The award-winning manga-anime series thrived despite accusations of anti-Semetic and pro-Nationalist elements in the characters and plot.
Attack on Titan has become one of the best-selling manga of all time with over 100 million copies sold, and the anime has stayed in MyAnimeList’s top ten animes for nearly the entire time it’s been streaming.
The success of Attack on Titan has led to a big impact on the manga industry itself, and has caused other manga authors to hop on the bandwagon as well. According to CBR, many mangas have been heavily inspired by Attack on Titan, including Black Bullet, God Eater, and even The Promised Neverland, which is an extremely popular and successful series.
But the series wasn’t always well-received.
The original manga was considered by industry powerhouse ‘Shōnen Jump’ magazine — known for publishing extremely popular shōnen manga such as My Hero Academia, Jujutsu Kaisen, and Naruto — but the company ended up rejecting the series because the dark and violent themes wouldn’t be suited for the young readers of the magazine.
In fact, there are many controversies surrounding multiple aspects of the story. When the first volume of the epic-dystopian manga series was released in 2010, many fans were startled and alarmed by the first volume, in which we see a 10-year-old boy’s father disappearing, his hometown being destroyed, and his mother being violently eaten alive by titans– a species of humanoid beasts known best for their large size and for their enjoyment of eating humans. The anime was quickly labeled by fans as angsty and offensive — Labels it has yet to rid itself of.
Many viewers of the series were taken aback by how similar certain circumstances were to the Jewish holocaust. A race of humans called Eldians were kept apart in secluded neighborhoods, given armbands to identify them, and routinely brutalized by the police. The parallels to the experience of Jewish people in Germany is not itself a problem, but the story goes on to depict the Eldians as responding to this injustice by attempting to take over the world for revenge. That aspect was interpreted by some viewers as contributing to the harmful stereotype that Jewish people are trying to take control of the world. Because of that, many viewers saw it as supporting anti-Jewish stereotypes, and many people spoke up about it online.
Furthermore, the author Hajime Isayama stated that a recurring character Dot Pixis, war hero and mentor to the series protagonist Eren, was inspired by a real-life Japanese general, Akiyama Yoshifuru, who he called an admirable figure. General Yoshifuru served in the Imperial Japanese army from 1877-1923 and was known to have very anti-Korean and Chinese views.
The author based many traits off the general, including his physical appearance and imperialist views. After the inspiration for the character was revealed, the author received heavy backlash online including multiple death threats.
After this reveal, many fans dug further.
There are many forums online discussing the intricacies of the series and analyzing the subtle hints of the pro-imperialism seen in many characters and scenes, the online debates could go on forever, but most online anime analyzers could agree that the darker aspects are there if you look hard enough.
One Reddit user wrote, “The story is a metaphor to Japan militarizing, ending with that nation bringing peace by using its military might to commit mass genocide.”
It is no secret that violent anime and manga existed before Attack on Titan, but there is also lots of evidence in recently released series that it has made dark and gory themes more mainstream. Despite all the ups and downs, the final episode of the series has been released and was given 4.5 stars on anime news network, sealing the title of ‘successful’ despite its controversies.
Cover Image: Kodansha