Stories about giants are ancient and universal. It isn't hard to understand why: Children are born into a world populated by big, lurching terrors with bad breath and enormous teeth — or is that Uncle Frank just trying to be chummy?

In Shinji Higuchi's "Shingeki no Kyojin" ("Attack on Titan") — a visually dazzling but exasperating two-part fantasy epic based on Hajime Isayama's megahit manga — the giants, called Titans, are humanoid creatures who are male and female, fat and thin, young and not-so-young. And yet they were terrifying to the 4-year-old still living inside my head, existing as they did in the Uncanny Valley between the familiar (the Titans are played by real humans) and the creepily alien (an effect created by dehumanizing make-up, costuming and digital effects).

As the film begins, they are hidden beyond towering walls, one outer and one inner, built 100 years ago to protect a land seemingly inspired by local fantasies about quaint Swiss villages and green alpine meadows. To most of the human inhabitants the Titans are little more than legendary creatures that terrorized their ancestors.