Cinema-Maniac: Attack On Titan Part 1 (2015) Review

For those not well verse in the anime medium (myself included to a degree) Attack On Titan is one of the biggest phenomena in the anime medium. The series popularity is virtually known by everyone in the anime fandom, and even if they haven’t seen it they have at least heard about it. In the west, it’s not quite as big compare to Japan, but even those not well verse into the medium will have at least heard about it. I would say it’s a polarizing series, but more than likely anyone who sees will find it entertaining while complaining about certain leap of logic in the writing. It’s reputation is what’s mostly polarizing, and certainly my biggest source of criticism besides the series actual writing. It’s frequently overly hated by detractors, and overly praised by the fans that usually creates a rabid atmosphere when brought into discussions. As usual, the ones that are very vocal paint a bad picture for those who enjoy the series. I would recommend the anime series to anyone, even if the person in question never seen anime since at times it can be addicting to watch, and is an entertaining gateway into anime. However, I can’t say the same for the live action film which I wouldn’t recommend even to the most hardcore of Attack On Titan fans.

Attack on Titan is set in a world where giant humanoid Titans prey on humans, Eren joins the scouting legion to get revenge on the monsters who killed everyone in his town. Now the biggest problem in the film lies within the first twelve minutes which can be sum up with “Let’s talk about these walls”. These initial twelve minutes are important because that’s all the time it has on establishing anything before the first titan appears on-screen. Our leading characters Eren (Haruma Miura), Mikasa (Kiko Mizuhara), and Armin (Kanata Hongo) have “interesting” discussions on the walls construction, wondering what outside the walls, desiring to see what’s outside the walls, how the walls makes the world a hellish paradise, how the walls protect what’s remaining of humanity, people being discontent about living within the walls, and passing a law that let people finally go outside of the walls. On paper, nor in the film do characters spending twelve minutes talking about walls sound interesting. The only thing that would have made these twelve minutes wall discussion go on longer would be if these walls could talk.

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“See those walls! Lets keep talking about them”

As for anything not wall related in the first twelve-minute it fails to set up the world. It’s a mishmash of technology with the mentions of aircraft, a decaying tank on the wall can be seen, and the main three leads Eren, Mikasa, and Armin hanging around missile a didn’t explode. This later breaks the immersion in the film when questioning the civilization itself. Almost as if it’s selective of its own technology to fit a specific quota. The anime series also shared the same problem on the selective technology. However, in the anime series humanity wasn’t technologically advance where the people had airplanes as oppose in the movies where it formerly was advance. Bringing to mind why aren’t the people who are meant to protect the citizens, the scout Regiment, from these Titans using heat signature technology to spot such creatures? It would have been extremely effective when traveling at night, and would it made been nearly impossible for such device to not pick up the heat signature of a Titan.

While I’m discussing the selective technology, it is the clear absence of camera makes little to no sense in this adaptation. Eren states in the film he doesn’t believe in Titans, and that there hasn’t been a sighting of one in 100 years. What this film is basically telling me is that there is no form of surviving media of these Titans existence. Apparently, it just wants me to assume that all cameras, pictures, the internet, and video recording documenting the existence of these creatures was destroyed. That’s just too much to accept, especially when taking into accounts it expects me to believe the Titans must have done this because the humans certainly wouldn’t delete information if it would help them against such a threat. What the film tells the viewer about the Titans make this oversight in the writing too much to accept. This aspect of the story wasn’t thought out enough to explain away issues such as these.

Now since this is an adaptation of the anime/manga series of the same name changes were expected. The ones made in this movie weren’t the correct ones. For instance, Eren witnessing one of these Titans killing someone close to him is what causes his fueled anger towards the Titans. When that aspect of his character gets taken away from Eren he just comes across as an angsty teenager. One resolution would have been Eren seeing his family getting killed by the Titans, but such a thing is nowhere to be seen in the movie. He’s not an interesting character as he has minimal interactions with characters being more of a commenting bystander of the events instead of an active participant. Any viewer of the anime series who felt Eren was pathetic leading character will hate him in this live action film more so.

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“I got no idea what we taught you for two years, but go out there and die!”

After the Titans breakdown a wall, and causes havoc in the inner city it cuts to two years later in the future. Our main characters have graduated from a military academy. So the film missed two opportunities now to developed characters, and proper world building. By glancing over the training process viewers will not understand the harsh training required to fight such massive creatures. This decision is made more questionable when it’s revealed during the Scout Regiment graduation that the Omni-directional Mobility Gear (3D Maneuvering Device) has been developed, and is introduced to the Scout Regiment for the first time. So this begs the question what did the Scout Regiment spent two entire years for if it wasn’t to learn how to use the ODMGs. Just about the only thing that gets mentioned about those two years is Eren getting into confrontations with another Scout Regiment graduate by the name of Jean during those two years. A fodder character who is only in the story so Eren could do something when he’s not angsty. By skipping the two-year training in the Scout Regiment it’s easier to side with Jean who’s barely in the film when he complaints about Eren being a spoiled brat.

Armin, and Mikasa aren’t compelling characters either. Mikasa as a character doesn’t have much to her beside mentioning she’s good friends with Eren. She disappears for a large portion of the film with no bearing on how the story plays out. At most, all she does is cause Eren to think like a emo. Armin wants to become an inventor, and create technology similar to modern-day devices before the titans came into the world. It is implied that Armin, and some girl who like Potatoes might end up together since they are on-screen together frequently. He’s shown in more scenes with Potato girl than with Eren. This also goes against the information given to the viewer that Eren, and Armin are good friends.

Then there’s the whole force romance with Eren, and character Hiana who’s barely in the film. In one of the few scenes Hiana is in, Eren is walking around camp, and seeing characters deliver exposition to love ones. There’s a scene before the climax of the film shared between Eren, and Hiana in which Hiana exposition dump her backstory, and motivation onto Eren. It’s an unintentionally hilarious scene, and what occurs in it caused uncontrollable laughter from me because I was meant to take such a scene seriously. It’s the equivalent of a Titan being a cockblocker for Eren specifically preventing him from getting any action in this one scene. All the characters are written more realistically which makes none of them stand out. The only character that’ll stand out is a chubby character who flips over a Titan with his bare hands. Not only that, but also takes down a couple of Titan with an effective axe, until the story demands it doesn’t work anymore.

The writing in general is sloppy establishing its own logic, and rules which don’t make sense. In the film, a characters says that Titans can hear people talk, but these same people travel in large motorized trucks. It’s not established the Titans have selected hearing, but are told they eyes don’t work at night. Something that gets contradicted in a later scene of a Titan killing a human at night. In one scene, the Scout Regiment is told that the Titans don’t have reproductive organ. Yet, there is a baby Titan in the film that doesn’t get explained. It doesn’t help matter the film is separated into two parts so any answers, if there are any, is probably in the second film. However, the unexplained questions will come across as plot breaking on what gets established, and especially one character trait towards the end without any foreshadowing will be a dues ex machina in the context of the film no matter the viewer familiarity with the source material.

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This is not a still from the movie. It’s the aftermath of Dragon Ball Evolution release in Japan

The only time the film is entertaining to any degree are when the Titans show up. Whenever the Titans are on-screen it’s a burst of energy after scenes, upon scenes of boring human characters. These Titans kill people, and cause destruction to their environment. They provide a sense of danger lacking from the human interaction. On screen, the Titans come across as a presence of danger, but off-screen they don’t come off as a threat. They’re more like writing tools instead of an actual character in the world. What never comes across strongly in the film is the Titans influence on the characters. Instead of being a focal point of defining how characters live in the world it’s instead treated like a pesky inconvenient in this adaptation. Nothing about the Titans is interesting as characters beside they look like huge humans.

Lastly, an under utilize element of the film is the quasi-Nazi-ish portrayal of the government. It’s a story element that’s only mentioned in the film without receiving any focus. The moment the higher-ups of the Scout Regiment do appear the film imagery alludes to a dictatorship depiction. Sadly, that is about all it does with this plot point. It simply shows something dictatory, not confirm it. With the knowledge of a second film it’s easy to see where it would take this element, and how childish the portrayal of a corrupt government will be. It’ll be one-sided, with the heroes likely spouting things that all human life is important, and the corrupt officials get what coming to them. This is only speculation since I’ve yet to see the second film.

Anyone who is familiar with the source material know the all Japanese cast is a red flag for how much the film deviate from its source material. However, without that piece knowledge for newcomers the acting leaves plenty to be desired. Haruma Miura plays Eren in the with his interpretation of the character being bland. Since the film aimed to be more realistic Miura serious looking, but emotionless performance makes him as forgettable as the other cast member. He doesn’t have any star power either; not to be racist, but I actually manage to get Miura confused with actor Kanata Hongo (who plays a black-haired Armin) who not only look similar, but are in roles with neither given a character trait to stand out. This same issue applies to Kiko Mizuhara who plays Mikasa. Much her other two costar Mizuhara isn’t given anything character trait to stand out. In the end, all the performances mesh together.

The only actor who stands out in the film is Satoru Matsuo only because he flips a Titan with just his bare hands. Unlike the Titans, Matsuo is the only actor in the film who is fat, and easily distinguishable because of it. Also, since his screen time is usually used for fun he ends up being the best actor in the film. Another actor who stands out is Jun Kunimura, but that’ll likely because the viewer might have seen him in other movies. Kunimura can delivery a good performance, but in this instance he’s on autopilot. Aesthetically he’s a perfect it for his character. Like the rest of the cast, he’s not given much to portray from the material given to him.

The film special effect are weak to the point the film needed a grey color filter to make the Titans look convincing. Everything in the film looks like color got drain out of it simply for the purpose to make the Titans look convincing. In live action the Titans look awkward, and certain actor portraying Titans can be laughable. It usually looks awkward, and the only time the Titans look convincing is when it’s entirely CG. In the beginning of the film, there’s a Titan that attacks the wall that is skinless. This particular Titan plasticky look doesn’t detract from the aesthetics. During the scenes where characters use the 3D Maneuvering Device the green screen effects don’t mesh against the actors. The movements are jittery which is acceptable. What’s not are the moments when actors are shown flying towards the camera coming across as an unfinished render for a cheap video game. In any other direction it looks silly, though better pulled off given Japan film industry isn’t quite on par with Hollywood in the CG department. One praise I will give to the film are the costumes design, and some of the sets are excellent. Replicating in detail the look of the series, even if in this adaptation there are filtered in place to remove the colors from certain scenes.

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Just look that face. It sends shiver up my spine!

The most disappointing aspect of the film, for me specifically, is the music composed by Shiro Sagisu. Unlike Sawano score which was mixture of different genres Sagisu is more in line sounding like generic fantasy music. One of the tracks on the OST, “Rise Up Rhythmetal”, sounds similar to Sawano composed track “Megata Kyojin Kuchiku” from the anime. Not surprisingly, this is only track in the movie that perfectly suits what’s going on-screen. By itself, Sagisu collection of epic scores, with modern techno mixture does not capture the same emotion, or feeling like Sawano music does. Sawano score was cinematic in its structure, and could be compared against good movie scores. However, Sagisu score won’t receive the same praise as when it used in the film the sound mixture prevents it from being heard. There’s nothing commanding from the score of the live action film. Though, the anime OST for “Attack On Titan” is one of my favorite collection of original music for a series so I guess my high expectation for the film itself to reach the same heights was too much to ask from it.

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To be fair. No amount of good music could make this moment any less goofy looking.

Attack On Titan Part 1 is a poor adaptation of an entertaining series. Having seen the anime series this live action film is based on the writing shares similar traits, but has the execution greatly differs. The anime series was over top, and bombastic in its presentation on everything feeling at times like a blockbuster film just in television format. While the film goes for a more realistic route making everything seems normal leading to a forgettable movie where nothing stands out. The changes that were made to the source material didn’t improve, nor fixed existing problems, but rather made them worse. It’s a film that will please no one. Newcomers to the franchise will be dumbfounded by the logic while bored by the poor story, and characters. Fans will likely complain about the same things too, just probably in more details relating how it changes things from the original source material. Regardless of what spectrum of media you prefer Attack On Titan Part 1 is a bad film.

2/10

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