Happy first Guest Review Wednesday of 2018! Thanks to Okazu Patrons, this is also the first paid Guest Review ever here, hopefully, the first of many. I cannot think of a better person to be our very first paid reviewer here than our longtime supporter and friend Eric P.! Please give him your attention and a few kind words and away we go!
You know a series is a huge popular hit when the manga remains bestselling to this day, when it inspires a big-budget (underrated) live-action movie adaptation, and when a devoted fanbase (im)patiently waits for the next anime season to adapt the next arc to the screen no matter how long the gap between. Another sign is when manga authors/artists get together and create a special anthology of original stories paying tribute to the series. But how often is it when western authors/artists do the same thing for the same purpose, and still under the original creator’s supervision? It does not get clearer than that in how successful Attack on Titan has been in achieving a cross-cultural impact.
The Attack on Titan Anthology is a collection of 12 personal takes by supposedly high-profile comics creators. I say “supposedly” because I confess I do not normally follow western comics and am unfamiliar with all the listed names, so I could really only judge this book by the content within once I open the cover. The results found are indeed diverse as well as widespread.
Some titles are more lavishly illustrated than others, and some are more intriguing and poignant than others. All the dramatic stories are meant to take place in the manga’s universe. They may not be taken as “canon” per se, but their placement within the original continuity not only still feel like they make sense, but they also help expand on Hajime Isayama’s mythos. The first one, Under the Surface, provides a window to a world far more familiar to us right before the Titans begin their invasion. Another called Live and Let Die is about a Survey Corps member separated from her party outside the walls, before finding a group of other stranded Survey Corps members that chose to never return. Even though there is danger to be had dealing with the Titans, they ironically find more freedom outside the walls than they do within. One other standout is The Glorious Walled Cities, not a story but a field guide styled as blatant propaganda depicting the world within the walls as a paradise. The last entry, however, is disorganized and cuts off abruptly when the writer apparently ventured into confidential territory.
But the story relevant to Okazu would be Skies Above,written by Rhianna Pratchett and Ben Applegate, illustrated by Jorge Corona, colored by Jennifer Hickman, and lettered by Steve Wands. In a time before Eren, there was a female engineer named Lyla who also dreamed of breaching the world beyond the walls. This was when Erwin Smith was student-aged, long before the Survey Corps existed and when the Military Police was Law itself, and scientific bureaucracy prevented any and all technological innovation. Rene, a teacher acquainted with Erwin Smith’s father (both worked at the same school), on the other hand is content with the world they live in since they have everything they need. But Lyla recognizes everything as nothing but a cage to break free from, thus in secret she puts together a flying contraption to serve that purpose, seated for two. Rene, her confidante and lover, in the end resigns to Lyla’s wish as they make the attempt, and escape the Military Police’s clutches. Just from reading this, one could already assume this story about two people ahead of their time in an oppressive world does not have a happy ending. But depending on how one looks at it, especially with how beautifully drawn the final page is, one could still get a strange sense of alleviation that counters the usual Attack on Titan themes of cruelty and injustice.
But not all in this anthology is drama, it also balances itself out with parodies poking fun at the source material, some being far more amusing than others. In the original story, you know how the characters have a habit of consistently screaming out their dialogue? That gets spoofed here, and there was one other clever bit about how the title, Attack on Titan, actually does not make much sense when you think about it.
When this book came out last year, Kodansha had raised hype and excitement over it, yet in the end it seemed to garner a mixed reaction from its fanbase. Having read it just recently, I am surprised that it was not better received. Like with most anthologies, there are both hits and misses to be found, but it can really vary depending on the reader’s personal taste or expectation. Ask this reviewer, and there are a few stories I cared less than others, with maybe a couple I did not get at all, but there is too much more to like and appreciate. If you are an Attack on Titan fan, and are open to western interpretations—especially by artists that clearly did this out of passionate love for the original—you are bound to find at least a handful of titles to your liking, and even that still makes it worth the purchase for one’s collection.
Overall-a rounded-out 8 (Solid without being completely perfect, once again due to personal tastes)
Erica here again: Thank you Eric for this look at something I would never have thought to take a look at. Which is exactly why I love Guest Reviews. Gail Simone, Faith Erin Hicks, Tomer Hanuka and Attack on Titan creator Hajime Isayama all have stories in this collection. Now I’ll keep an eye out for this. Thanks!