By Hajime Isayama and the editors at Kodansha. Released in Japan by Kodansha in two separate volumes, “Inside” and “Outside”. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.
Shonen manga in Japan get quite popular, and as you’d expect, fans want to know absolutely everything about their favorite characters, things that wouldn’t necessarily come up in the manga proper. For those people, there are guidebooks like these – they consists of bios, recaps, examinations of all the little fiddly bits, character popularity polls, favorite quotes, etc. They allow the creator to reveal some information that would likely fit awkwardly if it had to be inserted into the story proper, and let fans understand the characters and story better – OMG, Jean is an Aries! Just like me!
For those familiar with these sorts of guides, the style is unsurprising, but if you aren’t, be prepared for lots of superlatives. At times it reads like a gossip magazine, with lots of punchy headlines and exclamation marks as it tells the story of the 104th training squad. These are two books released separately in Japan joined together, and sometimes you’re able to see that – the book has spoilers through Vol. 11 of the series, but much of the first half seems to have spoilers only through Vol. 9. It can also be somewhat inconsistent – the book takes pains not to discuss Reiner and Bertholt’s secrets in their bio, but has no issues revealing Ymir’s.
There’s a long interview with Isayama where he discusses the major influences on the series – many may be surprised to here one of the biggest was Muv Luv Alternative, though those who have read the visual novel itself may be less surprised – it’s darker than Higurashi. I was less surprised to hear about the influence of Saving Private Ryan in regards to the emotional reactions of the soldiers. The workings of the manga industry are briefly shown, as Isayama discusses how he was asked to move to a more expensive apartment so that he could fit his assistants in it – but then had to make the series a success or he couldn’t afford the apartment!
Where the guidebook excels is in giving a name and backstory to the minor characters like “girl who dies in Volume 2″ or “that one guy whose name I can never remember”. Isayama’s art is terrible, especially at the start, and this guide is a boon for those who can’t really tell apart the 5-6 different soldiers with short blond hair. There’s also a lot of discussion of the mechanics of titans and how the vertical gear works, and to show it’s not all grim darkness there’s also some cute fake interviews with the cast, and Isayama drew some AU art based on reader suggestions, such as Sasha, Connie and Reiner forming a band.
Obviously this is not something that you want to pick up if you’re new to the series and wish to see what it’s about. Read the actual manga instead. For those who are fans of the manga, though, this gives you lots of facts and figures, reminds you of your favorite moments, and is a good go-to reference guide. Also, I think the original must call Sasha a boke about 80,000 times. “Airhead” is the translation here.