4 out of 5
We know that Hajime adjusted the flow of Attack on Titan along the way. This is surely common for any long-running title run by a singular artist / writer or team, but I think we see a lot of this in AoT specifically due to Isayama’s age, and the popularity of the anime – all besides the general juggling a mangaka has to do to keep their strip in print, if so desired. So while AoT has, arguably, always been special – much more than just its hook about giant googly humans attacking smaller humans – the extent of that specialness has evolved as we’ve gone on, while at the same time Isayama’s skills as a storyteller and artist have grown in leaps and bounds, and, I imagine, his awareness of the world around him has morphed due to the simple fact of years passing, as well as all of the other going-ons mentioned.
With that said, here, I think, is when we see the story more fully shifting gears to a political and social study. While already in the works, heretofore this was at somewhat more of an intrapersonal level, considering how these events would effect humanity’s relationships to one another. But at this point, the scope broadens, and becomes even more frightening: not only do we squabble with one another for resources, but what happens when this turns into power struggles, with governments keeping secrets from itself and wanting to corner something like Eren, if only for the sake of “owning” him before anyone else does?
Layer this on top of the secrets already woven into AoT – about the Titans themselves; about Historia – and you can get by with an almost all-talk tankobon, and very few actual titans, and have it still be a page-turner.
Of course, since this is a shift in tone, now Hajime has to get used to it, and there are some hiccups in framing and in getting the requisite information across. The former is more clearly just a learning curve – how to nail beats that are just conversations; what angles to use for tension and clarity of focus – but the latter may have translation difficulties, with the complexities of the story sometimes lost in what seem like minor dialogue moments. Some of it, though, does seem more likely just figuring out how to pace drama, since some chapters just end on non-moments, which isn’t a big deal in a collected version, but must’ve been weird when reading a chapter at a time.
Nonetheless, we’re deep enough into things now – and Isayama knows this world / these characters well enough now – that even with this bumps, it’s still an incredibly engaging and immersive read.