Attack on Titan vol. 1 – Hajime Isayama

3 out of 5

I’m appreciative of the tastemakers of the world, at least when it comes to media.  While I’ve definitely gotten burned following some things based on popularity that aren’t to my taste – i.e. I am discerning or have horrible opinions – there’ve also been a nice handful of things that I would have brushed off on my own, but ended up thoroughly enjoying after following the masses in consuming them.

Attack on Titan, the anime, is a great example.  I heard plenty about it, from people whose takes on things were questionable, and it just sounded kinda sorta kinda dumb.  But when my interest in anime progressed beyond the casual, and I started getting a lot more accepting of the different plot stylings of the genre, I figured it was time to dive in, and… I loved it.  It’s gotten a little unwieldy in its later seasons, but it’s still a well acted, intriguingly written, and awesomely animated show.

But the manga came first, and was successful even in that format, so, again: there’s gotta be something to it, right?

…Which has proven to be a tougher sell.  I can’t quite determine if I would’ve wanted to continue with this if I didn’t have the show backing up my understanding of what’s going on.  This was creator Hajime Isayama’s first serial work, and, frankly, it shows.  The action is rather poorly choreographed – it’s very hard to understand sizing, and placement – and the design of the world and characters just isn’t quite there yet.  There are a lot of ideas, which I’ll admit have the spice of complexity that might’ve grabbed me if going in with fresh eyes, but they’re also not related in the most compelling fashion.  The book relies more on the sudden appearance of these massive beasts – the Titans – looming over the walls of the city in which our leads, Eren, Akasha, and Armin, live, and the shocking (though not necessarily exploitative) violence of their attacks.  It’s a grabbing visual on screen and in the books, especially coupled with the mystery of what the titans are, where they come from, how they suddenly disappear…

But the narrative hiccups make it rough going.  Time jumps forward to the trio’s joining and growth through the local armistice, and then floats back through memories of the titans’ first attack in over 100 years, and then through other memories which set up some other mystery-baiting stuff, and it’s very herky-jerky.  Isayama gives some passing explanations to the structure and history of the cities (arranged in huge, walled-off circles) and the different ranks of the army, and it’s simply not enough.  This problem existed in the anime as well, but visuals helped us absorb the information; here, since character art is a tad amateurish and Isayama’s framing (who’s saying what to whom) is all off, we don’t get that osmosis effect – hence my wondering if I could actually follow along if I wasn’t pre-informed.

All that said, what was very true about the show – what kept it in a must-watch-next-episode flow – exists here: Attack on Titan, beyond the intrigue of its titular monsters, thrives on momentum.  All dialogue is shot through with a “this is what I’m going to do next…” mentality, and every scene is setup for the next one.  It’s an easy read, and with the plot hooks seeded, it’s thus easy to keep reading just to see what’ll happen.