Why exactly is Attack On Titan more popular than other anime?

originalEVERY so often an anime series breaks through the wall of the Western adult anime audience and gains its own strong cult following with fans, whether it be Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist or Cowboy Bebop. This is not to say that a series is or will be hugely popular with western audiences, but merely large enough to gain a strong ground in the anime community or among those with an open mind when it comes to their entertainment; not quite niche but not exactly in Ghibli territory. Attack on Titan is one of these series.

The story goes like this: humanity is reduced to its last stronghold in the world, an area the size of a small country protected by three giant circular walls, each one smaller and within the larger wall (visualise a bulls-eye made from stone and you’re on the right track). Within these walls lay farms, towns, hospitals, forests etc – everything needed for humanity to continue surviving. So, what’s the cause of humanity’s downfall? Only skinless, unintelligent giants called Titans of course!

The Titans are a curious race. They eat humans while ignoring all other animals and can only be killed by a cut to the back of the neck; any other damage is immediately regenerated. They also have a tendency to range from the impressive-looking to creepy, and even downright hilarious. Fighting these monsters is the military, which is spilt up into three factions: the Royal Police, who enforce the law and personally protect the King; the Garrison, who guard and maintain the walls and finally (the ones who perform any actual combat), the Survey Corps, whose job it is to venture outside the walls and investigate both the land and the Titans.

The series follows Eren, a teenager with dreams of joining the Survey Corps and exploring the outside world. He also takes a different perspective to life than most people; rather than feel safe within the walls he feels trapped, yearning to feel the outside. He soon joins the military training after suffering the terrible misfortunes of witnessing his mother get eaten by a Titan and his father becoming a crazy scientist who performed experiments on him and disappeared. Joining him, are his two close friends: Mikasa, the emotionless killing machine and Armin, the over-emotional brains of the group. At the end of the season it’s unclear whether there’s a romantic connection between Mikasa and Eren; the series suggests that Mikasa has become attached to him while Eren shows no romantic feelings towards her at all. As the series progresses more characters are introduced with some greatly fleshed out personalities; they genuinely feel and act like true, independent characters.

It’s hard to say why this series has picked up a stronger following than most other anime series currently airing. It follows a lot of standard anime clichés: anyone with a name and backstory is a lot stronger than the other trained officers; situations are over-acted and over-reacted to; the storyline is overly complicated and it’s generally just… well… weird. However, I personally think that it comes down to three reasons.

Firstly, no character is safe. It’s true that many characters are fleshed out and well developed, but unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your view) that does not guarantee their safety. The series takes a page from Game of Thrones and randomly kills off characters; although it has yet to go the whole hog and kill its own Ned Stark, it does give you the sense that no character is truly safe.

Secondly, there is a lack of information given, which is done on purpose. While watching the series it becomes more and more obvious that the author (Hajime Isayama) put a lot of thought into the world that he’s created; a lot of questions are left wide open but it doesn’t feel like he’s made it up as he goes along. It’s mostly in the details, like how a researcher talks about her surprise that the Titan’s flesh is so light when she picks up a huge chunk. There are also a lot of small details such as how humanity’s last city is a different mix of ethnicities and has a range of names. An added bonus is that there are some surprises in store, not just within the world but with character’s actions and back stories. I won’t spoil anything but when you learn how Eren and Mikasa first met you should brace yourself.  Watching this series gives me no doubt that Isayama has fleshed out this world and is slowly dripping information to us.

Finally, the action! This is a very heavily action-based series and I love the way it’s done. In the series, soldiers employ a device called the 3D Maneuver Gear which allows the wearer to travel in any given director with the use of cables, providing there is an area they can latch on to. This makes for some very exciting and epic battle scenes which are only complemented further by the great animation.

While I am really enjoying the series I am unable to give it a top score. There are some minor problems with the show, such as the characters’ capacity to be way too over-emotional or simply lose all common sense; the pacing is varied at best and every episode seems to have an abrupt ending. Overall, as I said, I did really enjoy the series and would definitely recommend checking it out and keeping an open-mind, especially if you’re in the mood for something a little different or darker.

The series is currently only subtitled and can be viewed on Crunchyroll.