A couple of months ago, while visiting the US Senate, I saw a young boy walking around wearing a Survey Corps jacket as if it was the latest fashion. It was only then that I fully comprehended the impact that Attack on Titan has had on our popular conscience and the latest generation of anime/manga fans. The popularity of Attack on Titan in the West is a phenomenon not seen since Dragon Ball mania of the early 2000s.
For those of you unfamiliar with the series, the manga is set in a world dominated by colossal creatures known as Titans; humanoid giants whose only goal is seemingly to feast on humans and leave destruction in their wake. To protect themselves, humans construct a number of walls in order to keep the Titans a bay. Outside the walls, members of the military’s Survey Corp explore the world outside seeking to find a way to driving the Titans back for good. Eren Jaeger, a young man who saw his mother die at the hands of the Titans, joins the Survey Corps along with his friends Armin and Mikasa. Together they fight to re-establish mankind’s dominance as a vast world of intrigue begins to reveal itself to them.
The opening chapters of the series establish a bleak tone reminiscent of The Walking Dead, but rather than being a straight up survival story, Attack on Titan appropriate walks the line between political thriller and horror. Many of the characters possess the ability to transform into Titans themselves and naturally, there are those who use their powers to fight the Titans and those who seek to want to bring humanity to its knees. Eren is revealed to possess such abilities which become a cause of tension within the human world, with some seeing him as a sleeper agent and others as humanity’s last hope. The origins of these powers and the true nature of the Titans has been the source of much speculation. As the Uprising Arc continues, the latest volume of the series begins to address some of those lingering mysteries.
It would be unfair to go into the specifics of the story found within this particular volume as there is a lot of pay-off to past plot threads in this volume. The current volume takes place in the aftermath of a military coup d’etat and Eren falling into the hands of Rod Reiss. What becomes quickly apparent is that that Eren’s captor intend on having the son pay for the sins of the father. Each characater be they protagonist, antagonist or somewhat in-between has their own unique voice and invokes emotions in the reader. Certain characters and the Machiavellian concepts they espouse are truly terrifying. Rod Reiss is an example of a character’s whose madness is tangible, he is someone who makes the reader fear for those around him. The series is full of characters who truly reflect humanity at its best and its worst. They are relatable because they feel like real characters even, and arguably especially, when they are despicable. Attack on Titan shows you the impact tragedy and war has on the human psyche and the lengths people will go to in order to survive or gain power.
Despite being a monthly publication in its original format, the art of Attack on Titan has been known to dip in quality from time to time. Thankfully, the series has seemed to avoided such a fate over the last few volumes and the art within Volume 16 is some of best the series has to offer. Action scenes are portrayed with the speed and intensity they deserve, with panels flowing seamlessly together. Hajime Isayama makes economic use of each panel, ensuring nothing goes to waste. Each impact and clash reverberates through the page and into the reader. It takes a real talent to be able to make an audience feel like a blade is piercing them as much as it is the characters. The imagery is often gruesome and horrifying, but its ability to strike the reader is remarkably. Even its quieter moments,Isayama manages to toy with our emotions through his art, whether its the Eren beginning to dire nature of his circumstances as he struggles in captivity or a simple moment of understanding between Levy and Mikasa. We feel they pain and their struggles become our own. Titan designs are still thoroughly unsettling, but they are demonstrative of art that is unlike anything else on stores shelves.
Pace wise, this is one of the slower volumes, but given what has come before it feels like it has earned the chance to slow down and be reflective on both the characters and world it has built. That is not to say the volume is devoid of action, the very contrary is the case and the fight scenes are as sublimely executed as ever. It must be said that they do take a backseat in this volume and the story is all the better for it. While at times it could be said that the plot of Attack on Titan has stagnated, this volume answers a lot of questions. Volume 16, like any good work of fiction, leaves us with the hunger of a Titan.
Those of you new to the series will find themselves with a lot to take in this volume. They would be better served turning elsewhere and catching up in time for the release of Volume 17 in December. For long-time series fans, they are in for a treat because Volume 16 is some of the finest work Hajima Isayama has put out.
A review copy was kindly provided by the publisher; Kodansha Comics.