Review: Attack on Titan, Vol. 1

Attack on Titan, written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Shonen/Speculative Fiction/Horror/
|208 pgs|$10.99 USA| $11.99 CDN|
ISBN-13: 978-1-61262-024-4

I have been lucky in my reading that I rarely come across things I actively hate. Sure, I have had a few instances (Sasameke comes to mind) but the stuff I don’t like I just don’t like, and there are no hard feelings. But there are times when I consider a new title to add to the “shit list,” and unfortunately, Attack on Titan is one of those times.

At the core of Attack on Titan is a futuristic version of the Earth where the human race has been driven nearly to extinction by a race of giant monsters called Titans. These creatures seem only to exist to devour human beings. Humanity has responded to these alien creatures by building a giant walled city to protect themselves, and created an elite group of fighters who protect the human race by using retrofuturistic grappling hooks and natural gas to propel themselves through the air and kill Titans. As far as end of the world stories go, it’s a fairly original premise.

While the premise is original, the execution in Attack on Titan is poor. The tone of the dialogue is always some flavor of “I’m so scared/I’m the best patriot/We are all going to die/I’m the best fighter” that the writing flows together in a monotonous mess. Indeed, the entire driving force of the story of Attack on Titan is a mawkish “patriotism vs. individuality” argument. The humor and mystery that Isayama attempts to weave into the book do nothing to dispatch the overwhelming sense of fruitless angst and horror that  permeates the book. The ending of the first volume is even more underwhelming, building  an entire team of characters only to kill them all off at the end – not that I was expecting anything less. The question remains though – why kill off your main character after 1 volume?

Not horrifying – just miserable. From Attack on Titan, Vol. 1

The misery of the story of Attack on Titan is fueled by sketchy, dark art. Isayama uses an abundance of cross-hatching and thick black shading lines that blur faces and make action scenes incomprehensible. What Attack on TItan could have really used was a couple of packs of grey screen tone – it would have made flaws in the art such as improbable posturing and odd arm and leg lengths much less glaringly visible. Eyes are also not Isayama’s strong suit – they are either white circles, almost haunted-looking, or dark black circles – these can be with or without straight shading lines drawn down over a person’s face. Needless to say, it is at times hard to read characters and their projected emotions without Isayama forcing them to say “I’m so scared!” The style is certainly gritty, and I suspect that is part of the point, but I feel the style accentuates flaws and makes the entire comic much harder to read.

I really don’t have a problem with the violence or the pessimism of Attack on Titan. My main issue is how shoddily the whole book is done. Bakurano: Ours is a similar piece of fiction, heavy with the weight of death. But where Bakurano gives each of its characters the stage of death in which to tell his or her life, Attack on Titan is a veritable slaughtering, and without regard to the expectations of the reader. Killing off the main character, the only character you have allowed the reader to connect with, seems fruitless. Perhaps volume 1 of Attack on Titan just ends in a bad spot for the story… but I wouldn’t be able to tell, since there’s no chance I will be reading future volumes.

For Fans of: Bokurano: Ours, Gantz, incomprehensible bloody messes
Verdict: Not Recommended


9 thoughts on “Review: Attack on Titan, Vol. 1

  1. PockyCrusader says:

    I almost picked this up, but I am glad I reconsidered. I am a little disappointed that, rather than finishing the publication of already-started Kodansha titles in the States that got discontinued when Kodansha entered the US market, they are choosing to release some pretty lackluster titles with no plans to continue the other series that got halted. Plus, they have better titles that they could be localizing instead!

  2. As a huge fan of the series since I researched its surprising popularity in Japan, I do admit that Volume 1 starts off on a wacky note, but Volume 2 is much better than Volume 1. This is one of those series where you have to stick with it as time goes on. Give Volume 2 (which I consider to be the volume to decide if you want to read further) a try when it comes out if you can.

    • I think the drudgery of Attack on Titan is going to continue regardless of what happens in the next volume. I imagine there is something miraculous and Eren ends up not dead – still, I find the tone of the work and the illustration nearly intolerable.

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  4. Kyle says:

    I’m sorry but this series has absolutely nothing to do with patriotism vs. individuality, or patriotism full stop, it’s about survival. They’re not fighting cos they love their country or their way of life, they’re literally fighting to survive.

    “Attack on Titan is a veritable slaughtering, and without regard to the expectations of the reader.” That’s the point, it’s supposed to be as “real life” like as possible. In real life, in war people don’t get meaningful flashbacks or a time to shine before they die, sometimes they just die pointlessly.

    I agree that the art is very average in the beginning, although it get’s progressively better with each volume. I’d put the shaky start art-wise down to the fact that this is a young (26) artists first series.

    I love the sense of utter hopelessness I feel when reading it, not knowing if a character I like is about to walk around the corner and suddenly die (as opposed to most other manga series where the core cast has plot armor and we all know they won’t die) The world itself is also so mysterious (as the series goes on we certainly learn more but we gain a whole lot of new questions) I even love how he takes the time between chapters to explain in great detail exactly how all of the “in world” equipment works. This is honestly the first negative review I’ve seen of this series, I’d really urge you to perhaps give it another go.

    • Thanks for your response!

      As far as the patriotism vs. individualism argument, I feel that there is a lot of saluting and posturing and “you aren’t going to join this force of the military because you want to save your own skin” business going on. Eren, the lead, is brash and impulsive and the main interpersonal conflict in this volume revolves around the argument of whether you should be completely loyal to the city-state/humanity/whatever or if you should think for yourself.

      The art isn’t what I would call average – it’s different than most, and I have no problem with different techniques, like cross hatching etc., but frankly, I think it’s pretty poor (awkward posing, inconsistent body sizes, unreadable faces).

      As far as ‘without regards to the expectations of the reader” – essentially, you don’t kill off your main character at the last part of the first volume and then immediately end the volume. If you want to kill him at the beginning of the next volume, or a littler earlier in the first, that’s fine, but killing the main character isn’t a “cliffhanger,” it’s shoddy writing.

      I think there is a lot to be said about the frame of mind you read Attack on Titan in. If you want to see people eaten alive, if you like that idea of hopelessness and meaninglessness, then Attack on Titan may very well be your cup of tea. And you have a point, I did feel those feelings when reading it. Those feelings are not enjoyable for me. Attack on Titan was so hopeless and the deaths were so meaningless that there was no reason to become emotionally engaged, and that is how I approach all media.

      • Kyle says:

        Thanks for the reply.

        I don’t really see the patriotism you’re talking about, but that could be because I’m upto date with the series. It’s been shown quite a few times that these people aren’t doing what they do for any great love they have of the country but just to survive, or in Eren’s case… kill all the Titans. One particular scene comes to mind of a really epic speech given by one of the higher ups in the military, but I won’t spoil that for others.

        “killing the main character isn’t a “cliffhanger,” it’s shoddy writing.” I would call that the very definition of a cliffhanger. When I read it I wasn’t angry or disappointed, I was in utter shock “the main character….died…..I NEED to see what happens next” Again, I don’t want to spoil anything but……

        Basically every chapter ends on some sort of cliffhanger, which is both infuriating and wonderful imo.

        I don’t particularly WANT to see people get eaten or die (I dropped Gantz quite some time ago lol) that’s just a by-product of the type of hopeless world and situation the characters find themselves in. The suspense and the genuine fear that my favorite character could die is what I like (kinda like a mystery/action/thriller movie)

      • Speaking of spoilers, Kodansha’s interview with Isayama at the end of Volume 1 does spoil what happens with the main character though…..Wonder what Kodansha was thinking when leaving that in there.

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