This would be the live action movie of Attack on Titan. Spoilers ahead. Lots of them.
Director Shinji Higuchi directs the live action adaptation of the popular manga/anime. The results? Astounding. That being said, fans of the anime will cringe at a couple of obvious compromises. It’s the reason this is going to be an above than average spoiler review. There’s no way I can actually review this movie without comparing it to the anime version.
So, here’s a quick description of the plot. Humanity has been all but wiped out by the Titans. What’s left of it has receded into a circled walled community. The outer wall protects the farmlands. The second concentric wall protects a smaller commercial area. The innermost wall protects the government and aristocracy. In the anime series, the walls have names (Wall Maria, Wall Rose and Wall Sina). Three young friends from the farmland, Eren (Haruma Miura), Mikasa (Kiko Mizuhara) and Armin (Kanata Hongo) dream about a life outside the wall. The day they decide to sneak a closer peek to it, a Titan appears and all hell breaks loose. Surviving the ordeal, Eren and Armin join the Survey Corps to fight the Titans.
I watched the film taking the story anew. I did expect to see some familiar characters, and I did. But the film does take a few liberties. Nationalities have been changed. All the characters are now Japanese. Armin doesn’t have blonde hair. I’m glad they didn’t do that because it wouldn’t have fitted the bleak landscape of this world.
There’s a bit of a love interest angle for Mikasa as she’s often referred to as Eren’s girlfriend while in the anime she’s more like her sister, however this angle is not played up. Mikasa is assumed dead after the town of Monzen is levelled by the Titans. No mention of the Shiganshina district from the anime. Of course, Mikasa is not dead and thank heavens, it turns out she’s a badass trained personally by Captain Shikishima (Hiroki Hasegawa). Wait… Shikishima?
Yeah, so it was already known they wouldn’t feature fan favorite Captain Levi because of a translation issue with the name. Instead, it’s Captain Shikishima – sans his special forces squad. Shikishima is taller than most of the younger characters. I suppose to signify he’s more of a veteran. I would’ve kept the short stature which made Levi’s character so much more of a significant character. The original Levi breaks the short character stereotype by being a badass fighter and tactician. Shikishima being taller than the most of the other cast perpetuates the stereotype that taller means stronger. I am nitpicking over details? Yes. I even considered that as the title.
Jean (Takahiro Miura) is kind of the same character than the anime. He’s loud, he brags, and he tries to push people down, specially Eren. Since Eren seems to have a death wish and often ignores his own safety, you do see him attracting the Titans to his squad’s location a couple of times. That does give Jean a reason to hate him, but we are supposed to be on Eren’s side. Jean accuses him on having a death wish, but when he tells Eren that if he wants to die he should do it alone and not get everyone killed, I was fully on Jean’s side.
Sasha (Nanami Sakuraba) aka Potato Girl not only displays her infamous hunger, she also mans her bow and arrow. She does get a chance to use those. She seems to be as eccentric but also as focused as her anime counterpart. Same as the way Jean is treated, the more flashy sides of her personality are played up. We will probably have to wait to the sequel to see more character development.
My big issue is the machines. We know that except for the Three Dimensional Maneuver Gear (or Omni Directional Mobility Gear in some translations) there is almost zero technology in this world. But the movie skips over that fact to show a small steampunk-style machine to deliver rapeseed oil and eschews the horse-drawn wagons for troop transport for actual trucks. Armin is also a machine tinkerer who carries around this toy he made for a kid that got killed in Monzen. This discrepancy is made even more obvious when the apparent leader of the expedition, Kubal, talks to Armin about why machines are outlawed.
Kubal (Jun Kunimura) is a new character, he seems to be an officer of higher rank that is in charge of the expedition into the Titan-infested area to restore Wall Maria (or the Outer Wall). However, although everyone else is Survey Corps, he is wearing a Military Police uniform. Second in command is Weapons Squad Leader Hans (Satomi Ishihara), who we recognize as Hange Zoe from the comics. She’s got her square-rimmed eyewear. She’s got the same quirkiness than her anime counterpart and dreams of disecting a live Titan. New character Souda (Pierre Taki) appears in the movie, first as a captain for the Garrison and afterwards as part of the Outer Wall Restoration mission. He’s most likely the equivalent of Hannes in the anime. Where’s Erwin Smith in all this? I really hope he’s coming up.
I’m not sure why Kubal is in charge of the mission being Military Police or Souda being a Garrison captain. You could call it a joint effort, but this is a completely standard (yet of course super high risk) Survey Corps mission. The high flying starts mostly when they join Captain Shikishima’s forces – although we are only introduced to him and Mikasa. The combat is recognizable, and Mikasa does live up to her badass anime counterpart. There’s a tension between her and Eren that I really hope doesn’t turn into sappy romance.
As a movie? I like to think of it as a strong standalone movie that does respect its source somewhat. This is a highly dramatic anime adaptation with a strong horror component. The dark atmosphere and the gray and dirt tones do a lot to convey the desperation and the utter hopelessness when the Titans approach. Kizu Mizuhara gives a great performance as Mikasa. Haruma Miura gives us a faded Eren. The character is missing his drive, his utmost rage against the Titans. He never quite appears to be as passionate and as intensely obsessed for the cause as his anime incarnation. He even seems to be a little defeated. I understand his town was burned to the ground, but he doesn’t seem to bounce back. There’s a fire in Eren that seems to be missing here. In the anime, he was more of an inspiring character for his friends. Kanata Hongo as Armin is… well, we expect Armin to be more subtle at the start as his intelligence does not become an asset until much later. But it’s funny-sad how in this incarnation Armin has more charisma that Eren. We do get a slightly stronger Eren by the time he finally takes the words from Captain Shikishima to heart.
Major spoilers coming up. Don’t go any further if you haven’t seen the movie because this includes the ending.
A lot of the expedition gets devoured. Mikasa and Shikishima hold their own and then some. Eren does get to kill at least one Titan. He also lands pretty badly and with one less limb after another run. Then Armin gets caught by another Titan and… well, here’s a very parallel outcome from the comic. Eren saves Armin although he himself gets eaten. We’re left to supposedly mourn his death for a few moments. Jean gets cornered and panics. Mikasa loses her chill. Sasha’s arrows don’t seem to help. Then the titan that had swallowed Eren explodes… and we see Eren in Titan form for the first time. I dare say that it works if you want it to work. You either commit to the idea or you don’t.
There’s much to be improved. There’s really no hurry in finishing up this story, you see. We can continue on with a second movie and leave space for more sequels. There’s a lot to be explored. I know directors don’t like to be told what to do, but consider horses. Bring in Captain Shikishima’s special forces as well. Start the conspiracy thread even if you don’t follow through by the end of the movie, you can build on that for the next.
Strongly recommended as long as you’re willing to accept that this is an adaptation. You take in the movie as what it is, accept that some compromises were made and enjoy a tense apocalyptic thriller with a lot of familiar personalities. Overall, it brings forth to the live action the whole bleak future scenario with varying degrees of success, to the point that I’m willing to bet anime fans will recognize their beloved series. I don’t believe the compromises are necessary flaws. I think the result is a movie that is not only watchable but that must be given its proper dues. Go see it.
That will do for now.