|Synopsis||When an experimental expedition outside the walls meets with unexpected disaster, Levi confronts his greatest foe… and faces the most crippling regret of his life.|
|Genre||Shonen, Dark Fantasy, Post-apocalyptic|
|Release Date||October 28, 2014|
Perhaps no 21st century manga has possessed the acclaim or fanbase of the Attack on Titan saga. Since its initial release in 2009, this colossus of a franchise has all but devoured competitors with a voracity to match the insatiable appetites of its iconic monsters.
Among the fearless cast of titan-slaying heroes, Levi Ackerman ranks #1 in both combat skills and reader popularity, outranking the franchise’s protagonist, Eren Yeager, by over 1,000 votes in both the first and second character popularity polls. Given Levi’s overwhelming repute within the Attack on Titan fanbase, readers began clamoring for the mysterious origin story of “humanity’s strongest soldier”—a man with a past as shrouded as his steely, cold eyes.
Previously in the story, Levi had been blackmailed into joining the Survey Corps under the influence of Captain Erwin Smith. In the spin-off’s final installment, Levi’s history concludes and makes way for the unfolding of the main franchise.
Positive Elements: Sacrifice, friendship, honor, and forgiveness are the four biblical tenants that hold this narrative together. Levi values his friends’ lives above all else, and, having grown attached to his other squadmates, makes preparations to ensure they won’t be short-staffed and unprotected when he rides ahead on an unspoken mission. When faced with crushing failure, however, Levi is quick to hold his own arrogance responsible for the disaster and self-admit his faults. Forgiveness, then, plays an interesting role in the manga’s final half, as both Levi and Erwin are forced to come to terms with one another—Erwin overlooking Levi’s failures and guiding Levi into forgiving himself. As a result, there’s a Christ-like sense of redemption involved, as Levi turns his back on his old life and comes to accept his new life in the Scouts and his mission to protect humanity. Talk of honor and sacrificing one’s self for the sake of freedom and humanity abounds, and in this series where actions speak louder than words, many soldiers (and a few familiar faces) give up their lives for these very things. Levi, Isabel, and Furlan find themselves irresistibly drawn to this sacrificial ideology of the Scouts, and Christians may liken this to verses in the Bible which command us to be representatives for Christ and reflect His life and love to others. (Matthew 15:6—“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”)
Spiritual Content: A one-shot in the back of the manga features a comedic short where Furlan tells Isabel a ghost story about a Grim Reaper-like figure who enters rooms at night and chops off people’s heads. The ghastly figure is obscurely depicted in a single panel. A cadet tells his captain he’ll “see him on the other side,” just before he’s killed by a titan.
Violence: An expedition ends in disaster, resulting in several squads’ worth of bloody dead bodies, horses, and severed limbs littering the ground. Many familiar faces meet horrific ends (amidst generous, chomp-induced blood splashes), with at least four characters devoured on-screen by titans (who then become coated with streaks and spatters of their victims’ blood). A severed leg trails blood as it falls to the ground in a three-panel shot. A character is squeezed by a titan and coughs out blood. One character is dismembered by a titan’s jaws, leaving nothing but their head wobbling loosely on the ground in a pool of blood. Another, after being fully devoured, is sliced out of a titan’s stomach and pulled free amidst a burst of blood… but he’s already bitten in half and beyond saving. Titans have their fingers sliced off and are gashed deeply in their shoulders and napes with flesh-cleaving swords. Others are blinded by bloody blade-to-the-eye gouges. Horses and humans crash to earth with sometimes fatal force. A character seizes a blade with his bare hand, drawing blood. A brief panel shows the mummified (and socket-skulled) remains of a dead body.
Language/Crude Humor: One f-word; six uses of h***; four uses each of bast***, sh**, and d***; and one use of dumba**. “Idiot” is the insult of choice, used twice.
Sexual Content/Nudity: Titans are humanoid and essentially nude. While the nudity is no more graphic than a doll’s, and titans lack any sort of reproductive organs, a few panels offer close-up shots of the titans’ human-like rear ends. An extra comic at the back of the manga features a buxom, female character who reveals some cleavage.
Drug/Alcohol Reference: Wine bottles are featured in some of the artwork, but there is no drinking.
Other Negative Content: For a majority of the volume, Levi is motivated by revenge and aims to kill Erwin simply because the captain humiliated him (it’s not actually part of his mission to do so). Fortunately, Levi comes to discover something more powerful than his personal hatred, and his drive for vengeance—and how it gives way to acceptance and forgiveness—is a strong discussion point for discerning Christians. This volume is a grueling read, as many characters are killed in some horrific manner, leaving behind an assortment of severed limbs, torsos, and heads. Psychologically and emotionally, this may be disturbing for some readers.
Following his first encounter with titans beyond the walls, Levi finds himself lauded as a hero by his regiment… but he’s far too focused on his mercenary mission to give the left-field praise much attention.
Still on his quest to retrieve political documents from Erwin—and assassinate the ingenious captain in the process—Levi struggles to assist his less-skilled squadmates, Isabel and Furlan, out on the field while simultaneously fulfilling his end of the business deal. To make matters worse, the Survey Corps ideology seems to be rubbing off on all three of them, and they can’t deny that perhaps there’s something out there greater than themselves.
Maybe even something that’s even worth dying for.
When an experimental expedition outside the walls meets with unexpected disaster, Levi confronts his greatest foe… and faces the most crippling regret of his life.
This section of the review contains major spoilers regarding the No Regrets plotline. Please be prepared before reading further (or skip to the Conclusion for the final verdict).
Suruga and Snark pull out all the stops in this climatic volume of No Regrets. Compacting the first half of the manga with meaningful character interactions and cameos, and topping them off with some of the most intense, gut-wrenching, and inspiring moments in the franchise thus far, both storywriter and artist are in their element… and they’re not afraid to show it.
Snark knows how to pitch an ensnaring scene and, quality of writing aside, seems acutely aware of what the fandom has come to expect from the characters. Some of the manga’s most in-depth moments are seemingly simplistic conversations between fan-favorites (Levi and Erwin, Levi and Hange, etc.), yet these are layered with foreshadowed motivations and integral character developments. Certain exchanges of dialogue will no doubt become immortalized among the franchise’s most memorable quotations.
Cinematographic angles continue to lend technical drama to the narrative. Pacing—especially toward the end—is relentless, culminating in a final battle as intense as Levi’s own murderous glare. Moments of suspense drag across multiple panels, and scenes are gradually arranged for tragedy—changes in the weather, long looks, interpersonal arguments, and races against time—with “points-of-no-return” clearly marked by dread-induced trepidation.
Instances of brutality receive similar, agonizing treatment. Isabel’s death is an incredibly harsh moment, as her final scream for her “big bro” shatters into gory white noise, leaving only a haunting echo behind. As his friend is torn apart, Levi, framed in a panel of nightmarish void, seems to freeze in time, along with the pulse of his heart. In these segments of searing pain, Suruga creates a pathos for the characters that rivals Isayama’s original brand of tears and terror—a remarkable feat that will likely linger in the minds of readers for days afterward.
But credit must equally be given to Snark’s scriptwriting, particularly in regards to how he develops Levi’s character after the thug-turned-soldier watches both of his friends meet bloody, brutal ends. Levi’s wrath is handled with deadly calm, and Snark avoids the temptation to bring out a fan-cultured “soft side” in the character, while simultaneously capturing his shame in a powerful, gritty silence and tender, but stoic, farewell to his deceased friends.
After an all-out, reverse-blade-cleaving, massacre of the titans in the area, Levi turns to the last surviving giant and asks it, “Do humans taste good?” Mounting its neck, he asks again, “Do they?” Then, brandishing his blade, not even raising his voice, “Tell me.”
The moment is spine-chilling, and enforces one of good storytelling’s long-standing techniques: stillness equals power. No doubt fueled by blood-thirsty rage, Levi doesn’t tremble, doesn’t scream, doesn’t even use a single exclamation point as he addresses his friends’ murderers. And it’s absolutely terrifying.
Yet, for all that terror-inducing calmness, Levi is portrayed as a mere child alongside the fear that Erwin inspires. And when the thug goes after the captain, holding him at blade point and prepared to end Erwin’s life in retribution for his friends’ deaths, Erwin’s full potential as the future commander of the Scouts bursts through. From his knees—in perhaps the most vulnerable position possible—Erwin persuades Levi into not only pledging his heart to the Scouts, but also into forgiving himself.
Erwin is no stranger to hardcore moments of raw power, but No Regrets features what is perhaps his finest hour—or at least the most captivating moment since he single-handedly (no pun intended) went head-to-head with Bertholdt in order to save Eren.
No Regrets may lack the political and philosophical awareness of the original series, but it unfolds (for the most part) successfully through defining character moments, with just a sprinkling of constructive fan appeal. A particularly cruel moment, before Levi unintentionally leaves his friends to die, will have careful readers instantly drawing parallels to an iconic scene from the Female Titan arc, where Levi challenges Eren to make a difficult choice and accept its consequences—good or bad. Other, less dramatic nods to the main series, such as the introduction to Erwin’s Long-Distance Scouting Formation and cameos by characters like Hange and Mike, will please fans to no end.
Tempting tie-ins aside, it’s clear that Attack on Titan fans snatching up No Regrets are in it for the Ackerman (and perhaps the Smith, too, seeing as his popularity recently skyrocketed). Whether or not those expectations are met depends upon what the reader hopes to take away from the spin-off. It’s true that Isayama would have taken Levi’s development deeper—exploring more of his thug-day backstory, personal psychology, and character development—had he been at the helm of this project. Regardless, it’s undeniable that Levi gains two volume’s worth of character development by the end of No Regrets – even if a majority of that is packed into the last twenty pages or so–and fans seeking answers to his redemptive transformation (or who are merely looking to see some of his weakest, most human moments penned to the page) will in no way be disappointed.
Nor, for that matter, will fans of the Survey Corps’ fearless commander. Erwin’s final confrontation with Levi is an artistic and literary achievement for the franchise—powerful, convincing, and easily the manga’s crowning moment in terms of both drama and character development.
It’s unfortunate, then, that the rest of the manga doesn’t hold the same transformative power. Oftentimes, Snark seems to lose sight of the characters’ individual developments in favor of the story itself, and characters feel less dimensional than their Attack on Titan counterparts. Levi doesn’t get as much literal development as he does page-time, and he’s more often brooding and crossed-up than he is interesting and dynamic. It could be argued that Levi’s youth and disposition have not yet shaped him into the soldier he later becomes, but his evolution none-the-less feels stunted compared to what Isayama could have crafted in Snark’s place.
In terms of story, No Regrets Vol. 2 bares the same faults as its first half: it’s a straight-forward telling, and rather predictable at that; but this can likely be excused by the fact that No Regrets is a prequel, and the unfolding of events is prophetically clear to those who have read the main series. The concluding pages do leave open questions about how the set-backs on the field had no effect on the Scout’s governmental funding and existence, but perhaps answering these questions would have taken the focus from what truly matters in this story: Levi’s rebirth.
The final panels leave the reader with a sense of nostalgic remorse—perhaps even a weight in the heart and a knot in the gut—as Levi moves on to a new life, leaving behind his dead self and friends with one last glance… before never looking back again. It’s an ending that demands that readers pause and reflect on the fragility of life, as well as the manner in which one’s self identity can change.
Rounding off the manga’s extra features are an interview with Isayama and two one-shots that showcase Levi’s fascination with tea, his incredible strength, and his obsession with cleaning; these comics serve some much-needed levity to heart-sunk readers, who will likely read through the text bubbles with aching eyes. Seeing certain deceased characters “brought back to life” in these shorts feels like betrayal at best and cruelty at worst.
Having been charged with penning the backstory of Attack on Titan’s most popular character, Gun Snark gained insight into the mind and soul of Levi Ackerman. Of the fan-favorite character, Snark said this, “Even after titans have killed countless numbers of his friends, each time provoking rage and despair that seem enough to tear his body to shreds… he keeps insisting on fighting hard. That’s Captain Levi.“
Christian readers will no doubt resonate with this sort of perseverance, as well as discover important parallels to their faith through Levi’s character. His is a story of second chances, redemption, forgiveness, and sacrifice, and in many ways it carries a strong resemblance to our walk with Christ—of being chosen, undeserving as we are, by Him, to be a part of His great plan and to fight for something bigger than ourselves; to sacrifice our time, our energy, and even our lives for His cause.
Cruelty and beauty often go hand-in-hand in the Attack on Titan universe. No Regrets is cruel, yes—bloody, profane and mentally and emotionally gut-wrenching in places (not to mention technically faulted).
But it’s also beautiful.
Beyond the cinematic storytelling, the sleek artwork, and the one or two genuine moments of character development, there’s something that resembles our own redemption stories in Christ—that reminds us there’s something out there much greater than ourselves.
Something, as Isabel puts it, “that’s worth dying for.”
+ Strong artistic direction
+ Cleaner and more proportional artwork than original
+ Cinematic storytelling
+ Powerful use of pathos
+ Ideal for fans of Levi and/or Erwin
+ Bonus one-shot comics/interview with Hajime Isayama
+ Themes of redemption, forgiveness, and honor
- Far from a full re-telling of Levi's past
- Plot-relevant backstory goes untold
- Incomplete character developments
- Disturbing imagery, violence, blood, and some strong language
The Bottom Line
Beyond the cinematic storytelling, the sleek artwork, and the one or two genuine moments of character development, there’s something in No Regrets that resembles our own redemption stories in Christ — that reminds us there’s something out there much greater than ourselves.