Thoughts on: Attack on Titan

I have a weird and complicated history with Attack on Titan, a manga and anime series that has definitely gathered a huge audience since its anime debut in 2013.

I remember I first watch the anime back in 2014 when I was eleven years old (which is definitely not the age you should have to watch this show.) The whole thing was kind of a big deal for me at the time, for my whole childhood, I could never stomach any sort of blood or gore.

I would always feel uncomfortable or even scared at times. I still remember getting freaked out after seeing Finn’s nose bleeding in Adventure Time.

However, Attack on Titan was one of the first stories I experienced that was way more mature than anything I had seen before. It had tons of gore, people died all the damn time, and the titans were absolutely terrifying to me.

But even so, I still managed to stomach and look past the gore and actually really enjoyed the series. In fact, it wasn’t too long after that that I discovered a love for gory stories like horror movies and TV.

Yet, I never actually finished the series and ended up missing about five episodes. I don’t remember why I never finished it, it was very likely that I just lost interest (not to mention, back then, I was just watching whatever episode I could find on YouTube.)

It wasn’t until two years after that, when I was thirteen years old that I got into a huge anime craze and eventually got a Crunchyroll account. Where I watched tons of anime including the entirety of the first season of Attack on Titan.

And I absolutely loved it, it instantly became my favorite anime of all time. I told all my friends about the show about how great it was, and I also made sure to keep up to date with new info of the second season.

I love the characters, the lore, the mysteries. I had all kinds of questions and theories about the world and eagerly awaited the second season.

And then, a few months after, it finally came out, and to be completely honest, I was pretty disappointed.

I felt like all the great characters and visual storytelling of the first season were replaced with long sections focusing on characters I didn’t really care about. Expanding the lore in ways that were way to complicated and were way to hard to keep up with. And of course, the fact that the characters never know when to shut up. There was, so much exposition in that season that even the really cool moments were overshadowed by the sheer amount of pointless talking.

Suffice to say, I left the season with a bad taste in my mouth. And soon enough, I found myself not really caring about the franchise anymore and moving on to other series. Even when the third season came out, I decided to watch the first episode, and when I saw it was heading in the same direction, I just stopped watching and never finished it.

So basically, I went from enjoying it, to loving it, to being completely indifferent to the IP.

However, now that the series is reaching its crescendo, with the final season airing and the manga only being a few chapters away from ending. I thought I might give the series another go. This time, binging the entire story instead of through weekly episodes, and with a more open mind.

Since I’ve been reading a lot of manga lately, and I didn’t feel like watching two entire seasons all over again. I decided to read the manga. Which I’m glad I did cause the manga is a dozen or so chapters ahead of the anime meaning that I got to experience more story.

There’s a lot going on in this series and I have a few things I want to say about it. So, let’s get to it.

Also, like I often do, I’m going to be going into spoilers as I will be talking about all the plot twists. However, if you’ve only seen the anime then don’t worry as I won’t be going into manga spoilers.

When going into Attack on Titan you probably expect a few things that are very common in modern shounen, like a heavy focus in character and exaggerated over the top fight-scenes.

However, Attack on Titan differs in a lot of regions from other shounen. Unlike most, Attack on Titan is mostly a plot-heavy, lore-heavy, HBO drama like story with tons of plot-twists and subversions.

While there are a lot of great characters and especially character moments, a lot of the engagement of the story comes from the mysteries of the world, from the morality and questionable actions of the characters and the constant cliff-hangers.

So, a lot of the enjoyment of the series comes from the surprises, it comes from the tense filled moments and it comes from the ever expanding lore. And on my re-read, I found the story to excel in all of these points.

The plot-twists in Attack on Titan are (for the most part) really exciting. All of them make you re-think what you know about the world and the characters and make for good surprises.

However, I will admit that some of these plot-twist don’t really make much immediate sense.

The one that instantly pops into my mind is the reveal of Reiner as the armored titan. Something that was very subtly foreshadowed, but it didn’t really make much sense in the moment for me.

If you read my post all about subverting expectation, then you know that a great plot-twist is one that the reader can understand instantly. And even though plot-twist like these don’t really make much sense at first. What Isayama does do with each one is make the absolute fullest advantage that he can of each twist.

With the Reine reveal in particular making for some of the best moments in the series, like his eventual reunion with Eren later on. But I’ll talk more in depth about this later.

Earlier I compared Attack on Titan to an HBO drama, and that comparison is actually a little closer to home then you’d think. Especially with the way that it creates tension.

There are so many scenes in the story that had me on the absolute edge of my goddamn seat. Especially on big arcs like the retaking of the Shinganshina district, the pages felt like they were turning themselves. I just had to know what happens next.

And I feel like a lot of this tension comes from a few things. But mainly, it comes from the feeling of mortality that the manga gives. Characters die, a lot. And every time someone dies it feels like the stakes at hand are greater and greater, because if the living characters fail, that means their deaths would have been for nothing.

I feel like the scene where this is most shocking is in Erwin’s last attack. A suicide mission where the vast majority of the scouting legion is killed gruesomely. Seeing the vast and absolute loss of life in this scene was one of the most shocking things I’ve ever seen in fiction.

It creates engagement like nothing I’ve ever seen before, especially when you see the faces of all the soldiers. For the whole thing, you’re just praying that Levi manages to fulfil his mission, that he kills the beast titan.

I also want to briefly go over some of the more aesthetic parts of the manga. Because in terms of art and paneling, Attack on Titan has some of the most TITANIOUSLY good manga paneling I have seen since the Onigashima arc from One Piece.

It’s especially good during the massive titan fights, the use of the background in contrast to the giant monsters really gives the fight a huge feeling of grandeur. Each page always remembers to focus on what really matters, and avoids a lot of fluff that’s present in some other manga, like reaction shots or cut-ins. No, instead, it only shows you what really matters, and this all ads to the engagement that Attack on Titan is already a master in.

Another aspect of the art that really stands out to me is the designs of the individual titans, and I’m not talking about the big boy titans, I mean the regular brain-less ones. I remember when I saw the show as a kid, I thought these things were terrifying, though I guess anything above humans in the food chain would automatically be terrifying.

But looking at them now, I can’t help but notice how goofy the designs of each one is. Almost like we’re supposed to be laughing at them.

I would like to share a small anecdote of mine while I was taking a writing seminar on comedy. Basically, for one of the projects, we had to try and find the humor in fictional creatures, and the only one that came to my mind was the Xenomorph from the Alien movies.

I was talking to the teacher, telling him that I was having a hard time finding the humor in a space-alien that impregnates and violates you before ripping your brains out.

And the professor told me that my description of the monster was pretty funny in it of itself. And I quote: “You know Adrian, you’re trying to hard to find the humor in the Xenomorph, when the Xenomorph is already funny.”

My immediate thought upon hearing this was: “What kind of Yoda-as bullshit is that?”

But now, using the titans as a better example, I can better understand what he was trying to say.

There’s something that’s weirdly funny about being eaten alive by giant man-eating naked expression-less naked babies. None of them have any muscle, nor are any of them intimidating in any sort of way. When you see Dina eating Eren’s mom alive, it’s kind of difficult seeing that goofy expression and smile and not thinking it’s somewhat funny. Which then in turn goes full circle and just makes there actions all the more terrifying.

This element of comedy also makes the eventual reveal that titans are humans all the more tragic. It really does feel like they’re being humiliated, living a hilarious never-ending nightmare.

So, with everything that I’ve told you so far, you’d think that Attack on Titan is a superbly written manga with tons of great plot-twists and surprises, some great paneling, and even some subtle symbolism.

However, there are still aspects of the series that I haven’t really changed my mind about with the re-read.

When I first watched the second season four years ago, my main complaint with it was the amount of exposition and telling that there was in the story. It felt lazy, and like the writer didn’t know how to show the story.

And while I feel like it’s definitely better than I remember, the story still has the massive problem that the characters don’t know when to shut the fuck up.

There is so much, goddamn talking in this story. Talking about politics, talking about war, talking about the history of Marley, talking about how much society sucks.

There were times were I had huge difficulty reading the manga because I had to get through long pages filled with text boxes. And the thing is, if the information were in any way interesting, I wouldn’t really be complaining, but it’s mostly politics and exposition that gives you way more information than needed and is overall way to complicated.

There are two sections in specific were I felt like the talking went way to far, the first is in what I believe is the first part of the third season, and the second is the first dozen or so chapters revolving around Marley and the citizens that live there.

These parts almost killed the whole manga for me with the amount of heavy plot-driven narratives that were honestly not all that interesting. It reminded me a lot of The Phantom Menace, in the sense that this universe has all these really interesting characters that can be further explored yet they instead choose to focus on all the fictional politics that no one cares about.

And the thing is, I can understand why these sections are here, they make the world of Attack on Titan feel so much larger. Especially the section with Marley, it introduces new key characters like Zeke, and gives context for characters like Reiner and gives you a better understanding of the character.

I just wish it were all explored in a way that wasn’t completely tedious to read through. Cause as it is these sections feel like a necessary evil.

And this brings me to the last point that I want to make about Attack on Titan. Even though I’ve done my fair share of complaining, this manga is still one of the best shounen I have read in a while.

While there are parts that are underwhelming, some sections of the story are some of the most engaging, heart-racing, and heart-breaking narratives I have ever read.

Ever single thing that happens in the story, every single detail, from the titan that eats Eren’s mom, to the secret in the basement. Everything in the story has been very carefully plotted so that it all fits in the end.

Seriously, Attack on Titan only rivals One Piece in the amount of foreshadowing involved. Every single set up has a payoff, one that makes for extremely satisfying story-telling.

Take Reiner for example, he’s a character that was revealed to be the armored titan. This at first seems like a plot-twist that only serves for shock value, however, Isayama takes full advantage of it and gives us incredible moments like Reiner’s grief over the people he’s killed, and his reunion with Eren in Marley.

Every event and section of the story (even the bullshit parts) gives the characters growth and deepens them. Especially characters like Eren who drastically changes throughout the course of the series as he learns more and more about the truth of the universe.

The actions of Grisha Yeager from the beginning of the series are once that are felt for the entire story. From his other son Zeke to him letting Eren eat him.

This also feeds to the story retrospectively as it gives you context that you previously didn't have. Completely changing how you view scenes like Eren's mom getting eaten and al the interactions with Reiner and the other titans.

Couple this with the way that the series creates engagement and the great characters and plot-twist, and you have one of the best written shounen I have read in a while. And maybe one of the best shounen of all time. If only, we didn’t have to deal with all the talking and exposition.

That’s gonna be it for all my thoughts on: Attack on Titan. If you have any thoughts of your own, then make sure to drop them down in the comments and let me know.

Also, if you enjoyed reading this, then make sure to subscribe to The Lechuga newsletter or follow the Instagram account @the_lechuga_adrian to get notified of new posts. I try to upload a post every week for your reading pleasure.

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