the_sun_is_up: Aliciabeth from Claymore succumbing to zombie-ification. (claymore - drowning)
[personal profile] the_sun_is_up
So how about that bandwagon I recently jumped on? :D

Attack on Titan, aka Shingeki no Kyoujin, is an up-and-coming shonen manga by Hajime Isayama, and when I say "up-and-coming," I mean that it out-sold the top-selling volume of Bleach last year. The story is set in a world that's been overrun by people-eating giants and the last remnants of humanity live cloistered away in a triple-walled city. Fortunately the walls are tall and strong enough to keep the giants out for a hundred years, at which point a much bigger giant shows up, kicks a hole in the outer wall, and lets all its shorter friends into the city to run amok. Our hero, Eren, narrowly escapes the carnage but not before witnessing his mother get eaten by a Titan. Vowing revenge, he decides to join the military; fast-forward five years, and he's done just that. Cue badass fight scenes, inspirational speeches, and lots of bloody gruesome death.

You'd be forgiven for mistaking AoT for a seinen manga — this series is dark with a capital "grim." I've heard it accurately classified as a hybrid of fighting shonen and horror, and the latter is extremely effective in its execution. They say the simplest ideas are the best; AoT takes a very simple idea (giants who eat people) and runs with it.

The horror works well for several reasons. Firstly, the gore. In my experience, graphic violence is usually a detriment in a horror series because it's unsubtle, gross rather than scary, and often gives me the sneaking suspicion that the author is secretly getting off on it. AoT doesn't lovingly zoom in on the gore, but nor does it shy away from it. It just kind of bluntly plops it down in front of you. In the many scenes of Titans eating people, the Titans never treat the human body with any kind of respect or sanctity; they don't neatly swallow us whole or even bother to kill us humanely before chowing down. Instead they tend to treat us like candy bars with legs, calmly grabbing one and biting off whichever end is closest. This casual indifference is a lot more terrifying than if the Titans were to gleefully torture us like trapped insects; we really are nothing more than snacks to them, and this refusal to treat humans as "special" is reflected in how the gore is presented to the audience.

Secondly, the series has a strong element of cosmic horror to it. Humanity is a very small fish in a big incomprehensible pond full of nigh-indestructible sharks that vastly out-gun and probably out-number them. Reclaiming even the smallest amount of land from the Titans is laughably impossible — the best humanity can hope for is to just keep them at bay. And at least in Berserk, the monstrous Apostles had a human-like intelligence and could have a coherent conversation with you while they were trying to eat you. The Titans never speak, they can't be reasoned or connected with, and they give no explanation for their actions. The fact that they look humanoid makes their alien behavior even creepier. Worse still, the humans can't even figure out why the Titans are attacking. We know they survived just fine for 100 years with minimal access to human flesh, so they clearly don't need to eat us, but they never prey on wildlife — they specifically target humans. What do they want from us!? Are we just tasty?

Thirdly, this series has got to be the most trigger-happy manga I've ever read, possibly even moreso than Berserk! There's a palpable sense of dread permeating the whole story, a sense of "oh shit-balls we are sooooo fucked," and that's due in large part to the fact that whenever a Titan shows up, characters die and they die a lot. Background characters die, speaking characters die, secondary characters die — hell, the first volume ends with the hero getting eaten (he gets better). Nobody is safe in this world except for the three leads, maybe. It's like AoT is trying to make up for all those years of Bleach and Naruto refusing to kill anyone. Furthermore, the character deaths are often sudden, senseless, and in vain. There's this chilling scene early in Vol. 1 when a brigade returns from an expedition, having lost 80% of their soldiers in battle, and the mother of one of the fallen practically begs the captain to reassure her that her son died heroically, or that his death at least helped further humanity's cause, and he's forced to admit to her that absolutely nothing was accomplished on their expedition and her son's death was completely pointless. Just human lives down the drain.

As for characters, our heroes are a trio of teenage soldiers consisting of: Eren, the impulsive protagonist driven by REVENGE and a desire to free humanity from its cage and explore the outside world; Mikasa, the stoic hyper-skilled badass who's determined to protect Eren from harm, sometimes at the cost of her better judgement; and Armin, the brainy Non-Action Guy to Mikasa's Action Girl, who spends most of the time being horribly traumatized by all the carnage going on around him. Armin's especially sympathetic because he's painfully aware of just how useless he is in a fight, and his facial expressions aptly sum up the overall tone of the series. *TRAUMA FACE*

Speaking of Mikasa, AoT immediately got into my good books by offering up plenty of genderwin. Nenena already did a post outlining the really basic gender-equal stuff AoT does, which can be summarized as a) no Smurfette Principle, b) unisex military uniforms, c) variety of personality types amongst the ladies, and d) women are just as likely as men to die horribly, but their deaths aren't creepily sexualized. Also, when Isayama did a cover page of Mikasa in a bikini, he drew her with magnificent abs.

There are a couple of flaws to the series, though. Most noticeably, the art kind of sucks. It's still good enough to carry the horror, but I look forward to Isayama improving his skills as the series progresses. Also, the downside of all that horror-inducing character death is that most of the secondaries don't have much chance to get character development or even make much of an impression before they become Titan-chow. Again, I'm guessing this will improve in later volumes.
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the_sun_is_up: Panty from PSG wearing glasses. (Default)
Sing me a bawdy song, make me merry

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