attack on titan

Attack on Titan Review : Volume 1-5

It’s almost impossible to go to any bookstore in Japan without seeing a display of some sort for Hajime Iseyama’s Attack on Titan.

A break out success, Iseyama’s manga series about giant humanoid creatures doing battle with soldiers who can soar through the skies has taken the manga world by storm. The currently on-going anime adaptation from Wit Studio is definitely helping drive manga sales, bringing in more supporters than ever before.

Unsurprisingly, Kodansha Comics USA has been translating and publishing the original manga series in NA. With both the anime and source material now available to English speaking fans, it seems like there’s nothing that can stop the Assault on Titan train.

Is the actual series any good though?

attack on titan

Attack on Titan Manga
Published by: Kodansha Comics USA
Translated by: Sheldon Drzka
Illustrations/Story by: Hajime Iseyama
Release Date: June 19th, 2012 (volume 01)

One hundred years before the start of our heroes’ storyline, giant humanoid creatures called Titans appeared on Earth. They devoured people without mercy or almost any remorse, and finally driven humanity to the point of extinction. The Titans seem to lack the skill to convey, and exist only for the purpose of murdering people. Given that these creatures differ in size (as tall as 15 meters or more), mankind eventually developed the 3-D Maneuver Gear; a system which allows soldiers to shoot wires into buildings, flinging their bodies through the air with outrageous speed. The soldiers then use particular blades to cut deep into the necks of the Titans.

With world pushed into a corner, they assembled a chain of massive walls around a huge ball of land, made cities, and attempted to restart. The menace of the Titans outside of the wall never went away, but as time passed, so to did humankind’s fear of the external world. Not everybody is satisfied with this lifestyle though; Eren Jaeger needs to see what’s outside the walls. He vows to join the Recon Corps and journey to lands that were once believed to be lost.

Let’s get this out of the way right now; Strike on Titan Manga is a dark show. Characters are introduced just to be killed a couple of chapters later. The world is a bare area that oftentimes looks irresistably despairing. The main characters are rarely ever successful; it’s much more common to see them incur losses on every assignment.

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However, Attack on Titan is completely and utterly a shonen series despite said dark trappings. All of the tropes are here and in full power, and to expect otherwise would be a mistake. Use of common tropes doesn’t automatically equate to low quality yet, and Assault on Titan has a lot going for it to make it worth a read.

Sadly, Iseyama’s art is not one of those things. At least not in the first few volumes.

Attack on Titan is the first serialized work by Hajime Iseyama, and it shows. Characters are awkwardly drawn, with unnatural posing and poor line work. It’s not a stretch to say that some of the early chapters are simply ugly. Be that as it may, there’s something irrevocably terrifying about Iseyama’s early art style. The Titans, essentially giant naked people, are that much more striking because of how awkward the art is in the first volume. By the time volume five rolls around, the things have sort of evened itself out, though it’s not without problems. Character art can still be pretty hit or miss, but the action is more dynamically laid out, with compositions that do a better job of relaying the speed of the 3-D Gear.

Fear not though; the Titans never stop being creepy.

The main story starts off simply enough; mankind fighting giant monsters. Things get more and more complicated as Iseyama introduces new questions that he throws to the back burner for long periods of time. For those of you familiar with the anime adaptation, the order of events in the first five volumes will probably be a point of confusion. At the end of the day though, Attack on Titan works best when it focuses on characters doing cool things in tense/terrifying situations. Fortunately, that’s most of the time.

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Eren is your typical shonen manga lead. He’s a young guy with a ton of heart and the desire to get stronger so he can protect his friends and/or save the world. As is the case in most shonen manga, the protagonist is probably the least interesting character in the cast. Armin and Mikasa, his friend and his sister respectively, are both much more engaging characters. The former is the brains of the bunch and while early on he can get somewhat annoying, by the end of the first major battle Iseyama has you throwing your fist in the air for him. Mikasa on the other hand is the kind of character that, while not particularly well developed or written (her obsession with Eren is a bit obnoxious), brings an incredible energy with her whenever she’s onscreen. You can rest assured that something cool is going to happen whenever Iseyama throws the spotlight on Mikasa.

As of the end volume five, the rest of the secondary characters are thinly defined by a few basic traits. Given Attack on Titan‘s nature as a shonen manga, I don’t particularly have an issue with this. There’s plenty of time for each character to get a chance to shine.

Kondansha’s translation is competent, though not without the occasionally awkward bit of wording here and there. Otherwise this is a smooth read that stays faithful to the tone of the source material without making any big or abrupt changes. My only complaint about these volumes are the awful covers. The font used for the title is cheap looking, and while Iseyama’s early cover art was never particularly great, the cruddy font just makes it look worse. Perhaps that’s nitpicking, but it bugged me.

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Attack on Titan isn’t the end all be all of manga. It’s not the greatest shonen series ever made, nor is it some instant classic that changes the game. Fortunately, it also doesn’t have to be those things. While it frequently succumbs to shonen pitfalls (unanswered questions, poor pacing), it’s also an entertaining roller coaster ride that keeps you guessing at every flip of the page. As far as I’m concerned, that’s enough of a reason to give it a shot. For all you anime-only watchers out there, I recommend taking a look at the manga for a different kind of experience. It’s always fun comparing between mediums.

Just prepare to see giant naked people whenever you close your eyes.

7.0 – Good. A decent story, well-drawn, capable of immersing you but lacking in some aspects. Fans of the genre may love it, while others might simply enjoy it and move on.

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