I don’t know why I expected otherwise...
As part of the live-action adaptation of the immensely popular people vs. giants series, Attack on Titan, there is a three-part TV mini-series currently available in Japan on demand.
Titled Attack on Titan: Signal of the Counterattack (進撃の巨人 反撃の狼煙), the series acts as something of a supplemental side chapter to the movie and further develops other characters—or at least it tries to.
The first chapter, Beginning of the Counterattack (反撃の幕上げ) focuses on the eccentric scientist and titan fanatic, Zoe Hange, and a series of events that lead to the development of the omnidirectional mobility gear as a means to combat the titans.
The story takes place ten months after the outer wall has been breached and humanity is trying to prepare a counter-offensive, but lack a tactical advantage over the titans. We are introduced to Hange, who has been researching the titans and is regarded by most to be a bit of a loose screw. Hange, while obviously a little bit nuts, seems to have a clearer view on the titans and it is through her and a coincidental turn of events that she develops the idea for the omnidirectional gear.
The first chapter is obviously the best and most interesting of the three chapters in how it works to both set up the world and give an origin story. However, it is in this chapter that the miniseries also earns its first strike, when it tries to make light-hearted jokes in a dark situation.
In an initial meeting to come up with a strategy to fight the titans, we are shown a bunch of supposedly intelligent men offering their ideas to receive funding. These ideas range from shooting a lot of cannons (okay?), to digging a giant hole (what?), to using a big chain to tie the titans up, bondage-style (huh?). It’s only a brief scene, but it instantly breaks the serious atmosphere that the show has set up in the prologue. Nevertheless, the episode manages to pull itself together and by the end, is not an entirely terrible chapter.
The second chapter, Arrow of Hope (希望の弓矢) tells the backstory of Sasha Blouse, a potato-obsessed hunter.
In this episode, we are shown Sasha’s backstory and where and how she lived before the titans broke through the wall. We see that while she is somewhat simple-minded—or single-minded—she is a superb marksman with the bow and arrow.
Then the titans attack and the story jumps ahead to after the events of the first chapter and the training of new recruits to use the omnidirectional gear. From there, the story becomes a rather shallow mystery about the disappearance of rations and how Sasha uncovers the culprit.
Ultimately, the story is of no consequence and does nothing to further develop Sasha’s character. She remains one-note from beginning to end which makes for a bland if not slightly quirky story.
The first and second chapters are weak but somewhat interesting. They serve to fill out the live-action Attack on Titan world that the movie has laid out. By putting the focus on side characters, they make the world seem bigger, if only a little. Sadly, while both act as somewhat simplistic origin stories, they do little to explain why the focus characters are the way they are. For the most part, they show completely developed characters who move around in the story in accordance with the plot.
That said, despite the limited special effects budget, the episodes work in their own way and one can almost imagine a full Attack on Titan TV series...
That is, until the third episode.
The third chapter, Departure to Freedom (自由への旅立ち) is a love story between two original characters to the series, Fukushi and Riru.
The third, and possibly what should be the most pivotal, episode falls steeply off the rails and launches straight into goofy town with the velocity of a gas-powered grappling hook. The episode takes the story of the training corps learning to actually use the omnidirectional mobility gear and turns it into slapstick nonsense.
The story centers on two rivals, Fukushi and Riru. Riru is a girl sought after by many of the male trainees in the corps, but she states that she has no interest in courting a man who is weaker than her. Fukushi tries to prove himself to her in combat training, and what follows is what can only be called a trainwreck of script writing and almost insultingly childish slapstick “comedy.”
Considering the main story of man-eating giants taking over the world and humanity’s last ditch effort to reclaim their territory or face death by slow lingering starvation, this jokey, wacky story feels completely out of place and utterly destroys any positive opinions built up by the previous two episodes. That, combined with the already low special effects budget make the last quarter of the episode almost painful to watch.
While I could cut the acting some slack with it being a TV mini-series, the nonsensical, ham-fisted acting in the climax of the third chapter left an almost literal sour taste in my mouth. It might have been bile rising. Seeing groups of men flying around, lips first, all chasing after a girl trying to kiss her like they were four year olds gave me a twitch in my eye that has yet to subside.
I can understand that the episode is trying to show how the omnidirectional gear becomes cemented as the best way to fight the titans by demonstrating how they can be used when the wielders are properly motivated, but the setup and execution are outlandish and utterly unsuitable to the atmosphere of the story.
The live-action Attack on Titan movie is pretty crummy, but I was skeptical about that from the get-go. The live-action Attack on Titan TV mini-series, on the other hand, is guilty of a worse crime by actively raising my spirits with the first episode, only to send me careening straight into a wall with the third one.
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