Why Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) is so popular – Thorough Analysis

Attack on Titan has some of the worst artwork I have ever seen in a popular manga. There is a kind of stilted awkward quality to the way the characters are rendered with gaunt stiff facial expressions rigid scratchy line work and unexpressive posing. It is something that its author Hajime Isayama has repeatedly acknowledged in interviews. He was even mentioned alongside his first publicized work when he won an award. They mentioned that the artwork featured was the worst in the history of the award.

Attack on Titan manga
Attack on Titan manga

 

It is not as if Isayama cannot produce a compelling composition when he needs to or that he has not improved over time, which he has. But looking back at these early volumes it’s hard to imagine that anyone at the time would have been able to predict that this series was going to go on to become one of the most staggeringly successful in existence. Today globally, attack on Titan has sold a recorded 66 million volumes and done so in eight years. But even these sales figures belie the mass cultural penetration of this series.

The widespread success of Attack on Titan:

A title with widespread mainstream success not only in Japan but in foreign shores as well. Leading to all manner of merchandise videogames a pair of live-action movies nonsensical spin-offs and even a crossover with Marvel’s Avengers. Hell, I was watching a dating show with my parents on public Irish television and somehow it even came up there.

The series has reached such a point that for me personally the more interesting conversation. It is not the inherent quality or lack thereof of the series itself. So, what are the factors that caused its explosive mainstream popularity?

Why is Attack on Titan so popular?

Why is Attack of Titan popular?
Why is Attack of Titan popular?

In other words, what makes Attack on Titan popular? The simplest answer to this could be attributed to the success of the 2013 anime. And while that definitely was the point where the series really took off. The fact is that even before the anime existed in spite of the artwork attack on Titan was averaging at around 30,000 volumes sold. It is an impressive sales figure for a brand new non-Shounen Jump series. And it did this while being published and be relatively unknown Bessatsu Shounen magazine. A publication with a circulation of only around 66,000 units.

Meaning, that attack on Titan sales was being driven nearly entirely by word of mouth alone. So even before the anime, something about this series was really resonating with a public at large. And I think a big part of that can be attributed to the series core premise. Attack on Titan tells the story of a world infested with Titans. Titans are massive lumbering humanoid entities that appeared suddenly one day and devoured most of the world’s population. The rest of humanity take refuge behind the giant walls of the capital city.

The appeal of Attack on Titan:

Appeal of Attack on Titan
Appeal of Attack on Titan

It is a compelling premise, but also one that is very simple. With only a sentence or two, it is very easy to put across the basic story and conflict of attack on Titan. Meaning, it is very easy for word of mouth to create intrigue around Attack on Titans world. It means that a lot more people are going to end up checking it out. I think, to really understand the appeal of this world, we need to first examine its starring character. The titular Titans themselves. As humans, we are the unquestionably dominant species on this planet. And I think what so many people find so compelling about the Titans is how utterly they take that away from us.

Japanese Kaiju:

It is the same sensation as peering down on a train of ants except now we are the ants. This is also an appeal that the Titans share with one of their major influences that of the Japanese kaiju. Roughly translated from Japanese, meaning strange beasts. Kaiju are the massive monstrosities that are synonymous with 20th-century Japanese cinema. Originally being inspired by 1933 s King Kong and 1953’s the beast from 20,000 fathoms. The genre took its spiritual form with 1954’s Godzilla. And in a single movie, Toho represented the national feelings of pain and inadequacy as Japan was brought to its knees by a massive foreign threat.

Japanese Kaiju
Japanese Kaiju

Directly mirroring the post-world War 2 mindset of a nation. Kaiju are the living embodiment of national paranoia. The threat that at any moment some strange unknowable danger could emerge and destroy our lives as we know it. And this same fundamental fear is part of what makes the Titans so compelling as antagonists. It is also a part of why the series carried so much appeal in its home country of Japan. As Titans were a fresh take want to become one of the nation’s best-loved fictional staples. Unlike Kaiju though which tend to resemble animals or creatures of myth Titans resemble us. There is an uncanny disturbing quality to the Titans appearance.

The art-style of the manga suits the horror:

This is one aspect in which I think Isayama’s art actually really helped the series. Attack on Titan took influence from old horror manga like ‘Hell teacher Nube’. Its scratchy disorientated lines did do a lot to carry the fear of these creatures. And I think more polished renderings would remove some of that initial uncanny quality. There’s also the bizarre child-like a lot of the Titans seem to express. When they approach humans it really drives home just how little of it as humans actually are to them. The other major staple of pop culture attack on titan draws on with its Titans is, of course, the Western zombie. Zombies are a kind of catch-all metaphor for whatever you want them to be.

Analogy for Consumerism?

They have been used as an analogy for consumerism for the disease for class devoid of nihilism whatever issue you might have with modern society a zombie can represent it.

Attack on titan art style
Attack on titan art style

This not only is an appeal shared by the Titan but also why in 2013 when the attack on titan anime aired America was in the throes of its love affair with the zombie. With season 3 of the world, shatteringly popular Walking Dead about to air as well as the undead being the focal points of many major video game series of this time. Meaning that the West at large was primed and hungry for a fresh take on the undead, which was a role that the Titans fulfilled. And in doing so made the show infinitely more marketable to a widespread American audience.

The Real appeal of Attack on Titan:

However, I think the real appeal of zombies is not specifically the creature itself but more so the landscape it creates. And by that I mean zombies often herald the fall of society. Most zombie media focuses not on trying to avert the end of the world but on what happens once the world has ended and society crumbles. A setting where regular social norms fall away in favor of pure survival, which in realistic terms may not sound very appealing, but in fantastical terms, this kind of scenario is essentially a get-out-of-jail-free card for all your current social financial and professional obligations.

walking dead
Walking dead

No matter how terrifying the threat that brought it about, the idea of being able to abandon all current responsibilities and start again is powerful for people. I think the world created by the appearance of the Titans carries so much intrigue for people. The Titans create a landscape completely devoid of modern societal worries, the perfect fantasy to escape from day-to-day life. So it is the combination of two of the best love monster archetypes inexistence that born the Titan. A kind of perfect predator in the fictional world of series but also a creature that based off past media was nearly mathematically guaranteed to be a hit both in a tome of Japan and in the West.

Human characters:

shingeki-no-kyojin-shingeki-no-kyojin-attack-on-titan-35018472-3840-1080
Attack on Titan human characters

The other major aspects of the show’s appeal are the very particular way it treats its human characters.  If you want to be a toughest boy in Attack on Titan world, you can do that. And if you want to be a toughest girl, well you can do that too. There is an un-gender equality to hell the series treats its characters. You can see this especially in the uniforms of humanity’s Defense Force. Everyone regardless of gender wears the same basic stylish outfits. And the reason this matter is because it gives the fantasy of being one of these soldiers the broadest possible appeal. While also making the uniform itself one of the most infinitely cost playable in existence.

Attack on Titan Cosplay:

Attack on Titan cosplay
Attack on Titan cosplay

For years after the release of the first season, it was impossible to go to a Con and not see literally dozens of different takes on it. Whether you want to keep it simple on a budget or go all-out you’re probably going to look pretty goddamn good doing so. It tends to suit all body types and ages meaning for at least a couple of years there. This was the most desirable cosplay on the scene. It only further enhanced the series global appeal as seemingly everyone wanted to and could be a member of humanity’s Defense Force.

Combat and action in Attack on Titan:

Then there is the actual combat itself. Each encounter in Attack on Titan is why the show’s very nature a David versus Goliath as conflicts of the most extreme proportions. With the actual aerial combat itself feeling entirely unique to practically any other style of combat in any series. But it’s also devastatingly simple to understand. It has no internal rule set or nothing that needs prior knowledge to appreciate. Which means that while lacking in any real depth or nuance it can be quickly and easily viewed and enjoyed by the broadest possible audience.

Death in Attack on Titan:

Death in Attack on Titan
Death in Attack on Titan

The final part of the appeal of attack on Titans human characters is that they die a loss quite frequently and quite brutally. To understand the true mainstream appeal of this look at any big talked about moments from any huge TV show not aimed at a young audience. Death is most likely going to play a significant role in it. We as an audience just seem to get some deep catharsis from watching fictional characters die.  This is yet another reason why such a large number of people are so engaged with this series.

Attack on Titan series director Tetsuro Araki:

AOT Director Tetsuro Araki
AOT Director Tetsuro Araki

Most of what we talked about up until this point our aspects shared by both the manga and the anime.  But where the series popularity really exploded was in 2013 with the airing of the anime. A key part of this was the series director Tetsuro Araki. He was a damn near perfect choice to convey this kind of story.  What I mean by that is Attack on Titan is a series of moments it is not really something you watch to see characters slowly develop or to bathe in the subtle atmosphere or to watch a narrative steadily progress. Rather it is a show of big flashy emotional outburst dramatic, often-ludicrous plot twists, and intense explosions of action.

Why Araki is best suited for Attack on Titan?

The reason that Araki, not that one is so well suited to this kind of story is that these moments are just the kind of intense instances he’s exceptional at conveying. He knows just how to move a camera in a 3d space to maximize the energy and drama of a single second. Whether it is something as small as like taking the potato chip in Death Note or as massive as the colossal Titan swinging his arm and destroying the armaments of war Maria. There are a velocity and an impact to hell he directs the scene greatly adding to the visual appeal of the show.

Spectacular Soundtracks of Attack on Titan:

Attack on titan ost
Attack on titan ost

Also arguably, one of the best soundtracks of recent times complements these moments. Which will be in great music also as a way of swelling and exploding that beautifully complements those moments of intense visual drama.

It has three of the most fiscally intense OP in existence. Each one in its own way doing an oddly effective job of instilling patriotism for a country that does not exist. What all this accounts for is that essentially the production of attack on Titan fix the series biggest issue: its artwork. These stilted stiff sketches of the manga are reborn as lavishly animated sequences thus removing the final barrier between Attack on Titan and true mainstream success.

With these restraints have gone this series was free to rampage across TV screens around the world which took the series sales from the tens of thousands well into the millions. It cemented Attack on Titan as a full-blown global phenomenon.

Story of Attack on Titan:

attack-titan-wings-freedom
Attack Titan wings freedom

Of course, the handling of the animes adaptation aside none of this is to speak to the actual quality of attack on Titan story. A lot of criticism has leveled this series and in many cases, I think rightfully so. Well, I personally really enjoy several characters. It is hard to shake the feeling that what you are watching is a melodrama. With many of the characters operating off a single core motivator. Often being subject to irrational and sometimes even nonsensical emotional outbursts or actions. The patient can feel staggered in a way that makes sections of the show a real slog. While those intense moments we mentioned earlier are the driving force behind the show’s narrative.

The space is connecting those moments are far less enjoyable. As without any real character development to pick up the slack they somewhat just act as empty hallways to the next major action scene or plot reveal. The overall narrative itself gets pretty out there later on and does lose a lot of the thematic purity of the first few episodes.

Conclusion

I think ultimately how much you’re going to enjoy attack on Titan is going to depend on your willingness to forego conventionally well-written characters and a coherent well-paced narrative in favor of a fantastical post-apocalypse world of spectacle mystery and bombast. As sometimes people just want to inhabit a fantasy world where their own day to day problems feel a million miles away. Through the multitude of different factors that we talked about today, this is the world attack untighten provides. I do not think there is anything wrong with that. It is why I like it.

and why I think at least attack on Titan is popular.

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If you like our analysis on Attack on Titan, you may find helpful:

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Hunter x Hunter (20011) Anime series Review

 

 

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