Movie Review: Attack on Titan (進撃の巨人, Shingeki no Kyojin)

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or behind a wall, it’s hard to miss the 2013 breakout anime series, Attack on Titan.

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Set in a dystopian future where humans huddle behind three 100 meter tall walls in fear of giant, skinless and genderless humanoids, the series, better known as SNK or Shingeki no Kyojin, has spawned a massive fandom worldwide – thanks to it’s unique art style, deadly plot twists, a huge cast of characters and dramatic fight scenes.

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However, this is neither the Attack on Titan you read in the manga nor is it the Attack on Titan you watched as an animated series. The movie stands alone and does okay on its on two wobbly feet.

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The film opens with a series of dreamy exposition scenes that introduce the three main characters , of whom only two really matter: Mikasa and Eren; as the movie goes on, you’ll forget why Armin is even there.

This Eren is a petulant, starry-eyed dreamer who wants to break free from the confining walls around him. He believes that the titans were a fairytale, told by those in charge to keep them confined. You’ll also either be pleasantly surprised or horribly confused as to how happy, sweet and adorable Mikasa is at the start.

Don’t worry, it all goes suitably down hill from here.

 

Soon the monsters come, almost as if provoked by Eren’s need to be ‘free’. In fact, as you go through the film, you’ll realize that every time a titan appears, it’s mostly because of something Eren has done.

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The film goes on to show the devastation inflicted on the cities, how the nightmare drastically changed Eren and Mikasa and the harsh lives they had to endure before being reunited in their home town to try and save everyone else.

Following most of the source material’s key plot points, the film manages to stay on course and avoid glaring plot holes, despite many forehead-slapping moments (like Eren screaming soon after a scene where the recruits were warned that titans were sensitive to human voices).

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Like most movie adaptations, changes were made to the original story and characters in order to introduce non-fans to the series. And like most of these movies, fans rose up in (digital) arms and took offence to the changes as soon as they were announced.

Most of the changes are unnoticeable to the uninitiated though.

Central to the complaints of hardcore fans were the change in characters, especially the removal of humanity’s most powerful soldier, Levi Ackerman.

Hiroki Hasegawa as Shikishima. Photo source

Levi’s character was replaced by a new character, Shikishima; played by Hiroki Hasegawa. Cool, smart and deeply admired by all, Hasegawa does a charming job as the obviously up-to-no-good Shikishima. He has enough charisma to make you believe that Shikishima deserves the admiration he receives, however you barely see him in battle, which is a bit of a let-down.

In an Easter-egg homage of sorts to the fastidiously clean Levi, Shikishima is seen being rather careful around dirt and handling things with a white handkerchief in his scenes.

Haruma Miura as Eren Yeager. Photo source

Haruma Miura does decently as the revenge-driven, angsty, childish Eren who is trying to recover from being proven wrong about titans. But despite his effort to be a relatable hero that everyone can root for, he isn’t one. In fact, you’ll wish that the titan would just eat him to make him stop. Ironically, it’s a testament to how good Miura is as Eren.

Kiko Mizuhara as Mikasa Ackerman. Photo source

The biggest problem with the film’s characterisation lies with the female lead, Mikasa Ackerman, played by Korean-American Kiko Mizuhara. The film takes a strong female lead, powerful in her own right, and turns her into a damsel in distress who becomes a broken warrior.

This is particularly disappointing as Mikasa is a beautiful fighter with a strong personality and great ability from the get-go in the source material. However Mizuhara is a delight to watch on screen; evolving from a lovelorn girl to a ruthless titan killer with ease, managing to subtly express Mikasa’s frustrated and anguished expressions.

Nanami Sakuraba as Sasha Blous. Photo Source

Unlike Eren and Mikasa who are in it for revenge, most of the other characters have a very practical and human reason for joining the corp – money. Whether it’s the single mother Hiana (Ayame Misaki) or the perpetually hungry, unwanted daughter Sasha (Nanami Sakuraba) or big brother Sannagi (Satoru Matsuo), it is money that drives them.

This highlights a very honest motivation that tends to be overlooked in a plaintive manner, and reveals the characters’ background briefly yet showing depth to them.

And then you meet Hans.

Satomi Ishihara as Hans. Photo source

Possibly the only character to be excited to meet titans, the movie’s replacement for Hanji Zoe is pretty spot on. Satomi Ishihara played up Hans slightly fanatical love for titans well, with exaggerated, over the top actions and vocal expression. This is a Hans you’ll either love or hate, there’s no in-between for a character as manically-cute as this.

Takahiro Miura as Jean Kirstein. Photo source

Amongst the more forgettable characters are Armin Arlert (Kanata Hongo) and Jean Kirstein (Takahiro Miura). The former is simply there to act as a catalyst for the final act in the movie while latter exists mainly as an unnecessary antagonist in the film.

Pierre Taki as Souda. Photo Source

Older figures in the show such as Souda (Pierre Taki) and Kubal (Jun Kunimura) play much smaller roles. They help to move the story along but in a negligible way.

 

The film has its fair share of choppy and awkward scenes, especially concerning the lovey-dovey couple Lil (Rina Takeda) and Fukishi (Shu Watanabe). In a bid to include some sort of romance in the film, viewers are treated to clumsy scenes like Hiana boldly attempting to physically seduce Eren while Lil and Fukushi make out less than two feet away.

Fortunately, the film has a fairly convenient way of solving plot holes – by killing off the characters, as the viewers will find out.

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The film’s only saving grace is how visually stunning the titans are. Higuchi, a tokusatsu (special effects) veteran, is no stranger to giant monsters and his experience really shows.

Capture3From the slow approach of the titans to their tauntingly paced advancement and smashing end, the movement, camera angles and costumes are simply amazing – they are on par with the expectations created by the anime and manga, if not exceeding them.

Contrary to popular belief, the titans are not entirely CGI. In fact the Colossal Titan was created through a combination of CGI and practical effects.

It takes seven people to manipulate the Colossal Titan, the arms, body, head and facial expression.

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The other titans are classic TOHO monster – good actors in decent suits. Just like the Colossal Titan, the effects and make up are brilliant, giving the titans an even more disturbingly human look than in the anime or manga.

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The movie’s end is saved by how believably monstrous Eren looks, feels and moves, all thanks to TOHO’s magic.

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The fight scenes are suitably action-packed, with high octane sequences that will capture you and leave you on the edge of your seat. Scenes with the Omni-Directional Movement Gear (ODMG, sometimes called 3DMG) are particularly spectacular – the cast appear to be Spider Man-like, swinging through the air with panicked ease as they escape or are chased by titans.

The soundtrack is mostly forgettable, saved only by the colourful and talented Sekai no Owari. Keeping in mind their overseas audience, they decided to perform both theme songs in English and even travelled to the USA and UK to produce them.

Unfortunately, ‘ANTI-HERO’ seems extremely out of place with the film’s gritty, dirty feel. The song has a touch of the band’s signature playful feel and would have better used elsewhere. In fact, the band’s single ‘Death Disco’, with it’s dark orchestral style and thought-provoking lyrics may have been a better fit.

In all honesty, all the fuss about the unnecessary character changes proved its point. There was no real need to change characters despite prior explanations and arguments about the characters European origins. Characters like Jean, Lil and Armin managed to keep their distinct, non-Japanese names despite being Japanese characters in the film – so one questions why the change?

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Clearly a set up for part two, Attack on Titan is about 40% as dynamic but almost just as rawly gruesome as its source material. The cinematic is beautiful and the effects are well worth watching it on the big screen despite the unimpressive soundtrack and inept character handling.

The only way the you can spoil the film for yourself, is if you go in strongly attached to the conceptions of the story and character from the manga or anime. Expect it to be a kaiju (monster) film than anything else and everything will be OK.

We give this one 2.5 WA out of 5.

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Check out the trailer below:

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Photos supplied by Encore Films.

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