You Should Watch... Attack on Titan
When you hear the word "anime", what image is conjured in your mind? Is it one of ridiculously toned men with similarly ridiclous haircuts screaming at each other in a wasteland somewhere? Is it one of ninjas battling in a forest for twenty episodes in a row? Or is it one of stupidly busty girls giggling in a school? Anime gets a bad rap for the aforementioned archetypes - look beyond, and there's some seriously clever stuff out there.
Attack on Titan isn't like any of those. Attack on Titan (or as it's known in Japan, Shingeki no Kyojin) is a gritty and traumatising show with more in common with Game of Thrones than anything else. It's set in an alternate version of Earth where humanity has been forced to flee behind several fifty-foot high walls as they're being hunted by gargantuan Titans seeking to feast on their flesh. One hundred years of relative peace ensue, but eventually a boy named Eren Jaeger witness the fall of the outermost wall by the hands of the biggest Titan anyone has ever seen.
You may be thinking, "oh, okay, so it's a David vs. Goliath situation here, this boy Eren's going to easily beat all these Titans and save the day". Not the case. When the smaller Titans burst through the broken wall and begin slaughtering everyone, there's an overwhelming sense of helplessness. The young Eren can only flee from these beasts alongside his friends Mikasa and Armin, and is entirely vulnerable. One of the series' earlier shocking moments occurs when Eren cannot do anything to prevent the death of his mother. He is rooted to the ground in frustration, in anger, in fear as one of the towering horrors picks up his mother like a child would a doll and devours her.
Later, Eren and his friends join the military, inspired by the chilling events they witnessed in the fall of their hometown. The military uses ropes and swords, and appear like Spider Men soaring through the cities. The supporting cast is introduced here, and each of them are as interesting as the main trio; Annie is stoic and mysterious, Reiner is strong and duty-driven, Connie is headstrong and eager to prove his worth, Jean is simultaneously brash and cowardly... it's a strong supporting cast. Yet none of them are safe. When the crew are sent out to the field, a typical anime would have them cutting their way through the Titans. But in Attack on Titan, several main characters are either gravely injured or outright killed in their first battle, hence the earlier comparison to Game of Thrones. It's a realistic portrayal of going up against the odds, and it makes the show a compelling watch.
The art and music present this horrific image of war perfectly. The Titans have a freakish array of facial expressions, from stoic like the Colossal Titan in the image to the left to all-too humanlike in some of the smaller Titans. The colours are rarely vibrant, and the show does not shy away from gritty violence. The music is heroic when it needs to be, lulling the hapless viewer into a false sense of security, swelling at the moment when you believe your hero will succeed, before changing to reflect a harrowing scene. It's all perfect presentation to accompany a gritty and bizarrely realistic story. I say it's bizarre as the story presented is about giant otherworldy beings fighting humans swinging around on ropes.
Even if you're not a fan of anime, I wholly recommend giving this a try. You can watch all 25 episodes currently released at the link here for free right now, so you've nothing to lose for trying. Just, don't get too attached...