If you barely know anime, if you’ve only seen it at a passing glance, you’ve probably heard of Attack on Titan.
Known as Shingeki no Kyojin to the Japanese (and “that weird anime with the giants” to everyone else), Attack on Titan is the smash hit shounen anime where humanity fights giant creatures called Titans, who like to eat people for no known reason. It’s a bloody, dramatic affair with lots of action, plenty of trauma, and some of the coolest plot points I’ve ever seen. It’s also famous for having two of the most kick-ass openings in history, courtesy of Linked Horizon’s songwriter, Revo.
Fans are sitting on the edge of their seats for the next season, which is due to air next year.
How can something so graphic, so dark, and so dramatic earn such an enthusiastic base from all sides? After all, anime of a more “grim and grit” nature tend to have niche followings, and a common way for people to parody anime is to remark on how serious and overdramatic it is. How does AOT still get mocked for its dramatic tone, and still become a smash success?
Well, to be blunt, it’s because it doesn’t get lost in the darkness. Attack on Titan is not a wallowing nose-dive into the dark, but a painful, hard-core claw towards victory, come hell or high-water, with some kick-ass writing behind it. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, a smash-success.
That success begins with the avoidance of pointless gore. AOT does enjoy the splatter of blood, practically painting its characters in it (or drowning them in a pool of it). Such things are not inherently evil, but the appeal can wear off fast. Case in point, most Mortal Kombat lethality moves are short and sweet, because going any longer would lose its appeal.
But when that gore is a part of something bigger, when it adds to an already tense situation, the fun stretches itself out. Much like the anime Higurashi, AOT is attempting to shock its audience to a greater point, to fully emphasize that the situation is dire. After all, it’s one thing for characters to tell you that the Titans have nearly wiped out humanity; it’s another thing entirely to watch them devour half of the cast you just saw in training, and see the bubbling insides of their bellies. It’s meant to shock you not because “scary” but because things are just that bad.
Now this is where the other half of the audience may have dropped off. It’s a sea of blackness before you: a situation as bleak as it gets and you’re hit with trauma after trauma. Here, half of the audience goes “well shit, what’s the point if this is never gonna get better?” and switches to watching Naruto (where, ironically, it just keeps getting worse). This, dear children, is called Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy, and you should remember it next time you write that gritty, dark fanfic where Light is just “so misunderstood” and L kicks puppies.
Ah, but Hajime Isayama and the anime gave us two glimmers of hope in this darkness: Eren Jaeger and Revo.
One of the biggest draws to this anime is the opening theme song, which should go down in history as one of the most metal, fist-pumping anthems of all time. In a genius move, Revo took the dire straights of the situation and turned it into a power anthem of a soldier, marching forward no matter what evil comes their way. That anthem is inspired by the show’s main character, Eren Jaeger, whose resolve to fight and kill the titans is iron-clan and infectious. Eren won’t lay down and die, or let his drive to fight be squashed by the darkness. Because he won’t give up, the audience has a small glimmer of hope they can cling to, and the opening reinforces it. Because we are not the food, wir sind der Jäger (we are the hunters).
So you have a story that’s more focused on plot than edge, and a character that refuses to go under the oncoming waves of angst. Now how do you create a mega-popular series that crosses lines to get even anime detractors to watch it? Well, you flex those fingers, get the cranks in your head turning, and you churn out the best writing you possibly can.
The actual narrative in AOT is exceptional, loaded with suspense, drama, and even comedy when appropriate. Pathos and action take center stage for most of the show. At least they did for season one, but we still have plenty of mysteries hanging over our heads. Much like Scott Cawthon does with the Five Nights at Freddy’s lore, Isayama knows how to leak just enough information to hook the audience then keep leading them on. This, combined with some beautiful animation, makes for one of the most successful shows anime has ever seen.
What do you love about Attack on Titan, or do you think the show’s a mess and overrated? Feel free to comment about whatever in the comments below, and I’d love a like if you enjoyed yourself. Don’t forget to follow if you want more content!