Unless you have lived behind the Black Gate of Mordor, the Barrier of Gion Snò, or behind the Wall Sina so far, you are surely aware of Shingeki no Kyojin and its enormous success with critics and worldwide audiences.
In case you are part of that remaining part of humanity (…) and you don’t even know if this stuff is edible, here are the basic coordinates to reach the series (…)
Attack on Titan is one of the most famous and acclaimed shonen manga series of recent years, with all due respect to other action manga such as One Punch, My Hero Academia and the old One Piece.
Where exactly to start?
Why do audiences and critics like AOT so much?
Why does it inspire half the world of cosplayers to greet every comic fair?
Why is the anime adaptation by WIT Studio absolutely amazing?
We go by order and by degree. Or, at least, let’s try.
Shingeki no Kyojin tells the story of Eren Jeager and his two childhood friends, Armin and Mikasa, forced to live in a patently militaristic apocalyptic world, in which humanity is on the verge of complete extinction, constantly placed under the threat of enormous man-eating giants, whose origin is shrouded in the deepest mystery. We don’t know where these huge beings come from, we don’t know how long they can live, we don’t know what they feed on, we don’t know why some stop moving at night and others don’t.
Virtually nothing is known. And this is the beauty of SnK.
These titanic beings seem to have no interest in other life forms in the rest of the world. In fact, it seems that they devour men only and exclusively for the simple pleasure of killing them, as if these gigantic beings were natural predators of the human race.
To protect themselves from these menacing anthropophagous titans of varying heights, which makes them genuinely terrible enemies, humans have built outside controlled territories, which include cities, villages, but also forests, lakes, Elysian fields and snow-capped mountains, a huge triple walls over fifty meters high: the Wall Rose, the Wall Maria and finally, the Wall Sina.
In this dark and violent world, which is very reminiscent of the dark age, man does not completely renounce his dreams of freedom and establishes, consistently with this feeling, a military research and exploration group for the areas outside the walls . His task is to discover the origin of the giants, study them (if possible), kill them (if possible), capture them (if possible) and free (if possible) new habitable areas for mankind. A thankless task.
To this canvas, Isayama finally adds the element that sets in motion all its complex structure and makes the whole work take off, making the otaku of SnK from half the world anxious: the clearly “shonen” character of the entire production . The fearsome devouring giants can be killed only if hit in a specific area of their deformed and asexual body, about one meter long, placed at the base of their hairless nape. Preferably, using a sharp weapon that removes this portion, such as when cutting a slice of watermelon.
To carry out this pindaric action, the expeditionary force is then equipped with complex three-dimensional maneuvering mechanisms, called ATM, a sort of harness of belts and metal that essentially shoots cables complete with a harpoon, through a particular propulsive system. This contraption allows them to attach themselves to solid surfaces (such as walls or tree trunks) and makes them skilled flying samurai, projecting them into clear and bleached skies, and then having them demolished ruinously on the hills of these authentic physiological havoc. Here is the bullshit, in short, otherwise the manga would not have sold fifty million copies all over the world, and also, it would not thrill cosplayers around the world. Let’s face it honestly.
With these acrobatic premises, done very well in the anime series, less so in the paper counterpart, for dynamic lines and rather poor screens, Eren and the other members of this sort of team for the salvation of humanity – it is up to you to discover the peculiar events that lead our dynamic trio to be part of it – they begin their final fight against the giant cyclopean. Together with their friends and fellow cadets, they fight, die and suffer, in what immediately appears to be a very inequitable and disproportionate battle for forces on the field. A fierce conflict, apparently without end, against an invincible, numerous and unstoppable enemy.
The first thing that strikes you in the manga is the man’s condition, pitiful to say the least. He doesn’t really have any situation under control, he makes enormous efforts and sacrifices and hardly ever gets concrete results. He dies and suffers, achieving no apparent benefit. He is highly unmotivated, scared and often unsuitable for any task assigned to him. Protagonists included (small exception for Mikasa, the girl from the hero group).
“Heroes are heroes only in words”, says an old poem from the late medieval period.
And reading Attack on Titan, its meaning is very clear right away: they are all unsuitable to face the Titans / Giants.
Attack on Titan is nothing more than a modern, almost pornographic, picture of today’s liquid society, which is struggling to find solutions to impossible problems, such as coexistence, sharing of the same spaces, tolerance, corruption, immigration and problems associated with these thorny issues that have always harassed mankind.
Although the work has been accused of being a manga romantically linked to the Japanese Empire of the First World War (in my opinion an authentic nonsense, in a purely wrong perspective of forced and partial contextualization) Attack on Titan is a much more interesting manga than it may seem on the surface. It is because it tells (albeit with some basic “shonen” naivety) of all of us. It tells of the war and the wars of mankind, of the horrors that result from heroic choices, of the wrong ideologies, of discrimination, of the abuse of power and much more. Once again, the first enemy to be killed is the one inside us, not the one outside the walls.
Shingeki no Kjojin is also the classic work of a careful otaku patchwork, which anyone who chews a little bit of manga and anime certainly cannot fail to recognize, especially in the general tones in this first outpouring to the genre by Isayama (or second, if we also consider the one-shot manga). There are ideas taken more or less openly from Devilman and the famous Kaiju movies of the Rising Sun, there are important references to the Tokusatsu genre, there are brilliant ideas taken from Evangelion and even from the Japanese doujin-soft that at the time inspired, not a little, the author. There are also references to late medieval iconography and even Moore’s and Nausicaa’s Watchmen end up in this hyperkinetic, damn convincing smoothie.
It is easy to recognize, moreover, the more or less indebted references of the manga. Eren’s Research / Exploration team resembles, albeit vaguely, the famous and beloved Griffith / Grifis Hawks, the albino co-star and nemesis in Berserk. Come to think of it, there are important analogies: Isayama bases a close-knit group of young boys, full of good hopes and well-defined feelings, then exterminates them mercilessly, almost as happened in the unforgettable Gatsu & Co. Blood Eclipse that caused many traumas to the readers of the stainless Kentaro Miura.
On the sidelines of this, many have dismissed the whole idea of Isayama as a sort of rip-off of the Zombie vein, creating ad hoc the classic “Barricade” mechanism, where Eren and his friends are confined to a place by an external threat and they must defend themselves against it by resorting to the usual clichés. A rather imprecise reading, if we analyze even the indirect co-protagonists of the story.
The Titans / Giants, while appearing to all intents and purposes “zombies”, are quite far from the classic iconography of the undead line of Romero and his successors. First of all, they are not undead creatures but rather, they are beings capable of expressing a terrible and ravenous vitality, with an enviable regenerative system and a frightening strength, which greatly distances them from the classic zombies.
The titans walk naked, with stupid smiles and glassy and watery looks, with grotesque and disturbing bodies, with wrong and annoying physiological geometries. These sexless giants who hang around lazily devouring people, without any explanation, do nothing else. They eat humans for the sake of killing them, not for food or survival. And when their stomachs are full, they throw them up on the ground in disgusting, slimy jelly balls. Although their figure remembers very much the revived corpses of Romerian memory, the famous zombies are in fact replaced by equally frightening, even more disturbing threats. Given some artistic solutions adopted by Isayama, who depicts these beings with impeccable grotesque taste, which closely resembles the most reckless surrealist art but also ancient torments of Francisco Goya’s pictorial art, the titans are summarily more “afraid” of zombies, because they seem almost indifferent to the horror they cause. It is not wickedness that dominates their actions, it is not reason, there is no perfidy when they eat you. And this is particularly disturbing.
More or less explicit references to the genre are scattered throughout every single page of the work, yet Attack on Titan is, in its own way, very original. Under the apparent surface, which clearly attracts the typical shonen reader more than the one who is looking for a little more articulate and profound, AOT is a very interesting work, perhaps one of the best manga around. It is at least a risky expedient, what Isayama offers on the narrative level: Attack on Titan is not an openly manga-shonen work, it seems rather to try to snatch the reader from the adolescent shores, to which he is used to and behind which he defends himself, like Eren and partners, to bring him to face the true titans of man, from the dawn of time. And those who eat entire populations with unspeakable violence.
From an original idea, albeit from a shonen for fourteen year olds, we have come to a strongly political manga, with social and anthropological reflections that pose existential and philosophical questions about the existence of human nature and its history. It began with stereotyped children decently characterized (the indefatigable rebel, the ultra-sensitive, the harsh that leads), confined within a rather advanced (in some ways) medieval utopian who decided to pursue a military career following personal character. And we arrived at a decidedly unexpected overall picture. It is certainly not Osamu Tezuka’s The Story of the Three Adolfs, let’s be clear, but he is a shonen with some more adult moments of his own kind of belonging. Attack on Titan could even be defined as a coming-of-age manga, in some ways.
There is really a lot to say from the preliminary ideas, both in terms of the setting and the initial themes. The settings suggested by the author are very reminiscent of the suggestions of medieval European agglomerations, with interesting cultural glimpses also towards Europe of the early twentieth century. For example, the city and the fortifications of our continent seem openly taken as a model, but it is on the genres that Isayama’s work expresses itself and focuses much more effectively. First of all, the genre of belonging, or the post apocalyptic, is a very well defined category. The typically Japanese care taken in schematizing and organizing every single aspect of the story, in order to build a complex logical and coherent macrocosm, is truly impressive and works well. The anime increases this sensation, offering interesting tools during the eyecatches (commercial breaks during the episodes) to better understand the complex universe of Attack on Titan.
It is striking how the author, as the manga proceeds, explains in detail every smallest idea of the dark story and not only always adds new and exciting ones, but wisely snacks what, in the hands of any other “shonen” author, would become an authentic fool in the span of a couple of chapters / seasons, with more and more powers to manage, very long battles, factions of good and bad that stand in the way, giants with increasingly incredible and increasingly boring powers. Material of this type, in the wrong hands (90% of current Japanese mangakas), would have decreed its premature end prematurely, boring to death the reader / viewer. The author, however, despite the initial perplexities, is very skilled at moving the story when appropriate and when it is needed for the rhythm of the story, for example suddenly turning the point of view, where the reader thinks he has realized who the heroes are. of the affair.
The focus of Attack on Titan is not just to tell humanity through the poetics of clashes, avoiding the disarming trivialization of combat, but rather to build a prolific exchange of ideologies – between author and reader – that unite the entire human race in its entirety. Especially in the second narrative arc of the manga, which touches absolute peaks of non-canonical narration, with the reader who no longer knows where to lean, such are the motivations put in place. Isayama slowly but meticulously builds a narrative plot that explains many aspects of this human society. Outside of the totalizing themes of the work, such as freedom, oppression, humanity, mystery, combat, origins and the ensuing reinterpretations, it amazes how the whole narrative arc is perfectly oiled and works splendidly, masterfully using the anelassi (say even flashbacks).
However, it takes time to return something infinitely superior to the initial premises of the work, which saw, at least at the beginning, fluttering kids who cut giant necks into slices, often ending up horribly devoured, leaving ample space for typically shonen-drama moments. . There is also a wide range of reflections on the places of the story, on the strongly symbolic meanings and on the dynamics of prose.
The human race, enclosed behind these colossal walls, is a careful fresco of today’s multiracial and multicultural society, even if these aspects are never proposed with too much conviction due to specific authorial choices. We are the last piece of humanity, Isayama seems to be telling us, but we always suck enough, all things considered. We manage not to fight a bloody war within the walls only because we have recreated ad hoc the typical deficits of the modern era and the twentieth century or, better, all its most salient passages, such as dividing the population into very distinct social classes: poor people, rich people, monarchy, noble class, ambushed… and we just can’t manage not to divide ourselves under a reassuring paramilitary government, even if we are on the verge of collapse. We are unable to accept the poverty of others as a heavy deficit in our lifestyle, it is necessarily a failure of our neighbor, which certainly does not belong to us.
These thoughts are fostered by some extremely coherent field choices.
For example, the society within the walls is not an agglomeration of hateful Japanese characters but a great multi-ethnic social fabric. There are characters with French, Japanese, Italian, German surnames, who all live together, but very little passionately, judging by the social divide that distinguishes the wealthy classes, made up of a lazy and spoiled bourgeoisie, from the poor, and identifies in this last an expendable resource. There are in fact outlying neighborhoods whose sole purpose is to attract the attention of man-eating giants, so as to thin out their vast numbers if the walls are overcome.
Attack on Titan is so popular with the public because, in the end, it’s a very human manga. It looks like a kind of fable by the Andersen brothers or Aesop, but in an apocalyptic key.
The characters that make up this intricate but decidedly fascinating story are weak insecure like most of the readers who read them. Acts of heroism are often stupid demonstrations, performed without thinking in the least about the consequences. People do not die in a heroic way but rather in a rather humiliating way, screaming, crying and kicking like obsessed. Heroes are constantly unfit to face threats, unable to react to their surroundings out of fear, anger, pride, second thoughts, cowardice. At any time, there is room for rethinking and the feeling, given the proper premises of being in front of a sort of Game of Thrones in soy sauce, in which no one is actually ever safe and everyone can not only die badly. , but also in a disheartening solitude.
Attack on Titan fully shows the fragility of the human soul, contrasting it with the feelings of courage, freedom and hope of the disheartened protagonists of this decidedly grotesque story, at the base of which a meticulous undergrowth of political fiction and martial fights moves, in which one sees not only a clear predisposition of the author regarding the management of hand-to-hand fights, but also a remarkable creative flair in managing them, without ever making it seem de facto a shonen for kids. The manga and the anime, a faithful transposition, tell of how unsuitable the human race is to deal, first of all, with the same human race. How a barrier, a wall or an obstacle of some kind are not only and solely physical impediments but, first of all, ideological blocks, cemented in our brain before in the obscene reality that surrounds us.
The wall defends us from external dangers but at the same time makes us prisoners, it defends us but forces us to submit to its inflexible structure, it is a source of security but also of weakness. The wall, however, also builds our identity and, safe behind it, we are on the right side. The others “are people outside the walls”.
Each character we meet in Isayama’s work clearly has its own history, its own past, but it is not on single aspects that the author excels in narrating, rather in the overall choral nature of this school of cadets. All the main characters of the story, and not only, clearly have a motivation to fight the monstrous giants but there is a substantial difference in how Isayama exploits the narrative plot and in how she manages to bend them to the more adult tones of her tale, delivering an interesting and original formula, constantly depriving the fight, what follows from it and the interpersonal relationships that exist between the protagonists.
Speaking of the protagonists, Isayama is particularly adept at motivating each choice of the primary and secondary characters of the story. There are those who, boldly, cannot wait to face the external dangers of the walls and say they are ready to slice dozens of giants, only to remain completely helpless to their mere sight. There are those who, instead of experiencing the mortifying experience of testing what they have learned, appropriately decide to choose a military corps at the end of the training academy that allows a more peaceful and comfortable life (for example the gendarmerie corps, which deals with ensuring and enforcing the law in force in the city). There are those who attend the academy because this, if finished positively, offers a profession that fills the stomach. Finally, there are those who don’t care about everything and everyone and really want to change things. Attack on Titan is nothing more than a mirror of current society, changing and fragmented, a particular manga that is capable of boring in a few chapters or capturing as few manga can do.
The concepts expressed in the work, such as humanity desperately trying to keep monsters out, only to become aware of even bigger monsters within its social fabric, are effective paradigms of our society today.
And here I stop, even if I could advance.