Eren Yaeger: If you win, you live. If you lose, you die. If you don’t fight, then you can’t win!
Normally, my exposure to shonen style anime and manga is pretty limited. I knew a bit about Pokemon as a kid, I watched both versions of Fullmetal Alchemist in college, and that’s really about it. My taste in anime was more drawn to stories meant for older audiences, like Death Note and Ghost in the Shell.
But lately, I’ve been able to get into one of the newest and most popular shonen series in the US: an epic story of war, friendship, and betrayal known as Attack on Titan.
The story looks at a devastating conflict between the remnants of the human race and a mysterious species of giants known as Titans, who devour human beings for their own twisted amusement. After losing his mother to a Titan attack, young Eren Yeager decides that he’ll do whatever it takes to wipe out the menace and joins his sister Mikasa and friend Armin in joining the Survey Corps. They train to become elite fighters, hoping to reclaim the territory beyond the massive walls that protect humanity from the Titans. But the road ahead is full of twists, turns, and rivers of blood.
It took me a while to really get into the character of Eren Yeager, only because he seemed one-dimensional when it came to his savage bloodlust against the Titans. I was more interested in his sister, the stoic Mikasa who takes to fighting like a duck takes to water, spinning lethal poetry with her blades and her silent grace. But once we learned about Eren’s past and a surprising twist about his true nature, his story became more interesting. It ties him into the overall story of humanity, which is to both comprehend the mystery of the Titans and fight them until they’re extinct.
Other characters go through their own development, especially Eren’s early rival Jean. I also liked seeing more of the human settlement behind the walls. It’s a credit to the writing that we can see all the divisions inherent in the civilization, instead of a faceless mass of citizens. Not even the military is immune from backstabbing and infighting, especially between the elite Military Police and the casualty-high Survey Corps.
Visually, this series is wonderful. The Titans are horrifying and that’s putting it lightly. They blend the ancient terror of giants with grinning faces that fall into the uncanny valley. There’s nothing like seeing several massive nude things (with optional skin over their muscles) running after a handful of humans through a narrow city street. But to balance out this horror, we also get the Survey Corps and their 3D Maneuvering Gear, which lets them fly around the city like Spider-Man and cut through Titan necks with a pair of replaceable swords. They fight the brutal horror of the Titans with grace and courage, just like in any other shonen series… except when they don’t.
In both the anime and the manga, Attack on Titan is a deconstruction of the whole shonen genre. While Eren is a hot-blooded hero whose passion will win the day, he’s also mentally unstable and potentially as big a threat to his own people as he is to the Titans. Every fight with the Titans results in more casualties than triumphs, and it takes a long time before human beings can even pull off anything resembling a victory against the enemy.
In short, this is a series where passion and teamwork can save the day, but at a terrible price. It takes an existentialist perspective to the shonen genre, where heroic passion can be a response to an ultimately indifferent world.
I also have to commend the anime for giving us two very empowering opening theme songs: “Feuerroter Pfeil und Bogen” and “Die Flügel der Freiheit” by Linked Horizon. Both will boost your adrenaline like crazy and leave you ready to grab a pair of swords to face down a race of monsters.
At the moment, I’ve finished the first season of the anime for Attack on Titan and am halfway through the manga. I look forward to seeing how this story develops further and what new adventures and terrors await beyond the walls.
Bibliography: Attack on Titan (manga). Written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama. Tokyo: Kodansha. Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. September 9, 2009 – present.
Attack on Titan (anime). Directed by Tetsuro Araki. Written by Yasuko Kobayashi. Wit Studio, Production I.G. Funimation, Madman Entertainment. April 6, 2013 –September 28, 2013.