There are several reasons that one could point to that support the claim that Attack on Titan is a good show. Strong, unique action sequences, solid character writing and good music are all points in favor of such an argument. Despite its (overblown) technical flaws, many people like Titan for these and other reasons.
I’m not as interested in why people like Titan and think it’s good as I am in why we (myself included here) enjoy it so damn much. Though one can like and enjoy media for the same reason(s), I think there is a distinction to be made between the two when it comes to Shingeki no Kyojin.
Suggested Soundtrack for Reading –White Lies “Death”
We all enjoy Titan because of the titans themselves, because of what they represent and because of the responses they bring out of the human characters. The show has done a marvelous job establishing the titans as forces of nature. An encounter with one means certain death, barring the exceedingly rare exception. Not only do the characters in the show think this, they know this. And so do we. We’ve all had images of death-by-titan burned into our brains. To ask (a character or an audience member) whether or not a Survey Corps Officer freshly snatched from the sky by a titan will meet her end is tantamount to asking whether or not the sun will rise tomorrow. The titans represent an all-to-rare element in fiction: truly inescapable doom.
The brute fact of what the titans represent forces the characters to confront the realization of not simply their own demise, but their violent demise. When the titans attack, the end is knocking on your door. With each step the giants take towards them, each of the characters feels their life shorten. This situation brings feelings of genuine terror bubbling to the surface for the characters (and for some of the audience?). We see it in the eyes of the soldiers, in their decision-making, in their behavior. Episode seven features multiple instances in which suicide is at the forefront of characters’ minds. These people suffer.
Now, I think we are attracted to this spectacle for a few reasons. First, the display of raw human emotion on our screens has always held our collective fascination. Whether it’s grief, joy or fear of violent death, if displays of unfiltered emotion are depicted in a way that feels real to us, then we can’t look away. Second, and more specific to Titan, there’s something profoundly unsettling about the degree of unbridled fear, a feeling which is continually justified by the titans, that is splattered across the screen during this show. It’s not every day we see this sort of thing. Lots of anime deal with, say, loss of loved ones. These shows make us think about what it would be like for our family or friends to die. Titan continually gives us characters who cry, “I’m going to die.” And then they die. This makes us think not about losing someone else but about what it would be like for us to meet a violent end. These kinds of thoughts displace us existentially. We sort of live like violent death is outside of possible experience, though we are aware on some level that it is very possible. Though they may sound initially unappealing, it is the foreignness of these thoughts that makes them alluring.
Speaking of things that are seemingly-repugnant but actually are quite engaging to us, a related reason we all enjoy Titan is that we are actually kind of intrigued by seeing people suffer. I don’t mean that we necessarily enjoy seeing others suffer in grotesque or violent ways; however, there is a part of us that takes an interest when bad things happen to other people, an interest beyond what we can do to help. Sure, in fiction we enjoy the build-up of desperation so that characters can rise above and overcome it. At the same time, we can’t deny, I feel, that we are attracted to the desperation in itself, both inside and outside of fiction. This s why rubbernecking is a word. So, in a strange sort of way, Titan simultaneously makes us conscious of our own mortality but also allows us to distance ourselves from it by being entertained by the mortality of fictional characters.
Bit of a tangent: I don’t think the show will be as good later on as it was in the beginning and is right now. As the characters begin to grow stronger and smarter, they will figure out more reliable ways to kill the titans, and, as they gain experience in near-death situations, they will become emotionally hardened. The effect the titans have on the characters at this point in the series can’t last forever. Enjoy it while you can.