Saturday, April 28, 2012

Preview: Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin)

Synopsis from mangaupdates:

Several hundred years ago, humans were nearly exterminated by giants. Giants are typically several stories tall, seem to have no intelligence, devour human beings and, worst of all, seem to do it for the pleasure rather than as a food source. A small percentage of humanity survived by walling themselves in a city protected by extremely high walls, even taller than the biggest of giants.

Flash forward to the present and the city has not seen a giant in over 100 years. Teenage boy Eren and his foster sister Mikasa witness something horrific as the city walls are destroyed by a super giant that appears out of thin air. As the smaller giants flood the city, the two kids watch in horror as their mother is eaten alive. Eren vows that he will murder every single giant and take revenge for all of mankind.

Shingeki no Kyojin is one of the most interesting things I've read lately, because even though the setting reminds me of some zombie stories, it's pretty original. But what's good about this manga isn't the originality. Shingeki is a horror manga, and as a good horror, it builds the right kind of atmosphere. It could've easily become an ordinary action manga with heroes slaying giants, which are called titans in the series. Instead of that, the author made a very opressive series. Mankind lives in fear of the titans, with every effort against them being mostly useless. The titans themselves are very disturbing, since they look human, but their proportions are wrong and their behavioir is irrational. But the most disturbing things about them are their expressions. Because they have the "wrong" expression. While they're butchering humans they don't look angry, hungry or malicious (well, most don't). Sometimes they have a blank expression, expressions of pure joy and even sadness. And many look like idiots. 

But the atmosphere isn't the only thing the author did right. Since the titans are very strong people die. A lot. And they die gruesome deaths. And the author isn't afraid of killing named characters that looked like would become a group. And he doesn't give them beautiful and poetic deaths. Many have quick and pointless deaths. Of course, he keeps many of the main characters alive because you need them to tell the story, but by killing people like he does makes you fear for the safety of the characters, which is another aspect of horror that is done well. It reminded me of the darkest moments in Berserk.

The manga also made me very curious, because people know almost nothing about the titans, other than what's written in the synopsis and the fact that they quickly regenerate any damage and only die if you cut out a certain point in the nape of their necks. They don't know where they come from, why they eat humans, if there are other living humans besides the ones inside the walls etc.

Only that already make Shingeki a noteworthy manga. But the author did more. He created a new combat system based on the 3D maneuver gear, an equipment composed of a mechanism that shoots iron wires allowing the soldiers to move in three directions (kinda like spider-man), which is necessary to reach the titan's vital point. They control it with a handgrip that connects to discardable plug-in blades (since they break when attacking titans). It's really creative and the 3D battles are very cool.

The author is very competent in drawing the action scenes. They really show the speed, the height and the impact of the movements and are easy to understand. The backgrounds are well drawn, but kinda plain. But since they live in a terrible situation and don't have much technology, it would be strange if the cities were more elaborate. Also, the size of the human region isn't that big so they don't really have many different landscapes there. As for the characters, the art starts pretty rough, rigid and plain, but the author keeps getting better and better and right now his art is very good, even though he kept his rough style.

Finally we have the characters. They're also very well done. Everybody has a past and their actions seem real. In face of the despair caused by the titans, some become afraid and can't do anything, some act like heroes because they think they have nothing more to loose, some get very angry and some find their guts and act like professionals. There are lots of characters so I'll focus on the 3 most important ones. As a kid, Eren wanted to know what exists beyond the wall and was always fighting. After his mother died, he wants to kill the titans. Badly. So he becomes a soldier. But he's also an idealist that believes that it's possible to beat the titans. Mikasa is the best soldier from her class. She's calm, collected and very talented. She is very protective of Eren, her only remaining family. Armin is Eren and Mikasa's childhood friend. He's very weak, but very intelligent and a keen strategist.

So far, the only thing that really bothered me in this manga were some unarmed fighting scenes. The author does the body movements right, but it seems he doesn't have much knowledge about fighting. Characters that were supposed to be good fighters drop their guards completely to throw a punch, for instance. I know he's trying to make it look cool, but even so, it bothered me.

Shingeki no Kyojin is very good. It seems that now, more or less in the 7th volume the answers might start to come. If the author don't screw up the plot and keeps doing things right, it'll be a must read.

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