Attack on Titan: Rethinking Conflict Through Anime

Attack on Titan It is not only one of the best-selling manga in history, but the series -not only anime- with the most chapters with perfect ratings on IMBD. Such a cult work that some of its main characters are immortalized in statues, as war heroes, in Tokyo.

By Juan Diego Barrera Sandoval

32 centuries after the book of Samuel was written, the biblical section in which the story of David and Goliath is recorded, and between 17 and 19 centuries after Homer recorded the Trojan War through the epic poems of the Iliad and the Odyssey, Hajime Isayama published the first chapter of the manga Attack on Titan, a work that integrates many of the elements of both texts, as well as the Norse mythological tradition and the history of the Second World War, to rethink human conflict.

The publication itself was an epic: a hapless journey of three years knocking on the doors of publishers to see walls repeatedly emerge, since, according to the applicant mangaka (a term used to refer to manga authors), his drawings were never good, and even less so for the Japanese market.

Who was he, a debutant with a crude line, to compete with titanic works of the industry such as one piece or Naruto? According to The Asahi Shimbun, he felt inferior from a very young age, because he constantly lost in the sumo fights that are practiced in his hometown, Hita: a place surrounded by high mountains that generated the constant feeling of having to look from down to the horizon. His love for manga and anime arose precisely from the most recurrent motif of the genre: the weak becoming a legendary fighter. But why should it be any different with his art?

At 26 years old, Isayama worked in a cafe until late at night, without stopping thinking about the draft of the pilot run with which he presented the project to the producers. He edited it daily, thought of new references for the characters, architecture, history and integrated the negative comments of those who closed the door to polish the work.

Attack on Titan

// Netflix Photo

One night, something changed. (How about imagining that anecdote as part of a series?)


The door opens. A man enters laughing and stumbling, accompanied by an icy wind that cuts the coffee frets with the atmosphere of the heating and the steam. The entrance bells, with their boring and insistent 90s digital sound, join in the breaking of the calm, but the tense silence continues. The man continues his obtuse walk as the lights of the poles and the shadows of the night continue outside.

Isayama: Welcome to Hita’s Central Cafe.

-Hey, waiter!

-Good evening.


The guy ignores Isayama, walks around and sits at a nearby table, staring at the white tiles on the floor. The inconstant laughter bubbles and spreads after a few moments of tension, like the foam of a beer.

-He needs something?





Isayama brings in the pot and pours a large, dark mug. He indicates where the sugar is, goes back behind the register, inserts the right earpiece back into her ear, grabs her notebook, and sits in a small chair. Between him and the stranger stands the trench, the wall, of the counter.

(internal voice) How strange. I don’t want problems. Let’s keep going. It might go away in a bit.

Still keeping an eye on the man from time to time, Isayama turns his attention back to his notebook.

-Another frame… What if there is a Stephen King type twist in the second arc? No, this part needs to be changed, this is already too much Godzilla.


After a slight doze, the smile returns to the unknown man’s face, and his gaze turns to find Isayama, who smiles politely before returning to the notebook.

-There is something of Watchmen in the turn of the protagonist.


-(internal voice) It will be better to ignore it or it will be for problems. Let’s see, how do I get out of this cliché? Maybe it’s better if the sword is different… Maybe Levi’s character could…

-Listen! Cretin, I’m talking to you! Do not ignore me!

-Wait! Wait!

Suddenly the man lunges at Isayama. He passes. on the counter and crushes it to the floor. The weight, the icy sweat, and the putrid stench of the snatched man crash into his terrified face. But it is not the suffocation, nor the sudden aggression that horrifies the waiter. It is the awareness that he cannot reason with this person, and that in his sustained burlesque smile, now seen a few centimeters away, as in the sumo tournaments of his childhood, the distance between the two is portrayed: the impossibility of empathy, the enjoyment of his submission derived from the fact that he is not seen as an equal but as an expendable object.

Throughout the arduous fight against the dead weight From the drunken disrupter of the calm, Isayama began to smile as well. Here was the epiphany he needed.

Attack on Titan 3

Attack on Titan

// Netflix Photo

After breaking free and throwing out the drunk man, Isayama began to build a universe in which the only humans left in the world take refuge inside a forest (thinking of the mountains that surrounded his town) from the attack of infinite hordes of irrational giants. that, between smiles, grimaces and total calm, persecuted and devoured the rest of humanity.

Over time, the trees were exchanged for three gigantic walls, within which one lives in peace. In turn, the story of the flight and the defense against the siege gave way to that of the desire for freedom, to the question of the Lost paradise by John Milton: Is it better to reign in hell or serve in heaven?


Isayama eventually submitted the story to Bessatsu Shōnen Magazine, who saw something hopeful in the ugliness of the drawing, the attention to the faces twisted with uncontrollable delight, and the mysterious premise. They published a first run.

Attack on Titan is a constant questioning of the model of the conservative theoretician Carl Schmidt, according to which human societies are divided and organized between a “them” and an “us”, and the future of history happens in the conflict to the death for the eradication of one or another group that is perceived as an existential threat to its own existence.

But it goes a step beyond the relativism that most of the great works that have approached this apparent unjust sentence, this labyrinth of the human condition, and returns the question:

Is it possible that the disappearance of those we perceive as giants brings peace and freedom? Who, and where do the giants come from? How free are we then, if we must cling to the destiny of fighting to be free? How free was David to face and kill Goliath? Where did the conflict originate, and how to end it? How to build bridges between worlds, stories and abysses of meaning, in which each one is the ruthless giant of the other?

Attack on Titan 3

Attack on Titan

// Netflix Photo

This is how the story goes. Through impeccable animation and a script in which no detail is superfluous, and dealing with the problems of post-truth, war, resonance bubbles and militarism, the protagonists of Attack on Titan, Eren, Mikasa and Armin, they venture to reclaim their home and that of humanity. Hand in hand with the Reconnaissance Regime and before the defeatist gaze of those who decided to settle for the peace of the walls. Now, before the final stretch of the series, we will know if they were flying towards the sun or towards the peace of the sea. It may, yes, that we are left wondering if they are not both destinies, like all human destinies, death, and if the defense of oneself and his congeners is pride or dignity.