Attack on Titan: A 21st Century Magnum Opus?

Attack on Titan: A 21st Century Magnum Opus?

It was the early 2010s and shonen had reached its critical height. Few anime would commit to taking over the brilliance of Code Geass, Steins;Gate and Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood.

The then-airing Hunter x Hunter was also halfway through its Chimera Ant arc, and if we keep aside slice-of-life comedies like Gintama, the most celebrated era of shounen was, without a doubt, taking a curtain call.

Then in April 2013, Wit Studio adapted Hajime Isayama’s first and only manga series, ruining our anime expectations forever.

Plot

It’s difficult to explain Shingeki No Kyojin without freaking out. Isayama built a world titillating with mysteries and profundity.

All of humanity, or whatever remains of humanity, lives peacefully within three concentric walls, surrounded by towering, naked caricatures of horror that prey on human beings for the mere pleasure of it (later, the humans are puked out dead).

The peace lasts 200 years, until the walls are breached and the “titans” flood into the city. Or that’s how the story begins. Or that’s how everyone thinks the story begins.

The premise is not extraordinary by anime standards. You could use my description for a zombie apocalypse advert.

Over the last decade, Attack on Titan attained commercial and critical omnipotence. It amassed an international fandom rivalling that of Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.

But its praise does not originate from the setting or the clichéd, hot-headed child-protagonist determined to kill every single titan on earth.

Attack on Titan stands apart from its competition due to its great attention to detail and a portrait of the various human capacities for emancipation.

Writing and Foreshadowing

To say that the writing is intelligent is an understatement. The plot reproduces Isayama’s scholarly understanding of Nazi Germany.

Isayama’s narrative does not rely on “after the fact” explanations (Kimetsu no Yaiba?) and accommodates few loopholes (looking at you, Re: Zero).

The result? Everything is foreshadowed. Twists aren’t a tool for dramatic effect, but become the fabric of the plot, unraveling the viewer’s understanding of the narrative (what the hell is going on?).

You start off knowing nothing about the world of titans, and a few episodes later you think you knew something, but four seasons down the road, you still don’t know enough.

Every dialogue that sounded gullible at first, every side character that you never imagined would be more consequential than stealing meat from the military or sleeping in a weird position, and every visual that was positively nondescript, comes back to haunt you.

Gallow’s Humor

“I wouldn’t mind being eaten, as long as it’s by a scorchingly hot lady titan.”

Humour is characteristic of totalitarian societies. Laughter is freedom, nonetheless fleeting. Attack on Titan executes this to perfection.

Isayama’s dismal creation necessitates humor and of course, there’s plenty of it.

It is, after all, a world submerged in racism, corruption, violence and geopolitics. I don’t know about you, but such themes can drain all my batteries.

Unforgettable Characters

The characters are stunners. Levi Ackermann is the fancy of humanity and Erwin Smith “could inspire a snail to attack a pile of salt” according to a top Youtube comment. Sasha Braus, Jean-bo and Connie Springer are absolute sweethearts.

Grisha, Reiner, Gabi, Zeke and Eren are the breathtaking personification of contrarieties and ideological indifference.

Character Development

“Who do you think the enemy is?” – Erwin Smith

The character development, as opposed to the early opinions of first-season critics, is also phenomenal.

Here’s a familiar anime trope: when the main character’s parent dies, it frames the morality of the MC, who then sets out to either kill or forgive the bad guys only to arrive at Uncle Ben’s “with great power comes great responsibility” pop dictum.

Accordingly, I was prepared when the walls were breached and a 46-foot tall humanoid was munching on Eren’s mother in the first episode.

I was prepared to watch another grief-struck anime protagonist embark on a journey of revenge and self-discovery and forever friendships.

Spoiler

It’s hilarious now, after Eren’s transition from a hero to an anti-hero to a villain, with his Rumbling out to decimate the world, just how wrong I was.

Finale - Good, Bad?

Many great anime are notorious for caving into their own ambitions (Neon Genesis Evangelion and Death Note come to mind).

Part 3 of the Finale has already prepared us for a spectacular showdown. It could make or break the show.

Still, whether or not this anime successfully lands its ending (manga fans are already in splits), there’s no denying that the legacy of Attack on Titan will be remembered and marveled at for decades to come.

From time to time, when life feels underwhelming, I return to this show and share with the characters a longing to know more than I’m supposed to. I guess titans are officially my comfort food (get it?) now.

I am not sure if I’m ready to let this show go yet.

Referenced from Stories Under My Bed