July 24, 2019
I haven’t watched an anime that has put me on the edge of my seat like Attack On Titan Season 3 Part 2 has in years. This is some peak Game of Thrones-equivalent writing. There were moments where I literally thought Oh wow, my heart is POUNDING.
As a web novel writer, I’ve read countless books on plotting, character creation, and narrative structure. I’m still by no means an expert, but what has happened is that whenever I consume fiction, there’s a piece of my brain that is constantly viewing it from a “creator’s” angle. I’m guessing what happens next not based on the world or the story but based on “what techniques and formulas will the author use to make a good story.”
Sometimes I’m right about my guesses and sometimes I’m wrong. The point is, there’s always a part of me that isn’t entirely engaged–a piece that’s experiencing the story while being aware that it is just a story. It’s an unfortunate cost to anyone who makes a hobby into a profession. Comedians go through the same thing. They often hear a joke and instead of laughing, they’ll think “Ah, you used this method to create the humor in that joke.”
But then, every now and then, something comes along that totally sucks me in. Attack On Titan Season 3 completely transported me. I forgot where I was and what I was doing. It had my full attention and focus, and I was dying to find out what happened next. I felt a full range of emotions as conflicts played out on screen. It completely blew my mind.
That, ladies and gentleman, is what great storytelling is all about.
But now that I have finished the season, I’d like to break down a few reasons for why Attack on Titan is so captivating.
Like Game of Thrones, viewers are completely aware of and believe in the stakes of the story. These primarily include the end of humanity and the death of characters we love. The latter of these is the most important.
Too often in high concept stories, the stakes are only “the end of humanity.” That’s extremely intangible and also unbelievable.
If humanity does end, the story is over. But if a character we love dies, we have to live with it and we have to watch the surviving characters live with it. That matters. More importantly, it makes us feel real emotions.
Another pitfall of high concept stories built around secrets is that often it feels like the secrets are made up as the story progresses (see Lost). But with Attack on Titan, you know you are in good hands.
As details of the mysterious history of the world unfold, we find ourselves deeper and deeper in a rabbit hole built on excellent worldbuilding. Things that were strange in the beginning are starting to make sense.
The picture that is forming before our eyes is being put together by perfectly shaped puzzle pieces. Anyone can make up weird happenings. It takes a real genius to explain them in a way that works in the world they’ve created.
Even the villains. Especially the villains. We feel empathy for their perspectives and motivations, yet we still hate them as they kill and harm the characters we love.
There are no simple characters. Each is unique and real. Because of this, no character feels like they were created to serve a tool to forward the plot. Rather, they each could be the main character of their own stories. That is an incredible feat.
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I have nothing but envy and love for Attack on Titan’s creator, Hajime Isayama. The man is a storytelling god.
Oh, and I should mention it has some of the best animation of this decade.
So if you haven’t seen Attack on Titan yet or the latest season, go check it out, and for several moments, you’ll forget that you weren’t born behind a wall.