Manga Village

Attack on Titan Volume 1

November 1, 2012

I have been lucky in my reading that I rarely come across things I actively hate. Sure, I have had a few instances (Sasameke comes to mind) but the stuff I don’t like I just don’t like, and there are no hard feelings. But there are times when I consider a new title to add to the “shit list,” and unfortunately, Attack on Titan is one of those times.

By Hajime Isayama
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Age Rating: Older Teen
Genre: Shonen/Speculative Fiction/Horror
Price: $10.99

At the core of Attack on Titan is a futuristic version of the Earth where the human race has been driven nearly to extinction by a race of giant monsters called Titans. These creatures seem only to exist to devour human beings. Humanity has responded to these alien creatures by building a giant walled city to protect themselves, and created an elite group of fighters who protect the human race by using retro-futuristic grappling hooks and natural gas to propel themselves through the air and kill Titans. As far as end of the world stories go, it’s a fairly original premise.

While the premise is original, the execution in Attack on Titan is poor. The tone of the dialogue is always some flavor of “I’m so scared/I’m the best patriot/We are all going to die/I’m the best fighter” that the writing flows together in a monotonous mess. Indeed, the entire driving force of the story of Attack on Titan is a mawkish “patriotism vs. individuality” argument. The humor and mystery that Isayama attempts to weave into the book do nothing to dispatch the overwhelming sense of fruitless angst and horror that  permeates the book. The ending of the first volume is even more underwhelming, building  an entire team of characters only to kill them all off at the end – not that I was expecting anything less. The question remains though – why kill off your main character after 1 volume?

The misery of the story of Attack on Titan is fueled by sketchy, dark art, as seen above. Isayama uses an abundance of cross-hatching and thick black shading lines that blur faces and make action scenes incomprehensible. What Attack on Titan could have really used was a couple of packs of grey screen tone – it would have made flaws in the art such as improbable posturing and odd arm and leg lengths much less glaringly visible. Eyes are also not Isayama’s strong suit – they are either white circles, almost haunted-looking, or dark black circles – these can be with or without straight shading lines drawn down over a person’s face. Needless to say, it is at times hard to read characters and their projected emotions without Isayama forcing them to say “I’m so scared!” The style is certainly gritty, and I suspect that is part of the point, but I feel the style accentuates flaws and makes the entire comic much harder to read.

I really don’t have a problem with the violence or the pessimism of Attack on Titan. My main issue is how shoddily the whole book is done. Bakurano: Ours is a similar piece of fiction, heavy with the weight of death. But where Bakurano gives each of its characters the stage of death in which to tell his or her life, Attack on Titan is a veritable slaughtering, and without regard to the expectations of the reader. Killing off the main character, the only character you have allowed the reader to connect with, seems fruitless. Perhaps volume 1 of Attack on Titan just ends in a bad spot for the story… but I wouldn’t be able to tell, since there’s no chance I will be reading future volumes.

About the author

Alex is a comics critic and writer at the blog Sequential State. His previous writing has included work for Manga Village and for the now defunct Manga Widget.

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