Monday, July 30, 2018

Attack on Titan Season 3 Adaptation Thoughts

I've blogged about Attack on Titan multiple times before, so it should come as no surprise that I've been watching Season 3 of the anime.

This is the beginning of what fans generally refer to as "The Uprising arc" or "the political arc" and if people are going to complain about the series, this is generally the arc where they say everything goes downhill.

I liked it, but I can see why other people didn't.

For this post, I will only spoil up to the current anime episode (39), but I will be making several manga references and comparisons for events already covered.

Until this point in the story, Attack on Titan follows the pariah branch of the military, the Survey Corps (also called the Scout Regiment). Most of humanity lives behind a series of gigantic walls, to separate them from the man-eating titans on the other side. The titans can't climb the walls, so humanity (at least until the series started) was safe, and the Survey Corps consisted of the only fools crazy enough to go outside the walls and fight them.

Over the past two seasons, things got really complicated with the revelation that there are people who have come from outside the walls and they can turn into titans themselves. However, regardless of any plot developments, there was lots of titan fighting; soldiers fighting titans, titans fighting each other, and so on. The series is called Attack on Titan and there was definitely attacking and titans going on.

The Uprising arc is different. As anime viewers now know, the danger in the upcoming episodes has nothing to do with external threats, so much as internal ones. The government is now out for Eren and Historia, there's a secret royal family, and a badass squad of Military Police has been deployed to take out members of the Survey Corps.

This arc is a lot of humans fighting other humans, which is arguably not what the audience signed up for. Some people enjoyed it anyway. Other people hated the detour.

And it turns out that Hajime Isayama, who both writes and illustrates the original manga, didn't like how this arc turned out either. So he gave his blessing for the animation studio to revise it.

This is the curious part.

Rather than simply condensing the work, the anime is now juggling scenes. Both Episodes 38 and 39 pull from a total of six chapters each. For comparison, each episode of Season 2 was based on a single chapter, maybe two. And they don't pull six different chapters either, so there's a lot of overlapping. Part of Chapter 54 is in Episode 38, part of it is in Episode 39, and part of it isn't used at all (yet).

It's like someone threw the first nine chapters of the Uprising arc into a blender and just pulled the various scenes that came out. Some were rejected, some were placed into various episodes, but even if they were, they were not necessarily in the same order.

For instance, Kenny's introduction was originally after Sannes is tortured into revealing that the Reiss family is the true royal family.

The result is that the first two episodes cover a lot of ground and touch on multiple subplots, but we don't get to see anything in depth. I can see some justification for hurrying things up. In the anime world Attack on Titan is known for incredible action set pieces, and left to the original manga's pacing, we wouldn't get our first combat scene until the fourth episode at best (assuming two chapters an episode). For a primarily visual medium and to sell the series based on what has become its signature style, the anime needed to accelerate that scene to the first episode.

And it's a great fight. People like the new character Kenny, and his squad of elite Military Police certainly impress with how they take out members of the Survey Corps before they can even respond.

If the original complaint about the arc was that the pacing is too slow, that's gone now, but in its place is the fact that nothing has any depth either. The scenes are quick and they jump around a lot, following various groups of people and ever-changing locations.

Some of the characterizations suffer. Jean looks like he has a case of nerves rather than a well established aversion to killing people, and Dimo Reeves's change of heart no longer makes sense now that the story of how he helped Trost has been removed.

We have weird instances of knowledge traveling between characters with nobody actually informing the person involved. Hange bursts in on Erwin and announces that Eren and Historia have been kidnapped, without having been told that themselves. The scene occurs immediately after the kidnapping that same afternoon and I doubt Levi sent any of his squad off-camera to let Hange know because everything happened so fast.

And then we have the sleeping dart technology attached to a firearm that clearly should never have a shotgun-to-sleeping dart replaceable barrel. I might not be a gun expert, but I'm pretty sure that if you remove the barrel of a shotgun, you would not be able to add a narrower sleeping dart barrel and still have a weapon that works just fine. But the sleeping dart needed to happen to speed up Eren and Historia's capture.

None of these were issues in the original manga, but are the result of the blender approach to improving the pacing of the Uprising arc.

It's still possible that other issues I had will be addressed later in the season (there's definitely one scene that got truncated in what I thought was a meaningless fashion, to the point I think they should have removed it entirely if that's all they were going to show), but for these, the changes are in there and there's no undoing them.

I have to wonder what this is like for an anime-only viewer though. Is this too much, too fast?

At its heart, despite all the fight scenes and the increased sense of urgency, this is still a political arc that relies more on plot details than bombast. They're going to have to sit down and have a long talk at some point.