It’s been an interesting few weeks since the English dub of Attack on Titan began airing as part of Cartoon Network’s Toonami programming block. Through all the discussions, arguments, and analysis, one thing has been made overwhelmingly clear: the show’s established fanbase is watching very closely. Hopes and expectations are high for the show’s localization, and not without good reason. Fans sense that this is an important dub, and rightly so. After all, Titan has the potential to act as the new public face of anime in the US.
The nice thing about writing about the same show multiple times is that I can re-use images from past columns. Laziness, huzzah!
From time to time, an ideal combination of circumstances let a particular series or movie reach beyond the existing community and bring in a wave of new anime fans. It’s happened before with Akira, Cowboy Bebop, the Dragon Ball franchise, and several of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. Take equal parts accessibility and originality, add fuel for heated debates with fellow fans, and serve it up with the biggest, broadest release possible. Suddenly, there’s a whole new wave of first-time attendees at your next local anime convention.
Attack on Titan is poised to have a similar impact, with plenty of the necessary ingredients for success already present. It’s a mean, nasty, polarizing series, but it’s perfectly crafted for getting viewers hooked on it and talking about it. For starters, look at the sizable cast of characters. Between the central trio, the class of cadets, and the veterans of the Scout Regiment (or whatever your preferred translation is), there’s a wide range of personalities and backstories. It’s nearly impossible not to find at least one character to get attached to and root for. The series then takes these people and throws them into a story filled with end-of-episode cliffhangers, plot twists, and “holy crap, did that seriously just happen” moments. The big-budget action sequences and constant threat of character death give Titan the same kind of appeal as hit shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. It makes you want to talk other people into watching it so you can have loud, animated “did you see that” conversations after each week’s episode.
You know it’s a serious anime because so much of the promotional and fan art is completely adorable.
Couple this inherent appeal with an English dub and cable television run, and it becomes obvious that Attack on Titan has the potential to make waves in the US. Just look at what the subtitled simulcast did within the established anime community: it’s impossible to go to a convention these days without getting lost in a sea of khaki uniforms and maneuvering gear. Beyond that, look at the manga’s commercial success: Attack on Titan volume one has spent forty-nine consecutive weeks on the New York Times bestseller list for manga as of this column’s writing. FORTY. NINE. WEEKS. If the franchise can so thoroughly captivate the existing fandom, surely it can do the same to a fresh audience.
So, yes, Titan is important as a potential flagship title for anime in the US, but how is it doing so far? Four episodes have aired at this point, and not without ruffling some feathers here and there. The first episode featured an abridged version of the opening credits, which led to more than a few complaints from fans (and rightly so, it’s a great opening theme). Thankfully, the full version has been running from episode two onwards. The series also starts off with younger versions of the main characters, which always gets a bit rocky when it comes to English dubs. Playing a child convincingly is simply more difficult than providing the voice for an adult character. Apart from these speed bumps, though, I have to give Funimation a great deal of praise for their work on Titan.
The dub has a raw, intense quality to it that matches the show’s atmosphere perfectly. Rather than striving for pitch-perfect delivery, it lets the cast’s voices crack and strain through the multitude of shouted lines. Humanity is truly, royally screwed in the world of Attack on Titan, and the characters sound genuine in their moments of despair and desperation. This is not a subtle series. It’s the kind of show that wants you to stand up and yell at your television on a regular basis, and the English adaptation plays straight into that. There is a slight shift in tone, but it’s one that brings a more American sensibility to the cast, especially once the main characters join the military. Lines are delivered with a grim kind of wit that was less apparent in the original version. Think of the Japanese cast as the freighter crew in Alien, and the English actors as the marines in Aliens. The terror of impending death remains, but it’s coated with a bit of shaky, transparent bravado. It gives the series a slightly more Western feel, which should help it resonate with an American audience. Personally, it makes me look forward to the appearance of Titan’s more elite soldiers; Levi in particular has the potential to benefit from an added dose of snarky badassery.
Funimation needed to get the dub right in order to give Attack on Titan a good shot at converting new fans, and I’d argue that they’ve done exactly that. Longtime anime fans can, will, and should argue over the details for years to come, but our views aren’t the most important here. The people this dub needs to please are the ones who’ve never seen the series before, and from an outsider’s perspective, the English version of Attack on Titan is pretty darned cool.
You can buy the Attack on Titan anime and manga on Amazon here.
Kawaii Overthink is written by Paul Jensen. You can follow his ramblings about anime and manga on Twitter. Check back every Wednesday for new articles.