Attack on Titan: Volume 1 (Hajime Isayama)
Manga on the whole is something that I sadly fell out of love with several years ago. I used to be obsessed with the latest ongoing series coming out of Japan. I was even for a time more into manga than traditional American superhero comics. (Shocking I know!) I was well versed on all things Bleach, Naruto, Lupin III, Dragon Ball, Cowboy Bebop, Love Hina, Ghost in the Shell etc. etc. then one day out of the blue it all just became boring. Naruto got too long in the tooth with its endless padding and Bleach while truly entertaining, just got lost on me. Western comic books were starting their big resurgence that would lead into their current dominance of pop culture and box-office receipts while all the manga I read just seemed like variants on the same few story ideas. (Never ending fight stories, harem love stories, not so mysterious mystery stories, etc. along with yet another re-treading of Evangelion because Gainax love profits!) It was like the floor came out from under it all for me. I still loved the classic manga/anime series and films, Akira, Cowboy Bebop, Robotech/Macross and Ghost in the Shell have such a huge impact on how I see the world and come up with my own stories that I will love them forever. But everything else just felt…stale. Like it was trying to re-hash the glory days and never quite managing it. So I stepped away for a short break with the full intention of jumping back in within a year “full a piss an’ vinegar” and a rediscovered love of the art form.
That was five years ago.
Since then I havve hardly touched a manga volume or anime DVD outside of my collection of older things. Sure I dabbled here and there and re-read Akira for the millionth time every year or so but on the whole I was happy to just leave the new stuff to the legions of anime/manga fans both in Japan and the west. Leave them to their feverish love of various characters and franchises. Their shipping and in-jokes. Their other-ness as a collective.
I was done. I was out and nothing could bring me back in.
Then a few months ago I heard a low quiet rumble, almost a whisper. The kind I had not seen or felt in a long while. The kind that signalled something good was being published in Japan. The kind of rumble that causes western focused comic book websites to acknowledge its existence which is a big deal. (Trust me, it’s a big deal when it happens!) The whisper said, “check out Attack on Titan, it’s really cooooooool…..” to which I shrugged and said, “meh” before carrying on with my life. Then this month in my first Loot Crate (go check them out they are really cool) box I received a copy of the first volume of the Attack on Titan manga. So I figured what the heck and decided to give it a go.
Attack on Titan has everything I love about manga in it and more. So while I may be pretty much four years late to party from when the series originally began publication in Japan, the wait has been worth it. I am now “full a piss an’ vinegar” and have rediscovered love of the art form of Japanese Manga. (I’m still on the fence about the anime side of things but give me time!)
So yeah, here is my review of it.
When I reached the above splash page that was it. I was well and truly back in. It is a wondrous page of sheer awesome. The detail, the drama, the sheer gripping tension of it! All with a style that is unique to the book and uniquely Japanese. It was perfect and the five year jump in time’s resonance with my own five year break from manga was not lost on me either. This is the long-form action manga on a truly grand scale and with an approach I have not seen in a long, long time.
The basics of Attack on Titan are simple: in a post-apocalyptic world, all that is left of humanity is cornered in a multi-walled city surrounded by a never ending horde of humanoid giants called Titans that just love the taste of human flesh. The history of where the Titans came from and how they managed to destroy human society has long since been lost and the majority of the remaining populace are happy living in ignorance of what is beyond the walls of the city. No Titan has managed to breach the outer wall of the city for nearly 100 years until the day that a giant colossal Titan pops his head over the wall and rains fiery destruction on the city, causing the loss of the outer area of the city, Wall-Maria. Friends and loved ones of the main characters die, promises to protect each other are made and missions to destroy every last Titan are set in stone. Thus a gripping thrill-ride begins.
It all seems very simple and familiar but what makes Attack on Titan stand apart from the crowd however is its approach. A good mix of horror, adult themes and treating the reader with respect go a long way to help establish the setting and characters. There is a heightened level of tension that is sustained throughout the book and a cliffhanger ending that makes the next volume a mandatory purchase. (I already have it on order!) Isayama and his team have crafted a setting that has a lot of depths to plunder and one that I feel will be constantly added to as time goes on. The imagery of the Titans is something else, mixing a very simplified oni aesthetic with some seriously creepy expressions and gruesome actions making them un-earthly yet familiar at the same time.
It is not all totally smooth sailing however. The action parts of the book, while being full of wonderful exaggerated movement that makes that make them pop out of the page can become hard to follow at times. In some cases forcing me to re-read the page multiple times to try and figure out what the hell was happening. Also some of the characters feel a bit one-note at the moment while others seemingly jump out of the page fully formed. It is not a major issue seeing as this is the first volume but it shows signs that the more “disposable” members of the cast will become obvious by the lack of attention and care given to them which is a shame.
Still the book is peppered with brilliant ideas and themes to counteract its very few bad points. Case and point, the harness and multiple flexible blade system used by The Survey Corps to manoeuvre around the Titans to reach the weak spot on the back of their necks. You can see that a tremendous amount of thought has gone into working out how these things work and why they are required. Rather than going down a familiar route of say, giving everyone jetpacks the effort has been made to think outside of the box and come up with something new that is actually cooler than any alternative.
The anti-isolationist viewpoint of the books’ main character, Eren speaks volumes about fighting back against a certain aspect of Japanese society that is also seen globally to varying degrees, especially here for me in the UK. The teenaged characters actually behave like teenagers having to act grown-up well before their time. The pervading sense that things can and will get a lot worse before they get any better. The perfect match of the art style with the tone of the material. The fact that someone has crafted a new and interesting post-apocalyptic setting! It all adds up to a gripping first volume the leaves you wanting more. So much so that I ordered volumes two and three to be delivered as soon as I reached the last page.
So if you fell off the manga wagon like me or are just looking for something different, Attack on Titan is well worth your time and your money.