Attack on Titan, Vol. 23

By Hajime Isayama. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Ko Ransom.

It is not uncommon, particularly in shonen manga, to see what is generally referred to as a “time skip”, where events jump ahead a few years and we see the cast has grown and changed (see One Piece) or, for some strange reason, is almost exactly the same (see Fairy Tail – twice). It allows the author to jump ahead to the next part of the story they want to tell. It’s also not unheard of for a series to debut a new cast, meant to carry on from the original – you see this in some school series where time actually passes and therefore the regulars cant’ help but graduate. The new cast are usually introduced gradually, interacting with the popular regular characters till they have enough popularity of their own to take over. (K-On! tried this, but it didn’t really work well.) And then there’s Attack on Titan, which thinks nothing of trying to do both at the same time.

Reiner is still around, to be fair – in fact, he and Zeke (the Beast Titan) are the only ones, bar flashbacks. Instead, we’re introduced to a new group of child soldiers, who are here to take out enemy supply lines, blow shit up, and sic titans on people. The kids run the gamut from tortured and brooding young man who may be our lead going forward to the confident (some may say overconfident) girl who screams out “I am going to be killed or horribly maimed to teach an important lesson”, but so far seems to be riding on pure awesome and adrenaline. They’re fighting their own battles, but things aren’t going to well, and it turns out that having a giant pile of titans is not nearly as awesome as it could be, even without the special equipment Eren and company had. Perhaps it’s time to go back to the island and get back the powers of the founding titan.

I’m going to be very honest here, but I’m debating dropping the manga if this keeps up. I don’t really read Attack on Titan for the plot, which manages to be both “war is hell” and very right-wing militaristic at the same time. Likewise, the titans themselves have never interested me except as conduits to help the human characters grow and change. It’s no surprise that the moments I enjoyed most in this volume were the smaller, quieter ones – such as Reiner’s reverse psychology when he threatens Falco for not respecting the Titans enough, or his memories of everyone back on the island (in which we realize that Sasha eating the potato is once again the only thing ANYONE remembers about her). But I really hope that Eren, Mikasa and the others show up soon, because I’m just not as into this new cast.

Attack on Titan is still worth reading if you like cool battle scenes (that are beginning to actually be drawn… OK? Not horribly?), political discussions, and tortured angst. Just be aware that there’s a sea change here, and most of the beloved characters you liked have been left behind.

Attack on Titan, Vol. 22

By Hajime Isayama. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Ko Ransom.

“Tragic backstory intensifies” would be a good description of this volume, for the most part. Eren continues to have dreams that flash back to his father’s life before he was born, showing us the fate of Grisha’s first wife (she appeared in the story earlier than we think, it turns out!) and what our kingdom really is – an island kingdom, with most of the world very much not dead on the other side of the ocean. We also, as predicted, see Eren and Mikasa in jail for the orders they disobeyed in the previous couple of books, though that doesn’t last, mostly due to how important Eren really is. Oh yes, and much to Mikasa’s horror, we get a time limit on the Titans’ lives – they only live for 13 years after being titan-ized, meaning that we also get another major character death, though this one is offscreen.

Yes, in fine lesbian character tradition, Ymir writes a farewell note to Historia that confirms that a) she wanted to live the rest of her life married to her, but b) she can’t as she’s soon going to be dead. After Eren’s revelations, it’s pretty clear that this is meant to be due to simply living out that 13 year span rather than due to being executed. Reiner, at least, lets her write said farewell letter, though I wish we’d been able to see more of Historia’s reaction. I suppose it was unbecoming of a queen. So no happy ending for Ymir, though at least she doesn’t seem to have been killed off just for being gay. As for Mikasa, I’ve pretty much written off any hope of her character revolving around anything other than Eren, so her stunned disbelief through most of this is unsurprising. Not sure if they’ll find a way to stop Eren and Armin from dying. I could see it going either way.

There’s also more arguing over whether it was the right thing to save Armin or not – I suspect this may have been an argument that Isayama and some of his editors may have had as well. I wish that it had been one of the regulars allowed to take an opposing side, rather than generic military police guy, who is there to remind Hitch that Marlowe likely died terrified and to yell at everyone else, so immediately turns into one of my least favorite characters. I think it would have had more impact if it was a more familiar face on the Erwin side, though. In any case, however, we jump forward a bit and see the Survey Corps confirming what they’d found out from Grisha – that this is an island, and that there is ocean at the end of it. This leads to possibly the only really heartwarming scene in the book, with the members of Levi’s unit cheerfully splashing in the surf (though not in swimsuits – we can’t rewrite reality that much).

I didn’t see an “End of Part Two” at the finale of this volume, but it certainly felt like it. We’ve gotten a lot of our answers, but what comes next? In any case, Titan fans should enjoy this volume, though likely they will get frustrated with it as well. But we should all be used to that.

Attack on Titan, Vol. 21

By Hajime Isayama. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Ko Ransom.

(As always lately, there are major spoilers for this volume here.)

Well, we finally get the answer of who will survive. It was obviously Armin at first, but then a soldier showed up with Erwin’s dying body and the whole thing devolved into an argument about “whose life is worth more during a war?”. If I recall correctly, the Attack on Titan fandom was arguing about these chapters as well, though for a different reason – storywise, it feels like a cheat to have Armin come back from the dead after such a nice heroic sacrifice. Also, I sense the Attack on Titan audience is getting tired of the only characters dying being minor ones like Marlowe. Well, no worries here, as not only does Erwin due when Levi mercifully decides not to save him, but in order for Armin to survive, Bertolt has to be eaten. He doesn’t take it well.

Leaving aside the 80 billion counts of insubordination that Eren and Mikasa commit here, which will no doubt be gone into in the next volume, the other big dramatic moment that comes here is finding and entering the Jaeger basement. This has been the Survey Corps’ goal for who knows how long, and the “when will they get to the basement” jokes were practically a meme. Needless to say, the moment itself is given all the drama and tension it can muster, including Eren realizing that the key he’s always had isn’t for the basement door at all (Levi solves the problem by kicking the door to bits), and the cliffhanger ending showing us… a photograph! Yes, it turns out humanity may not be as completely wiped out as we suspected.

What follows is a long chapter of tragic backstory, as we have Eren’s father discussing his childhood rebellion against the authoritarian regime, the loss of his sister, his joining a resistance force, and his meeting a Historia lookalike named Dina whom he falls in love with and marries pretty quickly. Of course, we know from the very first chapters that she’s not Eren’s mother, so there’s even more drama going on here – and so yes, they’re both betrayed by Grisha’s FIRST son, named Zeke. Attack on Titan has always been fairly serious and po-faced – what little humor there is tends to come from Sasha’s antics – but even for this series, this is depressing stuff. We see a flashback to the death of the little sister, who is ripped to pieces by military dogs (no, actual dogs), and Zeke betraying his parents to the fascists is just icing on the cake.

I get the feeling that this flashback is going to take up a great deal of the next volume as well, which is good, as we still need a few more answers. For the moment, though, Attack on Titan may not be fighting too many Titans in this book, but it’s just as deadly. It’s well worth a read if you’re a fan of the series, but be warned that sometimes the mind-numbing bleakness of events can make the reader as depressed as the characters themselves.