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Welcome, once again, to “Bring It or Keep It?” where we take a look at a foreign comic and decide whether it should be brought to our shores or kept to its home nation. This time I’ll be discussing the relatively recent Shingeki no Kyojin, a Japanese manga by Hajime Isayama. I am told the title roughly translates to “The Giant’s Charge” and it is an apt title, to be certain. So, is this winner of the 2011 Kodansha Manga Award ready to win some awards in the West?
Shingeki no Kyojin is the story of a world in which humanity is under constant attack by creatures called giants or titans. Just like the name implies, the defining characteristic of these guys is that they are gigantic and/or titanic. For the most part they look like naked humans (sans genitals) that range from three to fifteen meters tall. Their hobbies include being enormous, having no discernible intelligence, and eating people alive simply for the fun of it. When they first appeared, the titans slaughtered most of the human race and those remaining were only able to save themselves by barricading themselves within a city surrounded by three fifty meter walls. For one hundred years humanity could make no significant push beyond their borders, but they were safe behind the wall. That is until one colossal titan, who was up to no good, started making trouble in their neighborhood. He made one little hole and everyone got scared and said, “We’re moving in with our aunties and uncles behind the second wall so that the smaller titans crawling through do not murder every single one of us.”
With that, the fifty plus meter terror disappears, but a massive portion of humanity’s territory is seceded to the also massive invaders. It is in this siege that Eren Jaeger and his adoptive sister Mikasa Ackerman lose their parents. Five years later, they have graduated as soldiers with the intention of restoring humanity to the world outside the wall.
Unfortunately, the odds are rather stacked against them. I mentioned before in my Seinen Studies article that I had not seen a series quite so nihilistic as Gantz. Well, Shingeki no Kyojin comes pretty close. The only advantages of the human protagonists are the knowledge of a titan’s weak point, the nape of the neck, and the mobility granted by a type of grappling hook and harness combo that lets them zip around Spider-Man style. Most of the time, this is not enough. Despite being a shonen series, the violence on display is quite graphic as the soldiers, young and old, are devoured and dismembered, sobbing in pain and horror. It all gives off a rather hopeless atmosphere.
I was fully prepared to give Shingeki no Kyojin a pass based on the story alone. However, those who make it to chapter ten or so will find an enjoyable twist that changes events dramatically. A sense of impending doom hangs over proceedings regardless, but more recent chapters have opened the story up to a potential for growth that may prove very interesting. There are still stumbling blocks and contrivances, but the characters are endearing enough to forgive and the scenarios are interesting enough to grant the benefit of the doubt.
Having said this much about the story, I must confess the art style is difficult to fully recommend. While the walled city has a very clean appearance that I imagine was probably computer-assisted, the characters and close-up environments have a very rough sketch quality to them. There is usually not a great amount of detail and the drawings would appear rushed if the style was not so consistent. Still, sometimes this sketched quality lends itself to the frantic situations and serves to make the titans look that much more grotesque. For their part, the titans posses an almost “uncanny valley” like effect that may come from being drawn to look more realistically human than the human characters.
Shingeki no Kyojin has a lot of problems, but it also has a lot of potential. There are a great many questions to be answered concerning this world and the origins of the titans and, if Lost is any indication, there is certainly a market for such mysteries. There are so many contrived and repeated story elements in media today that I, personally, find it tremendously refreshing to find something unique. I would like to think that plenty of comics fans share this pleasure. If this is so, and Hajime Isayama can realize the potential on display, then I think Shingeki no Kyojin could become a “titanic” success in the West. See what I did there?
Verdict: Bring it