Attack On Titan (2013)

"Can I interest you in a copy of the Watchtower?"

“Can I interest you in a copy of the Watchtower?”

Like most 30-something Westerners, my first experience of animé was Battle of the Planets, a very heavily edited and dubbed version of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. If you are from America, you are just as likely to have seen Star Blazers, another re-dubbed Japanese animé originally called Space Battleship Yamato. Not that any of us knew this at the time.

In the United Kingdom, we had very limited access to such imports. Aside from the occasional random video in the video rental shop, we could only see the very small amount of programmes dubbed for TV. Oddly, these programmes ranged from the European/Japanese co-productions of classic European stories, Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds, Ulysses 31 and Mysterious Cities of Gold to Laputa: Castle In The Sky (the first film from the now very famous Studio Ghibli).

It wasn’t until the 1990s when Channel 4 took an interest in the genre, that the UK started to see more sophisticated and adult animé outside of expensive imports. Satellite channels, like FOX Kids, also broadcast dubbed TV series. Later, several companies, like AD Vision and MANGA, started offering official releases of movies and TV series (the latter, usually a measly 2 episodes a VHS tape). That’s when we got to see things like Akira, Patlabor, Ghost In The Shell, Guyver, Tenchi Muyo!, Gundam Wing, Serial Experiments Lain, and the seminal, Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Believe it or not, this is actually a review of Attack On Titan.

Believe it or not, this is actually a review of Attack On Titan.

Neon Genesis Evangelion was game-changing. It was immensely well written, sophisticated with exceptional animation. Unsurprisingly, it was extremely well received both in Japan and the international market. It was a deconstruction of so many tropes of the ‘giant robot’ genre of animé (children piloting giant robots, which are the only defence against a giant monstrous enemy) and it was truly excellent. It borrows Judeo-Christian themes and ideas, which, seen through the eyes of a non-Judeo-Christian lens, adds a sense of uniqueness to the show.

It was a phenomenon which continues today, nearly 20 years later (a third film in a new series of ‘rebuilds’ just having been released).

The reason for that rather long introduction is because I wanted to establish that I’ve been fan of animé since the very early 80s and, while I’ve only seen a fraction of what’s out there, I’ve seen a fair amount over the years. That’s why I feel I can say that in this post-Evangelion world, Attack On Titan is close to being another game-changer.

"This is why we should be working on giant robot technology right now."

“This is why we should be working on giant robot technology right now.”

 

Attack On Titan is a riff on the giant robot genre, however, here, it asks the question: how would we deal with the traditional giant monsters of that genre if we didn’t have access to the technology to combat them?

Usually, in that genre, there are giant robots or monsters or some reason for the protagonists to pilot giant mechanised robotic vehicles to combat them. Sometimes it just happens that mecha is the pinnacle military technology but other times, as in Evangelion, form follows application. In Attack On Titan, they have nothing larger than a traditional cannon to fight the titular bad guys which forces the defenders to be creative…

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the show, as part of the entertainment is learning as you go along. Suffice to say, none of what happens is what you think based on my précis. Plus there are plenty of twists and turns in the action, particularly how they deal with a society on the verge of collapse while surrounded by giant monsters who want to eat you whole. It’s really well written and I’ve adopted one of the show’s sayings as a personal motto.

One of the things about this show which sets it apart from others is just how brutal it is. People die. A lot. And while it is bloody and gory, it never feels gratuitous because the setting is just that macabre.

And it’s not just the monsters but the citizens themselves. From civilians desperate to escape (and just how desperation can drive a person to do terrible things) to authority figures having to make some pretty brutal decisions to how people can be quick to take advantage of others. This is not an uplifting or endearing show. It is unforgiving, harsh and utterly enthralling.

The closest show I can think of in terms of themes is the remake of Battlestar Galactica. Both try to have a sense of realism in an unrealistic setting. Both follow a group of humans somehow trying to eke out an existence with limited resources and even more limited capacity to be humane. Both face bleak prospects with little hope of success. So if you liked Battlestar and like animation, you’ll probably like Attack On Titan too.

As always in most (animé) series, there are a number of mysteries to be uncovered in Attack On Titan. Unlike a lot of other shows which hold back mysteries, they are revealed in a timely fashion and new questions are raised. This is extremely refreshing after sitting through the likes of Fafner In The Azure (which I thoroughly enjoyed but they held their cards close to their chest long enough for it to get boring) and, dare I say it, Lost. Shows which hang on raising questions and drip feeding the answers need to take a lesson from Attack On Titan (on how to do it). And maybe Lost (on how not to).

Suffice to say, series one ends on a cliff-hanger which was as frustrating as it was brilliant, that is, very.

TL:DR “Attack On Titan is a brutal show about people surviving on the edge of a knife. It has layers like an onion which are peeled at exactly the right rate. This is an important show.

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Robot Wars (1993)

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Sadly for this film, a few years after its release the British game show of the same name came along and ruined most internet searches for it. In fact, if you look at this film on IMDB the thumbnail picture is from that game show. Perhaps someone at IMDB doesn’t like Full Moon very much, which would explain several of their films having synopses which don’t match the finished product at all.

It’s also not a sequel to “Robot Jox”, despite the poster you can see above. Curiously, along with other non-sequel “Crash and Burn”, with the slightest tweaking it could have been made into one, but never mind that! We have a film to discuss. Don Michael Paul, the man with too many first names, is Drake, the pilot of what appears to be the last surviving mega-robot, which is related to the great toxic waste problem of the past in some way. It’s a scorpion-looking thing, and is now used to take tourists to and from Crystal Vista, a perfectly preserved town circa 1993. Drake is the super-cool one and his co-pilot Stumpy is the loveable but tough veteran.

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The reason they need a heavily armed mega-robot to ferry passengers around is the still continuing guerrilla war. Our good guys are part of “North Hemi”, but there’s also the “Centros” and “Eastern Alliance”. The Eastern Alliance is sort of friendly but the Centros are using the weapons they bought from the Easterns to attack North Hemi…

 
It cannot be said enough – Don Michael Paul is absolutely awful in this. He’s still acting now, and he also writes screenplays, but for whatever reason he seems to be taking part in a “who’s the biggest overactor?” contest here. His cockiness comes across as near-psychopathy, and he’s like the sleaziest pickup artist imaginable (bordering on flat-out harassment) when he meets investigative journalist Leda; when he’s talking with his boss about the terrorist attacks from the Centros, he’s ANGRY and DOESN’T HAVE TIME FOR YOUR GARBAGE. Watching him, you wonder what they were aiming for – well, it wasn’t “good”, that’s for sure.

You’ll recognise some of the other faces in this. The two main reps of the Eastern Alliance are Danny Kamekona and Yuji Okumoto, names you won’t recognise but faces you will. Basically, if you saw a film with Oriental baddies in it from between 1985 and 2000, chances are it was one of those guys. Leda is Barbara Crampton, a Full Moon repertory player; and Leda’s friend Annie is Lisa Rinna, now much better known as a soap actress and reality TV star. She’s a beautiful woman with a unique look in this, but if you see her now she appears to have been replaced by a skinny plastic mannequin of herself. It’s sad, but it seems US soaps are littered with women who have been told surgery is the only way to keep working, and they all start to look alike.

The film progresses merrily to its crescendo, which is a fight between the hijacked scorpion-robot and the missing-believed-scrapped ultimate mega-robot, and there’s some fun to be had. The miniature effects are great, as before; they managed to spell “hydraulic” right this time; there are a few fairly subtle poetry references dropped into the script, and the middle bit isn’t anywhere near as boring as most Full Moon films. The idea of them being tourists in a 1993 theme park is a refreshing way of avoiding having to decorate too many sets, too.

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Of course, that’s not all. The sexism is truly staggering – Drake’s pursuit of Leda (who’s charmingly described as having some “amazing sweater puppies”) would get him fired for sexual harassment from any job, and she’s treated as a prize to be awarded for job competence, not as a person with feelings of her own. The timescale of the film seems cock-eyed, as well, with Drake basically quitting his job, only to turn up at a high-level party for the Eastern diplomats in the next scene, without a care in the world. It feels some establishment of their relationship is missing too, as Leda is used as bait to get Drake back into the film…but the problem comes from him only having met her twice and her showing basically zero interest in him to that point. How much would you risk for a faint chance of sex with someone you’d met for the first time earlier that day? Given the film, minus credits, barely scrapes 70 minutes, they had plenty of time to add some stuff in there.

Here ends the curious case of the three giant robot movies from Full Moon. I think I’d give the nod to “Crash and Burn” as the best of the three, but there’s not a lot in it, and provided you’re in the right frame of mind with the right group of friends, you’ll find something to enjoy in all of them. With this one, you even get to enjoy the directorial stylings of the father of the Band brothers, Albert, making a rare foray into the director’s chair.

Rating: thumbs down