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Attack on Titan, vol. 1, Hajime Isayama. Grade: B
A couple years ago, I was reviewing all of the manga magazines on the market, and when I got to Bessatsu Shonen Magajin, I encountered "Shingeki no Kyojin" (進撃の巨人, translated as "Advancing Giants", but it could be "Charge of the Giants", although the English subtitle is "Attack on Titan"). I'd known about AoT for quite a while, since it began running in 2009, but I didn't know what the story was and I didn't like the artwork. It was reviewed in one of the English newspapers (maybe the Daily Yomiuri) as having a very simple plot - giants attack a human outpost for no reason to eat people, and the inhabitants fight back. So, when I read the one chapter in Bessatsu, I didn't really know what to expect, and I was honestly pretty disappointed. I wrote that I wasn't interested in reading any more, and one of my readers said that it was his favorite manga and I should give it a second chance. Jump to 2016. I was given a copy of volume 18, and I figured I might as well read it, since it was free. This left me with more questions than answers, so I went to Book Off (a 5-minute walk from the apartment) where I found the first 13 volumes used for 108 yen ($1 USD) apiece. And so, here we are.
("It's a giant!" The hiragana next to the kanji reads "Kyojin", meaning "giant." While all of the English translations use the word "titan", I'm going to treat "giant" and "titan" interchangeably.)
I'm not going to do a full summary of volume 1 because Kodansha is publishing the English translated version. Instead, I'll just list some highlights and then add my comments.
(Eren's mother begs a soldier to save her son and Mikasa, before she gets eaten by a giant.)
Eren Yeager, Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Arlert are young kids living in the outer section of the walled city, called Wall Maria (there are two other inner rings inside, kind of like an archery target). The military forces of the city occasionally patrol outside the walls and encounter 7-10 meter tall giants (21'-30'), and when they do they often get slaughtered. As such, the military prefers to hang around in the city and get drunk. Eren sees this as irresponsible, and wants to join the fighting forces to do the good work, against his parent's wishes. His father, Grisha, is a doctor, and his mother, Kalura, is a housewife. One day, a 60-meter tall armored giant simply appears at the entrance to Wall Maria and kicks the gate in, allowing hundreds of smaller giants to flood the city and massacre just about everyone. The kids are saved by one of the soldiers, but they witness Kalura being eaten by one of the regular giants, and vow revenge.
(Eren fighting the wall kicker.)
5 years pass. Eren, Mikasa and Armin enter the ranks of the army recruits, while Grisha has disappeared without a trace. Eren is a decent fighter, but Mikasa is light-years ahead of everyone else - deadly, silent and merciless. Generally, the giants are unkillable; if they take damage, they quickly heal back to normal, even so far as regrowing the entire tops of their heads. But, they will turn to a smoking husk if a big slice is cut out of the back of the base of their necks. To fight the giants, the soldiers use air-powered harnessed jetpacks that also launch grappling hooks, along with over-sized box cutter swords. There are a few other regular supporting characters that get introduced, but they don't become integral to the story until a later volume.
At the end of this book, the wall breacher returns and kicks in the gate of Wall Rose, the second defense wall. The army is sent out to fight the giants that get into Wall Rose, and many of the new recruits die. Armin is grabbed by a bearded giant, but is rescued by Eren, who is then eaten instead. Along the way, the giant bites off one of Eren's arms and legs. Mikasa says that if Eren dies, she'll die too.
Summary: My biggest complaint about this series is the art. It's just not very good. Isayama can't draw hands or feet, and he has trouble getting characters' faces to look the same two panels in a row. He does better with backgrounds and action scenes, but there will be scene jumps that make no sense, and some jumps occur in the middle of the page with no indication that it's happening. On the other hand, the Yomiuri review misrepresents the story. While we don't learn the motivation for the giants attacking and eating people, we do know that it's been happening for 100 years, and that the answers do exist somewhere "out there" (outside the Wall Maria walls). It's just going to take a while to find out what's going on. In other words, there is a clear plot and storyline, and there is an explanation for the attacks. AoT isn't just a mindless conflict between humans and giants. And that's the reason, I guess, why I'm willing to read all of the 100 yen books at Book Off. Recommended if you like carnage.