Monday, February 1, 2016

"Attack on Titan: Junior High" (Anime) Review

2013 was three years ago (though it still feels like yesterday, to be honest), and yet we're still feeling the tremors of it's biggest show, Attack on Titan, today. Not just through this anime or some other manga, but through various other anime that are trying to replicate that spark in various ways. You'd be hard-pressed to find a fan of the first season not excited for the second's return, as there were just so many ends left open. 

Fans were given many different outlets to tide the wait on. You had the two-part "No Regrets" OVA segment showcasing Levi's backstory. The "Before the Fall" manga is headed toward it's eighth volume over here in the States. And, of course, you have this, a parody series of the manga. 

I stress manga because there are some events going on that we have not yet seen in the anime, or that have just been released. "Junior High" replicates the order of events from the anime to an extent, before swapping them around toward the end, and relying on some more of the events or characters from the manga. The release of the Broadcast Dub was at least convenient enough, seeing as how anyone who bought the 17th volume of the manga was also introduced to Ilse and the mystery of her notebook, which is used here. 

It's kind of hard to give this a solid review. Many of the jokes here are based on the fact that you've seen and remember key moments from the anime. There are, of course, goofier moments about, but are all character-based in how they are approached and used. Everyone is essentially an extreme of how their original characters are, which was an obvious choice to make a parody out of. 

The show is an incredibly accurate representation of its source material--by source material this time I mean it's manga counterpart--which works so well for the anime. Again, though, you have to have seen the anime to get this show. And that isn't a good selling point. While there were obviously hundreds of thousands of people who have seen or read Attack on Titan, the schtick about "if you haven't seen the show you won't get it" is kind of a downer. You do miss out on some of the series's finest comedic moments. 

Though, in that regard, this is a very good parody. I've seen fans of the series dodge it or call it out because of its silliness. They can't stand seeing a character like Eren or Levi reduced to bobble-head sized characters running around a middle school and doing stupid stuff or being made fun of. Those are also the people that take all of this a bit too seriously, and don't get that this is all for fun. Once you realize that you can just sit back and enjoy the series for what it is--a parody--you'll have a much better time with it. This isn't a series that you should break down and examine all of its core elements. It's a comedy, not a drama. There aren't nearly enough dramatic elements in this series to carry that, anyway. You want drama? Go watch the original series, it's good enough anyway. 

It's also a very bright show, though uses some similar animation and images from the original series. All of the characters are chibi-sized, which works well for the idea that they're all junior high students (despite making them all look like ten or eleven year olds). But they're all distinguishable and carry their personalities over, in an extreme way. For example: Mikasa shuts down whenever Eren isn't around, Jean is full of himself, Marco seeks to only help Jean, Reiner is super beefy, Krista is nice to literally everyone and everything, Levi is a high-class clean freak (alright, maybe that one's pretty normal), and Hange is always relaying her work back to the Titans. 

Because the characters are all so similar to each other, the series works very well in making fun of them. Also, because the events of the anime are not followed specifically (and there are no character deaths in this show), you get to see far more of the side-characters. The main group stays together for pretty much the entire series, and it's wonderful to see them bounce off of each other. There aren't too many character-based episodes, the only ones I can think of area centered around Armin, Jean, and Bertholt of all characters, which works for the series's benefit as it tries to expand its world over its overall story. The show is episodic, with a dilemma of the day to get them through each episode. 

One major way that I felt the show worked as a parody was that it used Hiroyuki Sawano's original score for the series in some places--and when it could, it would use the music in the exact parodied moment. When Eren has to carry something across an area representing Trost District, they use "E.M.A." and "Call Your Name" in the scene in similar fashion. It both entices the old elements that the songs had and mixes it with the parody to put the viewer back in the moment. It messes with your emotions. 

This is also done in similar fashion with the dialogue. Personally, the replication of the dialogue was the funniest parts of the show for me. It was such epic, intense dialogue used in the most ridiculous of situations. When Eren gets in trouble for just a second, Armin uses his speech from when the Military Police was ready to execute him. Levi's monologue about impossible choice is used in the final episode as a way to inspire Eren again. When Mikasa goes into her slump, she makes her "you're all cowards" speech once more. 

What helped me enjoy the series even more was getting to watch it in the English Dub. It's the same exact cast of the original series, and all of their performances were spot-on. Once again, it was great to hear some of the side-characters voices more, like Sasha, Marco, or Ilse, as they weren't really used much in the original series as much as they should. 

Combined with several call-backs to the original series, great audio through the voice-acting and music, and some very colorful, bright, and fun images, Attack on Titan: Junior High was one of the more fun series out of the Fall 2015 season. If you haven't seen the original anime yet, I'd recommend you give that a try before coming back to this. And if you have seen the original anime and don't mind some people poking fun at the series, give this a shot too. 

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