This Week on Jade’s Escape: How Attack on Titan Isn’t Actually About Titans

 

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Topic: How Attack on Titan Isn’t Actually About Titans

Manga: Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama

When anime fans look at Japan, they look at the anime and manga and the weirdness that seems to pour out of its red sun. They are part of Japan, but just as The Simpsons, American football, and twerking don’t represent the Western world, strange otaku culture doesn’t encompass all of Japanese society. The only way to truly understand Japanese culture is to live in Japan—and from there, things like Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan become commentaries on today’s world.

Most fans would say that Attack on Titan, a horror manga where Titans eat humans, is a story about survival, the key component to all horror manga. If survival was removed, the walls that protect human civilization from Titans would be the barrier dividing traditional Japan from foreign cultures.

Since the end of sakoku, or national isolation (literally “chained country”), and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Japan has been chasing the rest of the world in technological advances and cultural inclusion. However advanced Japanese society seems to foreigners with its cars and ASIMO robots, Japan hasn’t broken away from its traditions. Miso soup and zen gardens are still part of Japanese homes and schools, and tattoos continue to be scary marks of the Japanese mafia. One of the most-iterated proverbs in Japan, “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down”, is ingrained in Japan’s soul—so much so creators have made a living from selling uniqueness.

Just as the first wall in Attack on Titan is easily compromised by a single Titan in the first volume, foreigners and visitors will see through Japan’s image after living in Japan for a few months. Though Japan has English education, revised immigration laws, and communication with foreigners, those things just say, “We’re not totally oblivious to the rest of the world.” The reality is Japan is uncomfortable with diversity: Japanese students can’t use the impractical English they’ve memorized; biracial Japanese people can’t hold dual citizenship after the age of 22; and Japanese people are not likely to meet foreigners in their entire lifetimes.

The other two walls in Attack on Titan aren’t easily fallible. After living in Japan for a few years, foreigners see Japan’s true colors, and they’re redder than people think. In Japan, being different or individualistic isn’t a good thing. People who are selfish, have outgoing personalities, or don’t look like other Japanese people are “less Japanese”. Students are punished more for long hair, shaven eyebrows, or ear piercings than their classroom behavior and grades. Handicap or disabled citizens have “bad blood”. Students who have mental or learning disabilities are placed in regular classes because everyone must have an “equal” opportunity to education. Speaking English is also viewed as a big difference, and many times, foreign language teachers of Japan won’t speak English with others because they’ll be labeled “strange”. These kinds of images aren’t seen by foreigners even when they’re placed in a Japanese workplace. It takes time and English-speaking friends to find the real Japan underneath its otaku underbelly.

But the walls aren’t the only thing that links Attack on Titan to the undazzling sides of Japan. When readers look at the three main characters, Eren, Armin, and Mikasa, they’ll find that they represent the different eras in Japan. Mikasa, the unaffected muscle of the three, doesn’t just represent Japanese women who still endure harsh sexism even till now—she’s the old Japan. In the past, it was good etiquette to never show emotions, as depicted in historical hand scroll paintings such as Ban Dainagon Ekotoba (12th Century) by Tokiwa Mitsunaga. Mikasa’s perseverance is a characteristic of the bushido code which has changed its samurai heritage into lengthy work and cram school hours.

Mikasa is accompanied by physically weak yet genius Armin who looks outside of the walls, and in essence, outside of Japan to improve their chances of survival. Unlike Mikasa, Armin shows his emotions, but he doesn’t go as far as Eren in expressing his thoughts. Armin represents Japan’s post-World War II attitude towards rebuilding the nation, as seen with Japan’s quick advances in technology. Japan’s advances in the public domain, such as artificial intelligence in cars via robots and Shinya Yamanaka’s stem cell research, owe their successes to outside influences (German A.I. specialists and British researchers).

The last and most pivotal character, Eren, is the opposite of Mikasa. He has a bold personality with a grandiose idea of destroying Titans. He represents the new Japanese person, one who is trying to break out of the sameness that Japan wants all its constituents to mimic. Because of his differences, Eren is punished the most in Attack on Titan. Though both him and Mikasa have lost their families, Eren watched a Titan eat his mother. During his military training, Eren faced multiple setbacks from his friends, peers, superiors, and later, his own government. But Eren drives the story and the reader because he exists—the outgoing, selfish, passionate, inquisitive, diverse Japanese person is alive at this very moment. Japanese people are questioning the government and using any means to get attention on important issues in Eren-like fashion. A salaryman in Tokyo lit himself on fire to protest the Japanese Constitution changes in June this year. Okinawan people marched against the Ospreys and the American military’s acquisition of Henoko. And most citizens are vocalizing their disapproval of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, especially with Abenomics’s unsuccessful inflation plan to improve the economy. Of course, these kinds of Japanese persons are very proud of their nation. They also juggle their questions with their patriotism as does Eren throughout the entire manga series.

While most readers look at Attack on Titan as a simple horror manga or another odd manga from an artist’s mind, people who live in Japan will uncover the hidden side of Japan buried within its metaphoric walls and diverse characters.

Japanese Candy and Snacks Haul


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I’m doing an international candy swap, so I bought a ton of candy and snacks that’re very “Japanese”.

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Because Attack on Titan is so popular in Japan and abroad, I couldn’t pass up these chewy candies with chibi Attack on Titan characters.CIMG2857

Similar to Attack on Titan, One Piece has a strong fan following. It’s no surprise to see Trafalgar Law representing this pack of chews.
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This box of Kidorikko cookies were too cute to pass up! Plus, in Japan, cute characters are on all products targeted for kids. Think of this as animal crackers for Japanese children.

Japan: Land of Interesting Chocolates

Every month, there’s always new chocolate appearing on my desk. Gotta love Japan, Land of the Omiyage!

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FEBRUARY – A librarian I talk to every week gave me this cat chocolate as a トモチョコ (tomochoko), or friend’s chocolate, which is becoming more common between women on Valentine’s Day. In Japan, Valentine’s Day is a day where girls give boys chocolate and sweets. No, it’s not a day to subject Japanese women to being, well, subjected. On March 14, boys “return” the chocolate and sweets that was given to them by the girls. As Japanese girls become women, they still do this tradition, but I’ve noticed how every year, the women get more disgruntled with giving ギリチョコ (girichoko), or obligation chocolates. I suppose this friend’s chocolate is a way of saying, “Valentine’s Day isn’t just for guys.”

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MARCH – This one came from my student who went to Tokyo as part of her school trip. Every year, Japanese students (usually second years or eleventh graders) visit different parts of Japan. I understand going to different parts of the country, but its really hard for poor students. They usually pay anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000 to make this week-long trip. My student went to the Skytree, the new tower in Tokyo (not to be confused with Tokyo Tower).

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APRIL – This $5 chocolate is one I bought for myself at Lawson’s (one of many convenience store chains in Japan). It features characters from my favorite recent anime, Attack on Titan (新劇の狂人, Shingeki no Kyoujin).

Favorite Manga in 2013 (Licensed and Unlicensed)

Learning Japanese and living in Japan has its perks: I get to read manga just as they come out. I also get to see what Japanese people think of the manga and which manga make it to the top ten lists. This year, I made it a point to read unlicensed manga in Japanese and licensed manga in English, even ones that weren’t released this year. Here’s my top five manga from this year.

s-Graineriecover5.  Grainerie (グライネリエ)

(Genre: Fantasy, Shounen)

Unlicensed, Published in GFantasy Magazine (Square Enix).

I love all the works by Rihito Takarai, including her boys’ love (BL) series. In my opinion, I think that Takarai-san’s works are great examples for all manga creators should aim to achieve. The stories all have an even pace, tasteful art, great characters, and realistic dialogue. Grainerie is no different. Only granted “graineliers” can produce “seeds” that have different powers. An ordinary boy named Lucas decides to use these mysterious “seeds”, soon becoming an illegal human in the world.

I also practiced my Japanese, and made a little bit of contact with Takarai-san through Twitter (@twittakarai). I wrote to her, “I read Grainerie and Ten Count. They were interesting! Thank you so much! I’ll be getting the next manga. –From a foreign fan (Is my Japanese OK?).「グライネリエ」と「テンカウント」を見た。面白かった!ありがとうございます!次の漫画を待っています(★^O^★) –外国人のファンより(日本語大丈夫ですか?(⌒_⌒;))”. She responded, “Your Japanese is good. Did you enjoy Grainerie and Ten Count? I’m very happy! I’ll do my best so that you can enjoy it. 日本語お上手ですよ~~ 「グランネリエ」と「テンカウント」楽しんで頂けましたか?とっても嬉しいです! 続きも楽しんで頂けるようがんばりますね”. So, not only is Takarai-san a great manga creator, she’s a responsive Twitter user!

s-lastgame4. Last Game (ラストゲーム)

(Genre: Comedy, Shoujo)

Unlicensed, Published in LaLa Magazine.

I love stories where two people grow up together, even if those stories are from 2011. A Japanese teacher at school lent me the first four volumes in Japanese because she said, “It’s as enjoyable as Kimi ni Todoke.” (I borrowed all of the Kimi ni Todoke volumes from her, too.) In Last Game, rich pretty boy Yanagi has made his life mission to beat his childhood rival, Kujou. From elementary school to college, Yanagi follows her, but through the years, he begins to fall in love with her. The only problem lies in brainy and sporty Kujou. Can she let herself fall in love at all?

I let this series become a standard for girl-boy friendships that blossom into love. Kujou, who is really intelligent, doesn’t look at boys because she’s always thinking of getting to the top. She’s not a typical female anime character. Even though lots of manga resort to using rich boys in prestigious schools as romantic interests (Boys over Flowers, Hana Kimi, Ouran High School Host Club), Last Game makes the rich boy chase the poor girl in nonreputable schools. I love when manga breaks the cliche!

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3. Yamada and the Seven Witches (山田くんと7人の魔女)

(Genre: Supernatural, Comedy, Shounen)

Licensed by Crunchyroll/Kodansha USA.

My favorite genre of manga is shounen (Please read My Answers to an Anime Q&A), and Yamada and the Seven Witches definitely embodies it! It’s funny, adventurous, and a little bit corny. When high school slacker, Ryuu Yamada, collides with studious Urara Shiraishi, they learn they can swap bodies by kissing. But they aren’t the only ones with special powers at Suzaku High.

Even though this series is very tamed compared to ONE PIECE and Fairy Tail, it’s still fun to watch Yamada form friendships with a hint of sexy detective work.

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2. Skip Beat (スキップビート)

(Genre: Supernatural, Comedy, Psychological)

Licensed by Viz.

OK, so maybe Skip Beat was originally released in

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Extravagant Challenge‘s Promo Poster

2010, but I decided to read the popular title this year after I re-watched the Taiwanese TV series, Extravagant Challenge (華麗的挑戰) starring my favorite Super Junior member, Siwon ヽ( ★ω★)ノ. Skip Beat centers on rising actress Kyoko Mogami who joins the entertainment industry to get revenge on her childhood friend, Sho Fuwa. With the help of Fuwa’s rival, fellow actor Ren Tsuruga (Siwon!), Kyoko learns about acting and love.

I think that this is another series every aspiring manga creator should read. Some of the methods that Kyoko learns are essentially from method acting. If acting were reduced to a more puristic level, acting comes from a script or screenplay, or written works. Great dialogue isn’t by expression alone. It’s by good writing. Skip Beat made me realize that I have to write in a similar way. Now, I act out the dialogue of each character I write and I put myself into my characters’ shoes. This has improved my writing, even helping me win one writing contest and get selected for an anthology (The Loaner and The Visitor).


Shingeki_no_Kyojin_manga_volume_11. Attack on Titan (進撃の巨人)

(Genre: Supernatural, Horror)

Licensed by Kodansha USA.

I really hate the horror genre, especially series with man-eating monsters. Still, I put my hatred of zombie-like creatures aside and diligently read Attack on Titan. After 100 years of the appearance of giant humanoid Titans, humans live in three concentric walls which protect them from attacks. When the outermost wall is breached by a colossal Titan, the humans are forced behind the other two walls. The story centers on Eren Yaeger, his adopted sister, Mikasa Ackerman, and their childhood friend, Armin Arlert, as they fight the Titans to save humanity.

This series is very different from horror genre series such as Gantz, Claymore, I am a Hero (アイアムアヒーロー), and Uzumaki (うずまき). Though all of these series deal with humanity fighting against monsters, Attack on Titan perfectly captures desperation and hopelessness, which is the reality of today’s world. It also says a lot about Japan and its complicated relationship with foreigners and foreign customs. I can think of few series that do this!