Review: Attack on Titan Vol. 1

3506326-01Writer: Hajime Isayama
Illustrator: Hajime Isayama
English publisher: Vertical
Genre: Shonen, dark fantasy, post-apocalyptic
Rating: OT+ (older teens and adults)
Release date: July 19, 2012
Price: $6.00

Note: All manga illustrations come from fan-translated scans. The dialogue is not the same as official version and differs slightly. The volume #2 sneak-peak is not covered.

Known as Shingeki no Kyojin in Japan, Attack on Titan first rocked the manga scene with its debut in the Bessatsu Shōnen Magazine. Since the initial release of its critically-acclaimed manga, the series has launched into numerous outlets, including light novels, additional manga spinoffs, an anime adaption, and even a potential live-action drama.

Let’s delve into this nightmarish, adrenaline-laced tale of survival and brutality. Is this a franchise worthy of its titan-sized acclaim? More importantly, is it appropriate for a Christian audience?

Storyline

One hundred years ago, the last survivors of humankind built walls in order to protect themselves from the flesh-eating titans and save themselves from extinction. One hundred years later, when the colossal titan appears and the wall is destroyed, Eren Yeager is among the fortunate few to escape to safety alive… but not before witnessing his mother’s death at the hands of the giant monsters.

Vowing revenge and swearing to expand humankind’s existence beyond the entrapping walls, Eren joins the military in hopes of becoming a part of the legendary Survey Corps–a branch of the army that rides outside the walls and does battle with the titans directly. But when the titans strike the first blow, Eren and his comrades find themselves thrust into the middle of a battle… and not all of them will survive.

Content Guide

Positive Elements
98Eren’s drive to change the world around him is courageous, not to mention inspirational. He’s quick to rebuke other’s lack of respect for the Survey Corps, and even goes so far as to lecture a group of drunken guards about being unprepared and unfit for duty. When he lands in the top ten graduating cadets, Eren turns down a much-coveted, luxurious position in the Military Police in order to join the dangerous Survey Corps. “I hate the idea of spending my whole life inside the wall, ignorant of what’s happening in the world outside. And besides, if there’s no one to carry on… everyone who died up to now will have died in vain,” he says. When he dares to take a stand to change humanity’s fate, he instills others with courage and gives them the strength to take stands of their own.

Armin is an incredibly meek character and knows the value of quiet strength. When cornered and beaten up by a pack of bullies, Armin refuses to strike back, saying that, in not doing so, he’s the true victor. While not as physically strong as his friends, Armin works to overcome his setbacks, joining the Survey Corps with Eren in order to strengthen himself and no longer be a burden to others.

Mikasa has a deep love—platonic of otherwise—for Eren and follows him loyally like a shadow. The details aren’t all given just yet, but it’s clear that Eren’s family took her in at some point in the past and that she sees her protection of Eren as returning that favor.

It’s clear that Eren has regrets about his mother’s death and loved her very much. He finds himself reflecting about his shortcomings as a son, “Up to the end, all I could do was argue and be stubborn.”

Courage VS fear is a prominent anthem in this series, and characters readily acknowledge their weaknesses in the face of the titans. Hannes—a soldier in the Wall Garrison—snatches up young Eren and Mikasa just in time to save them from a titan, but at the expense of letting Eren’s mother be eaten by it. Blinded by rage, Eren strikes out at him, but Hannes intercepts the blow, “You couldn’t save your mom because you weren’t strong enough,” he says, speaking of Eren’s inability to lift fallen timber off of his mother’s body. “I didn’t face the titan because I wasn’t brave enough.” It’s only then that Eren realizes Hannes is weeping unashamedly, and Eren finds it in his heart to forgive him.

Spiritual Content
A bully calls Armin a “heretic” for speaking of going beyond the walls.

112Violence
Soldiers are shown bloodied with blood-soaked bandages around their wounds. A grieving mother receives a wrapped bundle from a returning squad; it contains her son’s severed arm.

During the titan raid, homes are destroyed and havoc reigns. An unfortunate pedestrian is crushed by a boulder; we see half of their uncrushed, bloodied body protruding beneath the rock as bereaved onlookers stand nearby.

Titans greedily devour humans. A few bloodied unfortunates are shown clenched in the giants’ fists. One is bitten in half at the legs; another is shown with their head in a titan’s mouth, just moments before apparent (off-screen) decapitation. A titan squeezes Eren’s mother, causing her to cough up blood, before biting into her; we see her (severed?) legs sticking out of the titan’s mouth, accompanied by blood spurts. One central character loses a leg (and later an arm) to a titan’s teeth; the severed limb is shown shorn to the bone, reduced to a blood-pooling stump.

Human characters get into a fight where they punch and kick each other forcefully (and bloodlessly). Elsewhere, characters are thrown into the walls and onto the ground. A member of the military shoots their grapple hook into another’s leg in order to stop their fall; flecks of blood show.

A flashback shows a character about to be forcefully injected with a needle by his father. The puncture isn’t shown, but the moment is intense, as both characters are confused and crying.

It’s said that titan heads can be blown off, but regenerate within two minutes.

Language/Crude Humor
Ten uses of h*** (once as a literal reference to hell itself), seven uses each of d*** and bast***, four uses of sh**, and two uses of a**.

Sexual Content
“Marriage has turned you soft,” comments Eren to a starry-eyed couple. They quickly deny the fact that they’re married, but their flushed faces are definite proof of their romantic interest, perhaps indicating that they’ve been living together?

Titans are human-like and depicted as naked with bare backsides and buttocks showing. As is stated in the manga, however, titans lack reproductive organs, so nothing of that nature is ever shown.

Drug/Alcohol Reference
67Members of the Wall Garrison are shown drinking and tipsy; Eren rebukes them for their behavior. Military graduates are shown drinking from large ale mugs in the mess hall, though the actual liquid contained within is never named.

Other Negative Content
Attack on Titan is a psychologically dark manga. A feeling of dread hangs over the characters and their world, and the story is merciless enough to make no character “off limits” for the death toll. Many scenes, particularly the death of Eren’s mother, are gritty to read. Characters are often in a state of abysmal shock, and crying, pleading, and screaming are as common as bloody moments of brutality. The body count is high, and several familiar faces meet an untimely—unsophisticated—death.

Sasha steals meat simply because she’s craving it. Meat is rather scarce in the city, as there’s less room to tend to livestock, making this a rather serious crime.

146Presentation

Fans who found familiarity with Attack on Titan through its animated series may be in for a surprise when cracking open the manga. This reviewer certainly was.

My ultimate first impression was something along the lines of, “Is this artwork for real?” Just flipping through the pages, I was slightly taken aback by the art style which—in contrast to other anime adaptations—seemed very out-of-place and not all that reminiscent of its show counterpart. In this regard, the artwork is a bit of a mixed bag. Perspective and proportion issues are everywhere—from the humanoid build of the titans, to the closeness of the characters’ eyes. And since we’re on that subject, the characters’ eyes often seemed “out-of-focus,” as though they were leering off in a direction not compatible with the surrounding panels. At times, characters faced trauma-inducing moments with neutral expressions, clashing heavily with other panels depicting screaming faces dripping with fear and heartache.

Backgrounds and buildings feel uncomfortably stiff and sterile, as they’re all constructed from straight lines. A lack of variety—coupled with large, empty spaces in-between structures—makes the world within the walls feel listless, with minimal activity or room for cultural input. Perhaps that’s the image that Isayama wished to convey, but, reading the manga, you don’t really feel that it’s altogether intentional.

23Having said such negative things, allow me to offer the artwork some grace. Despite its proportional errors and neat-white style, Attack on Titan is somehow charming—nostalgic even—in its appearance. There’s a lot of enthusiasm buried behind its scratchy, sketchy lines, and these do away with manga’s more traditional “shading patches.” This gives Attack on Titan its own unique look and offers a lot of heaviness to moments of powerful emotion—shading deep around a character’s eyes for emotional intensity, for example, or bolstering moments of action with blurring speed lines. The “line style” embodies a sense of urgency, which, for a series this nerve-wracking, isn’t altogether a bad thing.

In critique of the story-telling itself, the biggest issue is reader-induced empathy. Yes, you do feel for Eren as he watches his mother be eaten. Yes, you do feel for Armin, as he and Eren share a beautiful moment of childhood innocence and wonder, speaking about the marvels of the outside world. But outside of the pivotal cast, the story (thus far) doesn’t really attempt to get the reader emotionally involved with anyone else. This was an issue that the anime remedied beautifully by spending a couple episodes introducing viewers to the characters enlisted in the military—going into each of their lives a bit, introducing them one-by-one, and giving us an insider’s view of their goings-on in training (the struggles these characters faced, how they overcome them, and a little on their backgrounds, for example).

74The manga skips over this crucial period (which sounds funny, considering that the manga is the original work), and this greatly affects the reader’s empathy in the long-run. The manga literally skips from Eren vowing revenge on the titans, to Eren being named number five within the top ten graduating cadets. With so many characters being introduced at once, it’s difficult to keep up with who’s who, and even more difficult to feel something for each and every one of them. Thus, when titans attack yet again—and numerous squad-mates are killed and eaten—you don’t feel all that sorry for them. It’s not that you don’t care about these characters, so much as it is you don’t know who they are and thus have no emotional attachment to them. When you ponder the possibility that these characters were created with the words “titan chow” in mind, their deaths feel like rather cheap trauma points.

At this point in the story, a lot of the characters look a bit too similar for newbie readers to tell them apart. I often found myself flipping backwards in order to determine who was who. That being said, a lot of this confusion is due to the fact that almost every character in the series wears a nigh-identical uniform. A few have identifiable traits (Mikasa’s scarf, for example), but these are few and far between.

To avoid ending on a low note, though, allow me to offer some praise here. Attack on Titan understands the value of shock. There’s a point about halfway through the story where I was really caught off-guard (it’s just as effective in the anime, fortunately), and I had to keep myself from flipping ahead for some peace of mind. The series is suspenseful, as neither life nor limb is spared from the titans’ wrath, and no character (not even our hero) is exempt from losing one or the other. The volume ends on a genuine cliff-hanger—as nasty a one as I’ve ever seen—that will almost certainly guarantee readers will return for at least one more volume.

Final Word

In manga form, Attack on Titan isn’t quite as pretty as its anime counterpart would have you believe. The animated series fixed the original proportion and expression issues, while simultaneously giving us more reason to care about the cast of (often) traumatized characters.

95Is the anime superior? This reviewer would like to say “yes,” simply because there’s a lot more meat in the middle. We see a bit of the city’s culture—their beliefs, day-to-day life, and so on—and are able to gradually grow to love the characters as we watch them struggle through military training and form bonds. When several of these characters are brutally killed later on, we feel sad because we’ve gotten to know them just enough to feel empathy. The manga falls short in this regard, at least in its first volume, though there’s a good chance this is an evolutionary process that’s going to take a sudden turn for the better in a volume or two.

That being said, there is something charming about the manga’s still sketches. Action sequences are especially beautiful in their own right, as that scratchy, artistic style and those skewed proportions add a lot of blurring urgency to these moments. Otherwise, during calm periods of dialogue and relationship-building, the art can seem unwieldy.

Needless to say, the story’s set-up feels oddly fresh—if not utterly nightmare-inducing—and a lot of genuine heart-stopping moments make it a manga to mull over. Compared to a dialogue-heavy franchise like Death Note, Attack on Titan is a read that zips by as quickly as its grapple-happy military squads.

Is Attack on Titan overrated? Judging by this first volume, most definitely. But, at the same time, there’s a unique charm at work that honest-to-goodness makes you wonder what happens next. In its suspense appeal alone, Attack on Titan’s colossal acclaim feels rather justified.

This is a franchise for older teens and adults. Frequent language, life-and-limb violence, and nightmare-fuel-inducing suspense make me hesitate to hand it over to anyone much younger than that OT+ rating recommends. Without the powerful musical score and the gut-wrenching screaming and crying of traumatized characters, however, the manga does feel a few pegs lower on the intensity scale than its anime counterpart. If you’d like to enjoy the series at a self-set pace, without the potentially nauseating carnage-in-motion visuals, then the manga may be your ideal method.

Just expect to be a little weirded out by those amateurish proportions.

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Positives

+ Intriguing premise + Unique, action-enhancing art style + Suspenseful with an intense cliff-hanger + Philosophical basis + Q&A with Ryō Suzukaze included + Themes of loyalty, forgiveness, meekness, and courage in the face of fear

Negatives

- Amateurish art style (proportion and perspective issues) - Lack of character-induced empathy - Large cast introduced at once (hard to keep up with) - Time-gap without any in-between details - Dark themes, bloody violence, and frequent language

The Bottom Line

Is Attack on Titan overrated? Judging by this first volume, most definitely. But, at the same time, there’s a unique charm at work that honest-to-goodness makes you wonder what happens next. In its suspense appeal alone, Attack on Titan’s colossal acclaim feels rather justified.

 

Story/Plot 7.2

Writing 6.4

Editing 9.4

7.1

Casey Covel

Casey Lynn Covel (known online as “Cutsceneaddict”) is an award-winning, published writer, avid reader, and aspiring author. She runs a nerdy writing blog called Meek-Geek and founded PROJECT: Magic Kingdom Hearts in 2012. When she’s not writing for Geeks Under Grace, Florida Geek Scene, Beneath the Tangles, or FROM JAPAN, she enjoys cosplaying, and has won several awards for her work. Follow her on Instagram for her latest cosplay endeavors. #meekischic

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