Attack on Titan, Vol. 18

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

Attack on Titan has never really been a laugh riot to begin with, but you get the sense that the fun is over with this volume. There’s one last effort to have wacky survey corps times here, with Sasha going completely bugfuck over meat, and Eren and Jean having a nostalgic fistfight, but it feels a bit out of place and wrong, and just makes the reader realize that those times are probably gone for good. A feeling that only intensifies as the volume goes on and we reach Wall Maria, where Reiner and Bertholt (OK, mostly Reiner) as well as the Beast Titan await, luring our heroes into a trap that they’re mostly aware of and walking into willingly. I suspect the volume after this will be wall-to-wall action.


Meanwhile, the flashback with Instructor Shadis gives us the longest look yet we’ve had of Eren’s parents, and also discusses the mindset that the Survey Team needs to have to function properly, a mindset that some people (like Shadis himself) struggle and ultimately fail to find. Eren’s father Grisha is found outside the walls, and it’s implied came from even further outside. He’s able to find his calling in life, though, and it’s not the Survey Corps but medicine. As we see Shadis desperately attempting to prove that he’s special, that he’s better than everyone else and failing, we see Grisha fall in love, get married, have a family… and do scientific experiments on his children, of course, though this volume doesn’t get into that.

Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermensch has never really resonated with me, and Attack on Titan plays with the concept without choosing sides. Certainly we have characters throughout the series who seem to succeed with what appears to be a minimum of effort and looking cool while doing it – Mikasa, Levi – but Eren, who’s support to be the most special of them all, is seen constantly struggling and failing. He notes in this volume he’s not special – just the son of a special man. Shadis gives up command of the Survey Corps because he has a crisis of confidence and supposedly”realizes” that he’s not special while someone like Erwin is. But Hange, correctly in my opinions, calls that simple cowardice. Again, the ambiguity is discomfiting but appreciated.

Speaking of people struggling with being special, Armin has found that being the idea guy is not all it’s cracked up to be when time is running short and you can’t explain your ideas very well beyond “it’s a hunch”. Eren, Mikasa and Armin function best as a threesome because each one of them has something the other two lack, and I enjoyed the flashback to their youth as probably my favorite scene in the entire volume. Sadly, as I said, the volume ends with Reiner making his appearance, and even though he’s almost beheaded he isn’t quite, so I’m sure he’ll be back before you know it. Attack on Titan can be a struggle, but always makes you think and question why you’re making choices. That’s a big reason it sells as well as it does.

Attack on Titan, Vol. 17

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

It’s no secret that the development of Historia’s character has been one of my favorite parts of Attack on Titan, and this volume continues to feature that, as she refuses to be treated like precious china merely because she has the Reiss lineage, saddles up to help defeat a titan who is actually her father, takes credit for it to further Erwin’s plan to stabilize the city, and finally is crowned Queen, though arguably her best moment comes shortly afterwards, where she somewhat falteringly punches Levi as a callback to where he abused her in order to get what he wanted. Of course, he has, and his genuine smile of thanks is rather touching here.


Moreover, we see what the effect of being ruled by someone who did not get controlled by the Firt King is that actual progress is allowed to be made. Underground inventions are allowed to come to light, leftovers from the giant titan battle are used in new and exciting ways, and Historia herself spends most of her time seemingly running an orphanage on a farm outside the city. (See: front cover, which looks like it should be called Little Titan on the Prairie.) This comes after the rest of Kenny Ackerman’s flashback, where he meets a young, starving orphan Levi and teaches him how to fight and get by in the streets. Again, Kenny’s search for something to strive for is relatable, and I like the description of everyone being “drunk on something”, but in the end he’s still a villain.

And then there’s Eren, who spends a lot of time being his usual emo self, then sees what Historia has been doing and literally punches the whine out of himself. This might come back to haunt him, of course, as following this we see him overextending himself to the point of physical exhaustion, as he realizes that right now he is the only one who can do these things. I suspect he sees Historia more as an inspiration than as someone to be romantically interested in, though naturally Mikasa takes offense at anyone female getting remotely close to Eren. I’ve sort of given up on the idea that Mikasa’s feelings for Eren are going to remain familial, as the author has far too much fun with her repressed jealousy, but I don’t enjoy it. There was some genuine amusement late in the volume involving Marlowe, who has transferred to the Survey Corps despite Hitch’s tsundere exhortations, which everyone but he and Eren can see through (Eren being similarly clueless about any romance).

There’s still quite a bit of mystery here, which I suspect will get solved a bit more in 18, when we go back to training to visit our old instructor. In the meantime, this is a nice solid Titan volume, with a good fight, the usual somewhat questionable politics (yay, isn’t military rule great?), the usual questionable art (Isayama is good at terror, not so good at non-terror), but excellent plotting and characterization, and makes you want to keep reading.

Attack on Titan, Vol. 16

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

There is a term that has become popular, particularly with the rise of TV tropes, called ‘The Woobie’. It is a character who you are meant to feel sad and sorry for, sometimes to the breaking point of plot and characterization. While the entire cast of Attack on Titan has, at times, fallen into this category, I’d argue the two biggest woobies in the series are Eren, who got the cover of the last volume staring in dull surprise and Historia, who gets the cover of this volume staring in dull surprise. (It is possible that the reader who still has to keep up with Isayama’s art qualifies as a woobie as well.) The suffering the two of them go through is meant to be complementary, and most of this volume discusses what might happen if Historia takes over Eren’s role in the story, by literally eating him.


There’s a lot of backstory questions answered here (though the story posits new ones as well), with Historia’s family, Kenny Ackerman, and Eren’s father all getting closer and more disturbing looks. Kenny in particular gets more depth, though he’s still really unlikeable no matter what he’s gone through in the past. That said, though, only Historia can make the final decision, a decision that her family has made over and over again. She correctly wonders why her family has simply let the Titans roll right along, and realizes that just having this godlike power does not necessarily mean she will keep the compassion to use it.

And so she rebels, and it’s wonderful, as she tells everyone who’s attempting to show her how to live her life to get lost and saves Eren, even if he’s not particularly wanting to be saved at the moment. (Notably, it’s Ymir’s advice in a flashback that’s the tipping point.) Luckily for her, the struggle she just went through has been juxtaposed with the rest of the cast attacking the secret underground cavern, showing off how unstoppable they are in battle (well, OK, Hange gets hurt, but I’m sure she’s fine), and showing up in time to allow Historia’s choice not to be in vain, and to allow Eren to finally stop feeling pathetic and make his own choice to protect everyone.

This is not a perfect volume. There’s more torture, which I still loathe, even if it doesn’t actually succeed in getting information this time. The flashbacks are very dispassionate, not carrying the emotional load of the main storyline, even when they should. And I’ve already bashed the art, but I can’t help it – sometimes the desperate, tormented faces we’re supposed to see, particularly Grisha and Kenny, merely look hilarious, and distract from the tragedy we’re supposed to be witnessing. Still, overall more good than bad, and we’ll see if Historia et al. can escape from here and try to take on a giant Titan. Wow, fighting Titans, it seems like forever since we’ve done that.