Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, Vol. 1

By Ryo Suzukaze and Satoshi Shiki. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Shonen Sirius. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

(This review is based off an advance copy provided by the publisher.)

If Attack on Titan: Junior High as the inevitable lighter, fluffier gag manga spinoff of the main Titan series, then this one is even more inevitable. A prequel set far back enough so that it features no one we know, yet providing some much needed context and perhaps even a few explanations that might carry over into the new series, while still remaining its own title. That said, it remains to be seen how successful it will be, as this is very much Vol. 1 of a longer work, and we’ve just barely gotten started before things are all over.

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Just like its spinoff partner, Isayama did not write or draw this. The author seems to be known for writing tie-in novels (and indeed, this manga is based on a spinoff novel that Vertical will be releasing later in the year). The artist is likely more familiar to old-school manga fans. Satoshi Shiki did a Daphne in the Brilliant Blue manga that Tokyopop released, as well as Kami-Kaze and the really old Viz title Riot, which came out back in the ‘flipped, 32-page comics’ days. The art here is pretty and serviceable, with its leads being attractive and likeable. This puts it miles ahead of Isayama, who has gotten better as he’s gone along, but whose art is still his weakest point. Of course, just because the leads are pretty doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen – some of the grotesque shots of people getting eaten by Titans (and the aftermath) are just as bad as the original.

The basic premise is that, about 70 years before the AoT series proper, a child is found in the puked-up remains of people who had been eaten by Titans, one of whom was a pregnant woman. The baby in her womb miraculously survived, right in the center of the undigested pile. Found by the Survey Corps, he is immediately described as “the child of a Titan”. And promptly locked away for the next 13 years, feeding on bugs and tiny scraps and living a horrible prisoner’s life. It should be noted that Kuklo is not large or monstrous or anything – Child Of A Titan is a metaphor that has carelessly been allowed to become real.

Most of this volume is setup, showing us what life is like inside Wall Sheena, the innermost wall that the cast of the main series haven’t really had to deal with. The answer is that it’s filled with rich smug jerks, including a spoiled brat son who will grow up to lead the military one day, and takes delight in beating the shit out of his prisoner who doesn’t even know enough to fight back. The only other likeable person in the entire series is Sharle, the smug jerk’s younger sister, whose seems to be the innocent, human face of this series and who will no doubt die horribly at some point down the line.

Most of this first volume is setup, showing us the world Kuklo and Sharle live in, and setting up their journey to escape and find answers. It runs based on its mood, which is dark and grimy (the one place that Isayama’s art might have helped… at times this world feels a bit too clean compared to his own.) Certainly a title worth getting for Titan fans, and we’ll see how many volumes it can make it through before inevitable tragedy has to happen.

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