First, an explanation for why there was no day 33 post: I wasn’t feeling well. I was nauseous from the minute I woke up, and by the end of the day I was exhausted and feeling worse, so Darby told me to just go to bed, which I did. So there is no post for day 33 and we’re just going to have to live with that.
Today’s post is about my favorite anime. Now I will be honest, if Shane from 10 years ago saw this post, he would have rolled his eyes. I despised anime growing up for no reason other than people who watched it seemed like such nerds. It was at the end of high school when I was introduced to my first anime, the notorious Sword Art Online, and since being trapped in a death video game was one of my childhood dreams (I was a strange child), I embraced the show and finally decided to embrace my inner nerd entirely.
I told myself, however, that I would not watch other anime. Sword Art Online was the only one I could stomach because it resonated with me – I could not give in and become like other anime fans who watch as many as they can. It was my junior year of college when my friend Trevor started hounding me to watch other anime. He tried to convince me to watch some high level shows like Evangelion (he is still trying to convince me of that), but he finally settled on pushing a lighter, although still very dark, show called Attack on Titan. I knew that some of my siblings watched the show so I figured I would give it a go, although it took Trevor many weeks to finally convince me.
What did I think after the first episode? I hated it. It was terrifying. Let me give you the rundown: Attack on Titan takes place in a seemingly post-apocalyptic society. All humans are gathered within the safety of three giant walls laid out as concentric circles. The inner wall protects the leaders and the rich, the middle wall protects the middle class, and the outer wall protects everyone else. What are they being protected from? The Titans: giant, humanoid creatures who seem to be completely brainless. They walk like zombies with only one goal in mind: eat all the humans.
I told you this show was dark.
In the first episode, we learn the background of our three main characters: Erin, who is the axis of the whole show, and his two best friends, Mikasa and Armin. After briefly learning about their lives, we witness a giant titan appear outside the outer wall in the eyes of everyone. This titan is 50 times bigger than anything other titan the humans have ever seen, and it breaks through the wall to allow the normal titans through. As quickly as it appears, the giant titan vanishes, but chaos follows nonetheless. We watch as Erin’s mom gets trapped under debris and yells at Erin to run as a titan approaches. A soldier grabs Erin and whisks him away as Erin looks back to see his mom eaten by the titan. This sets Erin’s character on a dark journey as he seeks to kill every last titan out of revenge for his mother’s death.
I won’t go into detail about the show in case you haven’t seen it and this introduction has intrigued you to watch it (I can’t imagine that it would), but I want to explain why it has become my favorite anime. Within the first season, we are introduced to a large variety of characters and the plot moves incredibly slow as we learn about each of them. While this frustrated me at first, as the show develops, this slow introduction is vital to the storyline as all the characters play an important role at some point. Unlike many shows, none of the side characters are pointless filler and each one develops as the show continues. That level of writing is something I dearly appreciate.
But my main reason for liking the show is due to the main question that it seeks to answer: Who is my enemy? Within the first season, the enemy is very obvious, it’s the human-devouring monsters that live outside the walls and have terrorized the human race for centuries. The goal of our heroes is to fight back and eventually figure out the secret to the titans so that they can conquer them and no longer live in fear. All of humanity is united in its hope for a world without titans. The answer to the question seems apparent: my enemy is the thing that is different from me and seeks to destroy me.
As the show continues, the answer becomes more complicated than that. The lines between good and evil begin to blur by the end of the first season and the enemy becomes less clear. The more our heroes learn about titans, the more their worldview is shaken. The black and white reality of season one is entirely gray by the end of season three. There are power struggles within the human race, conflicts that titans have nothing to do with, and new villains that appear within the shadows of friendship. Indeed, maybe the answer does not include the thing that is different from me: maybe my enemy is simply the thing that seeks to destroy me.
Yet, as the show reaches its climax in its final arc (one that is still being written), our heroes learn many more truths that destroy he fabric of what they believe in. The world they once knew is completely gone, replaced by a world so new and foreign that they cannot find their place. On top of that, the people they once considered friends have become villains, and those they once considered villains they must now turn to as friends. The only answer that remains is this: My only enemy is me.
Every character we meet first appear either good or evil and we as the audience divide them along those lines. Many characters end up switching places throughout the show, but things change so often that grouping our characters into those categories becomes a pointless task. By looking deeper, we realize that the line between good and evil exists within each and every character – what appears good to one character appears evil to another. As we learn the background of characters, their motives become clearer and we are forced to understand them not as heroes and villains, but as humans.
Because we learn about Erin’s background first, we are necessarily inclined to believe in his cause and see the world as he sees it. But our main character is deeply flawed – he is angry, vengeful, and narrow-minded. With every choice he makes, he toes the line between good and evil and we are left to wonder where he will fall. The choices he makes have a profound affect on the human race, so will his decisions eventually lead to destruction or peace? And if peace, how many must die before that becomes reality? Is Erin the hero, or have we been following the villain this whole time?
Erin is not the only with defects. Mikasa is too loyal, to the point where it clouds her judgement and puts others at risk. In fact, it may be Mikasa who is most to blame for some of the evil that happens since she is too blinded by loyalty to she the wickedness unfolding under her watch. Armin is not confident enough, and his indecision has lead to the deaths of many because he could act quickly to protect them. Other characters include Reiner, whose self-loathing causes him to act in irrational ways to gain the trust of others, Hange, whose idealism blinds her to the dark reality in front of her, and Jean, whose pompous attitude clouds the fact that he is a great leader.
At the time of this writing, the story has not concluded; I do not know how the story ends. But one thing is clear to me: no matter who wins, their victory does not mean that good has triumphed. The story is too complex to simply declare a winner and loser. Both good and evil will be present in every outcome. Such is the harsh reality of war – once we decide that our enemy is “out there,” our actions will inevitably lead to evil. The greatest lesson that Attack on Titan teaches me is that my one and only enemy is me, and the longer it takes me to realize this, the more destruction I will cause.