Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Attack on Titan Junior High Episode 12 (Final Thoughts)--The Line Between Parody and Mimicry

I never expected to feel so conflicted over this show.

Before I get into my review, I’d like to apologize for the lack of a post last week! When I opened up my Blogger tab after watching the episode, this was all I could come up with:

Once again, I'm very biased towards certain characters
This was an odd experience for me. Despite admitting over the last few weeks that it was getting more and more difficult to write about Attack on Titan Junior High, every week I’d still found something to respond to. Putting out a post that was just “my two favorite side characters showed up with the exact same expression I had when watching this episode” felt like a cop-out. I tried to think of something else to talk about and came up blank. I ended up not posting at all, wondering how I was still enjoying a show when I couldn’t think of anything to say about it.

This week, I figured out my problem, as well as Attack on Titan Junior High’s fatal flaw in its later episodes. There’s just no original content to respond to.

While the Junior High manga certainly won’t work for everyone with its sense of slapstick humor and near-constant pop-culture references, what drew me to it was its ability to draw on the source material to put the characters in ridiculous but original situations. A few of these show up in the anime, but in an altered way to accommodate the anime’s aim to parody the main Attack on Titan series as well. At first, they worked pretty well in combination, acting like kind of an easter egg hunt for more hardcore fans. But over the last few weeks, the only content has been the near shot-for-shot remakes of popular scenes.

That’s not to say that the anime adaptation is lacking in original content or that the new content it came up with is bad. My favorite episode of the season has to be the test of courage one, where Isayama’s art style was used whenever the characters got scared. That was an excellent way of parodying the source material without following it so closely that there’s not much point in watching the alternative version.

However, a lot of the episodes don’t follow this trend. Many take the general thread from a story and use it as an excuse For example, this episode was meant to conclude the school festival story. I don’t remember cheeseburgers making an appearance at all in the manga, since in that version the school festival story was focused around the main group trying to put a band together to win the Battle of the Bands contest. To me, it came off as more of a parody of the infamous Haruhi band scene more than anything else, and the characters learn an important lesson about teamwork…until the upper classmen band No Name wipes the floor with them.

It was a funny moment, and also gave Levi fans like me more fodder, since he’s the lead singer of No Name. This was the part of the anime adaptation I was looking forward to the most, but instead of Battle of the Bands, the anime decided to have a cheeseburger battle and spend most of its runtime re-animating the scene from the main series when Titan Eren blocks the hole in the wall. Then they randomly drop in about ten seconds of No Name (who I guess should be renamed to No Context) before Eren goes on to save his cheeseburgers in a rehash of this anime’s first episode. My disappointment knew no bounds.

I’m not here to watch a chibified version of Eren blocking the hole in the wall. If I wanted to watch that scene, I would watch the original anime series. I was here to watch him lose at a battle of the bands competition, be called racist by his friends for disliking Titans, and get caught in a love triangle between Mikasa and Annie. Those were a few of the things that I loved in the parody manga, and none of these things happened in the anime. The manga didn’t lack in material to pull from, yet the anime ended up swinging so hard in the direction of making visual references to the anime that it lost everything that made it different. Can you really call yourself a parody show if the last thing you do is drop the characters into a near-exact replica of the main series?

And when I say "replica," I mean that literally

As a result, I’m not sure who this anime adaptation is for anymore. It references too many spoilers or gets too weird and obscure with its references for it to be much fun for the casual fan, and die-hard fans will likely run into the same problem that I did—enjoying all the little easter eggs but wondering what happened to the substance. Its early episodes were a lot of fun, but when it stopped being a parody and moved into straight-up mimicry it lost me, even though it took me the rest of the show to realize it.

It feels like this spinoff wanted to appeal to everyone in the broad audience that Attack on Titan attracted and ended up being too paranoid to veer away from the original material. Given what’s happened to a different parody show this season, I can’t really blame them, and yet the early episodes hit all the right notes. I’m not sure what happened, but it’s a shame.

However, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the show. While I’m very disappointed by what it turned into, the earlier episodes were a treat to watch, which you can see in my fangirl gushing over the first few episode posts. The Junior High spinoff is an important one to me as a fan of Attack on Titan because it provides a break from the doom and gloom of the main series. It’s great to see characters who have long been killed off in either the anime or the manga return once again in a safe and silly world, even if it is as one-note parody counterparts. It’s nice to take a step back from the seriousness of the series and laugh at it for a bit.

In conclusion, about half of this show I really enjoyed, and the other half I could have gone without. The show had its genuinely funny moments and was a nice distraction from the fact that there still isn’t a concrete air date for the second season of Attack on Titan, but in the end it does little more than that. If you’re interested in the premise of this parody, the Junior High manga does a lot more with it than the anime lets on. Otherwise, this show is only fun for the die-hard fan.

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