Recently the popular Shingeki no Kyojin (Atack on Titan) manga came to an end, yet the author’s attitude towards his own world, but more importantly his main characters, is troubling to say the least.
Attack on Titan has been one of the biggest names within the manga industry in the last decade, as readers of the notorious franchise waited patiently every month to discover the secrets hidden behind the colossal beings and why they were hell bent on eating every single human left alive. Yet this world created by mangaka Hajime Isayama was one of great cruelty, no sympathy for its inhabitants and very little to be optimistic about.
As if gaining some sick sense of pleasure out of it, Isayama constantly places the people of this fictional world in situations of great peril and despair. This multiplies when it comes to his main characters, who are left so emotionally scarred after everything they go through that it makes you wonder if they would’ve been better off being devoured by a titan!
For those who don’t know anything about the manga, it’s a story about how humanity — or what’s left of it — has isolated itself behind three huge walls in order to protect itself from the colossal beings called Titans, who feed exclusively on humans.
The first little bit of Isayama’s cruelty can be felt from the fact that, according to the story itself, titans don’t need to feed on humans as they operate on sunlight. They just do it on instinct, as if they’re getting some twisted kick out of it. And most of the time, when a titan is seen eating a person, they’re wearing a smile of gratification, as if to say they’re pleased with themselves.
The story is mainly focused on three kids, Eren Yeager, Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Arlert, although they are surrounded by a supporting cast of equally tragic characters. After the attack of a huge — or “colossal” — titan on one of the aforementioned three walls and the city they live in, Eren rushes home to his mother. She is found buried under a pile of rubble, unable to escape. With the titans now swarming the city, a soldier named Hannes forcefully carries Eren and Mikasa away, but not before the poor little boy gets to watch on as his mother becomes titan-chow. And that’s just the beginning!
As the story goes on — and we’re getting into some heavy spoilers now — , Eren gets betrayed by those he considered to be his comrades, finds out his father turned him into a titan and force-fed himself to his own son, watches helplessly as Hannes gets eaten by the same titan that ate his mother and discovers that the location he thought was the whole world only ended up being a small island. After being subjected to all that and surviving, Eren emerges with the power to control all titans, which leads him to commit mass genocide and extinguish over 80% of the whole world’s population since he’s convinced there was no chance people would ever stop quarreling with one another. Nice, eh?
And if you think that Eren is the only character that Isayama enjoys tormenting then you’d be dead wrong! Next one in line is Mikasa who at a young age has to watch as her parents get brutally murdered in front of her very eyes and she is taken to be sold off by some random thugs. After Eren rescues her and she commits her first homicide before the age of ten, she goes on to live with him and his family for a while, until their house gets stumped on. Then she, Eren and Armin all decide to join the military, having nowhere else to go. She watches as the one she loves, Eren, is consecutively kidnapped, beaten, tortured, emotionally scarred and slowly spirals towards insanity, only for him to come back a few years later and tell her that he completely detests her and everything she represents. At the end of it all, she is forced to kill him herself for the sake of humanity by cutting off his head, a head that she keeps tugged between her arms as she slowly walks him towards his grave.
Then there’s the little genius, Armin, who is usually helpless when it comes to a physical fight but his quick wits have helped get himself and his friends out of many sticky situations. Armin’s ordeal begins when his parents are shipped off to die during a purge in order to decrease the world’s population after the colossal titan’s attack, as supplies weren’t enough for everyone (such a lovely world!) He goes on to emotionally torment his friends, shoot a person from point-blank range, sacrifice himself in a blazing inferno only to be brought back to life by eating one of his former classmates and destroy an entire city with his newly-acquired colossal titan power. Armin suffers multiple emotional breakdowns throughout the course of the series. Not that the others don’t, but his case is severe due to his pre-existing confidence issues.
Then there’s the supporting cast: Reiner Braun, a man on a mission from another country who is sent to infiltrate the location in which our story takes place. Reiner possesses the power of the armored titan, yet after joining up with the cadets and training with them for three years, he starts to lose himself in the mission and develops split-personality syndrome. When he makes it back to his home land, the weight of what he’s done is to heavy for him to bear and he begins to seek liberation in death.
Another character with a tragic background is Krysta — sorry — Historia Reiss, a beautiful young girl born on a farm and heir to the world’s royal family. Historia befriends an older woman who turns out to be her sister, yet her memories are tampered with so she forgets her. The only memories that she’s permitted to keep are from her mother who shows no form of compassion toward her whatsoever, but rather she goes kicking and screaming “Why didn’t I kill you?” every time poor Historia goes near her. As if that wasn’t enough, Historia’s mother is brutally murdered right in front of her very own eyes, with her last words being “You should have never been born into this world!” Seriously Isayama, what is the matter with you? Do you need to talk? Historia goes on hiding her real identity and enlists into the army under the alias “Krysta Lenz”, where she befriends another tragic figure, Ymir.
Ymir is from the same land that Reiner hails from, but she’s not a soldier. Instead, she was sent there as punishment for impersonating a goddess in a random cult, something that was forced on her by some “cruel adults”. She is then turned into a titan and roams around aimlessly for the next 60 years until stumbling into one of Reiner’s mates. She promptly gobbles him up, which makes her return to human form. She and Historia go on to become fast friends (or even more than that, the fanfic writers would say!) until Reiner and his friend Bertholdt reveal who they really are, take her back and have her executed by titan-munching. As if Historia’s tragic childhood wasn’t enough, she was forced to lose the only real friend she ever had! Nice!
Other characters such as Sasha, Connie and Jean are subjected to a similar fate, such as being terrorized by titans, watching on as their families and friends get eaten, some of them even survive through all of that onslaught only to die by a stray bullet (poor Sasha…) and then even more characters come in to the fray, such as Niccolo or Gabi who are then put through a similar type of hell.
Hajime Isayama demonstrates a unique type of way of tormenting his own creations. I would really hate to live inside a world made by him and at the same time I would really like to know what it was that lead him to create such a physically and emotionally violent story. Because you don’t wake up one day and write something like this, nor does the inspiration for it come by just reading or streaming shows on Netflix. It had to be something deep, something truly despair-inducing that made him want to write this.
Even as the story ends, the survivors are left in a world without titans but on the brink of war. He goes on to suggest (through his characters) that “until there is one or less people standing, humanity will never stop quarrelling with itself” and that is a highly troublesome message to leave behind.
What’s even more troubling though is the popularity of this manga, especially with younger audiences. Due to its cartoonish nature, it may easily be brushed off as something that’s alright for a teenager or even a young adult but it isn’t! Its themes are not recommended for people of those ages and the messages it attempts to pass through are not what you would want to give to the younger generation. The story of the manga was certainly intriguing but the way it constantly pushes the themes of despair, war and misery are concerning.
I don’t know what possessed Hajime Isayama to write this monstrosity, but I hope that whatever it was, he finds his way out of it soon. Human nature is not that frightening. There is a bright side to it as well.