One of the biggest pop culture phenomena to come out of the United States in recent years has been “The Walking Dead,” a story about people struggling to stay alive in a world full of zombies trying to eat them.
Similarly, one of the biggest pop culture phenomena to come out of Japan in recent years has been “Attack on Titan,” a story about people struggling to stay alive in a world full of giant, naked, almost-human looking monsters trying to eat them.
Turns out that if you want to dominate pop culture, all you have to do is create a franchise about things that really want to eat people.
“Attack on Titan” has been slowly creeping its way across pop culture for the past five years. It’s been making its mark on fan conventions, Super Bowl ads, theme parks, and soon, international cinema. The internet is filled with viral memes and GIFs of the series. In time, even Hollywood — notoriously slow to capitalise on popular foreign properties — might want to get in on the action.
So what is it?
“Attack On Titan,” like “The Walking Dead,” was originally a popular comic book (or manga). Created by Hajime Isayama in 2009, the “Titan” manga tells the story of a world overrun by Titans, giant humanoid monsters that are are 3-15 meters tall …
… and eat humans.
Following the appearance of the Titans, humanity has retreated to a single giant city, divided by three concentric walls, each with a city district between them.
For a long time, the walls — much taller than any Titan — kept everyone safe and complacent. Then, a 50-foot “Colossal Titan” appeared, knocked a hole in the outer wall, and all hell broke loose.
The manga was immensely popular, with its collected editions selling record numbers. But that was only the start of the “Attack on Titan” craze. The franchise truly took off four years later, when an anime adaptation of the series debuted in the spring of 2013, with an English translation launching one year later.
Like “The Walking Dead,” “Attack on Titan” is bleak, dour entertainment. It is an exploration of humanity at its most desperate, and puts every single one of its characters through the wringer. It’s absolutely riveting, and kind of horrifying — there’s a grotesqueness to the Titans’ design, the way they’re human-shaped but with frighteningly wide jaws that make them appear to have evil grins.
And while death by traditional zombies isn’t exactly fun to watch, there’s something exceptionally unsettling about human-shaped giants just straight up popping people into their grinning mouths like bruschetta.
The plot centres around Eren Yaeger, a teenager who loses his mother when the Titans attack. He soon devotes his life to fighting them with the city’s army — first to repel them from the city’s borders, then out in the wilderness while on a mission to learn more about them.
His fellow soldiers are mostly recent recruits like him, and their inexperience makes the show both more interesting and devastating. They make a lot of mistakes, and they lose a lot of friends. It’s gut-wrenching stuff.
There’s also a mystery at the heart of the “Titan” mythology: Where did the Titans come from? And why is Eren important to understanding them? This last bit is incredibly (almost frustratingly) tantalising, as game-changing revelations are doled on a steady enough drip that mind-blowing twists unfold
just frequently enough to make you willing to put up with the series’ sometimes-frustrating pace.
(This is a frequent occurrence in anime based on manga — the plot is stretched out to last longer and avoid burning through the source material too fast a la “Game of Thrones.” “Attack on Titan” does this best when it gives you more time to spend with the characters, adding an episode not in the manga about Eren Yaeger and his peers training to join the army. It also does it poorly, when said characters endlessly debate over a predicament instead of actually doing anything.)
It also doesn’t hurt that the soldier’s uniforms are really cool looking, and a big hit with cosplaying teens.
There’s actually a pretty clever rationale for all that cool gear — they use grappling hooks and razor sharp blades to outmaneuver the Titans like a bunch of ninja Spider-Men:
While we won’t see a second season of “Attack on Titan” until 2016, three years after the first, there’s still plenty “Attack on Titan” in the works to keep the hype train rolling. Besides the manga (which is still ongoing) and two feature-length adaptations of the anime’s first season, there is:
A video game for Nintendo 3DS.
A live-action film:
A Subaru commercial:
Marvel Comics even did a crossover which debuted in May in the US:
“Attack on Titan” is pretty much steamrolling its way through pop culture, and it’s well worth the hype.
Good thing you have a year to catch up.
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