Anime is inherently goofy, thus the adaptation into any live-action medium is bound to turn out silly and possibly a bit uncanny. The Attack on Titan live action film by being Japanese, and while maybe not fitting the definition of low-budget by their domestic standard, can certainly be considered b-tier when released to an American audience already pre-disposed to the extravagant special effects in U.S. made productions. That along with differences in our traditional idea of framing, pace, and scripting; as well as the language and a small cultural barrier, can add up to a major detraction from the casual fan base going in with unhindered expectations for the film release of arguably anime’s biggest export into the west in the last decade. While all of this wouldn’t excuse a bad film, Attack on Titan is not a bad film; at least in my opinion.
While Attack on Titan is an action anime, this film is almost a 50/50 split when it comes to its action and horror elements. Without delving into too much needless plot synopsis or major spoilers, the first 20 minutes are a truly apocalyptic spectacle. Scenes of intense crowding lead to a claustrophobic atmosphere that gives much more gravity to the initial titan attack than the anime’s almost sparse and wide open village did. That along with the final moments of the opening act that drown the town in a scene of misery and death shows that this film is ready to pull no punches in its vision of shock and dismay from the start. In fact the entire film’s premise is almost entirely built around shock and spectacle with its sometimes overly grotesque scenes of dismemberment as titans bite into flesh and tear people limb from limb. Sound effects like the crunching of bones is a very unnerving touch that never really wares off as the titan attacks continue latter in the film.
A benefit the film has by being live-action is being better able to sell a lower class village setting. The city looks early European renaissance with only slight glimpses of post-modernization left littered across the world. While this of course is the same setting as the anime, the film gives better context to the borderline poverty levels of the farming district that I never got a good sense of in the show; Faces are dirtier, clothes are tattered, while the environment doesn’t give much hope being washed out in browns and greys. I guess saying animation looks too clean is a weird criticism, but seeing that world in live-action really brought that to my attention.
The main complaint I heard about this adaptation was not about the film’s content, but based around the adaptation itself. Not just from online commenters either, I also overheard a group of aggravated fans after the screening who were discussing what they called, “the film’s many inaccuracies.” Last time I checked (which I must admit I never actually have) Attack on Titan is a work of fiction. There are already two quite well regarded ways to see the original Attack on Titan story out there through the original manga and quite faithful anime adaptation, why on earth would you want a third completely superfluous way to consume the same exact story? A film covering the same exact material sounds like one of the most boring proposals to me. It doesn’t take long to tell that, aside from major plot points, the film is not interested in following strict guidelines on how not to be considered revisionist; and quite frankly that is how this movie turned out so exciting. The option to wonder what exactly is going to happen next is intact instead of having to rely on comparing how they handled framing certain material and needlessly picking apart every scene because the story I consumed one too many times at this point is not enough to keep my attention. Also if creator’s intent trumps all critical analysis of artistic works in your view then keep in mind that original creator Hajime Isayama was involved in the production of the film and gave the creative team the blessing to do something different with the material. To me complaining about inaccuracies in the live-action adaptation is just as silly as doing the same for AoT: Junior High.
“feel free to make whatever you can and make it something that is interesting and that is something that only live action could do. Mr Higuchi, make it your own thing.”– producer Aki Yamauchi recalling an early conversation with original creator Hajime Isayama (source: Anime News Network)
With this difference in story we get a difference in character motivation and general feel for most of the main cast. At this point I can understand a slight frustration in how the characters differ from their manga counterparts. At some point I wish the film would of went with a new cast and set it in the same canonical universe. You don’t have to Nikki and Paulo new characters into the same unit, situations and events as the main cast. The world and key events are vast enough to tell other stories in the same universe without threatening continuity errors. Nevertheless our main cast is here with a few slight changes in how events play out and differences in personality and motivations that range from slight to totally ruining a great independent and strong female lead in Mikasa. While Mikasa is one of the most well realized characters in the original work, her film counterpart is portrayed as weak and doting until certain events force her to be strong in appearance alone; seeing as any action she takes aside form killing Titans is in service to her feelings towards a male character. In fact the film is oddly perplexed with sexual tension, which could have come off a lot worse than it did.
The characters overall are portrayed pettier, weaker and overall less motivated and determined. While being first assigned into the ranks, the idea that they are just there to either perform an impossible task or die because their immigration is too much of a burden on the middle and upper class population who just want to live comfortably hits home a lot harder than it did in the manga. I don’t want to come off as if I believe the characters in this adaptation are better realized than the original. In the manga the characters are determined and seem capable in completing their task while their flaws are something to overcome and flesh out who they are. In the film all that these characters have are their struggles to define them; a need for survival, wondering where their next meal will come from and who to bang out with. Much of the grandiose plot devices such as the mystery of the Titans origins, major battle strategy and political intrigue are left out, leaving the focus on a scrappy fight for survival. This may not lead to a great character study, but it does add to the apathetic sense of misery and inescapable annihilation. Also of note are the actors playing off some of the more frantic characters. Captain Levi’s daunting presence and manner of speech as well as Hange’s eccentric mannerisms when brought into a real life setting are even more emphasized and bizarre leading to surprisingly engaging and humorous results.
The film has its flaws when it comes to characters for sure, but those flaws are from taking a new direction with the material and not with how faithfully they were interpreted comparatively, which I have a much easier time overlooking. These more simplified and weaker characters matched up with a more horror minded approach in scripting and framing leads to a very well realized and compelling film. While I’ll never go as far to say this is the definitive or superior version of the work, I do appreciate what it does accomplish and find it to be not just a competent film, but a good film.
This review is just of Part 1, as of the published time I have not seen “Attack on Titan: End of the World”