Attack on Attack on Titan: Pacing in a Shonen Series

Today, I continue the trend of saying, “I seriously don’t get Otakudom sometimes.” Because I really don’t.

I assume you’re all familiar with Attack on Titan by now. It’s only, after all, the biggest hit of the past two years, so much so that Production IG will begin streaming its second season next year (i.e., three years after its controversial, season one cliffhanger.) Also, it’s one of the few anime series with mainstream appeal, so much so that Netflix had it up on their service long before the dub debuted on Toonami.

I really didn’t want to discuss this show. Not because I didn’t try, because I did…twice. Or because I didn’t like it, because I did. Rather, it’s because I felt I couldn’t do justice to its subtle nuances and intricate details. Besides, you’d get a much better argument for watching it from someone like JesuOtaku or GRArkada. So I avoided writing about this excellent series for a long time, hoping I’d never have to.

But I can’t do that any longer, because one of the two biggest complaints that I frequently hear won’t leave me alone: it’s too slow. *Slams head against keyboard* Okay, now that THAT’S out of the way, time to explain why I don’t understand this complaint:

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Attack on Titan is a Shonen series based on a Manga by Hajime Isayama. Shonen has a bad habit of being lengthy, sometimes to its detriment. Oftentimes, the length is inflated by filler, drawn-out fight sequences and story arcs that drag. But I’ve already covered that. Regardless, Shonen shows are notorious for being long, as they’re meant to evoke grand scale adventure and an epic quality.

Attack on Titan is no different. Despite being unfinished, the show has the length aspect locked. I’ve heard rumors that the adaptation still has two seasons left, making for a total of 64 episodes! Still, the first 25 episodes have shown that Attack on Titan isn’t rushing through its story, something reconfirmed by its episodes being divided up into events that stretch several parts. “The Struggle for Trost”, for example, takes nine episodes to finish, and it chronicles the battle in the district of Trost. “The 57th Exterior Scouting Mission”, which chronicles the first encounter with The Female Titan, takes six episodes. Both arcs are slow-paced, creating dread and uneasiness throughout.

But that’s exactly it: they create dread and uneasiness. They’re not “wasted”, nor are they “painful to sit through”. They create atmosphere and uncertainty for when the pot boils over and the soup spills on the floor. It’s like how good horror movies are slow and atmospheric. To paraphrase Chris Stuckmann, it’s like sex: if you climax too early, you won’t be satisfied. This show is no different. And while, yes, there were times where I wondered why these conflicts were stretched out, I also felt that the end point was worth it.

Here’s the brilliant part: the build-up segments weren’t really wasted. Quite the opposite, actually! True, lots of side characters were disposable, I won’t deny that that’s a problem of the show itself. But think about it from the perspective of the characters, always watching their comrades being eaten or killed. To them, every second is uneasy, as they could be next. And while the show drags out the suspense, isn’t that playing off of their anxiety to survive?

Besides, I don’t think the slow parts were wasted at all! True, at times they were stretched-out and unnecessary, but there was plenty of great character and world building to be had; Episode 6, for example, delves into Mikasa’s back-story, explaining why she’s the tough character that she is. Episode 19 shows a flashback of Eren gaining the trust of the other scouts in his squad. This is character-driven material, it’s not being wasted on garbage like feeding people when they’re sick or learning to drive a car!

Ultimately, it all ties together in Attack on Titan. Mikasa’s back-story ties in with her relationship to Eren. Eren’s trust building with the scouts ties in to their fates. Everything in the story, right down to the tiniest line, comes together in the end. That’s not an example of “being too slow”, it’s an example of “good writing”.

But this sheds light on a frustration I have with the average Otaku, namely that he/she can tolerate shows like Dragon Ball Z, which spend 3 episodes in a row charging up single attacks, twelve episodes on a single battle, basically pull crap like this

Courtesy of yolokito99.

and yet, when Attack on Titan actually uses its slow moments effectively and not to drag out its fights beyond a few episodes, THAT’S when they complain? Really?! *Facepalm*

I don’t get it. We finally have a show that’s clever with its slow pacing, and people are upset? I’d much rather a show that uses its time wisely than one that spends a dozen episodes on nothing. Because that’s called “being productive”, it’s “smart writing”. Sure, it’s weird to slow down during a chase scene for some exposition, but if the exposition is meaningful and relevant…

*Sigh* I guess some people don’t have patience for that. They need fast-pacing, instant action, drawn-out fight scenes…everything that makes a Shonen series generic, essentially. And don’t mistake me, those can be done well too! But if given the choice between a drawn-out fight with no depth and slow-burner with plenty of meaningful dialogue, I’ll take the latter. Because that’s who I am, honestly.

Which isn’t to say the show is flawless, because it’s not. For one, it’s over-dramatic. The constant shouting and emotional rage, while not without reason, can come off as overacting and removes me from the experience at times. And two, the show loves its disposable characters. So many get killed off that the important deaths feel like overkill and not shocking. Oh, and for all I said earlier, the episodes could occasionally use a trim or two.

Nevertheless, the whole “too slow” argument is unfounded. Not everything needs to be instantaneous, contrary to popular opinion. Sometimes taking your time is good, as it allows you to assess your situation and deduce the best possible outcome. There are limits, but, between the pacing argument and the whole “Why is everyone so whiney all the time?” complaint that keeps being brought up, I’m thoroughly convinced the detractors wouldn’t know good writing if it smacked them in the face.

Besides, that the show is even prompting this sort of conversation is good on its own, right?


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