Category Archives: Manga

Should You Bother with Attack on Titan?

With Season 2 delayed, the big question for Attack on Titan fans is, Should I just go ahead and read the manga?

The answer is, maybe?

I love Attack on Titan, and when I heard the new season was going to be delayed, I was… relieved. The idea of the creators rushing the story to keep ahead of the anime was a fear of mine. Fortunately, that is not the case. Unfortunately, we are going to have to wait a bit longer for season 2.

Knowing that I could only dodge spoilers for so long, i decided to take the plunge and start reading the manga.

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The last Asian on Earth is also the deadliest. 

 

The Bad Part

The manga series’ Achilles heel is the artwork. I have to say, Attack on Titan felt more like the product of an up-and-coming doujinshi circle than a professional manga team; the art style for the first volumes can best be described as “empty” and “scratchy”.

By “scratchy”, I mean the artwork looks, well, scratchy. The lines are of a rigidly consistent weight and direction, like they were drawn with a crow quill pen instead of a brush. This sounds like an odd thing to harp on, but being able to vary line quality is one of those things that separates a professional cartoonist or illustrator from a gifted amateur, which is why artists tend to favor brushes over pens, and digital art studios come with a suite of tools for manipulating lines.

By “empty”, I mean there is a noticeable lack of detail in the backgrounds and a surprising amount of underutilized whitespace on the page. The believable, 19th-century style urban centers of the first half of the anime are depicted in the manga as if they were an exercise in perspective drawing – flat, uniformly box-like buildings laid out in perfectly straight lines with empty spaces for streets. Windows, trees, cannons, bricks, any kind of repeated physical object,  all look like they were stamped from the same exact mold. There’s a general absence of texture or detail, which is odd, considering that computer-aided illustration makes adding screen-tones a cinch.

On the Other Hand…

The art style actually works very well for the action scenes – the feeling of speed and movement is conveyed very well for a  static  medium, as is the David vs. Goliath dimensions of the people and the titans.  All of the visual cues that lend the anime its heightened sense of drama are present in the manga: the immensity of the giants, the velocity of flight, and the physical vulnerability of the characters. A major achievement, especially considering that manga can’t actually move.

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“Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” – Neil Gaiman / G.K. Chesterton

The bodies are detailed and well-rendered, proportional, and draped with clothing that realistically shifts and bunches depending on the character’s’ stance and movement. The figures, both human-sized and giant, seamlessly grow and shrink in relation to each other, their surroundings, and the viewing pane. This is no small feat, given that the characters are constantly fighting and flying about, with the view shifting up, down, and all around. Whats more, the characters’ mode of flight is not at all  supernatural,  and must therefore demonstrate at least a passing acquaintance with the laws of physics to maintain the suspension of disbelief.

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Hey, look, the gang’s all here!  

The plot moves at an accelerated rate in comparison to the anime. The fall of Shiganshina, the main characters induction into the armed forces, the second attack of the Colossal Titan, and Eren’s unsuccessful fight with the abnormal titan are all covered in the first volume.  Much of the dialog and the backstory that establishes the dynamic between the characters simply doesn’t happen in the first three volumes of the manga. Even the vocabulary seems truncated somehow; there isn’t hardly a word longer than two syllables in the entire first volume.

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Wait, why is this happening on page 27!? 

The Shocking Truth They Don’t Want You to Know About

In truth, Attack on Titan the manga really starts out as a very typical shonen story – boy wants to explore the world, boy tragically but also conveniently loses parents, boy then vows to try his best and become stronger to fight for a better world. It’s a very linear story with characterization kept to a minimum, simple dialog, and almost continuous action.

Somewhere along Volume II, though, things suddenly shift gears into a much more rounded story. I can only speculate that either the mangaka (or his editors) were determined to grab  and keep the young audience’s attention at all costs, or else the manga caught on with a  wider demographic than originally anticipated, and the creators decided to align elements of the story with a somewhat older fanbase. Probably a little of both, although the author no doubt would say that this was his intention all along.

Content Exclusive to the Manga

The manga does place a lot of emphasis on world building. Much of this is carried over into the anime, for example, the accurate and consistent early 19th century technology. But in the manga more detailed information is given early on concerning weaponry and equipment, the resources and extent of the human domain, and the political structure of their society. Content relating to the central characters and plot that was not included in the anime also begins to appear starting in Volume IV.

Get to the Point Already

So is it worth reading if you’re a fan of the anime? Well, the manga so far has hit all the high notes of the show, but the early volumes definitely lack the anime’s dramatic oomph. The manga works as a supplement to the story, but honestly I don’t think I would have continued to read it if it were not for the anime.

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Blue Exorcist Volume I Review

Has this ever happened to you? You pick up a manga or an anime, not expecting much more than to be amused for an hour, only to find yourself completely engrossed?
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Character designs, such as for Mr. Mephisto Pheles up there, are particularly striking. Their personalities have a vibrancy to match.

Blue Exorcist is by the numbers shonen , but it does it so impeccably well, you won’t hardly notice – or care, for that matter.

A particular high note for the first volume are the character designs and overall setting. The aesthetic of the work is a mixture of 90s Goth and 19th century buildings, mid twentieth century transportation, and 21st century digital technology. This mixture gives the work a feel that is both ahistorical and yet also contemporary, which is disorienting enough to make the fantasy elements of the story seem all the more plausible.

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A mixture of time periods adds to the other-worldly-but-familiar aspect of the manga.

The series opens at the tail end of fight. The assailants, we later learn, are local teens who were killing pigeons for fun. The protagonist, who looks a little worse for wear, laments his inability to stay out of trouble.

We soon find out that the boy, named Rin, is living in a monastery, and that his  guardian is the head priest – a priest whose wardrobe has been selected by Siouxsie Sioux, or maybe Nana Osaki. Father Fujimoto, the aforementioned punk rock priest, is also an exorcist, meaning he casts out demons, although Rin claims that all he does is listen to people’s problems and offer corny advice. Father Fujimoto remarks that demons are real, and that they exist in people’s hearts, which Rin takes as being just more pablum. Little does he know…

In this first volume, Blue Exorcist lays out its central themes as being responsibility, accountability and family. As we soon find out, Rin is an illegitimate child, and not just any illegitimate child, he is  literally the bastard child of Satan himself. The Prince of Lies says that he created Rin on a whim, and now that Rin is apparently of use to him, Satan comes to claim him as his own. Not that Satan cares at all for the well-being of his son; Rin is simply a necessary conduit or vessel for the Prince of Darkness to enter into and then conquer the human realm. Father Fujimoto  dies trying to protect Rin, the boy he chose to raise as a son.

Evil is thus presented as capricious, irresponsible, and opportunistic; good is responsible, steadfast, and – most importantly – elective. Rin’s “real” father is no father at all; Rin’s adoptive guardian chooses to be his father instead, and by that choice creates something, a real relationship.

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They pulled out all the stops for Volume I. I mean, look at that thing! 

One more character ought to be introduced here is Rin’s twin brother, Yukio. Studious and unassuming, Rin’s assumed relationship to him is like that of a protector, even though Yukio is often the one picking up the pieces after Rin’s occasional angry outbursts.

A major aspect of the first volume is how often our perspective shifts with that of the protagonist. A relationship or circumstance is quickly established, only to just as quickly be turned on its head. The effect is jolting, in a good way. And like a cat, Rin always manages to land on his toes.

Finally, I ought to clarify that Blue Exorcist is shonen through and through. What I mean is we get all the elements of the shonen genre – plucky, can do protagonist who isn’t too book smart but can pick things up, the scholastically inclined, dogmatic partner who is actually more resilient than we think, the ambiguous adult mentor with his own agenda, lessons on taking people or things for granted, on the importance of education as a means to an end, the need to be accountable, but not morosely so, etc.

What I’m saying here is that Blue Exorcist is more Star Wars than Black Butler; terrible things happen, but then we’re already on to the next adventure. The true joy in the narrative is both the extremely engaging characters as well as the manga’s ability to get you to see things through the eyes of Rin, a fifteen year old. Even as adult.readers, our inner adolescent is right there along with him, with the slowly dawning realization that the world is a bigger and more nuanced place than we originally assumed.