The Allure of the Ink

anthony derosaWinter break gave me a lot of time to do all sorts of productive things. Thankfully, I chose none of those and instead decided to sleep, watch “Bones” on TNT, eat salty foods, and generally run up my parents’ electric and heating bill. One slightly constructive activity I spent my time on was reading …comic books. From Japan. I also don’t have shame glands, so there’s that.

So yes, the majority of my time wrapped in about twenty different blankets, unwashed and unshaven, avoiding the sun and trying to solve murders before Brennan and Booth reached the 58 minute mark, were actually spent amidst the black-and-white pages of volumes 1-12 of “Attack on Titan,” in the high-definition glory of my phone’s 4.7-inch super LCD 2 display.

“Attack on Titan,” or as it’s known in its language of origin, “Shingeki no Kyojin,” is the comic written and illustrated by Hajime Isayama that has inspired the Japanese serial animation of the same name whose popularity has spread quickly overseas. If you have a friend on Tumblr who likes anime, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a GIF or two from the show.

One hundred years prior to the beginning of the story, giant, grotesque and near-indestructible humanoid creatures called Titans suddenly appeared as natural predators to humans. As a result, humanity teeters on the brink of extinction and has hidden itself within the safety of three 50-meter concentric stone walls of a medieval-esque monarchy ruled city-state. When a sixty meter “Colossal Titan” mysteriously appears and breaches the outermost wall, smaller Titans flood the outer territory and humanity is forced to fight or die against its greatest threat.

“Attack on Titan” is a dark, dystopian work of fantasy that is a welcome breath of fresh air to a genre that has recently begun to feel stagnant. The author quickly establishes that nothing is sacred, everyone can and probably will die, and every familiar cliché used to inspire hope and symbolize a shift in conflict momentum is a deceptive plot device used to rip your heart out straight from your chest. Suffice to say, I didn’t have enough resolve stored in the Feels Bank to cover such a hefty emotional investment.

The writing effectively has the reader empathizing with the main characters’ confusion, fear and frustration primarily due to their shared ignorance of what exactly has caused the Titans to appear. Works of fiction where humans are knocked from the top of the food chain by a foreign entity is not a new idea by any means, but not since “The Walking Dead” comics have I seen such a thoughtful portrayal of the emotional impact it plays on the characters, though the two series are extremely different for each other in most other regards.

Thematically, “Attack on Titan” is at once a revenge story, a commentary on the persistent nature of humans, and consequences of sacrifice. It might just be the journalist in me talking, but in the characters’ motivations I saw that fanatical drive for the truth that puts a desperate look in your eyes and has you fight and bleed until your body is dry I’m all too familiar with. The fear that you’ll die before you get answers and questioning your conviction to faces the horrors before you to get them.

Maybe I’m being melodramatic, but underneath the series’ surface, the message I get is one we’re all familiar with – reaching out to the truth.