‘Attack on Titan’: why Isayama Hajime’s terrifying illustrations are attractive

The overwhelming momentum of Attack the titans, whose serialization came to an end in 2021, does not stop. The animated series will now reach its climax. Also, the version of anime already issued has been highly acclaimed abroad. This article deciphers the appeal of the work.

A story that continues to fascinate people around the world

In 2021 the serialization of the great success of Isayama Hajime, Shingeki no Kyojin (Ed. Kōdansha), known as Attack the titans in Spanish-speaking countries, but far from declining, it is fair to say that its popularity has only intensified.

the series of animewhich is airing in four seasons (*1) since 2013, is finally reaching its peak, with The Final Seasonwhich will show (probably) the shocking end of the long story, which is scheduled to air in 2023.

version of anime It is also being highly acclaimed abroad, not only in the United States and South Korea, where it has always been popular, but also in countries like Spain, where many adults do not usually see anime.

In this article, we would like to reconsider why Attack the titans continues to attract so many people.

Dark heroes with the same powers as their enemies

Shingeki no Kyojin is an epic dark fantasy about the history of the titans and mankind, serialized in the magazine Bessatsu Shōnen Magazine from 2009 to 2021.

The protagonist’s name is Eren Jaeger. One day, his hometown, surrounded by solid walls, is destroyed by the titans (his mother is also eaten by them), and he joins the Survey Corps with his childhood friends Mikasa and Armin.

(*Alert of spoilers below.)

The story will follow him as he grows up to be a full-fledged soldier and ends up defeating his mother’s enemies (……), but readers will be very confused when they suddenly see the latest development in the second volume. of sleeve.

Yes, already at this stage Eren’s true identity is revealed, that is, his unique ability to “become a titan”, and the story begins to unfold in a more complex and mysterious way (by the way, Eren does not understand why he can become a titan at the beginning).

What are the titans that attack (and eat) people, and why does Eren have the “power of the enemy”? This is the greatest mystery that runs through the early stages of Shingeki no Kyojin. At the beginning of the series it is believed that many people were first attracted to the element of mystery.

Advanced assembly techniques

However, this represents only the interesting plot and setting of the story, and while Shingeki no Kyojin Be a sleeve (especially a sleeve fantasy, in the broad sense of the term, which focuses on battles) it was necessary to appeal to the attractiveness of its “images”.

The first image that attracts the most attention is the scene of the first volume in which the “Supergiant Titan” looks out from the top of the wall. And how terrifying it is to see the nameless, innocent titans eating defenseless people one after another with faint smiles on their faces.

These are all scenes where despair is not expressed in words but in images, and for that alone I think it’s fair to say that Isayama has great artistic ability. Whether Isayama’s drawings are good or bad remains a matter of debate among fans, and it may be true that (my day job is editor of sleeveand even from my “professional” point of view), the drawings in the first and second volumes were not up to the sleeve serialized.

However, the images of sleeve they cannot be measured by these things alone. Being extremists, a cartoonist from sleeve you do not need to have a level of drawing to enter a college of Fine Arts.

In any case, the sleeve it is a narrative expression created by combining vignettes with multiple drawings, and the author who can skilfully “assemble” the vignette sequences is considered to be a visual artist. sleeve who can skillfully draw.

The montage referred to here refers to the film montage established by Sergei Eisenstein and others, and this “film technique” is more or less adopted in the sleeve of current Japanese history.

In short, Isayama’s ability to create this montage (in other words, to connect vignettes from multiple points of view) has been unusually high since he was a newcomer. If we compare it with the cinema, we could say that it is the ability to “change the camera”. In particular, the alternation between the points of view of the “attacker” and the “attacked” in the scene in which the titan eats the man is exquisite, and in the long conversation scenes, the cuts are very ingenious so that the reader do not feel bored.

There’s a fine line between laughter and fear

Also, as already mentioned, the image of the titans, innocent eaters with a wry smile on their face, has an impact that is hard to shake off, although many people find it naturally repulsive.

In the series there is a group of chosen giants called the Nine Titans, including the Supergiant Titan, but the innocent titans are other nameless beings, so to speak, and their true identity is that of being ancient sinners (humans in the past) who they were forcibly transformed into titans.

However, it is not until much later in the story that the reader is informed of the truth. Early in the story it can be hard to take your eyes off these terrifying innocent titans for a while, though one isn’t quite sure why.

Sometimes audiences not only want to see “beautiful” and “interesting” things, they also decide to watch “terrifying” things, so horror movies, freak shows, and plays Grand Guignol they are also viable as a business.

There is no doubt that the sleeve Isayama’s also has something that makes the audience want to see scary things. And I think this is most clearly expressed in the images of innocent titans eating people with a faint smile on their faces.

It is not necessary to describe the horrific countenances because it is a scene of terror. Rather, it is many times scarier to be shown an image of smiling people (or similar beings) eating human beings.

Sometimes these drawings are reminiscent of Jack Nicholson’s famous smile, which is the key visual element of the film. The glow. It’s a smile that, as an individual image, might seem somewhat humorous, but in the context of the film it’s downright terrifying. It is often said that “there is a fine line between smile and fear”, and I think the smiles of the innocent titans drawn by Isayama have a similar effect.

I would also like to stress here that the imbalance in the faces and body parts of many of the titans is not because Isayama lacks drawing skills, but because he dares to draw them in an “odd” way to perhaps blur the border between fiction and reality.

A story that gives us options to face a complex world

Conversely, however, it could be argued that this pictorial impact will not last forever. Of course, the author is well aware of this, and that is why, starting in the middle of the story, Shingeki no Kyojin it is not based solely on visual shock, but fascinates the reader with the resolution of the mystery.

What stands out above all else is the author’s diversity of perspectives on the world.

First of all, the reader is puzzled at the stage where Eren’s ability (i.e. titanization) is revealed, mentioned above, but even after that, the situation changes two or three times, to be more specific. – When Christa’s identity is revealed (it’s actually Historia), when it is discovered that there is also another country outside the wall, and when Eren decides to destroy almost all of humanity, each time he is faced with the question of “what or who?” Is right”.

This is precisely the true pleasure of reading fantasy and science fiction, not limited only to comics. I think Ursula K. Le Guin wrote something similar in her book Cheek by Jowl, good fantasy is a device to reaffirm the existence of people with values ​​different from ours in distant places where we have never been, and those who know this will naturally have many “options” within themselves. Ultimately, this will lead to avoiding pointless conflicts with the “others.”

Shingeki no Kyojin it is also a work of fantasy with this kind of powerful force, reminding us once again that all things cannot be measured in terms of simple dichotomies of good and evil. Therefore, I always think that children, who will be responsible for the future, should read this work.

(Translated into Spanish from the Japanese original. Header photo: Volumes of the manga by Shingeki no Kyojin published by Kodansha.)

(*1) ^ The third season is divided in turn into Part 1 and Part 2, and the fourth season into Part 1, Part 2 and the Final Part (not yet broadcast).