Earlier, I looked into Shingeki no Kyojin as an anime series. While the second season is currently underway (four years after the first) and is looking to be consistent in terms of quality, the first season which began its run in 2013 serves as the basis for most of the impressions that I get from the series. Shingeki no Kyojin’s first season is a stellar example of what makes the series great and sets the tone and pacing for season two and hopefully, succeeding seasons.
Before anything, I personally feel the need to point out that every opening theme of Shingeki no Kyojin has been an accurate depiction of the intensity of the series. In particular, the very first opening, Guren no Yumiya, has consistently served to set the tone for the rest of the series and has become a staple topic in every discussion of the anime.
The first season had the difficult task of constructing a world for the audience to dive into. Had Shingeki no Kyojin failed to establish the rules and limitations of the world, the series would have been a massive failure. With the many rules and limitations set forth by the setting and by the mysterious enemies of humanity, the titans, the first challenge would be to introduce large amounts of information at a digestible pace. What the show does to accomplish this is that it takes its world building aspect and divides it into two portions. The first portion of the series is spent establishing the overall setting. We are immediately introduced to the set up of concentric walls that keep titans out and serve as multiple lines of defense for a near extinct human race. We are shown the menacing titans and the hopelessness and fear that takes the heart of many in the face of these titans. We are shown the massacre that can be caused when titans run rampant. In short, the show begins by building a setting of perpetual fear and tension by making the titans both mysterious, threatening, and difficult to kill.
After establishing the threat of titans and the possibility of more powerful aberrant versions of these creatures, the series shifts its focus to building up the anime’s military and their means to combat the titan threat. Shingeki no Kyojin does a particularly good job of showing this major plot point of the show, going to great lengths to emphasize just how difficult it is to use the special 3D maneuver equipment that is the trademark of the titan slaying corps of the military.
Following this setting of training, the show shifts into high gear and goes back to the outermost of the three walls depicting the events that lead up to the retaking of this wall and the eradication of the titans that have entered the wall. From this point on, the series progressively moves outwards allowing the viewers to see what lies beyond the wall.
Beyond the world building, Shingeki no Kyojin establishes a distinct air of both mystery and desperation in the form of titans. Many of the main and supporting characters are seen wondering where the titans come from and why they exist in the first place. Essentially, the characters that we are allowed to follow throughout the series are shown to be in as much of a confused state as the viewers are with regards to the titans. The military is also shown to be doing extensive research on titans allowing the viewer to discover the secrets of the titans in the same step by step process that the characters of the series follow. This is coupled by the fact that for one, the aberrant or unique titans are unpredictable creating eliciting heightened tension. What really amplifies this sense of dread and desperation is the fact that Shingeki no Kyojin doesn’t pull punches and really allows many of its characters to die. While it seems that the protagonist Eren Yeager and Mikasa Ackerman hold the invincibility card, the others in the series are never truly safe.
The only weakness of the first season is that not binge watching the entire season would result in a impression of slow pacing due to the amount of dialogue that is needed to establish the setting of the series. The pacing is easily remedied by watching the season in its entirety. Doing this not only eliminates the impression of sluggish pacing but also creates a better flow between episodes. While the cliffhanger type of ending does keep viewers watching week after week, the transition between episodes and cliffhangers becomes much more fluid when binge watching the series. This makes the first season seem truly seamless in storyline. Doing this actually also serves to elevate the viewing experience allowing for a consistent build up of excitement and intensity without breaks in between. It allows for a smooth transition from the desperation and possibility of painful death to an intensity and aggression that is seen in the humans and Eren fighting back. All of this hype culminates when a titan of human-level intellect is revealed forcing the humans to engage it in the most intense combat that the season has to offer.
Overall, the first season of Shingeki no Kyojin is what makes it an anime worth watching even with four years between its seasons. It effectively communicates a consistent atmosphere and aura in its setting and characters with each reveal building on the intensity of the last. The first season serves as a solid foundation for a series that is constantly pushing its limits upward.