Attack on Titan and the film adaptation of Starship Troopers share quite a few similarities. Both tell the story of young men driven by revenge against an enemy responsible for killing their families and besieging the human race. While Johnnie Rico had to contend with a race of bugs, Eren Yeager finds himself up against a far more terrifying enemy: giants called Titans, who live for the single purpose of devouring humans.
The manga fits comfortably within the post-apocalyptic genre because it depicts the remnants of human civilization living within a kingdom made up of three territories, each protected by large concentric walls. These massive barriers were designed to keep the Titans out and for 100 years humans enjoyed a life of peace. While many citizens have grown complacent behind the walls, Eren Yeager—who is more than a little obnoxious and self-righteous—feels imprisoned. He makes no attempt to hide his disdain for everyone, even the military, who believes the Titans are never coming back. Proving Eren’s point in the worst possible way, the Titans’ return is heralded by an entirely new creature, one that is significantly taller than any encountered before. It breaches their defenses with a swift kick. Eren, his adopted sister Mikasa, and his friend Armin manage to survive a day of horror as Titans make their way into town, slaughtering and eating any humans that cross their path. After witnessing the death of his mother, Eren swears revenge against the monsters and joins the military in order to wipe them out.
Attack on Titan operates much like a zombie film. Although the Titans are genuinely terrifying creatures, the real emphasis of the first volume is how people react when set against a near-invincible foe. In the face of terrible fear, we see the human race’s true colors. There are too few heroes in the story, as most people allow their spirits to be completely crushed by despair, making for a pretty bleak read. Their deaths are depicted in the most gruesome way possible, as helpless humans are chewed up, swallowed whole, or torn apart.
These moments of tragedy are counterbalanced by heavy action scenes involving a personal weapons system that can best be described as “awesome.” Each soldier is equipped with a Three Dimensional Maneuvering combat system that, in a nutshell, allows them to move around the battlefield like Spider-Man: a cable system shoots out tow cables that attach to various surfaces, allowing the soldier to swing around at breakneck speed in order to get behind the Titan and strike its weak point at the base of the neck. Not since Ghost in the Shell have I seen a gadget depicted in a comic that made me think, “I want that.”
Hajime Isayama builds a fascinating fictional world. It’s unfortunate that the artwork falls considerably short. It is not terrible, per se, it just feels a bit second draft. Some of the character and Titan designs are a little inconsistent in their proportions, resulting in some goofy-looking people. This mostly occurs when Isayama is trying to show perspective and while sometimes it works, other times it does not. The artwork doesn’t ruin the overall work, however, and ends up being a unique case of substance over style.
The first volume ends with a shocking and violent cliffhanger that will ensure a continuing interest in the series. Dark, humorless, and violent, Attack on Titan earns its Older Teen rating and should be kept away from younger readers.
Attack on Titan, vol. 1
by Hajime Isayama
Kodansha Comics, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: 16+