Originally published on The Fandom Post.
Story & Art: Hajime Isayama
Translation/Adaptation: Sheldon Drzka
Lettering: Steve Wands
What They Say:
Humanity has been devastated by the bizarre, giant humanoids known as the Titans. Little is known about where they came from or why they are bent on consuming humanity. Seemingly unintelligent, they have roamed the world killing off humankind for years. For the past century, what’s left of mankind has hidden in a giant, three-walled city. People believe their 100-meter-high walls will protect them from the Titans, which are 10 to 20 meters tall. But the sudden appearance of an immense Titan is about to change everything.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
If you’ve been anywhere near the anime community in the past eight years, you know Attack on Titan. Even if you haven’t, you probably still know it. Though its popularity has declined somewhat in recent years, AoT’s peak was nothing short of explosive; everyone online was talking about it, memes were everywhere, cosplays were everywhere, and sales were through the roof. Even after all these years, every episode of the final season blew up on social media, sparking positive and negative discussion throughout the community I say all this because it’s impossible to discuss the series in a vacuum at this point. These first four volumes are particularly noteworthy since they cover the first half of the anime, which was what kicked off the series’ popularity in the first place. And reading them as a long-time fan, it’s not hard to see why.
A huge part of Attack on Titan’s appeal is how tightly it holds your attention. The story’s stakes are immense—literally the fate of the human race—and it never lets you forget that. The entire cast is always strained to the breaking point, fully aware that one wrong move means death. There are even parts where characters completely break down in a way that would be overdramatic in any other series, but fits perfectly with the atmosphere Attack on Titan is aiming for. Everyone’s desperation is palpable, and the story’s pace is such that it never lingers for so long that the feeling fades. This makes for a gripping experience, where it almost feels like you don’t take a breath for the entire time you’re reading it. Even having experienced this part of the story before, I still found myself falling into that at times due to the sheer intensity of it all.
In building this kind of tension, Attack on Titan relies on how little we actually know about the world. We know that there are Titans, but we don’t know where they came from, what they really are, or even why they eat humans. The battle that takes up the bulk of these volumes is mostly a group of kids, right out of basic training, suddenly thrown into a fight against these unknowable monsters, and their terror and desperation come through loud and clear. They don’t know anything more than we do, so it doesn’t feel like the story’s holding back just to manipulate the audience. Rather, the audience shares in the characters’ fear. Like them, we have just enough information to know what’s going on (Titans have breached the city and they need to hold them back and find a way to secure it), but nothing about why it’s happening or how things reached that point. These mysteries, large and small, give it a strong hook and make the series extremely bingeable, even with how stingy it can be at handing out answers.
None of that is to say that Attack on Titan is particularly subtle; it’s not. Characters scream in frustration or fear, at times completely breaking down over the trauma of the Titan’s invasion, or in Mikasa’s case, straight up narrate their life philosophy. One of the earliest scenes features some injured soldiers returning from a failed scouting mission and encountering the mother of one of their fallen comrades. She asks if her son’s death at least accomplished something to help humanity, leading one of the soldiers to break down and shout that it was meaningless. There are plenty of other scenes like this, where it eschews subtlety in favor of bluntness, which honestly works in the series’ favor. This is a story where everything is life or death, a story where people regularly get eaten by grinning giants. Being upfront about its characters and themes fits that motif perfectly, and helps add to the weight of everything going on.
Hajime Isayama’s art has a rough, sketch-like quality to it that takes a bit of getting used to, but fits the story well, particularly when it’s leaning into its horror side. He excels at drawing visceral expressions of fear, as well as the haunted look of people who are barely holding together. In contrast, the titans themselves are drawn with an almost realistic quality and a sense of solidity that makes them stand out even more compared to the human characters.
Rereading it like this, it’s easy to see how and why Attack on Titan took off the way it did. Isayama has an excellent grasp of how to keep fans craving more, both through the moment-to-moment entertainment and the long-term mysteries. Even this early in the story, Attack on Titan’s strengths shine through: its raw intensity, fast action, and surprising introspectiveness. This series starts out strong, and only improves with time. If you’ve managed to avoid the series until now, this is a perfect place to start.
Content Grade: A-
Art Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: A
Text/Translation Grade: A