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.
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.
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.