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Worlds Without End Blog

Fantasy Manga 101: Attack on Titan Posted at 11:45 AM by Glenn Hough


titan1There must be nothing quite like having a red hot manga. Not since Kubo’s Bleach in 2001 has the manga world been this excited. Hajime Isayama, the mangaka, is rock’en the manga world right now. You can tell from the manga best seller lists here and in Japan. Attack on Titan routinely has multiple issues in the top 20. You know something is hot when an English translation house starts pumping out volumes on a monthly basis to feed the ravenous hunger of the American Otaku and to bring us up to speed on the Japanese release schedule.

This is what Kodansha says about Attack on Titan:

In this post-apocalytpic sci-fi story, humanity has been devastated by the bizarre, giant humanoids known as the Titans. Little is known about where they came from or why they are bent on consuming mankind. Seemingly unintelligent, they have roamed the world for years, killing everyone they see. For the past century, what’s left of man has hidden in a giant, three-walled city. People believe their 100-meter-high walls will protect them from the Titans, but the sudden appearance of an immense Titan is about to change everything.

Let the Carnage begin.

titan2The story follows a trio – Eren Yaager, Mikasa Ackerman, Armin Arlert. They were there the day the third wall, wall Maria, fell, allowing the Titans free reign to their food: Humans. Eren watched his mother being eaten by a Titan as he was hauled to safety behind the second wall. This was the day Eren swore vengeance on the Titans. Which is harder than it looks since Titans regenerate quickly when you slice them or shoot them. They only have one known vulnerable kill spot. Since the trio are middle schoolers, the story skips ahead five years to basic training for the military. All three have signed up, passed, and think themselves ready for what awaits them. Not even close. Our trio have signed up with the Survey Corp., which has a mortality rate between 30-50%. The corps is where they venture out beyond the walls and kill Titans. It’s the branch of the military which works the hardest at unraveling the mysteries of what the Titans are, how to fight them, and maybe even why the Titans do what they do. It’s the perfect place for Eren and his cohorts, if he can survive his first sortie against the overwhelming power that the Titans represent.

titan5This manga has been a delight because it has consistently surprised me. With a lot of works, novels, manga, whatever, once you start the plot threads in motion, a lot of the time it becomes really obvious where the author or mangaka is going to end up. This is not one of those works. The surprises have only deepened the mysteries and added new layers of intrigue as the plot unfolds. This is a drop everything manga. When I get each new issue, whatever I happen to be reading already, can wait.

The heart of this manga is simple stuff: What are the Titans? Why do they eat nothing but Humans? Where do they come from or how are they made? How do you kill them? Who, on the human side, knows more than they’re telling? What purpose does decimating humanity serve?

As the manga unfolds, these are the questions that the survey corps is after, even if it seems that they’re the only ones searching for the answers. Corrupt laziness runs deep in the other two branches of the military. They don’t face Titans regularly like the Survey Corps so that breeds indifference to the Titan threat. It’s far easier to be indifferent when you’ve got a fuller belly than everyone else. It’s easy not to think about how Humanity is in a cage, patrolled by ravenous Titans, who could breach the walls at any time. Why the Titans let Humanity have eras of peace is just another mystery. It’s obvious Humanity is being played on a time table set by the Titans. Or are their unknown Human actors behind the Titans, plotting the punctuated equilibrium of the genocide? More questions; always more questions. For Eren and his friends in the Survey Corps, each answer or hint of an answer, is paid for in blood.

titan7There’s blood everywhere. Rivers of it. Spilled to protect, spilled to take down and destroy, spilled in vain attempts at payback, spilled by maneuvers from Humans at the Survey Corps’ back. Humanity is living in a cage called nightmare.

This is Attack on Titan. Where the enigmas are coupled with the driven. Where answers, when they come, come with blood and sacrifice, only to open up new vistas of questions. This is an action packed masterpiece that is unpredictable to me. Each new issue offers up more questions: Are the enemies beyond the walls any deadlier than those within? Can Eren’s uniqueness prove invaluable to fighting the Titans? (If it doesn’t get everyone around him killed first.) Will Eren ever notice Mikasa’s love? Will an unacknowledged noble heir provide vital clues to the Survey Corps? What do those in the Wallist religion know about the Titans and the miraculous construction of the Walls which protect frail humanity? How many moles do the Titans have in the military? Are there more for Eren and his friends to uncover? Are the actions of the Titans unified, or are divisions becoming visible there as well? What role does Eren’s father play in all this? Will any of them survive?

Attack on Titan keeps us wondering, guessing, and gasping as each new volume takes the story in unexpected directions. I can’t recommend this to fantasy fans highly enough.


Attack on Titan is brought to the states by our friends over at Kodansha comics. They’ve been busy with the shear amount of cross-platform material Attack on Titan is producing. Not only have they brought us the main series in both a takubon and omnibus format, they brought us the three different side-story as well: Before the Fall, No Regrets (the Birth of Levi), and the comedic Junior High. There’s also a Guidebook and an original novel. In general, the scanlation networks have shied away from this title since Kodancha has pushed the English publication so it’s readily available at close to the Japanese release schedule. Having said that, bucks the trend by carrying the main series and two side stories: Before the Fall and No Regrets (The Birth of Levi).

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