Attack on Titan/Shingeki no Kyojin

Those of you with a grasp of Japanese may notice that the English title isn’t a very accurate translation. The Japanese is closer to “Advancing Titans”, and that’s also a much, much better description of what the story’s been about so far.

(There’s apparently some fanwank that the title is actually super meaningful and it’s going to turn out the place they live in is actually known as Titan or something like that. But reasonably, if that was meant to be important, why wouldn’t the Japanese title be the same? I wonder if they they figured an English audience would show up for the story of people fighting against monsters and not for the story of monsters steamrollering over people. Do not read unless you enjoy massive death tolls that generally don’t even lead to any victory.)

Anyway, I found this addictively readable but marred by the usual manga quirks of spending ages establishing lots of characters who all end up sounding very, very similar whose character growth eventually leads them to realize friendship is very important, and then half of them are slaughtered pointlessly. Also, lots and lots of unnecessary flashbacks to training and stuff. If you read off the page-by-page websites, it’s probably not worth it unless you really enjoy the art itself. I was in it for the flashes of info about the titans themselves. The plot is extremely slow paced but it dangles such interesting possibilities.

Let’s talk about the titans.

One of the things mangas do very well is just set up bizarre worlds for you. Here, all of humanity lives behind a wall fifty meters high. In fact, they have three of the things, one inside another, and on the outer edge of each wall they have four extra half-circle miniwalls. They retreated here when the titans appeared and are pretty sure they’re the only survivors of humanity (not merely in the sense that they don’t know of anyone outside, but as we find out before long, some of the ancestors of the people fled here from quite far away.) We find out eventually that they don’t even know how the walls were built.

The smallest titan is three meters high. They reach as high as fifteen. All of them eat people. They are virtually impossible to kill, with only damage to the back of their neck taking them out, an area well out of anyone’s reach even before getting into the fact they’re generally bearing down on people, not turning their back.

But a fifty meter high wall is still much too large for those – so of course, a fifty-meter one shows up, throwing rocks into the town itself and crushing people and then breaking a hole in the wall causing smaller ones to swarm in as well. They attempt to retreat through the gate, only for that to be smashed as well.

And that’s how humanity lost the entire outermost territory, leaving them only the area behind the other two walls – and both of those walls are no better able to stop a fifty-foot titan than the first.

They don’t know where the fifty-meter one came from or where it went afterward or why it left instead of continuing on to the next wall. They don’t know why there’s never been a fifty-meter one before, or why titans vary in size at all. They have no idea where any of the titans came from in the first place. They also don’t know why the titans vary widely in appearance, or why they always look humanoid despite that. Or why they eat people, or why they don’t eat anything but people. They don’t know why the titans do anything because they clearly don’t need to eat at all and in fact eventually vomit up piles of corpses. They have no idea why the weak spot is in the back of the neck and certainly no idea why the bodies regenerate all other damage or disolve upon death. They want to know, but the titans just don’t make sense.

Which is really what I like about horror monsters. Things not making sense is what makes them scary. Maybe it’s all the anti-intellectualism in American stuff that prevents authors from realizing that science failing to understand things is anything but a point and laugh moment.

There’s one particularly great side story about one of the soldiers whose group was destroyed while outside the wall. Her horse was lost as well, which is the only hope any human has of outrunning a titan. There is no real chance of making it back alive now, but she still continues as she might somehow make it back without running into one, if she’s impossibly lucky.

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She should be the patron saint of science.

Despite how much titans defy our understanding, the humans don’t give up. Even as she faces her horrible death, she notes that this titan about to kill her is a deviant class – a minority of titans who behave slightly differently in attacking humans. The differences are slight, the reason unknown.

And her diligence is rewarded, somewhat. It doesn’t attack her. It speaks.

The words it says don’t make sense – this is still a horror story about the unknown monsters. She writes everything down anyway, because this is the only time in human knowledge that one has spoken, and tries to communicate, but all it does is slowly dig its hands into its face, and finally she screams at it, demanding to know why they eat people when they don’t even need to. It tears at its face.

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Sadly, this is not the main story. We spend a ridiculous amount of time on various stock tropes, like the fact people are ungrateful for the hard work of the anti-titan forces (who have a frankly impossible death rate among their recruits – humanity should be extinct several times over by now – and seem to be absolute idiots unable to fight defensively to minimize casualties. Yeah, I’d be bitter about paying taxes to train highly skilled troops with large amounts of expensive equipment who have a 90% death rate and whose leaders actively send them into meat grinders.) and how there’s corruption where the people don’t want to try to stop the titans despite the fact the monsters are literally on their doorstep and they could die at any moment. There’s one absurd flashback to a character being upset that the new refugees mean there’s less and less to hunt and how their way of life is over, and all I could think is what sort of complete idiots are these people to still have villages of hunters when they have a painfully finite amount of land?

But it has freaky monsters that are just stoppable enough to give the characters faint hope they can succeed.

5 Comments

  1. purplekitte says:
    I keep hoping the anime will hurry up and get as far as the manga… then I hope it will get all the way to the end of the manga, the bits that haven’t been written yet, right now, because I want to know everything. Compared to the manga, I think the anime paces/rearranges the training better, but then it slows down and drags out what should be exiting bits during the defense of Trost with a lot of flashbacks and repetition. I’ve heard people complain about the over the top standard-shounen stuff, but I don’t find it too melodramatic and the characters and immediate plots are at least tolerable, while the mysteries can be very, very intriguing. Also, I think literally every person I know on the internet is watching this show; I have seen so many posts the last few months about “This thing, what the hell am I watching?”
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    1. Farla says:
      I’m really surprised by how everywhere it is – I mean, I’m really interested in what’s up with the titans and all, but otherwise it’s super formulaic and draggy.
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  2. 13thlemur says:
    “Despite how much titans defy our understanding, the humans don’t give up.” Because of this I thought you might really like it. I’m only going by the anime, but time and again we how people really want to live. You’ve brought up how much you hate when stories have characters just give up without trying to survive. Like (again anime version, haven’t read manga) when Eren’s mother is trapped and has to tell her kids to leave her and then after they’ve left her sight she has to cover her mouth so she doesn’t cry out for help because she may be in a hopeless situation but she still wants to live (it’s such a tired cliche of dead mom but the added bit in her head made her seem much more human). Or when the cadets in the supply deposit are holed up in Trost; when we saw the one guy commit suicide I thought for sure when Jean and the others got there everyone would have done so but no. Most still want to live and aren’t going to give up even if the situation is hopeless. I’m also kind of more forgiving of the redshirt army since there’s some acknowledgement that they were people (like when Armin lists the people lost in his unit everyone has a name not just Eren; Rico reminding Eren of her friends in the army who are risking their lives and when she’s tearful at the success of the mission because her friend’s lives weren’t lost in vain; and when the battle at Trost is over and there’s no celebration over the first major human victory but rather clean up and tallying up the dead). And for all the cliches it does hit it avoids some of the more annoying
    ones I expected, like I was expecting Jean and Eren to have typical
    rivalry issues after seeing them in training but nope! When the titans
    attack shit is real and they leave any high school bullshit behind them. It’s such basic stuff but I’ve seen other series totally fail at it.
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    1. Farla says:
      The death toll is just too high for me to believe it’s possible. I mean, like when they were going to try to block the wall with a boulder, so they had the soldiers attract the titans over to the side and somehow lost 20% of their troops for just that?! All anyone had to do was stand on the wall well over the titan’s heads and shout until they all wandered over. Most of the titans can’t even reach the roofs of the buildings in the city itself. If they lose a fifth of their highly trained soldiers with the super expensive equipment on just attracting the titans out of the way in an enclosed area where they have all the advantages, there’s no way they could ever win this fight.

      I appreciate that all this is being played as a tragedy as opposed to who cares since they’re not the main character, but it’s just so much I can’t care. If they dialed back the slaughter to when things went wrong, it’d make it have more meaning.

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  3. actonthat says:
    I started reading this a few weeks ago and stopped because I know I wil become addicted. It looks fascinating.
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