Yage Wang—Staff Writer
In about two months on April 9, Japanese caricaturist Hajime Isayama will finish his 12-year-long manga serialization of the hit animation, Attack on Titan. Meanwhile, after long waited years, fans can enjoy the last season of the Attack on Titan TV show. For people who love stories, Attack on Titan contributes more than an adventurous voyage or the thrills of action films; it creates waves of feverish emotional reactions around the world with its surreal tragic theme and philosophical worldview.
Attack on Titan follows the story of a civilization existing within three layers of gigantic walls. While those walls have been protecting its people from the threats of the cannibalistic titans for hundreds of years, the walls also limit their freedom and prevent them from exploring the outside world. Following our protagonist, a young boy named Eren Yeager, audiences and readers witness his growth in different stages and find out the truth of the titans as the story unfolds. Because of the length of the story and its immense fantasy world frame, I will only focus on two central topics in Attack on Titan: freedom and nationalism.
In Attack on Titan, Eren and the Scouting Legion represent freedom. Eren doesn’t believe peace really exists within the walls and feels as though his people are being treated as livestock. The intruding of Wall Maria fuses his anger and determination to take back their territory and he joins the Scouting Legion, “devoting his heart for humanity’s future.”
However, as they uncover more of the truth about the titans, the more powerless they feel in upholding their future and rights of the living. People who lived within the walls are merely a small portion of the population in the Attack on Titan world, and they have been exiled to Paradis Island for a reason. Outsiders call the people within the walls Eldians, and they have the potential to transform into titans. For this reason, the rest of the world fears Eldians, thus enslaving them and mistreating them to keep them from transforming. To protect his people from the outsiders and to preserve their freedom and future, Eren tries and fails to negotiate with the military empire, Marley, instead initiating the massacre of humanity outside the island.
Attack on Titan has never been a fluffy story of a bunch of adolescents saving the world, which is why it is not recommended for the underaged. It seems to be a rather sanguine story at the beginning but as the story unfolds, the audiences realize they have been pulled into Isayama’s heuristic conversation of “what is the real freedom.”
If freedom becomes an ideal one needs to kill another to obtain, then it isn’t worth working towards. This idea is seen through the actions of Eren; as he decides to kill others to protect the people whom he loves, he completes the transformation from a victim to a perpetrator.
Surprisingly, Isayama claims that Attack on Titan is apolitical though it has been enveloped under the political shadow since season two. I find it resembles another renowned masterpiece in political commentary, Animal Farm. If one reads the manga closely enough, people will find Attack on Titan has many politically associated concepts—like the armbands, wiretapping, and toxic nationalism. In season four, when the story shifts to Marley’s perspective, audiences must ask themselves if they are more like the people of Marley or the Eldians of Paradis Island? Either out of fear, greed, patriotism, or even the subjective sense of justice, we have put many ethnicities into situations like Marley has done to the “descendants of monsters.” Great stories reflect reality, and Isayama creates a massive simulation that includes all audiences.
Since 2019, Isayama has been dedicatedly drawing 45 pages of manga every month. While his work is coming to a close, Attack on Titan serves as the cultural ambassador for unique eschatological sentiments and martial arts like Jiu-Jitsu and Sumo. Additionally, it has become a symbolic monument in the modern manga and animation domain. It proves animation can function like movies and literature, enlightening people of all ages. Connecting with Isayama’s ideology of freedom, which “worths more than ribbons” on your arms, he gives his readers and audiences freedom to reflect and think through what their concept of freedom looks like.