Today, I’m going to start my episodic musings on Attack on Titan. I announced it yesterday, and I’m going to go ahead and disclaim here again that these musings will have spoilers, unapologetically. It’s the best way for me to convey my thoughts and feelings for each segment (or collection of segments if they’re multi-parts), but I don’t want to ruin the suspense for anyone because that is basically ninety-percent of the awesomeness that is this fucking anime. If you’ve never seen or read Attack on Titan and don’t want spoilers, run away like the white killer rabbit is on your arse.
Episodes one and two cover the invasion of giant humanoid creatures called titans as they break through a colossal wall to destroy and devour the people of Shiganshina, which occurs after many, many decades of peace and prosperity.
Initially when I started the pilot, I felt so much nostalgia returning back to me. Mostly of the celebratory and phenomenal sense because of how intensely the world was swept away with this anime. It changed many things about shōnen narratives and their evolution into seinen as they develop and grow; it pushed creativity and animation production to awesome limits and even surpassed them in ways that still blows my mind today; and it had some of the most unique storytelling dynamics that had been seen at the time within this media. Then there were all the fucking memes. Meme culture, particularly in anime, really took on an entirely new life with the birth of Attack on Titan, which was mostly obvious if one had Tumblr (like me because I have no life).
Even so, what makes this series such a classic and so outstandingly memorable aren’t the cutting-edge features it provided to the industry, but that classic message on war and displacement, and the various ways that it impacts humans, some good yet mostly tragic.
I pondered the last nine years since Attack on Titan’s first season hit the streaming platform. War has been an almost constant in our global strata, in one form or another. I have lost people to war—friends in Palestine, family in Christchurch, and loved ones in many other places—and it never ceases to amaze me that we never ever fucking learn from the past atrocities of this absolutely unnecessary facet of human life.
The first time I watched the pilot segment, on release day with my mates, we were drinking milkshakes and having a great time. Today as I watched the entirety of “The Fall of Shiganshina,” I cried my heart out from start to finish thinking about Palestine, Kashmir, Ukraine, Pakistan, Fiji, and many other places around the world, and I even felt a bit ashamed that I didn’t have this reaction nearly a decade ago. Being a displaced individual, a refugee who has had literally everything we know and love brutally devastated before our eyes is an implausibly indescribable experience…which I say as a displaced person. What really captured my attention in these two opening episodes wasn’t the obvious and blatant decimation of the people, but the residual and ongoing traumatic impact it was leaving on its survivors, and that quality of the anime really sticks to your bones like barnacles, making you feel so heavy and solemn. When I say this anime is powerful, I mean it is powerful.
Look at these screen-grabs of a kid (above) who just watched his helpless mother being eaten by a titan as he is forced to flee for survival, leaving her behind. Not because he didn’t desperately want to save her, but because she couldn’t be saved and her dying wish was for her kids to survive, knowing somehow that one extra day of life is better than dying today. Welcome to the epitome of wartime survivorship. Couple this with the combined beatific characteristics of the city sporadically peppered with smoke, rubble, and splashes of blood and bodies, how can you not think of the current wars and the people who are being atrociously impacted by such violence?
There are always two very distinct sides to a war (usually more than two, actually) but the ones that humans take into their grasp and use for transcendence into “greatness” is always anger and grief, or fear and acquiescence. Through Eren Jaeger we see the rage and grief that takes over ever fibre of his being, feeding into his emotionally opulent, savage desire for revenge. It drives him to look past his fear so he can stop feeling helpless in the only way that brings comfort. Yet, anger makes humans just as blind to emotional and intellectual prosperity as fear. We see this in the form of folx running away and begging military people to not go beyond the walls and “anger” the titans further; people who desperately wish to maintain the status quo, as it were.
While not much about Armin has been revealed yet, what can be gathered is that he’s a bookish type of kid that would much prefer to avoid any realm of confrontation if he can help it, particularly since he knows what it’s like to be bullied and beaten without cause. There is a level of reasoning in this kid who (hopefully) will be able to balance out Eren’s fury and help him look beyond the limitations of vengeance. We also have Mikasa, who is a bigger mystery than Armin. She is fiercely loyal to Eren and his family, that is apparent, and she would probably follow him into the fires of Hell just to protect him if need be. When logic eludes him, I’m sure she’ll be the one that literally punches common sense into the kid when he needs it.
These three individuals each provide a very unique perspective to war and displacement, and what to do—or not do—with one’s trauma. We have one who seeks to destroy their enemies no matter the cost or consequence; there’s one who seeks to understand the enemy and garner insights in order to either barter for peace or obtain a strategic benefit; then there’s the apathetic one who follows their friends because truly taking time to process their own baggage would completely destroy them and their sense of survivorship. Their paths may be the same for the moment, but what they seek out of those paths are individualistic and I’m sure it shall help us perceive fresh contexts on the multi-faceted nature of trauma-influenced upbringings and personal growth.
Other war-related bullshittery that the anime does an excellent job of depicting includes people who are tasked with, either voluntarily or involuntarily, helping refugees; the sense of entitlement of protected people that have never experienced a single hardship in their entire existences; and the absolutely abhorrent aspect of patience when your goals and aspirations are so clearly presented before your eyes.
No matter how you strike it, helping people is almost always viewed as a burdensome task. Sharing our food and our hard-earned money, and our homes and personal spaces. Initially, there is a sense of warmth from doing good deeds and it can be a wonderful feeling. Eventually, however, it does become a chore and an inconvenience, particularly when it starts to take away from our own luxuries. We saw this in Grave of the Fireflies and we definitely see it here, so much so that we end up wishing and wondering why the survivors didn’t just die to begin with, making our lives easier (please note that I don’t personally feel this way, but have seen this many times in my life with others).
This scene made me so fucking angry while simultaneously completely breaking my heart. My parents lived through these terrible conditions when they were displaced from Fiji, and I have lived through it a couple of times out of circumstance, granted not to the extreme that Eren and his friends do (or that my parents did), by the grace of Boss Man. No matter how extreme it is or isn’t, it’s never something that the helpless wish upon their helpers: to be a burden. Sprinkle in entitlement from never knowing what it’s like to starve for a day or two, or even a few to always having a home and warm bed to never even having to lift a finger to get said bed and food—that sense of oppressiveness can take on an utterly different meaning and emotion: resentment.
We see so much of this within a handful of seconds here and there in the second episode, and I know we shall see a shit tonne more as the series goes on, and what astounds me about these small, precious sections of revelation is that if you pile them all together, it becomes so effortless to witness the true foundation of war and oppression to begin with; to pinpoint the suffering of the people. There was a pastor individual who kept preaching about how the invasion of the titans was proof that we as humans were straying away from God. I may have some mixed feelings about that for various reasons, even so I do agree that comeuppance is a legit thing that can happen when we aren’t compassionate and aware of the wrongdoings we spread into the world. When I think about it like that (which I can’t help but do as a supremely marginalised human), Attack on Titan just takes on many more layers of dimension to its themes, allegories, and overall story scheme.
The second episode ended with the trio of kiddos entering what is essentially military boot camp, where we’ll meet some new faces and personalities that we will inevitably fall in love with and then sob and aggro over when they are quickly stolen from us in a splash of red fluids and pulpy muscles. Yes, that was necessary, don’t @ me.
If there are any light-hearted moments in Attack on Titan (I say like Jon Snow, knowing nothin’), I’m going to hold on to them as tightly as I do my stuffed unicorn, Bradlyia (don’t ask) while watching scary movies because they will probably be few and far between. I feel this in my achy, breaky heart.
Source: Manga by Hajime Isayama
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic
Season: Spring 2013 (Season 1)
Studio(s): WIT Studio
Director: Tetsurō Araki
Content Warnings: Strong violence. Graphic blood, gore, and dismemberment including consumption of humans. Intense depiction of displacement and refugee experiences. Brief depiction of oppression and starvation, and alcohol consumption. Brief scene of physical violence against kids.
AniList: Shingeki no Kyojin
Streaming: CrunchyRoll, Funimation, Hulu, Netflix, Tubi, Adult Swim