By Hajime Isayama. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.
When the buzz for this series first started coming out, right about when it got the Kodansha manga award last year, I recall many people mocking Shueisha for turning it down. The author had shown the series to the editors of Weekly Shonen Jump, and was promptly told that the series was not Jump enough. So he turned around and sold it to Kodansha, and now it’s a bestseller. But they were absolutely right. This isn’t a Jump series at all. Leaving aside the basic horror of the premise, modern Jump simply isn’t this grim. Even Kodansha thought it was more suited to their monthly magazine than the flagship.
The series immediately knows that its strength are the titans themselves. They are huge, grotesque, and unknowable, even as the humans in the city desperately try to discover their weak points and flaws. Seeing likeable characters literally getting eaten by these things not only gives a feeling of desperation to the series, but helps you to side even more with our band of heroes who have vowed to destroy them – particularly the brother-sister team who keep the viewpoint.
Speaking of that, and this is a bit of a spoiler, apologies. I’m not at all sure, at the end of Vol. 1, how I feel about Eren. So-called decoy protagonists are nothing new in manga, and we’ve certainly seen folks we thought would be the hero getting mercilessly killed off right away before. But he doesn’t quite have the right *feel* of one of these, and I’m not sure the manga is ready to follow Mikasa and Armin for the rest of the series. I came out of the closing moments of the cliffhanger thinking along the lines of “…really? How are they going to walk back from that one?” Of course, if I prove to be wrong, it’s quite an impressive step to take. Especially given that the seemingly emotionless Mikasa seems more likely the sort to launch a roaring rampage of revenge after this.
If the series does have a downside, it’s the art when titans are *not* on the screen. There’s a fairly large cast filled with military types here, many of whom I presume will form our core cast. It’s a shame I had so much trouble telling them apart, then, and kept flicking to the montage introduction in the middle of the book to try to get them straight. There’s also some basic siege cliches in here – Eren’s fight with Jean is right out of the big book of war movies.
More to the point, I’d like a few more signs that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. This series is still ongoing, at 7+ volumes in Japan, and I really hope that we get a few more bright spots ahead. As if it ends up being the story of how a ragtag bunch of misfits go up against the enemy and slowly die one by one, the story will be fascinating, but far too downbeat for my taste. I hope the 2nd book can show a bit more optimism.