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The Appeal of Attack on Titan
Multiple award-winning Attack On Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) is a manga-turned-anime that has blasted into popularity in Japan, and making its way across the globe as well. The manga was both written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama, a young artist who now has certainly made his mark in the industry. The series has 48 chapters as of the writing of this article, and has sold over 20 million copies in Japan. The manga won the Kodansha Manga Award in 2011 for the shounen ("teen male" targeted manga) category. the anime was launched back in April, and has been met with similar critical acclaim. Video game and novella spinoffs have been in the works, and there are talks of a live-action movie.
The plot follows teenaged Eren Jaeger and co-stars Mikasa Ackerman, his adopted sister, and Armin Arlet, his good friend. They live in a futuristic dystopian society where mankind has been reduced to living in one massive multi-complex area, surrounded by walls that keep the man-eating giant titans out. Eren, Mikasa and Armin join the army to help fight the titans, and gradually discover horrifying truths about the world they live in. The show could be rated anywhere between teen and mature, considering its heavy violence and gore. Dystopian monster stories are a dime a dozen among both Japanese media and Western, so what has made Attack on Titan such a hit?
Here are some points that make the series a gem in the shounen genre, and perhaps unique among action stories worldwide.
1. Attack on Titan has a flawed protagonist. Many anime series targeted toward men have "perfect" protagonists. The protagonist is strong, clever and handsome, and women adore him. If he has character flaws, they are often along the lines of being "too cool" or "too trusting" - nothing that jeopardizes the image of the general awesomeness of him. Any moment of weakness might be played for laughs at best, to make the character more endearing. Eren Jaeger, the protagonist of Attack on Titan, is imperfect. We know he is hotheaded, prone to violence, and idealistic to the point of irrational. From the first episode, Eren is not necessarily likeable as he attacks others, both verbally and physically. But what really makes Eren an interesting protagonist is that he is not strong. His physically abilities are illustrated as weak or mediocre at best, unwillingly relying on his adopted sister Mikasa to protect him. Even after boot camp, he is described as average, with no special abilities besides some hand-to-hand combat (which he worked hard for, training with fellow cadet Annie). Nothing is easy for Eren because of his dual flaws of difficult personality and lack of ability. Even as he gains a "special power" as protagonists do, he has less power and ability to control his titan form than colleagues with the same ability.
2. Portrayal of female characters is extremely positive. So far in both the anime and manga, the female characters are treated the same as the male characters. As most characters are in the military, the boys and girls alike wear practical military garb, that is notably non-revealing. Even when the female characters are in "street clothes" they are not revealing. It isn't that revealing clothes are necessarily a crime, but it is amazing and refreshing to see the women wearing the same practical styles as the men. Additionally, the women are varied in personality, powerful, and none of them are stereotypical weak, giggling damsel in distresses. The strongest character in Eren's group is by far Mikasa, his adopted sister, who is almost overpowered in her strength in all fields. Of the top ten graduates from Eren's unit, about half were women (Eren himself was beat out by two men and two women). More incredibly strong female characters are Annie, who is the best at hand-to-hand combat and Ymir, who is fierce in personality and ability and fights for the girl she loves. The sheer equality of men and women in this series is impressive and bordering on rare for Japanese anime.
3. The series has an easy to understand and easy to get into premise. Because the basic idea of the storyline is easy to understand and relies on the simple but effective "fight with everything you can to save humanity" emotions, new viewers can get caught up in the excitement of it quickly. The mysterious humanoid giants, called titans, are introduced with almost religious grandeur, in addition to being physically repulsive, that makes them easy to identify as villains. They are frighteningly powerful but not immortal, and well-trained soldiers can kill them if they have enough discipline and luck. The premise makes the "good guys" easy to root for, and the action makes the story addictive.
4. Attack on Titan has an unpredictable storyline. The titans are the enemy of mankind that has nearly defeated them, and they seem like mindless creatures that act solely to devour humans. And devour them they do - sometimes at a shocking rate, and the anime gives you the impression that no one is safe. Each section isn't complete without a twist or surprising revelation that puts a kink in the course of assumed events.
5. It utilizes a visually appealing art style. The visuals in the anime are beautiful even when they are grotesque. The characters totter on the realistic-looking end of the anime spectrum - no massive hairstyles or cat ears - and are attractive without showing off. The manga is less refined than the anime and uses rougher lines and sketch-like images that seem to suit the fast-paced atmosphere of the story.
6. Good soundtrack. The anime clearly worked hard at finding suitable music. Both the opening and ending themes are catchy and suit the atmosphere. The first opening theme is "Feuerroter Pfeil und Bogen" by Linked Horizon, and the first ending theme is "Utsukushiki Zankoku na Sekai" by Yōko Hikasa. The anime also includes numerous lyrical works within the episodes.
7. Lack of a romance subplot. At this point in the manga and anime both, there is a notable lack of any romance... at all. Absent is the typical one-dimensional female counterpart that seems to exist solely to love the protagonist. Even a developed love interest is missing. Mikasa, the woman who loves and strives to protect Eren, is at this point ambiguous at best. Though she is adopted, so far there is no indication that her love for Eren is sexual, and the manga is far progressed. In fact, there are no romance subplots at all or indication of romance past incidental minor characters - with the possible exception of a hinted-at lesbian couple, Ymir and Krista. Time has not been overspent on romantic feelings, but has been spent on character relationships otherwise. It's rare to find a series that doesn't feature romance, and whether you love it or hate it, it gives it a unique edge.
Attack on Titan is yet unfinished, with no indication that the manga is closing anytime soon. The anime follows the manga pretty faithfully so far, though the storytelling is more chronological than the manga, which uses more time gaps and flashbacks alternatively.