Shingeki no Kyojin – Attack on Titan started screening in Japan this April and if you are looking for a really fascinating anime shonen newcomer, you might well discover it here – or at least be in for a big surprise.
Hajime Isayama developed his first episode of the manga Attack on Titan in September 2009. It first appeared in Bessatsu Shonen Magazine and up until June 2013 the series has sold almost 20 million copies. Its style is typical for the huge and speedy Japanese manga market, and mostly consists of black and white drawings. Hajime Isayama (born 1986), among others, greatly admires the work of Tsutomu Nihei and has been honored with the Fine Work Magazine Grand Prix for Attack on Titan in 2006 and the 35th Kodansha Manga Award for Best Shonen in 2011.
His manga already has all the ingredients of a sophisticated and profound story. In April 2013 it took quite a lot of anime lovers by surprise, when the tv series Shingeki no Kyojin started airing in Japan.
Shingeki no Kyojin - Attack on Titan covers dark fantasy, tragedy, and dystopian topics and follows a fine tradition of a number of live-action films developing and exploring the concept of dystopian societies.
Among them are classics like „Nineteen Eighty-Four“, „Brave New World“, or „Fahrenheit 451“. Like these prototypes, Shingeki no Kyojin, too, deals with issues like totalitarianism and the idea of controlling the crowds through fear and the denial of education. At the same time the story mainly covers a strong standard shonen motif, by featuring juvenile heroes, who are on the major mission of saving mankind, while trying to see the „big picture“.
Together Director Tetsuro Araki and screenwriter Yasuko Kobayashi have managed to uplift Hajime Isayama's excellent story concept to new and unexpected heights. Their cooperation and Wit Studio's extraordinary artwork and high-quality animation techniques as well as intriguing camera work, defined by absorbing pan shots and cuts produces suspense rarely found in animes (or any kind of film) of our time, and even better: keeping it up throughout all 25 episodes. Hiroyuki Sawano's soundtrack and the entire sound design add even more depth to a special atmosphere that is hard to put into words.
Eren Jaeger (Eren Yaega) and his friends Mikasa Ackermann (Mikasa Akkaman) and Armin Arlelt (Arumin Arureruto) are the three main characters. Almost everything revolves around them.
The three of them are born into a world ruled by fear and dominated by three huge walls that help to protect the surviving humans from their all powerful enemy, the titans. Almost noone is allowed – or courageous enough – to set foot outside these walls, as the giants are man eaters, devouring anyone they get a hold of. For almost one hundred years humans had lived safely within these walls, when suddenly a colossal titan destroys the outer wall „Maria“. In the attack that follows, Eren's mother is devoured right in front of him. After evacuation the three friends decide to join the army as recruits. Eren's sole goal: He wants to work with the reconnoissance squad, to fight the titans in the outside world.
This series hooks you right after the fist short episode, and there are many reasons why it works so well. Starting with the unique visual design – especially for an anime. Despite its realistic touch, the artwork often borders on the abstract, deliberately highlighting emotions and tense situations by using a specific acrylic or water-colour style. This transforms the smooth anime art by adding profound structure and neatly picks up the characters' conflicts. The effect is fortified every time the titans appear – and establishes them with a nightmarish quality. It takes but one glance to notice the exceptional production quality which – tour-de-force-like – is kept up right to the very end of the season. Story and character development are completely in line with an underlying, yet clearly visible concept.
Next to an impulsive, idealistic and sometimes rabid Eren, calm and strong-headed Mikasa represents an interesting antipole as an especially strong fighter.
Besides Jean, Armin offers the most fascinating character development. He starts out as the weak friend in need of protection, and develops rather astounding abilities as the story goes on. Still fans mostly favor another figure: Sergeant of the reconnoissance squad, Captain Levi (Rivai) also represents the legion's strongest warrior – which makes him the unchallenged hero of mankind. His cool and inaccessible personality seems to turn him into an invincible fighter – and although you can't help but admire him, you probably wouldn't want to cross his path, especially when he's cleaning house.
With all this, Shingeki no Kyojin already fulfills the fundamental requirements for a thrilling and successful Shonen series. It's thundering success is probably due to another ingredient. Whenever Attack on Titan is under consideration, the word „controversial“ pops up. Maybe, because the ostensible theme seems to be mayhem and bloodshed. Among the producers and creators noone in particular seems to be afraid of killing off a character. And it's mostly the good guys who get it faster than anyone. You can't help but notice that, as tragic as it might seem – in the world of the titans, goodness is a one-way ticket to demise.
The mysterious titans represent a much bigger threat. They are also the "x-factor" of this story.
Noone seems to know much about them – where they originate, what their goal is, and why they kill humans? They don't seem to require food to survive. So, is it just powerplay? Is it their job to simply terrorize? There's hardly a better allegory to describe the principles of human nature. As a result, a number of questions arise in the back of your head – and that's where they stick: Who is man's real enemy? What does it man to be free? What price must the hero pay? How do you fight evil, if you don't even know what is behind it?
„If you want to fight a monster, you have to become one" really isn't a brand new credo, after all. Almost every Hollywood blockbuster tell us, it's true – and adds that big changes don't come without a price. The way Shingeki no Kyojin transforms this concept is still much more interesting. While in the mainstream media, mankind is usually victorious in the end, in Shingeki no Kyojin the final victory remains dubious. The future is a fluent affair – and the outcome of any action unknown. The only ones who are really free, are the two birds, in the end. They simply overcome the walls by flying away – even though their position in the food chain is way below those of the humans, who are bound to the earth.
Hajime Isayama actually puts these humans back into their primal position as bait. Suddenly the ancient laws of nature unrestrictedly apply once more: Kill or be killed. These are the conditions that serve as background for the author's critical glance at society's structure. Despite all our sophistication, there has never been another rule more true. It isn't just Armin, who realizes: „This is how the world has always been:“ the strong terrorizing the weak, survival of the fittest. Killing is as much part of our culture as anything. It is so omnipresent that it can easily be ignored. Many people might find this displeasing – especially when looking at their Sunday roast.
It comes a s no surprise that this series has the the power to polarize.
In a cinematic capacity Shingeki no Kyojin has the potential to play along with Kurosawa's great films. He once said that he learned early in life, not to look away from a cruelty, but contemplate it quite closely. This would be the only way to understand the nature of things. A doctrine he quite frequently confronted his audience with. And it seems that director Tetsuro Araki has also internalised this concept.
The anime's success in Japan is extraordinary. It has been licensed in Australia with Madman Entertainment, in North America with Funimation, and the UK with Manga UK.