Friday, 4 July 2014

Things should make sense

I do a lot of reading about writing, if that makes sense; about how you should have story arcs, about how you should not leave any loose ends and so on. And sometimes, when I watch movies or TV shows, I think about how the writing is done and whether it stays within those rules.
Kid 1 and I mainlined ‘True Detective’. We watched the whole thing in two days and it was very good and very well written.
We also watched 13 episodes of ‘Attack on Titan’ with kid3. It’s school holidays.
*major spoilers*
This show is huge and sometimes better known by its Japanese name - shingeki no kyojin. It is set in a world where people are attacked by giant titans; super creepy humanoids who eat people just for the sake of eating them. They can live without them and have done so for a hundred years before they start attacking cities again. Titans cannot even digest the people they eat; they cough them up later like a weird hairball.
It is very dark and violent, and is a favoured cosplay of late.
The heroes of the story start as children and eventually join the military in order to take their revenge on these creatures. It is set in Bavaria in a kind of steampunk world where they have swords and cannons as weapons but guns are an early pattern of flintlock and are rarely used. It looks amazing. The story idea is simple, the animation great but the writing and pacing are... SO BAD. And it is so disappointing because it could be better.
I can’t see any critiques of it online, but I will point out a few things that I noticed.
Titans can regrow limbs; even a head if it is cut off but the only way to kill them is to slice a chunk out of the back of their neck... wait... what? Surely blowing their head off accomplishes the same thing?
They carry swords that look like giant boxcutters with pre-marked breakage lines on them. It can’t work as a blade. A box cutter works because the shaft supports the small blade extension. Pull the whole thing out and it will snap off as it is designed to do. They carry extra blades in super bulky boxes that hang at their hips. Looks cool but it can’t be practical. The grappling hook and jet propulsion system they use to move also looks super cool but doesn’t obey the laws of physics. And relying on ropes while carrying swords is a recipe for disaster.
They have spent three years training to fight Titans and the first time they face them, the whole squad falls apart. They constantly disobey orders, usually start by saying ‘with respect...’ and then don’t show any. And because they disobey orders, they get people killed. Each time a comrade is lost they have a five minute emotional meltdown. In a twenty five minute long episode, this is wasted time. And it happens over and over.
Military is not a democracy. You don’t even speak without permission. There is a reason they spend so long forcing independence out of you and making it automatic for you to follow orders. If soldiers said ‘I don’t want to attack; I might get hurt,’ the battle is lost. They go on and on about how things are hopeless, how they will all die, how all their friends have just died, etc. And this is the well trained elite?
Humanity is doomed.
Kid 1 laughed that they were like those fainting goats, if the goats fell over, froze and then wailed for five minutes about how hopeless their situation was.
Any character that praises another’s leadership skills will die - probably in the next few seconds. A doctor asks one guy what the name of a dead man is so she can update the records. He does the standard long emo wail (in his head)... his name? Just tell her his name!
Armin is described by another as the best scientist he has ever seen but his big plan is fill the hole in the wall with a big rock. Seriously... And if the titans punched a hole in the wall and then went away, why not repair it? The rest of the wall is fine and people are overcrowded in the inner circle. Is there some reason why they can’t fix the wall they must have built and maintained for 100 years?
Eren, another main character, spends the first few episodes raging at everyone and then turns into a giant rage titan. He is way prettier than the others with much better hair and has a bajillion abs. He saves the whole town by fighting the other titans but then, when he changes back to human, instead of thanking him or thinking about the implications or how they can use him, an officer tries to shoot him with a cannon. Eren transforms to save his friends, but then they spend honestly seven minutes chatting under cover of the cannon dust rather than running away before they reload and fire again. This should take a minute, two tops. Or I dunno, fire a different cannon? There are dozens of them around.
The leader is killing them for treason but lets other soldiers speak treasonous statements, says he will kill them, too and then doesn’t. He asks Eren ‘are you human or titan’ when he isn’t the person to ask. Check with witnesses.
They make leaps of logic with no information. Eren says he partially transformed to stop the cannon ball. How does he know this? He tells the general his father gave him this titan ability so that he could travel back to find the secret in the basement of their home. What? How does he know that? That would assume that his father did it before the town was targeted, that he knew the town would be attacked, knew their house in particular would be destroyed and cleared out leaving his wife to die, his children to be traumatised and his basement (with its secret - whatever the heck it is) to be buried. It makes no sense. And if his father can ‘make’ titans, there are a heck of a lot more questions. Including how many other people can transform? And where is his father?
And besides, Eren didn’t even know what went on when he was in titan form, he spent ages screaming at people to tell him what happened, and of course, nobody did because they were all off on an emo meltdown of their own. ‘Dude, it was so cool. You turned into a titan and saved us all.’ Nobody said that.
Maybe it is the English dub or the transfer from the manga, the original comic books, that I haven't read, but something has been lost. Wikipedia says there is a mystery at the heart of each of the thirteen volumes, but that hasn’t passed to the anime version. (They don’t mean the basement - do they?)
We watch a lot of anime and the kids read a heap of manga and we were all getting frustrated by this show and shouting at the screen. I know the monologue is an anime device but it is too repetitive here. In a visual medium, show emotions by facial expressions or literal steam coming out of people’s heads. You can do that in anime.
Our dvd finished at the end of episode 13 with no completion of a story arc or resolution about what they are going to do about Eren. I really hope they have just dubbed half and released it. One thing anime is in Australia, is seriously overpriced.
Our dvd also had a monster watch option that removed the starting and finishing titles and played all the episodes in order. I did read that endless rehashes at the start of each episode of what happened in earlier episodes annoyed fans, so they must have put that option in deliberately but I swear one episode was maybe ten minutes long after all that was taken out. Pacing people!
I will have to watch for the release of part two because kid 3 is heavily invested in this show... sigh.
And then kid 3 and I watched the rest of season 1 of Once Upon a time. Thank you Jane Espenson and Adam Horowitz for restoring my faith in writers.

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