Friday, July 13, 2012

Attack on Titan vol. 1

Like many, I first heard of 'Attack on Titan' by Hajime Isayama, well before it got licensed in English by Kodansha USA. Noticing it's impressive sales on the Japanese comic rankings and a Manga Taisho Award nomination, it was impossible for me as a manga fan to not be at least a little curious. So I went out and picked myself up a copy. I can't yet tell if this is going to be as big a hit in America as it is in Japan, but I know after reading volume one, I want to see where this new series is going.

The entire human race has lived in peace for a hundred years, hiding behind a series of towering walls. These walls serve to keep the enemy at bay. The enemy being a never ending swarm of titans, hell bent on devouring all of humanity. Then, out of the blue, a colossal titan appeared, smashing a hole in the wall for the lesser titans to get through before mysteriously vanishing. It was this fateful day that spurred Eren Yeager to become an elite, titan killing soldier to take back human territory and accomplish his dreams of a life beyond the wall.

The first thing I noticed about this book was the art. It emits a dark mood that quite fits with the story. Characters' faces display very appropriate fear well. Though it does seem like it needs a little refining. Human character designs don't particularly stand out, which isn't great for remembering who is who. On the other hand, the titan character designs are pretty cool and very scary looking. When they are devouring humans, they remind me of a medieval painting symbolizing gluttony or something like that. The colossal titan looks especially menacing. He looks like a giant, skinless Bigfoot with too many undersized teeth that bellows a cloud of dark smoke. It's quite the sight and because of these well done designs, the terror the characters show is believable and justified.

Aside from the two mains, Eren and Mikasa, the characters aren't particularly memorable. And even they haven't reached the level of "likeable" for me yet, which is a must have for me. I mean, Mikasa is kind of cool and bad-ass, but she is very cold and stoic. Eren kind of feels like the author wasn't quite sure if he wanted to make him a typical, shonen hero or not. He has determination and dreams of going outside the wall and is a little hot-headed, but his personality still came across as kind of plain and he didn't make an impact in that regard. I need to care about the characters I will be following throughout a story. Usually that gets taken care of within the first volume for me, not so with 'Attack on Titan'. I'm willing to give it a few volume though.

If the characters didn't come on strong, the story build up did. I'd call this a strong set-up volume that gave good detail into how this society works and what's going on. Since this story seemingly takes place in a brand new, fictional world not based in our reality, I'd say there was pretty good world building for one volume's worth of content. Also, a cool and unique combat system called "Three Dimensional Maneuvers" is detailed. Humans wear these harnesses and fly around with grappling hooks trying to take slices out of titans with these swords that resemble giant razorblades. There is also a slight sense of mystery that definitely got it's hooks in me. What is the origin of the titans, I wonder? And a brief flash back into Eren's past puts great suspicion on his missing father. Not to mention, we have only got a taste of what life is like inside the wall. There's a whole world out there to see. I'll be looking forward to more of these aspects in future volumes.

I have one, tiny gripe about the production quality. I am almost obsessively careful about not bending the spines of my manga books, but even with how careful I am, the spine bent very easily. I didn't even open the book all the way. It's like the cover is too thin and they didn't use enough glue in the binding. It doesn't help that there is no margin where nothing is printed. To see the art in it's entirety, you almost have to bend the spine, and I'd imagine most people aren't like me, and will do so. Needless to say, I'm going to be very careful with my copy as to not have it fall apart on me. However, it is reassuring that my 'Animal Land' books, which are also printed by Kodansha USA, do not have this durability problem. So hopefully this was just a bad batch and future volumes will be better.

I'm convinced to keep following this dark, new shonen and pick up volume two when it comes out. Are you? Not even decided on volume one yet? Well then, maybe this exclusive preview over at MTV Geek will help you out.

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