Attack on Titan Analysis: The Culture of Complacency
A few months ago, I was given the pleasure of seeing one of the best anime of 2013, and possibly of all time depending on how the second season progresses: Attack on Titan. Set in an apocalyptic world where giant, flesh-eating monsters supplant robot overlords, aliens, or zombies, the anime follows protagonist Eren Yeager and the last remnants of humanity living in a walled city, supposedly safe from the aforementioned monsters, called Titans. Inevitably, a titan breaks the wall, and all hell breaks loose. Devastated from the deaths of their loved ones, Eren and his friends join the military to get even, and the rest, as they say, gets interesting. One of the show's more intriguing aspects is the structure of this society forced in a siege by flesh-eating behemoths. The world behind the wall is very classist: the poorer you are, the closer to the outer walls you live, the outer walls the first line of defense against the Titans; the richer or more influential you are, the further in the interior you live. As dystopian as the fictional world of Attack on Titan appears, the culture, cowardice, and mentality of its inhabitants, as well as the Titans themselves, draw striking parallels to our own reality.
The Poor Get Eaten; The Rich Eat
In Attack on Titan, the social structure stands as a central conflict in the series. Poorer citizens and military grunts live in more condensed housing, closer to the outer wall. Eren's family's living conditions prove this. Even though Eren's father is obviously a scholarly man, their home is not only a bungalow, but also in cramp quarters, butting other homes, similar to the city planning for a slum or a project. In contrast, Wall Rose, the walled city behind theirs, is more luxurious, and the interior is even more so. High ranking officers and nobles live in the interior, far from any imminent Titan attacks, in mansions or castles.
Making the poor and the less affluent the first line of defense against monsters may seem cruel, even evil, but it mimics the social system in our civilized society. In the realty we all share, poor people are reduced to live in slums and ghettos, the only type of housing they can afford. In such situations you have the very desperate preying on the destitute, “monsters” as intimidating as Titans forming gangs, using murder, prostitution, thievery, drugs, and innocent blood to feed themselves. While the less fortunate scrounge to survive on the “outer walls,” where are the rich, the leaders, and the powerful? They reside in “the interior,” behind gated communities, suburbs, and country mansions, far from danger.
If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It, Or Change It
The stagnation of the Attack on Titan world represents one of the its most disturbing trends. By the outerwall, soldiers stay drunk and merry, while the poorer citizens mock and ridicule anyone with ideas expanding beyond the outerwall. Closer to the interior, the nobles care only about their own defense, while high-ranking military leaders party, leaving assignments to their less experienced juniors. Also, as seen through Eren's eyes during his military training, the most elite military trainees don't join to fight the Titans, but to guard the nobles behind the interior wall, where they'll never face one of the monstrosities plaguing humanity. The dominant mentality supporting the last remaining humans is, “if it's not broken, don't fix it.” The soldiers seem satisfied in blissfully ignoring the ten-meter tall behemoths sitting on their doorsteps. Even the destruction of the outerwall fails to change the attitudes of the nobles and high-ranking military officials inside the interior.
The inspiration for the complacent mentality affecting the populous comes from our world. Capitalist Darwinism pervades the minds of the rich and wealthy. They believe people's economic-social standing is directly proportional to their effort, making the status of others not their responsibility. On the other hand, the poorer citizens disregard any ideas to expand their communities as “highbrow,” and see policies implemented by officials as beyond their understanding or ability to influence. As a result, they blissfully remain in perceived impotence and poverty, abetting the complacency of the world into stagnation. The poor pray danger leaves their lives, and the rich or famous sit safely behind a blanket of financial security, until the Colossal Titan that is an economic depression or recession hits, the ultimate accumulation of complacency of both classes.
What Are The Titans? (-_- No Spoilers)
In the TV series, the Titans are the primary antagonists of the show. Like a weapon of mass destruction, they have eradicated most of mankind, forcing them to live behind enormous, walled cities. Humans fear them, hate them, yet try to forget they exist. Any reminder of their existence, such as the Scout Regiment, their occupation exploring outside the walls, is met with disdain. Even the Scout Regiment expresses disgust upon hearing any pertinent information pertaining to Titans, other than how to kill them. The terror of Titans leaves most of humanity happily in a siege.
These abominable horrors live closer to home than we dare imagine. Fears, prejudices, and paranoia represent the Titans' manifestation in our world. Fear of lacking understanding of a concept or idea, fear one can't be understood, fear of the world outside one's borders, fear of change, any fear keeping one circumscribed becomes one's personal Titan, laying siege to our mind, body, and life. Similar to the show, living oblivious behind our walls of mental or financial security won't make the fears disappear. To move beyond our walls into brand new worlds, as well as to expand the worlds of others, we must fight our fears, even with hesitation, but never reservation.
It's difficult to imagine how a world plagued with suffering by giant, humanoid, flesh-eating monsters could compare to our contemporary reality, yet the allusions remain unmistakable. The social system in both is classist, Attack on Titan placing its poor on the edges of barriers keeping out the Titans, our world displacing the poor in ghettos and slums, the havens for career criminals. In this fictional dystopia, the rich gamble and sell stolen merchandise behind Wall Sina, while the poor stay blissfully drunk and complacent closer to the exterior. Similarly, in reality, the desire to keep things unchanged stagnates the upper-class, and belief of powerlessness freezes the lower-class from action. Finally, the Titans manifest themselves in our world as anything preventing us progressing beyond the Walls of our safe havens and minds. Just as Gulliver's Travels did more than document the travels of an Englishman across bizarre worlds, and just as The Once and Future King did more than show a boy experience life as a hawk, an ant, and a fish, Attack on Titan is more than a tale describing humanity's survival against man-eating giants. The show dazzles with stellar action and potent drama, yet serves as a commentary on how our fears, if we hide from them, can overpower the barriers we surround ourselves with. If one fails to venture outside the walls of one's oasis, then someday those same walls will come crumbling down, bringing the desert to one's doorstep.
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