Stripping the HD extras off the perfectly good (and in Australia Region B) Blu-ray masters and sticking them on an SD DVD is bad enough, but restricting that DVD to the collector’s edition is unfair. We also miss out on the eye-catch gallery the US and AU releases had. In effect, our Collector’s Edition when it comes to on-disc extras is inferior to the US and Australian standard editions. We do get the artbox and the booklet though.
Here’s the kicker. There’s no Collector’s Edition of Part 2 of Attack on Titan in the UK, just the standard editions. There’s no mention of whether those standard editions will contain a third bonus DVD. We have no way at this time of knowing whether we’ll get to see episodes 14-25 of the Chibi Theatre, the Anime Expo featurette, the eyecatch gallery or the textless credits, although we probably will see the final two commentaries. Manga have confirmed that the second half of the booklet will be in the Blu-ray collection though.
If all you care about are the episodes, the main content, and are an English dub fan, then by all means buy the UK release of Attack on Titan. I’m not convinced by the subtitles we get, but that’s not a red flag issue for me. But the inveterate collector in me cannot in all conscience recommend this release when there is better available. If you care about extra features, and all the cool gubbins, then you will want it all in HD, just like the show. And for that, there is the Region A locked US release if you are capable, or the Region B Australian release, although unfortunately the gorgeous Limited Edition Australian Part 1 sold out months ago. Their regular edition is still better than this release though.