Case Study: The Televisual Adaptation of “Attack on Titan”

The world of television and film today is wrought with remakes and adaptations. Series such as “Game of Thrones” and “Luke Cage” as well as massively successful film franchises like “Harry Potter” and any of Marvel’s recent blockbuster superhero movies have become the latest trend in entertainment media. However, the recent revival of adaptations from written media has brought about an age-old argument that has long since plagued readers and viewers alike. That is to say which is better, the book or the movie?

        On April 7, 2013, comic fans around the world rejoiced as one of the most widely acclaimed series in the comic world, “Attack on Titan,” premiered on television screens everywhere. The story begins in fairly simple manner being set in a post-apocalyptic, primitive dystopia where human are confined within three concentric circle-shaped walls. These walls, named (from outside to inside) Wall Maria, Wall Rose, and Wall Sheena, act as humanity’s last hope from being devoured at the hands on the Titans. Titans, in brief summation, are hulking creatures that measure anywhere from 3 meters, 6 meters, 10 meters, 15 meters, and even the occasional 60 meter Titan. Their appearance is similar to humans albeit with the absence of any sort of skin and a permanent facial expression. While also having skin temperatures of hundreds of degrees, the Titans are seemingly mindless and only know to lust for the blood of humans. Due the marginal difference in size between humanity and the Titans, it seems humanity is doomed until it is learned that one of the main characters, Eren Yeager, while in times of extreme duress, can injure himself and rapidly transform into a sentient, 15 meter Titan. Needless to say, this provides a massive turning point in terms of humanity’s chances of survival, their minimal knowledge of Titan physiology, and the overall plot arc itself. However, these details are only as pertinent as the televised anime series makes them.

        Currently, there are 92 chapters of the original “Attack on Titan” manga comic series (with more still to come), with season 1 of the televised version ending where chapter 34 had left. As someone who has thoroughly read and enjoyed the written series, I was dumbstruck at how well the stories matched up as everything from the dialogue, the characters’ and Titans’ wide array of facial expressions, and the shot sequences were practically verbatim. Every minute detail in the story matched up and every little character-building scene was included to give the story the full respect it deserves. These include copious amounts of flashbacks and relationship-building sequences such as any of the main characters’ experiences within their 5 years of training in the Walls’ military. Some may speculate that these events, while useless to the advancement of plot, are unnecessary to the entertainment value of the show. However, this is entirely untrue as this lines up perfectly with the notion that books are superior in entertainment value and story than television or film.

        The most glaring examples in which avid readers and bookworms clash with movie buffs and couch potatoes would be “Harry Potter” and “Game of Thrones.” Each of these productions, due to the massive popularity in their original written format, earned enough merit in the eyes of movie and television makers to make it silver screen and in homes worldwide. Although with each of these productions the story has been the same with comments like ‘The books were way better than the movies!’ and ‘They totally left (insert reference here) out of the movie!’ Admittedly, as someone who personally prefers film and television to books, having read a series after watching it, these arguments definitely hold some weight. Some relatable examples of this kind of exclusion from the previously mentioned series include (DISCLAIMER: SPOILERS) the resurrection of Catelyn Stark as Lady Stoneheart who now leads the brotherhood without banners or Tyrion Lannister having conversations with Aegon Targaryen, Daenerys’s nephew, who is also trying to take the Iron Throne. Harry Potter’s directors seemed to do just as poorly (although they arguably had more difficult time restraints) leaving out such crucial details as Neville Longbottom being the true heir to the fulfillment of Voldemort’s fatal prophecy, Peter Pettigrew saving Harry’s life only to be strangled by his own hand which was previously restored by Voldemort, and even Voldemort’s genocidal tendencies and general lunacy stemming from generations of inbreeding within the family of Salazar Slytherin (how’s that for ruining your childhood?). Most of these details were cut due to the lengths of the books, the complexity of their plots, and the time constraints with which HBO and Warner Brothers had to work with. However, the directors and creative minds behind the televised production of “Attack on Titan” refused nothing but absolute replication and perfection. These small details packed with enormous amounts of emotional resonance help bring the viewer or reader into this fictive world splaying out in front of them. If Game of Thrones and Harry Potter were just a long series of cuts including magical CGI wizard battles and brutal sword fights intermingled with unexpected plot twists, then we would have nothing more than basic cable programming. The useless information that we absorb regarding these characters and stories allow for a more in-depth viewing experience and make those unexpected plot twists that much more meaningful.

In “Attack on Titan,” many viewers would agree that at many times throughout the first season, the build-up and anticipation of Titan attacks can be, and usually are, fairly tedious to sit through. This process, seems to weed out the viewers truly dedicated to the series and leaves the others behind to wait for more. As both a reader and a viewer, both sides have fairly solid arguments to make. Using an example from the series, it is revealed that Annie Leonheart has been keeping secret her ability to transform into a Titan for unknown reasons. While watching the series for the first time, this was a shocking reveal to say the least, but it seemed to be anticlimactic as it was buried amongst other unrelated story details. However, reading it within the comic provided much more satisfaction as it unfolded at my own pace. This brings up the major difference between viewer and reader in terms of enjoying the televisual form of a series. Although television viewers and readers both use their separate forms of media for relaxation and entertainment, they both go at different paces. For readers, it unfolds at the their choice of speed but for television viewers, the pace is much faster as things are happening in real time on the screen and packed with much more visual spectacle. This gives the television viewer less effort for their imagination and, thus, less patience for visual spectacle to happen and less appreciation for the smaller details. With regards to “Attack on Titan,” either argument can be made and there is no true winner in that debate. While reading, there was much more character development and room for my imagination to truly set myself in the world of this comic. With the televised series, I was able to see the written form come to life in front of me effortlessly and let the spectacle of moving picture tell the story on its own. The efforts of the animators and directors of “Attack on Titan” should be commended for their efforts. In my eyes, it is the closest to perfect adaptation of any written form of media to the television screen.

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One thought on “Case Study: The Televisual Adaptation of “Attack on Titan”

  1. I remember when my friends showed me the first season of Attack on Titan. I was wowed by the first episode from start to finish. I have seen a few other anime series, like The Devil is a Part Timer and One Piece (having just completed watching the Marineford arc), but Attack on Titan was way much more than One Piece could ever offer in terms of action, suspense and excitement. I have not read the original manga, but I have seen the anime, and it is breathtaking. The characters are very relatable in their fight for survival. Especially after Eren’s mother gets eaten by a Titan when they attack the village. A lot of the characters share the same feeling of fear that the audience does when they imagine themselves in these kinds of situations, especially the case with Armin Arlert, Eren’s childhood friend. Season 2 has just recently aired on Funimation, and I may need to check it out at some point during the summer.

    -David McInerney

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