Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Attack on Titan

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of live action manga adaptations (see the sidebar In Praise of Manga Movies, Asia Shock, p. 105). Bringing the vision of a particularly OTT manga to life in the real world, when done well, is far more fascinating to me than merely animating it (in the same, decades-old style as Speed Racer and Kimba the White Lion).

So when they finally got around to making a manga-to-live action adaptation of the hugely popular Attack on Titan, I was all attention. Imagine a genre mash-up of kaiju and zombies with lots of cute, angsty teenagers fighting the lumbering behemoths (known as titans — the kids aren't attacking one of Saturn’s moons) — it’s pretty great. Top-notch special effects and production values put you right in the action, and there is a certain earnestness to the presentation that reminded me of Battle Royale (except instead of killing each other, the kids are going up against a bunch of gigantic, naked, disgusting people-eaters).

The story centers around Eren, an angry young man living in a walled-off, post-apocalyptic community (you can tell it’s post-apocalyptic because everyone wears coarse, baggy knitwear in hues of beige and gray). In this case, the apocalypse was a bunch of titans who laid waste to everything 100 years ago. Since then, humanity has lived in a big settlement comprised of three enormous, concentric walls; this configuration operates as a handy class analogy, with the unwashed masses dwelling in the outer ring.

And wouldn’t you know it, that’s right where the titans come busting back in. Now Eren, his foster sister/love interest Mikasa and best friend Armin must join the local armed forces and fight the gargantuan degenerates — these titans are filthy, mutated and naked, although sans privates. Nobody knows how they reproduce, but when they’re killed, they disintegrate. Killing them is no easy task and requires special equipment with which each kid is kitted up. And there’s no time to waste, as all these massive assholes seem to do on arrival is gobble up humans by the handful. In one charming scene we follow a victim down a titan’s gullet into his stomach, where the partially digested remains of his comrades bob beside him.

The pace sags a bit during the serious, personal drama bits, but only due to the sustained outrageousness of the action sequences. The horrendous behavior of the titans and the spunky nerve and verve with which the kids fight back against them, it’s all quite breathless and mind-blowing and wonderful.

There’s a second installment, Attack on Titan: The End of the World, which I have yet to see. Looks like they made one big movie and broke it in two, so I’m looking forward to more of the same killer stuff. At the end of the first film, Eren undergoes a transformation that looks to take the second film in a whole new direction (what we in the business call a “plot twist”), so keep an eye out for that. Meanwhile, you can learn more about these amazing films here and check out some game play footage from the forthcoming PS4 game here.

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