Shows You Might have Missed: God Eater (the Animation)

Watching shows like Attack on Titan, sometimes my mind wonders off and ponders on what could have been. For all of that shows narrative strengths (and faults), it always bugged me that it so very quickly dived into the whole "spoiler:humans can become Titans too!" idea, as what I would personally have preferred to see a more human struggle against impossible odds. It also sometimes bothers me that whatever world-ending apocalypse that wiped out humanity, be it Titans or zombie outbreak, just sort of.... happened. Some degree of narrative concession and suspension of disbelief is of course warranted in such fictional settings perhaps, but still I can't help but wonder things like how on earth humanity got overrun by a bunch of walking corpses, nevermind the whole idea of corpses being able to stay active for any long periods of time without sustenance.

So, here comes along God Eater, another entry for a post-apocalyptic world where humans are on the brink of extinction. Based on the video game series of the same name, God Eater takes place in the year of 2071, decades after the appearance of Aragami that are impervious to all known weaponry, consuming anything and everything in their path. An organisation known as Fenrir has more recently developed God Arcs, weapons developed from Aragami cells. The God Arcs and their compatible users known as the titualr godeaters are humanity's very first known way to actually stopping an Aragami, and the story of God Eater focuses on the lives of these individuals. Piecemeal world-building moments and flashbacks throughout the show gives light to why and how the whole status quo came to be, and though it isn't exactly groundbreaking stuff, it is at least something, and clear some real thought is put into how the world is structured.

The story of God Eater is a rather thoughtful rethink of the God Eater storyline for use on television, painting a bleak and harrowing picture of the post-apocalyptic world as opposed to the more action hero leanings of the source material. God Eater starts off in a world where humanity is already screwed, and the recent arrival of God Eaters only a temporary stopgap to slow its perhaps inevitable extinction to the Aragami threat, emphasized by the impossibility of fully exterminating the ever-evolving Aragami and the existence of things they should perhaps never, ever attempt to contest, hoping that humans are just plainly below their notice. As strong as the narrative backdrop is though, just like any other good post-apocalyptic fiction, its how the various characters in the story react to their reality that makes the show. And here enters the show's protagonist, Utsugi Lenka.

Lenka himself enters the story simple enough, a lone refugee waltzing into Fenrir's Far East headquarters asking to be tested on God Arc compatability. Quickly found to be compatible with the newly-developed second generation God Arcs, he is quickly recruited and trained as a new godeater. Lenka starts of as a kinf of generic shounen lead, much akin to someone like Eren from Attack on Titan. He is idealistic, driven, emotional, and very impatient, desperate even in how he keeps trowing himself headfirst into situations that are clearly way above his head. It sounds pretty generic so far, and for the first third of the season that is pretty much how the entire show felt. Luckily, Lenka's later development and maturation as a character has plenty of thematic bite. He is consistently shown how weak he is in the grand scheme of things, and for all the supposed strengths of Fenrir and the God Eaters, they are clearly not the solution to their world's problems, and it is easily apparent they cannot, and will not lend help to everyone. Lenka had to come to terms with the reality he lives in and the one he so desperately wants, but is clearly too busy with his new job and own emotions to put much thought into it. It was not until he is taken out of the action that he has time to ponder about his past, to reeeally think about why he became a Godeater. Episode 10 was a nice bit of character introspection and look into his past, and as cliche as it was, damnit if it isn't one of the most effective character moments in anime I have seen in years. 

Now, for all that good stuff I mentioned there are just huge, glaring faults to the whole show. The first 4 episodes felt like a real slog at times, with generic setpieces and characters that are hard to really care about. Episode 5-9 brought a welcome tonal shift, featuring some downright harrowing moments and stark grimness, but is nonetheless bogged by inconsistent pacing and lack of room to properly characterize the side characters. Speaking of them, while God Eater clearly does have a cast of fairly interesting characters in Lenka's squadmates and the higher ups in Fenrir, not much time was really dedicated to fully flesh them out. What we got wasn't terrible, and some characters becomes very intriguing by the end, but there are plenty of character arcs that were evidently shafted for time. I don't know how much of the show's issues have to do with its hellish production problems. From what I can gather, studio Ufotable had barely any time to work on the anime, with less than a month between the end of Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works and the start of God Eater. So pressed for time they were the studio that normally does most of its work inhouse hired 11 animation directors and more than 70 key animators to make it in time, and still they had numerous delays which eventually lead them to pause its airing at episode 9, airing episodes 10-13 a whopping 6 months later.

The silver lining in all that however, is that the extra work put in that 6 months really, really showed. Without spoiling anything, I very much enjoyed those 4 episodes, so much so that I would say that those alone make to whole show worth the trouble. As for what I cannot fault Ufotable for when it comes to the entire show is the quality of production. While not quite as polished as their work on the Type-Moon franchise, God Eater still looks pretty darn good. Excellent art direction, gorgeous dystopian backdrops, surprisingly good synergy of CG and 2D animations, and some sick action sequences help alleviate the show in its low points and really made the high points really stand out. If you do plan on watching the show, know that Ufotable also made additional enhancements to the visual in their bluray releases, not that the original looked bad by any means, but the additional layer of polish shows. Big shoutout also to the amazingly good soundtrack, in particular the insert songs by Ghost Oracle Drive.

All in all, God Eater is very much a flawed show that has some really good elements going for it. Much of my initial poor impressions of it were counterbalanced by how much I liked the final episodes. The show does end at a cliffhanger, and my experience with the source material indicate it is only through a third of the first game's content, and if what I seen there is any indication there is plenty of very meaty content to come, IF it ever does.


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