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“Attack on Titan”: the manga winning containment

Cover of volume 2 “Attack on Titan” by Hajime Isayama. SHINGEKI NO KYOJIN / HAJIME ISAYAMA / KODANSHA LTD.

ATu the beginning of April, as the French entered the third week they were held at home, the Netflix platform again released the first two seasons of a successful Japanese animated series, The attack of the Titans. For a few days, it was among the most consulted content by French-speaking subscribers to the platform. A phenomenon rare enough, as far as animation programs are concerned, to be noted.

Same story with Wakanim, a VOD platform specializing in Japanese animation, which also broadcasts season 3 (unlike Netflix): the series, whose episodes date from 2013 to 2018, is part of the programs of its most-visited catalog, in an already exceptional period in terms of increased subscriptions and consultation rates, due to confinement.

In this bloody saga in three seasons (the fourth was announced for fall 2020) Adapted from the first multiplayer manga by Hajime Isayama, the decimated humanity entrenched behind walls is in the grip of attacks by anthropophagous colossi who appeared more than a century earlier. We follow the fate of one of the humans, Eren Jäger, who, five years after his mother was devoured and his father disappeared, enlisted in the army with the intention of taking revenge.

Flanked by his adoptive sister, Mikasa, with exceptional physical abilities, and his childhood friend, Armin, an outstanding strategist – both without family -, Eren will join the exploration battalion after his classes. This military body is the least prestigious and the most dangerous, since it is the only one to venture outside the walls in an attempt to regain territory and learn more about the Titans, the most numerous of which seem to be specimens without intelligence but strong, striking at random, and having the sole purpose of eating human flesh.

A story of human survival

Of course, during the two months of confinement, Internet users viewed other animes, and in larger quantities than usual. And the success of The attack of the Titans is not new: the manga, first published in the monthly magazine Bessatsu Shonen Magazine, has sold over 100 million copies worldwide, including 84 million in Japan and 3 million here since its launch in 2009. Still in publication after around thirty volumes, the series is undoubtedly a bestsellers and one of the most promising series of the 2010s.

Read also Postponements, cancellations … The Japanese manga and animation industry turned upside down by the pandemic

But it would appear that, thanks to confinement, The attack of the Titans has conquered a wider audience, especially among laypersons of the manga in France. The series had also already benefited from an exhibition for the general public in 2014, when France 4 acquired the broadcasting rights, intended for adults because of its violence. The bookstores having been closed, it is difficult to say if this craze resulted in the purchase of manga, but Pika, the French publisher of the work, noted an increase of 40% in March in digital sales on the entire catalog. As for Internet searches, a peak appears in Google Trends, the free access tool of the search engine, used by 90% of French people.

We can see a peak in Google searches in mid-April, corresponding in particular to the launch of the series on Netflix.
We can see a peak of searches on Google in mid-April, corresponding in particular to the launch of the series on Netflix. Google Trends screenshot

The performance is amazing, but can be explained. Beginning with the main plot, which seems to resonate with the confused times lived by a large part of the world population: entrenched humans prey to a threat which strikes blindly and against which it is difficult to fight. The series also concentrates on a few themes or springs which have been successful in other international productions. As Game Of Thrones or The Walking Dead, she was able to please beyond the fans of her register.

In The attack of the Titans, in the same way, humanity is fighting for its survival, and the deaths are numerous, brutal, which affect some of the main actors. Ordinary human beings – teenagers, moreover – are faced with the horrors of war, injustice and moral dilemmas.

Visceral and cerebral reactions in spectators

Under its patriotic exterior, the series also engages its reader or its spectator by an interesting political and historical intrigue: in addition to the constant threat of Titans, who can dig a breach in the protective walls, the protagonists gradually realize that certain Titans are endowed with intelligence, and that their existence has to do with the hand of man. There will therefore be added political and military rivalries and characters experienced in scheming.

Behind the quest for the origin of the Titans, and therefore for the explanation of the fate of humanity, looms a questioning on the political and moral order of the city, on social justice between the well born (protected by three walls) and the plebeians from the outside, more exposed to threats. From there the young committed will have to choose to whom they pledge allegiance: humanity or central power? The non-Manichean question of the sacrifice of a youth in the face of a crisis, of ethnic mixing, but also of humanity which contributes to its own loss can go beyond this fantastic fiction which takes place in a medieval Western setting. Visceral fear is followed by a cerebral reaction in the spectator.

Extract from one of Hajime Isayama’s “Attack on Titan” plates.
Extract from one of Hajime Isayama’s “Attack on Titan” plates. SHINGEKI NO KYOJIN © Hajime ISAYAMA / Kodansha Ltd.

The mangaka Hajime Isayama, 33, leaves indeed, through his rich plates, spread over more than one hundred and twenty chapters, many possibilities of interpretation for the reader. The writer and designer, who is inspired by the wild and natural decorations of his native region of Oita (south of the archipelago), recounts having sketched his story in 2006, while working in an internet café where he was assaulted by a drunk, inconsistent person. Hajime Isayama becoming aware of the saying popularized by Thomas Hobbes: ” Man is a wolf to man. “

The drawing, sometimes a little rough, and the sometimes verbose explanations on military techniques, especially in the first volumes, are softened in the ambitious animated adaptation of the Tokyo studio Wit. This has the merit of also giving cachet to combat and to the three-dimensional maneuvering technique – the usual movement and combat system of armed troops, based on extremely solid harnesses and cables -, thus offering a kind of martial ballet. air.

Add to that some heady epic music and we begin to touch upon the recipe for this universal success. For those who have already devoured the three seasons on television (corresponding to the first twenty-two volumes of the manga), the reopening of bookstores may allow them to ease their impatience. In France, volumes 30 and 31 are expected on May 27 and August 19 at Pika.

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