Thursday, April 24, 2014

Attack on Titan

Title: Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin)
Writer: Hajime Isayama, Yasuko Kobayashi 
Director: Tetsurō Araki
Episodes: 25 episodes 

When the man-eating giants called Titans first appeared, humans retreated behind massive walls. After a hundred years of safety, a colossal-sized Titan smashes through the defenses, unleashing a flood of giants and carnage in the streets. Eren Jaeger watches helplessly as one of the creatures devours his mother.

He vows to kill every Titan walking the earth.

Eren and his surviving friends enlist to fight against the insatiable monsters. The future looks bleak, but there s more to Eren than meets the eye: he may be humanity s last hope against extinction. From the director of Death Note and High School of the Dead comes the series Anime News Network calls an intense, visceral, and graphic thrill ride. The Titans have come to feast. Anything can happen. No one is safe.

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To avoid all sorts of spoilers you should skip to the bottom for the spoiler free wrap up.

So I know I'm late to this party, but this is such an amazing anime that I MUST add my voice to the thousands of people fangirling over it. I'd heard of this anime long before I actually took the time to check it out and when I finally did, I ended up binge-watching all 25 episodes on Crunchyroll in one sitting. It was so good, that after taking a nap I watched it again from the beginning.

You may be asking yourself, what makes Attack on Titan so freakin' awesome? Well let me give you a quick (Who am I kidding? This won't be quick.) rundown on why this should be moved to the top of your anime watch list.

1. A post post apocalyptic setting that is uniquely terrifying.

The premise of this world is that humans have been herded behind three enormous walls after creatures known as Titans mysteriously appeared one day and began devouring the human race. (Imagine being caged like cattle, never knowing when you'll be part of a Titan buffet.) For 100 years, humans have lived peacefully behind these walls sending out an advanced guard, known as the Recon Corps, to get supplies and learn more about the Titans. (Usually, less than half of each party makes it back alive and they really haven't learned much about them during these missions.) The anime begins on the day this peace is broken when a Colossal Titan breaks through the outer wall allowing the city to be overrun by Titans. When all is said and done 20% of the population is dead and humanity has lost access to the outer walls.

2. Did I mention these truly creepy monsters known as titans?

Zombies step, or stagger, aside if you will; there's something far more terrifying than hordes of the undead. Titans are these humanoid shaped giants that mindlessly eat humans for apparently no other reason than to eradicate humans from the face of the earth. Seriously, they have no digestive system or any need for sustenance. They just eat to kill. (Kind of speaking of zombies, here's a not so serious question to ponder: Would a Titan eat a zombie and would a zombie survive said Titans eating them?)

The smallest Titan is 3-5 meters (or 10-16 feet) with the largest being 60 meters (or a little under 197 feet) and the average seems to hover around 7-15 meters (about 23-49 feet). Most walk around as if they're out having a casual stroll (the kind of stroll where buildings are decimated and corpses are left in their wake), but there are a few "aberrants" who are completely unpredictable and seem to move faster than normal Titans. The aberrants are particularly terrifying because there isn't any sort of pattern to what they are going to do.

Except for the missing genitals (no idea how they reproduce), vacant expressions and the disproportionate bodies, Titans are human in appearance. This adds to the creepiness factor, as it seems almost cannibalistic when they are devouring people. The worst part is when people try to reason with the them. The Titans can't comprehend their pleas so there is no mercy.

3. Unforgettable characters

The characters in Attack on Titan are well developed and simply unforgettable, which is a shame since so many of them die. (I know when a character is about to die, because I'll have started to grow attached to them.) George R.R. Martin has nothing on Yasuko Kobayashi when it comes to killing off characters. More than half of the cast is dead by the end of the first season of Attack on Titan. (I don't think I'm exaggerating.)

Jean Kirstein: He's one of my favorite characters in the series. He also has one of the most interesting character developments. He starts out as a brutally honest yet self-centered, delightfully cynical, and a somewhat apathetic recruit and evolves into a brutally honest, delightfully cynical, and a somewhat selfless leader. His sole purpose of joining the Training Corps is to join the Military Police Brigade who serves in the interior wall where it's "safe." He has no plans to look out for anyone but himself and when the Battle of Trost District begins he almost deserts.

With the coming of the Titans and the death of a close friend (I'm trying to maintain the illusion of a spoiler free review) Jean finds the courage to accept leadership and the difficult decisions that comes with such responsibility. One of the best moments in the anime is when Jean leads his squadron (really the remaining trainees) into certain death to retake the supply depot in the Trost District. He's a realist, but one that pushes through even when the outcome is obvious. He's the most human out of all the characters and probably the character I relate to the most.

Levi (too cool to have a surname): He's just a cool character and the best fighter in the kingdom. He's very calm under pressure and nothing really phases him for long. For Levi, anger is a fist to the face, pain a lingering look, and he takes the world as it comes. More than anyone he lives in the moment. I defy anyone not to hurt for him when he loses his entire Survey Corps Special Operations Squad, including Petra who may have been a love interest, in one outing.

Sasha Blouse: So I kind of fell in love with Sasha's character from her introduction in the 104th Training Corps when she offered her commander half of her potato. (The smaller half I might add.) It might have been the funniest moment in a series where laughs are pretty hard to come by. She remains optimistic in the worst possible situations which is quite lovely.

Hannes (not sure if he has a surname or not): I relate to Hannes more than I should admit to. His fear when faced with a Titan at the fall of Shiganshina and decision to take the children (Mikasa and Eren) and run resonated with me. A memorable  moment is when Hannnes faces a young Eren, shortly after a Titan killed his mother, and tells Eren that he is too weak to have saved his mother, while he [Hannes] was too cowardly. (So many tears at this part.) I admire that he's able to use this experience to grow as a person and face his fears head on. (By the end of the first season he's a Captain of the Garrison and a valued soldier in the fight against the Titans.) In spite of a shaky beginning, he forms a strong relationship with Mikasa and Eren - almost acting as a favorite uncle.

Eren Yeager: Hot headed and eager to avenge humanity by killing all the Titans, he immediately signs up for the Survey Corps after graduating. Eren is the type who acts first and maybe thinks later. (I sometimes think he needs Armin to act as his functioning brain.)  In spite of all this he's one of my favorite characters. There's something so honest in his rage and need to break free of the walls of humanity's captivity.

Armin Arlert: Physically weaker than the rest, but he's also smarter than the rest. It's thanks to Armin's quick thinking that the remaining trainees survive the retaking of the supply depot during the Battle of Trost District. His greatest weakness is his lack of confidence in himself which causes him to doubt his place in his friendship with Eren and Mikasa. I love watching him begin to trust in himself and to speak up. Out of all the characters, I think he has the most heart.

4. A kick ass heroine

If you know anything about Attack on Titan, you probably noticed Mikasa wasn't listed above. That's because she's so freakin' awesome she deserves her own category. She's easily one of my favorite anime characters and probably my favorite in the series so far. She's the best fighter in her class and better than many of the veterans. Her devotion to Eren is a beautiful thing and I unabashedly ship Mikasa with him.

One of my favorite things about Mikasa is she doesn't give up when everything is against her. She lives by Eren's words, "If you don’t fight, you can’t win!" and turns them into a sort of mantra. Unlike so many anime heroines who are supposed to be strong, she doesn't fall apart after a fight. How many times have I witnessed the supposedly strong female archetype in anime collapse or faint after a battle because it was just too much for her weak female body and brain? (Sailor Moon is a great example of this.) I love that she doesn't wait for Prince Charming to come to her rescue. Hell, she's more likely to rescue him.

This doesn't mean that she isn't feminine or that she's a man-hater or doesn't have a vulnerable side. She's just capable and doesn't pretend to be less than she is. [View Spoiler]

[I cried for her when she heard of Eren's death, mainly because she wasn't able to cry for herself. While they're not related, Eren is the center of Mikasa's family, and her dreams of a future. Even when she decides to give up for a brief moment after his death (and it's not the typical collapsing aforementioned in my previous paragraph), she can't stop fighting. She refuses to give into her grief. Such determination in the face of such loss is heartbreaking and inspiring.]

5. Sweet technology

The technology in Attack on Titan is unusual in the best possible way. I'm specifically referring to the Three Dimensional Maneuver Gear that they use in fighting the Titans. If there weren't Titans to kill it would be the ultimate extreme sport. It seems to work using gas, wires and a fan. Not real sure about the mechanics, but it looks awesome!

6. An unexpected plot twist or two

While everything above has been filled with spoilers, this part is pretty much nothing but spoilers. So really read at your own risk.

So fairly early on in the series Eren is killed off. He's eaten by a Titan after saving Armin's life. This goes against any and all story crafting. You don't kill off a main character at the start of a series! I had a hard time believing it and by the time the anime finally convinced me of his demise he appears in Titan form. It turns out Eren has a strange ability to change forms into a 15 meter high Titan who looks wicked cool. He precedes to kick a lot of Titan ass. (One of the best moments is when Eren's body is discovered in the decaying husk of the titan ally. Mikasa's reaction was perfect and I was so happy for them.)

One of the best characters, and one of my favorites, in the anime series turns out to be a villain. I'm of course talking about Annie Leonhart. I liked her when she was just another trainee and still liked her after it turned out she was the unusual Female Titan that killed off a good portion of the Survey Corps. I don't condone her actions, but I have a healthy respect for her.

I felt for Annie during training and her self-imposed isolation. I didn't understand why she isolated herself, and from the brief flashbacks given when it's discovered she's the Female Titan I'm still unsure of her motives. She's a complicated villain rather than merely being evil. I'm not sure if she truly believes in what she's doing, or if she's one of the "weak" who got "swept along with the flow." She's a villain that I can't hate without hating a part of myself.

8. An ambiguous ending

This is all:

Final Thoughts

So this blog post was just an excuse for me to fangirl over Attack on Titan. I love the premise, the characters, and the world building. This is an anime series that once I started watching I couldn't stop until I had finished it. I laughed (rarely as everyone kept dying), I cried (ugly sobbing), I said "WTF?" A LOT, I cheered (hooray someone didn't die!), and I cringed during most of the battle scenes (some truly terrifying monsters).

Side Notes: 

My favorite episodes so far in the series are also the episodes with the most feeling behind them: The World the Girl Saw, The Small Blade, and The Beating Heart. These three episodes delve into Mikasa's, Eren's, and Armin's past. They also have some truly beautiful scenes that are heart wrenching. I might have cried like a baby while watching The Small Blade.

I loved the theme music and opening sequence of the first 13 episodes of Attack on Titan. It's a perfect fit for the anime and does a great job setting the mood for the series. In comparison the theme music in the opening sequence for the next 12 episodes doesn't really fit the series. It feels out of place. It's not a terrible opening, it's just not as good.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Skip Beat! (Volume 32) by Yoshiki Nakamura

Title: Skip Beat! (Sukippu Bito!)
Author: Yoshiki Nakamura
Volumes: 34 (ongoing)
Volumes (English): 32 (ongoing)

Kyoko Mogami followed her true love Sho to Tokyo to support him while he made it big as an idol. But he's casting her out now that he's famous! Kyoko won't suffer in silence--she's going to get her sweet revenge by beating Sho in show biz!

Ren’s trademark cool is beginning to crumble under the strain of maintaining his various personas. And the sudden manly attention being directed at Kyoko from fellow actor Kijima and a newly determined Sho aren’t helping matters. Will Kyoko’s good luck charm keep him in check, or will the beast chained inside him destroy them all?!

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Skip to the bottom for my final thoughts.

Anyone who has read my previous post on Skip Beat! knows how much I love this manga series, which is why writing this post is difficult for me. While I love the artwork of the Cain siblings arc, I haven't been a fan of the actual story line. This volume had all the elements of the current arc that I hate.

Too much Sho. Seriously, I don't understand why there is any sort of relationship between Kyoko and Sho at this point. He's always hanging around like the stalker that he is. (I thought he's supposed to be a superstar, why is he never actually working?) Also, I have no idea why she's even discussing Ren with Sho. [View Spoiler]

[Why would she make such a stupid promise, that she's not interested in Ren and would never hook up with him, to her arch nemesis? What hold does he still have over her? It makes no sense that she would care what Sho wants and thinks.]

He's too self-centered to offer anything meaningful in a relationship and yet Kyoko is still hung up on him. While her feelings primarily revolve around revenge, he's too much in her head. She's found her calling and come to the realization that she actually loves her profession, so why is she still hung up on getting even with Sho?

Oh, to continue the series you say. Well, fuck that...Nakamura can use a new story arc to move along the series. Like I don't know, maybe her burgeoning relationship with Ren or even her acting career. Sho should be a side note at this point, not a main character.

Ren's character change. Ever since the Cain siblings arc, Ren has completely changed. He's actually becoming more like Sho which is starting to make me dislike him. He doesn't have any claim on Kyoko and has admitted nothing to her about his feelings, so why should he continue to act possessive over her? If you like her, ask her out like a normal human being. Don't act like a petulant child every time you see her with Sho and certainly don't corner her in your bedroom. It's not sexy and it's not cool. Actually, it's kind of creepy...

Look, I know the Cain siblings arc is supposed to be focusing on Ren while he maybe possibly starts to confront his past, but it's taking too long and is just annoying at this point. He's becoming so anti-Ren that it's hard to like him during this arc. At this point I honestly don't like either of Kyoko's love interests. I only hope he gets his shit together in the next volume so I can continue to root for Kyoko and Ren as a couple. Otherwise, I'm shipping Kyoko with herself.

Moko is MIA. Seriously, where is Moko during all of this? She's one of the best characters and she is strangely absent in most of this story arc. Kyoko is going through a lot, so you'd think her best friend would be around somewhere.

So while I still LOVE this series, I'm slowly becoming disenchanted with the Cain siblings arc. I love the artwork in this arc, but I need more from the plot. At some point this manga series needs to get back on track and real headway needs to be made with the story. Ren needs to deal with his demons already, Kyoko needs to get over her issues with Sho, and Moko needs to make her way back into the series.