I’m not sure if this is a disclaimer, or an affirmation of greater objectivity, but I’ve never seen the Attack on Titan anime that is based off this manga, nor, if the manga is any indication, am I interested in seeing it.
If you somehow avoided the hype train of anime’s biggest big hit in recent memory, Attack on Titan is a 2013 show about humanity trying to survive after caging themselves behind massive walls to keep out the Titans. Titans are, well, these things…
… and they eat people. They range in height, from 3-6 meters for the lil’ ones, 7 meters standard, 8-15 meters if you really need something to shit your pants over, and the occasional 60 meter one, just for when you think humanity isn’t already fucked enough.
To deal with this threat, and go out beyond the walls, a military is formed, which trains soldiers in the use of Vertical Maneuvering Equipment, a.k.a. Spiderman powers that shoot from your belt. This equipment helps soldiers reach the Titan’s only weak point, the backs of their necks. A quick papercut there and they go down hard.
Enter some characters, Eren Yeager, Mikasa Ackerman, and Armin Arlert. Eren’s kinda a badass who suffers from a mild case of protagonist syndrome, but we don’t spend too much time with him so it’s cool. Mikasa is a major badass who suffers from a mild case of Revi syndrome (girls can’t be tough unless something psyche destroying happened to them when they were young). And Armin’s a wuss with good grades because smart people have to be dorks. I’m not impressed by any of the characters here, but Armin’s by far the worst. We’ll get to why later.
They all enter the military training after some Titans give them the gift of orphanhood. After five years of nothing all that interesting I suppose, they graduate and are stationed at the outermost of the three main walls, Wall Rose. The Titans, I guess realizing that the protagonists were finally ready, launch an attack on humanity’s last stronghold, and oh boy, it’s like a pack of velociraptors being let loose in the kitten nursery.
Things go bad. Then get worse. Then you just start rooting for the Titans because, while you always want the home team to win, sometimes you just have to accept that being a Torontonian means being disappointed. But then, just when all hope seems lost, Mikasa remembers that she can kick ass, and Armin remembers that he can figure out a plan to help Mikasa kick even more ass! Don’t ask where Eren was.
Some Titans are killed, a couple hundred people get slaughtered, some actual named characters had their heads bitten off, and they all cowered in fear horrendously ever after. So, one question. Why do people like this so much?
Let’s start with the premise; the whole Titan thing. It never felt that interesting or even original to me. Sure, we’ve never seen this take quite this form before, but being confined to a stronghold in a world that wants to wipe humanity out, it’s not particularly new. The shape of the threat, the Titans, are the only sort of unique point, but they behave just like big zombies. Hell, replace one Titan with roughly twenty zombies, and you’ve got pretty much the same thing.
Though one thing I really liked was the idea of a special military with cool gear specialized in handling the threat. That’s not a bad touch, but nothing interesting is done with it. The story just rushes through the entire five years of training, and given that most zombie movie heroes fight like some sort of military veterans anyway, it fails to add anything new except for the gear.
The art is bad It’s generally good enough that, if you’re not familiar with better manga, you probably won’t notice it, but the flaws are there if you look for them. Faces look flat, and expressions often feel awkward, more so then intended. The backgrounds are dull and often nonexistent. At first I thought it was because these were rushed to go along with the anime, but the manga is the original work here and has been running since 2009.
Still, I won’t harp on it too much. One of my favourite manga series is Spice and Wolf, but when I go back to read the early volumes now, they look much worse than this. Manga series are massive projects for artists, able to take up over a decade of their work. The artists improve.
Then there are the characters. I gave Armin special attention before, so I’ll start with him. The only thing that’s supposed to set him apart is his brains. He’s weak, which puts his comrades in danger, but is supposed to earn redemption by thinking a of way to save everyone. But this never really happens, at least not to any satisfying degree.
There are three ways in which he’s supposed to be smart. He’s supposed to be wise (that is, have a philosophical outlook), excel academically, and be a good strategist. Well, the manga never actually shows his academic skill, so we just have to take other characters at their word on that. The first scene we see him in is supposed to show his wisdom. He’s getting roughed up be a bully and uses the “you’re too stupid to fight me with words, that’s why you have to use your fists!” line. That’s not smart, that’s just an old cliché. Sure it may be true, but a kids’ cartoon moral is hardly a nugget of wisdom. And finally his plan, while it works, doesn’t take all the much brain power. One group makes a distraction while the other launches a sneak attack. That ain’t Sun Tzu, it’s Scooby Doo.
There isn’t much to say about Eren, and Mikasa is basically the polar opposite of Armin. While Armin breaks down in fear and depression under pressure, Mikasa receives a +50% badass buff from it, realizing for the hundredth time that, “In this world, it’s kill or be killed.” Other than that, every other character lies somewhere on the spectrum between Armin and Mikasa. Sometimes they break down, sometimes they step up. It’s the same for all of them, and it’s played off as if it’s new character development each time. Sure, it’s new for this particular character, but we just saw two other guys go through the exact same thing last chapter.
Finally, the moral itself, that “It’s kill or be killed” thing. I hate this. I don’t mind it when it’s made specific to a situation or something, but the way this manga repeats it makes it seem like the message you’re supposed to get from it. And it’s a horrible message.
Chances are, if you’re reading this or Attack on Titan, no one is looking to kill you. In fact, most of the people you meet in your everyday life are probably decent, well-meaning people. Because people generally are. That’s not universal, but if you can take the time out of your day to read some idiots opinion on a Japanese comic book, you’re probably not on any Mafia hit list.
But when you push this idea, that the world is “kill or be killed,” you make people distrustful. You make people think that if they give their neighbour an inch, they’ll take a mile. You make them think that it’s not worth doing something nice for someone else, because they’ll never return the favour. And you make them think, “If I don’t strike first, I’m the Putz. If I don’t take advantage of others, they’ll take advantage of me.” And once people start thinking like that, it becomes true. I don’t want that to become true.
I guess I can understand why people like the anime. It looks much better, and this is definitely a case where anime pacing works better than manga pacing. But I still find the characters dull, the story isn’t as original as it looks, and the message is a bad one to send. I’m not going to continue with either the manga or anime, but if you like what you’re seeing, it wouldn’t hurt to check them out.
Don’t Lose Your Way