Attack On Titan lays on the gore, but is short on plot

Attack On Titan lays on the gore, but is short on plot and character

Based on the massively popular manga series of the same name, Attack On Titan is a film that constantly skips the line between lip-biting tension and comically over-the-top Japanese anime tropes that don't translate well to film at all. The result is something that is entertaining in small bursts, but is ultimately forgettable and even cringe-inducing in parts.

Attack On Titan
Starring Haruma Miura, Kiko
Mizuhara, Kanata Hongô.
Directed by Shinji Higuchi.

The film begins with a stylishly-animated exposition sequence that sets up the bleak future world. The human race is nearly wiped out by the mysterious appearance of the Titans, a race of humanoid giants that eat humans (and exclusively humans). They can't be killed (unless you cut them at a very specific part of their body), so the remaining humans are forced to build a series of walls to protect themselves. For hundreds of years, humans have lived inside these walls, oblivious to what lies outside.

Then we're introduced to the three protagonists: Eren (Haruma Miura), Mikasa (Kiko Mizuhara) and Armin (Kanata Hongo), three teenagers who grew up together in the outermost layer of the walled city. Soon the wall is kicked in by one giant, a smouldering, skinless Titan, creating a hole through which other smaller Titans (that are still giants) can come in to enjoy a human buffet. Mikasa gets eaten, causing Eren to swear vengeance on the Titans by joining the Titan-hunting Scout Regiment. This leads us into the real plot of the film, which takes place two years later with the Regiment's mission to seal the hole in the outer wall and reclaim the area from the Titans.

Let's begin by discussing the things the film does well. Director Shinji Higuchi puts his experience working on various giant-monster movies to good use. Higuchi, who has worked in the special effects department of iconic monster films such as the 1984 Gojira (or Godzilla) and Gamera (1995, think Godzilla's sabre-toothed turtle cousin), brings his masterful effects work in the form of the Titans, which look appropriately intimidating and creepy (that baby Titan will give me nightmares for a few nights to come). The gore -- of which there is an inordinate amount -- is also positively gross. In fact, you could even go as far as to call the Titans themselves the best part of the entire film. Their disturbing visage paired with the claustrophobic set and camera angles also work well to build tension for the characters, giving the whole movie a sense of foreboding danger that, frankly, keeps the entire film afloat.

Despite the palpable sense of dread present in almost every scene, I found myself relatively unmoved when the main characters started getting their limbs chewed off, most probably due to the almost non-existent amount of character development. Every character is presented in an extremely narrow, one-sided manner, often adhering to common anime mannerisms. Eren is the moody, aloof, tough guy; Mikasa is the meek love interest; and Armin is the genius crybaby who always gets the others into trouble. The clichéd characters don't translate that well into live-action, with one character in particular managing to make me cringe every time she opened her mouth on screen. In the end, these characters are just basically sacrifices for the sake of creating a sense of danger for the viewers, destined to be killed off to raise the stakes for our protagonists. Though when the viewers know almost nothing about these people, it's hard to elicit any real emotional connection when they inevitably become Titan chow.

Another gripe lies in the portrayal of pretty much every female character as irrational, emotion-ruled and lacking even the slightest speck of common sense. There's the girl who won't stop eating, no matter where she is or what is going on around her; the girl who is prone to embarrassing, enthusiastic outbursts that may work in anime, but just comes off as painfully awkward here; and the most heinous offender, the girl who decides to ruin the Scout Regiment's whole mission -- a mission that could very well decide the existence of the human race -- simply because her boyfriend got his whole trouser-region bit off by a Titan. I know women's rights aren't exactly where they should be in Japan, but seriously? 

The film also suffers from painfully obvious CGI that is largely unconvincing, especially when used in conjunction with the (for the most part) setting-appropriate practical effects. The Titans, which are clearly actors in body suits, look noticeably jarring when put against the background, or when they interact with the human actors.

All this may make it seem like I didn't enjoy the movie. In all honesty, Attack On Titan definitely has enough bloody, white-knuckled thrills from time to time in the same vein as any other giant-monster movie. The Titans are so much more interesting compared to the human characters, a lot of whom are so bad that I found myself wishing they would get eaten just so I can be rid of their obnoxiousness. Watch Attack On Titan for the tension, the monsters and the gore, but don't expect a plot or characters even remotely as compelling as its animated counterparts.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Kanin Srimaneekulroj
Position: Reporter