Manga Reviews

The shrinking of Attack on Titan

Back in 2011, I wrote two posts about the manga series Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) and since then, it’s only grown in popularity, and in addition to a live-action movie, now has an anime series starting in April, too. I can’t wait to see how it turns out, but in the meantime, I figured I’d catch up with the latest chapters, and, man, is it still good or what? But there’s something else I have to note too, in that by beginning to explain many of its mysteries, Attack on Titan is shrinking.

What first attracted me to this series was the idea of the invading giants. Who are they? Where did they come from? For what reason are they feasting on us? The possibilities seemed endless, the story limitless. I had these questions, but deep down, I didn’t want to know the answers. I’d rather fill in the gaps myself. The more we know, the smaller the story becomes. One good example is the refusal of Evangelion to explain away the attacks or origins of the Angels. People have theories, but that’s as far as it goes. The arrival of the gates in Darker than Black is another one we never get an answer for.
I wish more storytellers would follow in a similar vein and leave their unknowable things as exactly that, unknowable. Injecting logic and motivation isn’t a bad thing per se, but serves only to limit the scope of a story. It becomes less about adventure and more of a personal, human drama. That’s where Attack on Titan is right now, paying the price for explaining itself by halving the scale of its story. It’s never less than interesting and exciting, and in many ways, has now become an even darker story than I ever dared imagine, but it’s different now, too.
I’ve always loved horror. Survival horror, especially, with an undercurrent of social commentary. Like how Night of the Living Dead was really about racism, that kind of thing. Horror often represents the (sometimes repressed) fears of a generation, like how cold war America produced a lot of the genre’s most enduring stories. All of that fear of communism was the driving force behind films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing, stories about aliens taking on human bodies, infiltrating small communities and hiding their true nature.
Attack on Titan
I’m now going to delve into spoiler territory for Attack on Titan, so if you’re new to the series, I’d stop reading now. The reason I mentioned the above is that it’s fast becoming clear that the Titans aren’t driven by alien impulse, but by humans (driven, literally,) many of whom are from within the walls, many of whom are the trainees we came to know and trust along with Eren over the years. To think they’ve had a willing hand in all the suffering we’ve seen since the start!? One thing I’m particularly looking forward to with the anime is in gauging the level of foreshadowing in Annie, Ymir, Bertholt and Reiner. Those last 2 were shocking. Especially Reiner. You were one of my favourites, man.
Unlike post war America, we don’t live in fear of communism anymore. Our fears du jour concern terrorism, religion or general anti-socialists. All of these are now a huge part of Attack on Titan, not least of all, the revelation that there’s a religion devoted to the walls, with hints that it may be working against humanity. Likewise, all of these young adults, seemingly good-hearted, suddenly becoming violent and distant for no apparent reason, is perhaps symbolic of the invisible walls separating the increasingly disaffected from “normal” society. The London riots come to mind. We’re now no longer able to see the Titans as pure, mindless rage. These aren’t monsters, but people, and they have reasons for doing such terrible things. So, while Attack on Titan may have sacrificed a lot of its sheer scale, the result is multiplying shades of gray and an even darker heart.
April 7, 2013. Be there.

7 replies on “The shrinking of Attack on Titan”

This is an awesome post, but there’s a few things I take contention with in it:
The first is, I’ve never really viewed Shingeki no Kyojin as a horror – in my mind, it was always much more about the triumph of human spirit against a seemingly unwinnable, and definitely abstract enemy. I always compared it, in my mind, more to Starship Troopers, or a Fullmetal Alchemist than The Thing. That said, your argument makes sense. It is a horror, in a way, because it’s so unwinnable.
The other thing I’d mention is that, if we’re looking for societal fears etc. as reflected by Shingeki no Kyojin, then the world inside the wall reflects Japan. It’s enclosed (by walls, or in Japan’s case by water), and is a society that some of its inhabitants see as in some kind of slow, prolonged decline: they know they can’t keep going on the way they’re going, yet no one knows how to change it. There’s a very similar situation happening in Japan’s parliament right now, in regards to the stagnation of their economy since the bubble. I think as much as the element of insurgent fear shown in Shingeki no Kyojin, the author paints a picture of an entire race of people wearied by their circumstances.

That’s another really interesting interpretation. The idea of the sea surrounding Japan being like a wall is affective and, no doubt, very relevant here, too.

I didn’t know there was an anime version coming out! Excellent! I’ve been wanting to see it in some form ever since your 2011 post. I wonder if it’ll get ruined …
On the other hand, 2013 has been a dismal year for anime so far. Even a diluted version of this show would up the average.

I’m looking forward to gauging people’s reactions to it. Much will be said about how messed up it all is (and it is, really,) but it’s the fundamental truth underlying all the ‘evil’ that I’m hoping comes through.

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