Review for Attack On Titan: Part 2
Attack on Titan, the biggest anime release of the year, probably, concludes with this final half-season collection. At least it does for now, as if there’s any justice, the rest of the manga will also be adapted to anime. You could say that this is the most important anime title in recent years, the newest gateway drug. The thing is that when Manga Entertainment released part 1, it drew out my inner whinger. In the US, and Australia, Funimation and Madman added value to their basic releases to create special collector’s editions. With part 1, it seemed that Manga Entertainment created their special collector’s edition by removing value. What got my goat the most was that they stripped the Blu-ray and the DVD of extras, placed most, but not all of them onto a third DVD, and bundled that with the now shorn Blu-rays to create a Limited Collector’s Edition. Fans who bought the standard Blu-rays and DVDs would miss out. Now that Part 2 is here, a release which has no equivalent Collector’s Edition (the standard Part 2 Blu-ray is supposed to slip into the chipboard box that came with the Part 1 Collector’s Edition), Manga have rectified their previous decision, by keeping the extra features on the episode DVD discs, and the Blu-ray discs. I should be happy, relieved, ecstatic... I’m not.
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. It transpires that Eren might just be the weapon against the Titans that humanity needs, or he might just be the biggest threat that humanity faces. His fate and the fate of mankind will be decided in this second half of Attack on Titan.
The final twelve episodes of Attack on Titan are presented across 2 dual layer Blu-ray discs thus by Manga Entertainment.
14. Can’t Look into His Eyes Yet – Eve of the Counterattack, Part 1 –
15. Special Operations Squad – Eve of the Counterattack, Part 2 –
16. What Needs to Be Done Now – Eve of the Counterattack, Part 3 –
17. Female Titan – The 57th Exterior Scouting Mission, Part 1 –
18. Forest of Giant Trees – The 57th Exterior Scouting Mission, Part 2 –
19. Bite – The 57th Exterior Scouting Mission, Part 3 –
20. Erwin Smith – The 57th Exterior Scouting Mission, Part 4 –
21. Crushing Blow – The 57th Exterior Scouting Mission, Part 5 –
22. The Defeated – The 57th Exterior Scouting Mission, Part 6 –
23. Smile – Assault on Stohess, Part 1 –
24. Mercy – Assault on Stohess, Part 2 –
25. Wall – Assault on Stohess, Part 3 –
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 7-5 episode split, as opposed to Funimation splitting them 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.
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 up-mix 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. Subtitles can occasionally be mistimed 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.
Once again we have a looseness of translation that I’m just not used to with Funimation’s subtitles. Following the release of Part 1, I asked around on a forum or two to see if anyone could do a compare and contrast of the two versions, and sure enough it was pointed out that Manga Entertainment have created their own subtitles for the UK market. If that wasn’t evidence enough, the first line subtitled in episode 14 contains the word, ‘twit’, a Britishism that no American studio would ever use. Having said all that, the translation didn’t seem quite as loose in these episodes, until I came to the Chibi short animations in the extras, where it was all over the place.
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.
Disc 1 offers an audio commentary on episode 14, with ADR Director Mike McFarland, and voice actors J. Michael Tatum (Erwin Smith), and Matthew Mercer (Levi). It begins with a spoiler warning for the rest of the series, and a fair bit of chuckling, but settles down into an agreeable commentary.
You also get the Eyecatch Gallery for the latter half of the series, all 24 images from the ad bumpers with full translation for you to read at your leisure. Manga’s subtitles usually go like crazy at this point, so this featurette is useful, especially for episode 25, where you have a wall of text to translate. Pity that Manga never bothered with the Eyecatch Gallery for Part 1.
On disc 2, the extras begin with the Audio Commentary for episode 25, with voice actors Bryce Papenbrook (Eren), and Lauren Landa (Annie) joining ADR director Mike McFarland for another chat that is easy to listen to.
Attack on Titan at Anime Expo is just that, presented in 1080p and lasting 16:19. It is just what it says, grabbing a whole load of fan opinions, but really concentrating on an interview with producer George Wada.
You get the textless credits and the US trailer, all in HD.
Most significant here are the Chibi Theatre Fly Cadets Fly! shorts, 12 in total, split into four batches of three, and running to 47:05. They’re fun to watch, and a nice bit of light-heartedness to contrast with the heavy going of the main story. These too are presented in HD.
Remember when pressed on the DVD extras exclusive to the part 1 collector’s edition, Manga said that the extras were only available in SD format?
It’s Berserk all over again, or it could potentially go that way, depending on whether or not news from Japan is forthcoming. Berserk is Kentaro Miura’s epic manga, a dark and bloody mediaeval fantasy that keeps on growing. It got a 25 episode anime adaptation a fair few years ago, which adapted the Golden Age arc that serves as prologue to its main story, but that was as far as it got, leaving fans salivating for more. It gets worse with Berserk, as recently it got a movie adaptation, or rather three movie adaptations. Rather than continue from where they left off, they started again with the Golden Age arc, perhaps understandable given the ten year gap and advances in animation techniques, not least the odd bit of narrative that was left out of the TV adaptation. There was every expectation that further films would follow, that we’d finally get to see the rest of Berserk animated. Instead, they pulled the plug after three movies, and we’re left with the prologue once more, this time in truncated CGI form.
The same thing could very well happen with Attack on Titan, which at this point is up to volume 14 in manga form and continuing. This anime series only goes as far as volume 8 when it comes to adapting that story, and it really feels like it’s just set the groundwork for the story so far, sowed the intriguing elements, set up the characters, and set the ball rolling when it comes to the plot. In effect, it feels like the prologue once more, and the feeling when this collection ends, is that the really good stuff is yet to come. At this time, there has been no announcement on whether any more Attack on Titan will be animated. Unlike the first Berserk series, which was done on a cel animation budget to a weekly broadcast schedule, and didn’t look too great, the work done on Attack on Titan is fantastic, it looks and sounds stunning, and you could see Studio Wit picking up where they left off should any future continuing series be commissioned. The thing is that how this first series will be evaluated boils down solely to whether it gets continued. It could be a spectacular first series to an awesome, ongoing story, or it might be a forgettable side-note in anime history, a fun story that never got past its first chapter. I can really only assess what we have at hand.
We get three distinct arcs in this collection, beginning with the fallout following the revelation of Eren’s Titan nature. Despite his usefulness in sealing Wall Maria, he certainly isn’t trusted, and the first thing that happens is that he goes on trial for his life. It reveals more of the politics in the city, with the Scouts tasked with defending and pushing back against the Titans wanting to use Eren’s strengths in that mission. The Military Police on the other hand, always focused on maintaining their position within the city, see Eren only as a threat to be eliminated. He gets a stay of execution, and the Scouts get a chance to prove their usefulness, and the first thing is to learn more about Eren and the Titan within. It also introduces one of the rare moments of levity in the show, with the character of Hange, a scientist who gets a little too involved with the Titans that she experiments on. She’s also always willing to expound on her research, which makes Eren a captive audience.
There then follows an opportunity to put what they learn into action, as the Scouts take on a mission to retake lost territory, begin the advance to reclaim the outer wall. There’s also the tantalising opportunity that lies in the basement of Eren’s house, the secret knowledge of the Titans his father may have concealed there. The toughest fighters are now in enemy territory, and it looks like a difficult mission, but the initial signs are that they are up to the challenge. That’s until the female Titan shows up. Up till now, all the Titans seen have been resolutely male, which makes her appearance atypical. Her goals are atypical too, she’s single-mindedly focussed on one thing, Eren, and she pursues it relentlessly, scything through the ranks of the Scouts, and scuppering their initial mission. However it turns out that the Commander of the Scouts, Erwin has a different mission in mind.
That leads to the final arc. It turns out that the female Titan isn’t wholly unique. In her intelligence and intent she has something in common with Eren when in his Titan form, so the logical corollary is that there is a human within that Titan too. So the hunt for the female Titan switches to the heart of the city for the final arc. As the story in these episodes comes to a conclusion, that hunt is irritatingly unsatisfying, both for the hunters and the viewers, being denied an emotional climax worthy of the chase. And in the final, post-credits frame, we get a whopping great plot twist that simply demands the series be continued.
Attack on Titan excels when it comes to the animation, the story is absolutely gripping, and the characters are very engaging. It also is refreshing to see an anime that gets you acquainted and invested in the characters, but isn’t shy about killing them off in a variety of gruesome ways. There’s that sense that anything is possible in the story. Attack on Titan will be a great animation to own, if it gets the continuation it deserves. If this remains all that is animated, then I can see it slipping down the re-watch pile, as unlike Berserk, which at least has a complete story arc as its Golden Age prologue, Attack on Titan just stops when it’s getting really interesting.
As for Manga’s release strategy. I was going to go on a several paragraph whinge, but then I learned what they’re doing with the fifth Naruto Shippuden movie, and suddenly this doesn’t feel as bad in comparison. Still, only offering some of the extras in SD to people who bought the Collector’s Edition of Part 1 (not the Standard DVD and BD), but then turning around and giving all the remaining extras to everyone who buys Part 2, with HD for Blu-ray, kind of sucks. And then there’s the disc authoring! If I loved Attack on Titan, and was a collector, the Manga release wouldn’t be my first choice.