What is Attack On Titan?

Feature Ryan Lambie 5 Dec 2013 - 07:06

A hit manga, anime and soon a live-action film, Attack On Titan is a disturbing sight to behold. Ryan takes a closer look...

When Guillermo del Toro made his robots versus kaiju movie Pacific Rim, he was greatly influenced by a painting by the 19th century painter Francisco de Goya.

Called The Colossus, it depicts a bearded, apparently naked giant striding across a gloomy landscape, its body so huge that its torso punctures the clouds. People and animals below scatter in terror, specks dwarfed on a vast canvas.

If you've never seen this painting before, here it is:

Looking at Pacific Rim, it's easy to see why del Toro was influenced by the sense of scale and drama in this picture, even if the colour and tone of his film more often inspired a sense of childlike awe rather than that of fear, which Goya's painting surely provokes.

To find a piece of pop culture that not only references Goya's painting, but also recreates its atmosphere of weight and menace, we need to look to something called Shingeki no Kyojin (which translates to Advancing Giants), or, as it's known in the west, Attack On Titan.

Now, it's quite possible that you've heard of Attack On Titan before, especially if you live in Japan or America. For some of us in the UK - that is, your humble writer - the manga and anime was something of an unknown quantity until only a few weeks ago.

Written by Hajima Isayama, Attack On Titan began as a manga series in 2009. A huge success, it's been adapted into an anime series, a light novel, a videogame for the Nintendo 3DS, some additional manga series, while a live-action film is being scheduled for release in 2015. And despite its harsh subject matter (which we'll get onto in a moment), the property's been popular enough to spawn all kinds of merchandise, from detailed statuettes to mugs and even a pair of slightly ghoulish Titan-themed tights.

Set in a future where humanity has retreated into medieval-looking cities protected by huge, concentric concrete walls, Attack On Titan introduces three young friends - Eren, Mikasa and Armin - who provide a vantage point for Isayama's story. A century earlier, we learn, a race of giants called the Titans emerged, and immediately began laying waste to the planet.

These Titans, which can range from anywhere from three to 60 metres tall, really are a sight to behold. Naked, occasionally skinless, and aggressively hungry, they are compelled to catch and consume every human they see - a reference, perhaps, to another famous, disturbing Goya painting called Saturn Devouring His Son.

What makes the Titans additionally threatening is their lack of reason. Seemingly driven by no other purpose than to hunt and eat, they appear to have no intellect or society at all; in the anime, they're occasionally shown shambling around the countryside, twitching involuntarily. Who are they? Where did they come from? Isayama is in no rush to tell us, and that's what makes the story so unsettling and engrossing.

When a particularly huge Titan shatters the defences of the central characters' home city a couple of episodes into the anime, it establishes the creatures as a truly loathsome menace. It's an attack which sets central character Eren on the path of revenge, and determined to rid the planet of the Titans for good.

Neither the manga nor the anime pull their punches, and the level of violence and bloodshed can sometimes prove quite shocking. Said violence hasn't gone without criticism, either; Gundam creator Yoshiyuki, a famously outspoken figure in Japan, reportedly said that the series' mayhem was "on the same level as pornography."

Overwhelmingly, though, Attack On Titan has been praised for the strength of its storytelling, and the indelible image of those fleshy, nude Titans with their permanent rictus grins - a creation at once grotesque and mesmerising. Like the colossus in Goya's painting, the Titans could symbolise all kinds of things: war, pestilence, a fear of helplessness - Isayama has said in interviews that Attack On Titan was partly inspired by feelings of physical inferiority in his youth.

Isayama doesn't rest his story on this sole idea, either; the military's 3D Maneuvering Gear, an outfit which gives otherwise puny humans the agility to fight the giants on something approaching an even playing field, is a cool creation, transforming Eren's adopted sister Mikasa from a plucky sidekick into a formidable warrior in her own right. 

Attack On Titan's success in both Japan and American has led to the planning of the live-action movie mentioned earlier, which was first talked about as long ago as 2011. More recently, it's been announced that Toho finally has a director on board - Shinji Higuchi, an experienced special effects director of giant monster movies like Giant Monsters All-Out Attack and Gamera: Guardian Of The Universe. 

It's significant that Toho, famous in the west for its kaiju movies like Godzilla, should be behind the live-action version of Attack On Titan; the manga and anime are very much rooted in the Japanese kaiju tradition, and succeed in harking back to Ishiro Honda's Godzilla from 1954 - a time when the title creature was a figure to be feared as much as admired.

If Toho's live-action Attack On Titan can recreate the same sense of menace and outright repulsion as the Titans in the anime and manga, it could result in a truly unique and unusually savage new take on the time-worn kaiju genre.

In its most powerful moments, the Attack On Titan anime (which you can watch legally on Crunchy Roll in the UK) evokes the same sense of primal fear present in that famous old painting, The Colossus. The Titans are heading this way. They're naked, grinning, and they're very, very hungry. Goya would be proud.

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It's so great to see an article about this on DoG. I only found out about it a couple of months ago, but since then I've caught up on the anime and most of the manga.

I'm not usually someone who watches anime, so AoT is very much a universal show. It isn't really full of anime cliches, so as long as you don't mind subtitles then I'd throw my hat on the recommendation pile too.

And in a George R. R. Martin way, don't get too attached to anyone.

Chers, this could be my new favourite show. Is there a uk dub?

I haven't watched Anime on over 20 years, but the premise intrigued me. After two episodes, I'm hooked.

I'm not sure why Attack on Titan is getting so much attention. In terms of story or characters it is pretty generic. Aside from the gorgeous animation and well realised world, I thought the first season lost steam towards the end and the episodes fell into a rhythm of last minute twists to make sure you wanted to keep watching.

All that being said, I can get why they would make a movie out of it. The fights alone would make awesome popcorn fodder

No dub exists yet, although Funimation will release the series on subbed/dubbed DVD/Blu-Ray next year in the US. If you don't mind subs, you can watch it on Crunchyroll now.

I've known of AoT for some time now--read a couple volumes of the manga and I've been watching the anime on Crunchyroll--and I have to say that I've been pleasantly surprised by the enormous success of it. People who normally do not watch anime have loved the anime, and at most conventions I've gone to there have been a growing number of AoT cosplayers (none have working maneuver systems, though...).

It's not for everyone, but I do not begrudge Isayama's success. He created a work that has found many fans, and more power to him.

I think it really works well as some sort of entry level anime, due to it's story, characters, settings etc. being probably more western influenced. Probably why it's done well outside of Japan.

Similarly, I've heard from a few long-time anime fans that they don't like it, maybe because of the exact same reasons. Funny how that's worked out.

Thanks for the link!! I've wanted to watch this for ages.

Watch the abridged version on Youtube far more fun ;-)

Currently the best anime on TV.

The manga is wonderful I read it all to that date about a year and a half ago. However I've given up on reading it because I can't wait a month for each new chapter. I'll read the lot when it's done (ditto Vinland Saga which is also a wonderful monthly historical manga but is definitely under appreciated, set in the Viking world and mostly Dark Ages Britain).

I'm not going to bother watching the anime till I've read the manga because from what I've seen of it so far suggests while it has the violence it's far less creepy and fails to capture that oppressive tension and frankly pure existential terror that envelops you while reading the manga and that makes it a genuinely horrifying yet compelling thing to experience.

The original and best abridged series is Yu-Gi-Oh! and all the others have been pale imitations (the problem with that is it works best if you watched yu-gi-oh as a kid and basically remember it and enjoy it).

Really? How is it generic?

Why dub? Dubs are 99% of the time terrible. And I'm sorry dub fans Steven Blum is at best ok at being Spike in Cowboy Bebop and not even close capturing the laid back air of the character (unrelated but it always comes up and I think people are just wrong).

I completely disagree with you when you say this show isn't full of anime cliches. *High level spoilers may follow*

After the band of protagonists head off to boot camp the show takes a one way trip to trope town. You've got all the standard one note anime tropes characters: tomboy who loves meat, silent protective female love interest, brainy weakling, and worst of all Eren is the archetypical shōnen protagonist. I continually felt like the show could have switch him out with Naruto and I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference. I can see someone who doesn't watch much anime not noticing it but these are textbook copy paste characters that never deviate from their trope roots.

Bottom line is that I felt this anime suffered from exactly the same issues that most people who dislike anime complain about. The most unique aspect this show does do differently is really hit home the "war is hell" theme but it unfortunately subverts itself (in my opinion) with the inclusion of magical plot armor that's a retreat from the most George R. R. Martin-esque decisions that could have made the show excellent.

couple of ways.

Story is very typical Shonen, in that it is a main character who has something that makes him the most determined/only one who can hope to win the war. There is some element of conspiracy within the "heroes" side so that we are left guessing as to who the real enemy is. Its pretty similar in that sense to something like Bleach or Naruto, if you take it like that.

The characters are all typical Anime archetypes, the typical shonen hero (Eren), the weakling the hero has to build self belief in (Armin) the ice queen who kicks serious butt (Mikasa), and a whole host of others, including your tsundere, yandere all amongst the supporting cast.

All that being said, I do still think the world that has been created is terrific, with such a lot of beauty and history within it. The action scenes are incredible to watch, and the plot hopefully will go places in the upcoming seasons. I just don't really see what makes it the anime that demands so much attention from the last few years, other than perhaps the reemergance of mecha/kaiju love in popular media

whoa whoa whoa. DBZ abridged by four star is as good if not better then YGOTAS

have to say i am not a regular anime viewer for last 15 or so years- but watched the first two episodes - i think the world set up is great- but characters are just so generic and a bit irritating - thanks for recommend will try to give it more time -feels like it could make a great film at some stage

More Spoilers may follow...

I disagree... First off, Eren is weak compared to many other characters, apart from his gift. How often in an anime is the protagonist not the strongest... Almost never. He's nothing like Naruto whom everyone supports and is a hero to everybody.

Name me some other lead female characters that are like Mikasa? Where did you get the tom-boy who loves meat? She's hardly a tomboy compared to Mikasa and Annie, first of all. She's not much of a fighter and she's always scared of everything. She's the only foody amongst them but it is understandable because food was scarce from where she came. This is survival instinct.

As for brainy weakling... Okay, that gets done often but seriously, for one of the main characters... He is seriously very weak.

Let's talk about what makes this anime different form others. Firstly, it's unpredictable. Secondly, the good guys don't always win... Thirdly, the element of fear. You are actually fearful for the characters throughout the anime... Simply because you never know who's going to die and when...

Attack on Titan is an amazing anime... Hands down. There's nothing more to even say. There's a reason why it's become so popular.

I remember watching Akira at its limited art house run originally, and being blown away at how developed the characters were, even though they were delinquents. It was only available as a dubbed VHS for quite a while and I was horrified at how utterly unrecognisable the main characters were. Dumbed down, idiotic thugs. I have never watched dubbed anime since.

I will check it out and did see some of the orginal Yu-Gi-Oh ;-).

Whenever I see this comment I am always surprised people still say things like this. This is not the era of 4kids anymore. Funimation consistently puts out pretty solid dubs. Are they always as good as the subs? of course not, but sometimes they are. Lots of dubs are incredibly well done, especially for shows that people actually care about. I watch dubs, and Subs, and honestly I prefer dubs if they are good. FMA brotherhood, Great dub, Gurren laggan, great dub, death note, great dub (although I prefer the japanese voice for Light. But to counteract that I prefer the english voice for L.). Also, even if you completely disagree, obviously John up there prefers dubs. Why must you condescend to him for his preferences? Do you think he is going to say "Wow, Greg really has a point. Dubs do suck. I HAVE BEEN BLIND ALL THIS TIME. All those hours I thought I was enjoying animes, I actually was miserable. Thank you for opening my eyes."

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