Attack on Titan, Vol. 20

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.

(Note: this review contains large spoilers for the whole volume)

In the last volume we finally got back to a lot of Titan fighting after several volumes of political intrigue. That doesn’t let up here, as this book is about humanity’s desperate fight to stop the titans. It’s also about death – at the start of the series, a lot of characters we briefly knew well died, and Levi’s squad was killed off several volumes later. Now the reaper has come calling again, and it’s uncertain who’s actually going to survive by the end of it. Is Armin really dead? Well, we thought Hange was dead last time, but here she is, looking battered but alive. This series has always had an underlying question of “how depressing is the ending going to be?”. Will the author and editors really kill off most of the likable main cast for good? Will the Titans win?

Speaking of Armin, a lot of this volume focuses on him, particularly on his loss of courage in the face of disaster. This is actually done quite well, showing that the horrible slaughter of war does not automatically make anyone a badass, particularly if your soldier skills are mostly confined to tactics, as with Armin. Seeing him falter gives us extra frustration and sadness, and helps to make the end of the volume, where he snaps out of it, comes up with a plan, and seemingly sacrifices his life for the others’ sake, even more impressive. Speaking of impressive, I must admit I’ve never really warmed to Jean before now, a character who has always been very confrontational and obnoxious. But he’s fantastic here, taking over when Armin falters and thinking of good short-term plans that will help them escape, while admitting that long-term tactics is not something he is designed for. Great job.

Armin is, of course, not the only casualty here, as Erwin takes all the rookies who are watching the Beast Titan and company destroy everything on a suicidal charge in order to give Levi time to make a sneak attack. As one recruit points out (and oh what irony that he seems to be literally the only recruit to survive after this debacle), Erwin is asking them to go out and die, and Erwin responds bluntly that yes, he is. And they do just that. Naturally the reader focuses on Marlowe, whose shift from reluctant MP soldier to raw recruit has gotten quite a bit of focus, and he even got some rare Titan ship tease with fellow MP Hitch. Now he thinks of Hitch, who did not join the Survey Corps and is thus likely asleep, right before his head is blown apart. War is hell. And in war, the good die. A lot.

And that may also include Erwin, whose frustration that they’re almost but not quite able to get to Eren’s father’s house is palpable. He’s leaving everything to Levi and Hange, but like Armin, his fate is not quite confirmed at the end of this book. Will they both end up like Marlowe, Petra and Marco? Or will this be like Sasha or Hange, where we’re sure they’re about to die but they somehow escape? In any case, a good solid volume, and I can’t even complain about the mediocre art too much this time.

Attack on Titan Anthology

By Various Artists, based on the manga created by Hajime Isayama. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

This review is based on an advance copy provided by the publisher.

The moment this was announced, its potential was always going to be sky-high. Yes, Japan also has some anthologies based on prominent titles, and we’ve seen a few of them over here, but they’ve tended to be either a) only comedic (Evangelion), or b) not very good (Code Geass). But a cross-cultural anthology like this is unusual. Plus the talent announced made the American comics reader sit up and take notice. Faith Erin Hicks, Gail Simone, Scott Snyder, Paul Pope, Evan Dorkin… names so well-known that even the manga-only fan will be familiar with them. And so yes, there was always going to be a high bar to clear. I am pleased to say, though, that it soars over it easily, and manages to be one of the most riveting titles I’ve read this year, taking the world of Attack on Titan and opening it up to become so many other different things.


For the most part, the main cast of Attack on Titan are used sparingly here, though if you do want to see them there is Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer’s hilarious Attack on Attack on Titan, which puts the cast in a Milk and Cheese style gag comic that goes WAY beyond what we’ve seen in Junior High or Spoof on Titan. But you don’t really miss the cast. We do get some stories set within the series proper, or before it, as humanity fights against the titans or against the oppressive rule that constricts them. If you enjoy the fighting in the series, you’ve love Michael Avon Oeming’s Live And Let Die, which shows us a conflict between safety and freedom. There’s also Gail Simone and Phil Jimenez’ Good Dog, an almost wordless tale of a woman and her dog taking on a titan with the best possible derring-do. On a more tragic level, Asaf and Tomer Hanuka’s Memory Maze shows us how the Titans’ existence can devastate one family, even as the years go by.

There are also stories that use the Titans in different settings or in different genres. Genevieve Valentine and David Lopez’ An Illustrated Guide to the Walled Cities starts off cute and gets darker as it goes along, showing us one woman’s attempt to show off the wonders of the city while dealing with a repressive, cruel monarchy. Rihanna Pratchett, Ben Applegate and Jorge Corona’s Skies Above shows us what could have been under that same cruel monarchy, and all the opportunities that were lost, as well as some lovely action and tragic romance. Si Spurrier, Kate Brown and Paul Duffield’s Fee Fie Foh sees the invading titans as a Celtic fantasy, with an added dose of the corrupted hero who must relearn what heroism truly means. And while I found Ronald Wimberly’s Bahamut the most difficult to get into of the stories in this book, it manages to succeed on evocative mood alone.

Be assured, it’s not all grim tragedy in here. Aside from the aforementioned Evan Dorkin comics, we get Faith Erin Hicks’ The Titan’s Laugh, which shows the use of a good jokebook (and also shows us how grim and desperate the battle still is – the punchline wouldn’t be as hilarious if the serious consequences weren’t played up beforehand). Sam Humphries and Damion Scott’s Attack on Playtime is every young child’s revenge fantasy come to life, rebelling against cruel teachers, sadistic gym instructors, and unfeeling administration. And Brendan Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr show us in Attack on Demoncon that when it comes to sexual harassment at a comic convention, turning into a Titan can be quite empowering.

If you like Attack on Titan, this is a great chance to see its world used to tell dynamic and evocative stories. If you enjoy Western Comics and have heard of the title through the creators, you may be surprised at the grim yet hopeful universe that we see. Both fans should be happy with this anthology, as it is an absolute delight.

Attack on Titan, Vol. 19

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 feels like it’s been forever since we’ve seen a volume of Attack on Titan that is almost entirely devoted to fighting titans. The stakes are higher this time, though, as we know these titans. Most of the volume is devoted to dealing with Reiner and Bertholt, led by the Beast Titan, doing their best to wipe out the Survey Corps, followed by humanity. Our heroes, of course, are trying their best to stop them, and not only have Armin’s tactics but Erwin’s planning and Hange’s scientific genius. Attack on Titan has done ambiguity well in several past volumes, but there’s little of that here – though they try to portray themselves in a sympathetic way, there’s no doubting Reiner and Bertholt are the bad guys, and both seem to have accepted that, though we still don’t know the big ‘reason’ everyone has to die.


The most interesting thing here plotwise is the extended flashback we get to Marco, and how he died. Marco was killed off at the very beginning of the manga, but his picture appears in the cast list every time regardless, with a big X through it. This is for a reason – his death was very much a turning point. Now we find out it wasn’t just a turning point for the main cast, but for the secret Titan infiltrators as well. I still have trouble seeing the normally stoic Annie as emotional and panicky as she gets here, but Reiner is handled perfectly. We’ve seen before how he sometimes disassociates himself from the actions he has to take as a traitor, and that certainly comes through here. There’s also an astonishing contempt for Bertholt throughout the book – he’s always been a meek follower, but this just underlines that, with Reiner saying “I’ve never considered you reliable.”

It’s telling therefore that Bertholt’s big screaming confrontation is with Armin, who I think has also felt a bit weak at times, though unlike Bertholt he has the strength of his convictions. Bertholt’s ridiculous demands – give us Eren, and kill all of humanity – cause everyone to just stop and stare, and rightly so. Of course, humanity is not giving in so easily. Hange’s “thunder spears” are quite clever, even if they can also be extremely dangerous, and they may have actually dealt serious damage to Reiner. That said, he is a named character, and for all of Attack on Titan’s reputation as a dark and brutal series, named characters have done pretty well for themselves – Word of God said Sasha was supposed to die in the ninth volume but the editors asked for her to be spared.

That may change soon, though. Did we really see Hange killed off in the last page? Probably not, not in an offscreen manner like that. What about Reiner or Bertholt? And have we totally forgotten about the Beast Titan – what are his plans aside from letting those two try to destroy everything? This volume had a lot of noble fighting and impassioned screaming. I suspect next time may bring us a bit more tragedy.