If you win you live, if you lose you die. If you don’t fight you can’t win: a look at Attack on Titan

Last I gave a rundown of what I’m watching with one of those shows being Attack on Titan. A few discussions I’ve had about it have brought me back to a thought I’ve had before about media and narratives. Specifically it’s hard for me to take the idea that Attack on Titan is particularly dark. Not to say that it’s an upbeat show per se, but it’s hard to take the darkness very seriously in the context of the entire series. This in turn is related to the way that we tell stories in general. What do I mean by that? Well let’s dive in and start talking about television.

Let’s quickly summarize Attack on Titan as a starting point for our conversation. Humanity lives in safety behind walls while most of the Earth is covered by giant vaguely humanoid monsters known as Titans that like devouring humans. It’s been a stalemate for a hundred years and then the series kicks off with the Titans breaking through the wall in the prologue and then doing it again at the beginning of the series proper. Just from that summary alone we have stuff to analyze. First, the plot moves forward either by some seemingly convenient new deviant and/or superpower or humanity fighting back. By the appearance of the Female Titan it’s hard to not just throw up your hands in exasperation.* By the Raid on Stohess District arc it’s not really surprising that humanity attains a pyrrhic victory engineered by a spiteful universe. It’s hard to find it depressing when it happens every single time; an apt analogy would be Charlie Brown with the football.

The second element in play here is one that’s tied closer to the idea of a narrative more than anything else. The beginning of the story is a stalemate, and it’s hard to get invested in that opening set up as a springboard. Instead if you have a status quo that is quickly destroyed and pulls in the viewer. The setting at the beginning is neat, but you can’t really do much with it.

I could easily go on a litany about all the bad things that happen to characters in Attack on Titan and how they’re all horrible things. These things fall into three broad categories: 1. It happens during the Battle of Trost 2. It happens to one note characters 3. I’m actually going to talk about it in depth. I’m discounting the Battle of Trost on the grounds of how abnormal it is compared to the rest of the series.** The only one shot character whose death I care about is that of the Levi Squad and that was in part due to the nature of their death.  That brings us to our third category: things I’m going to talk about in depth, specifically Eren’s mother’s death and the Mikasa sequence from the Battle of Trost.

The death of Eren’s mother does a lot of things from a narrative point of view. It does a large part in setting the tone of the series and gives Eren a more tangible goal than just go out beyond the walls. However the tragedy is undercut by Hannes statement that “you could not save your mother because you weren’t strong enough and I couldn’t save her because I lacked the heart”. This dual need for martial strength as well as the willpower to use is a key theme. The tragedy is used as a means to propel its characters to greatness instead of dwelling on it. The second scene to focus on is Mikasa’s sequence during the Battle of Trost. It’s arguably more dark as it showcases the sheer depravity of humanity and has a lot of unfortunate implications for human society. However the single line, “if you win you live, if you lose you die, if you don’t fight you can’t win” cuts through the scene like a knife and is also a very good summary of the show.

This sort of dichotomy between the bleakness of the setting and the characters fighting against the bleakness is a universal constant. It’s with the viewer from the beginning in the lyrics of the opening “Are you food/no, we are hunters…the dignity of starving wolves” It neatly summarizes the character growth of the 104th Trainee Corp as well as Pixis and Smith. While both Trost and Stohess are noted as having caused horrific casualties rates it doesn’t really mean much. First because most of that is offscreen; the main example in Stohess of civilian casualties is the Wall Cult church, which the viewer is all too happy to see destroyed. It also introduces very early on that “In order to fight against monsters, one must be willing to throw away their humanity” Quite frankly it doesn’t matter how many people die in these battles because it’s made very clear that the alternative is fleeing behind Wall Sina and extinction. Tied in with what I mentioned earlier that it’s hard to care about a lot of nameless or close to nameless mooks dying.

This brings us to the final point. For the series to truly be dark, someone in the main cast needs to die and the viewer needs to be convinced that their lives are in danger. So far there’s never really been a sort of fear for the character’s lives and I don’t expect that to change much in the near future. Why? Cause when you get down to it that’s just how stories work. Characters need to around in order for you to care when their lives are in danger but on the flip side it makes killing them an important thing that should be taken lightly. The result is that we kill off our protagonists sparsely and as a result it makes most threats to them less threatening and more set pieces that exist to be overcome.

So in conclusion, Attack on Titan might have some depressing window dressing, It’s a defiant, strong willed show about the need to fight and in that need to fight it isn’t so depressing anymore. Join me next week where I either talk about Solforge or review a boardgame.

*In a manner that isn’t that dissimilar from a jerk DM denying you victory at every possible turn.

**The Battle of Trost is a gritty somewhat war movie esque arc wherein Eren is nothing more than a secret weapon used to eke out a victory. The rest of the series in many ways is addressing the fact that Eren, and by extensions others, can become Titans and it changes into a far more shonen series. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it is different.

What I’ve been watching

Instead of devoting weeks to talking about Korra and Revolution and other assorted shows, I’d figured I would just do it all in one week.

Beware of spoilers ye who enter for Legend of Korra and Revolution

 

Legend of Korra: I’m not really digging this season. The main plot is shrouded in mystery and I don’t find myself caring much for it. The characters who have received the most growth are Tenzin and Mako maybe; everyone else either hasn’t changed or has been sidelined (Asami). Unaloq was clearly evil, the background politics are unclear which needlessly muddles the waters and I keep finding myself wishing that I could watch anyone else other than Korra. I’ll keep watching it cause I want to like it, i really do, but right now it’s definitely the worst offering that the Avatar team has given.

Revolution: Anyone who has been following this knows I hate Revolution, I mean really hate it, except when it’s boring. When it’s boring i just stop caring.* Season two is two episodes in and it has basically decided to throw away most of the second half of season one like the season one did to itself and go off in a somewhat related direction. The result is less than thrilling since 1. having 3/4 separate plotlines is boring when I only care about one of them and 2. said plotlines basically dropped these characters into totally new situations that make it hard to care about. Still it’s being cathartic in being able to yell at it but there’s also the risk of I’ll finally drop this.

Parks and Recreation: It’s still good and it’s still early in the season. This is the first season I’ve watched where it wasn’t on netflix so it’s a bit different. I’m waiting for the overarching plot to feel a bit more cohesive as that’s the only gripe I have right now.

Attack on Titan: This just finished its first season two weeks ago.  It’s probably in my top five anime. The animation is top notch, the sound is great, the voice acting is acceptable** and the story is engrossing. The first episode or two is not an indication of the rest of the series as it’s not that good but quickly picks up from there.

Valrave the LIberator: I’m still watching the first season of this, even though the second season has come out. A friend described it as ‘M. Night Shymalan did Code Geass’ which is not a totally inaccurate description. Alternatively, not-US is at war with not-USSR/Nazis with the former invading not-Japan in order to acquire a vampire robot. On one hand this show is freaking pants on head crazy fun with the mechs being beautifully done. On the other hand, it done’s t have Code Geass’s season one element of tight narrative and fast pacing to keep you engaged. I’m hoping that’s more a matter of it still being in the beginning and not something that will plague it for the whole run.

Overall: I’m watching two things I like, one thing I want to like and Revolution. I don’t expect to get into anything else until I see how it shakes out.

*I actually didn’t finish the first season until the week that the second one came out cause the finale was just dull.

**i don’t know Japanese, I can’t really comment on voice acting in a language I don’t know.

Review: Ascension Rise of Vigil

 

What is it: A stand alone expansion for the Ascension deck building game by Stoneblade Entertainment wherein players use a new resource, energy shards, to win the game.
Great what does that mean: For starters, if you’re unfamiliar with Ascension in general then I suggest you go read my review of Chronicle of the Godslayer, found here. When it comes to energy shards, they give +1 energy and +1 card, meaning they replace themselves and don’t take up any space in your deck. These are used to active Energize ability on cards. There are Energy shards in the deck that when they appear in the center row are played out until a non-Treasure card is placed. Acquiring the card on top means you acquire the shards as well.
Scaling: You can now play with up to six people if you have another large expansion. I have no idea why you would ever willing do this. The game still handles best at 2, 3 is acceptable and anything beyond that is miserable to varying degrees.
Production quality: My only complaint here is that the plastic insert is different dimensions than the one in Chronicle and thus you can’t hold the starter decks separate.
What’s good: Energy shards are seamlessly integrated into the game, I’ve never felt like I’ve had a serious disadvantage in being unable to Energize. it adds a lot to the game and it’s all good.
What’s not good: Naturally this is more complex and keeping everything straight can be difficult.
Overall: 5/5. Ascension is still one of my top three games, and this expansion just makes everything sweeter.