The year is 2016 I was training at a local gym with a university friend of mine who was wearing a peculiar hoodie to me. Sprawled across the back were printed the words “Attack on Titan” with the characters 進撃の巨人”Shingeki no Kyojin” above it.
“What’s that on the hoodie?” I asked as I continued warming up for the session. “It’s an unbelievable story.” said my friend, who proceeded to tell me the premise of the Hajime Isayama‘s series.
The explanation included towering humanoid flesh craving creatures named “Titans” who ran around pretty much naked with the singular purpose of hunting and devouring people. Because of this, all humanity is stuck behind three massive spanning concentric and concentred walls in an effort to protect itself from these man-eating monstrosities.
“Cool.” I said. Not giving it much thought after that. Didn’t sound like my cup of tea. I sort of tucked it away in a distant filing cabinet in my mind and noted if I ever got into this anime thing to remember the name.
It was only five years later, sitting on a couch in Los Angeles scrubbing through streamers that I would realise just how wrong I was to dismiss my friend’s initial excitement.
Attack on Titan is truly one of the greatest narrative stories available and is told with masterful artistic skill.Cameron Scott
And you can quote me on that.
In a feat that is hardly, if not totally unprecedented in the world of modern entertainment that not a single minute of the 89 episodes of Attack on Titan is wasted. With every line of dialogue, every frame of animation and every moment of grading and scoring considered, crafted and thought through. It is a wonder of modern entertainment. It is something that not even the billion dollar franchise of Game of Thrones was able to achieve as it barrelled towards its final season.
As I gobbled up episode after episode of this epic making up for the years that I neglected it, I was grateful that I wouldn’t have to wait like so many other fans for the next season to release as I finished up until Season 3. (Being on this journey from the start must have been an enduring and painful experience as the narrative unfolded, one that demanded patience and consideration akin to that of the shows creators.)
I found myself totally wrapped up in a variety of twists and turns, questions and intrigue as I devoured each episode. Even after the most gripping of the plot questions had been answered, it kept on going, kept on getting better all without overdoing it or compensating for anything. I immediately pivoted to another key question: How?
How did they do it? I would ask myself as a writer and storyteller as I looked at the professional component driving the entertaining narrative. Inspired at the craft behind it all, I realised there was something profoundly special about the story and way it was told that made Attack on Titan different.
Overtime I have found a suitable answer that I can distill down to three things I think are crucial for any master of storytelling:
It was unwaveringly true to itself. (Style)
It was uncompromising in its commitment of excellence at every level. (Skill)
It held a relentless commitment to both character, purpose and messaging. (Substance)
Style. Skill. Substance. Get these three things right and you become a master storyteller.Cameron Scott
This is the main just of how Attack on Titan has contributed massively to the way I understand story. The Western world of entertainment should take a deep, long look at it.
On November 5th, 2023, the groundbreaking series came to its final (and this time it meant “final-final”) conclusion. Both the pressure and expectation was massive.
Like the rest of the body of work, it did not disappoint for a single minute.
It was phenomenal.
Outside of the above mentioned metrics I think are important for any modern writer, show runner, creative or even producer to consider, it is worth mentioning a few things I noticed particularly about Attack on Titan that stood out:
i.) Visual Layering: Take a gander at the fans on every social media platform imaginable and you will find a library of discovered hidden motifs, messages, suggestions, details and other visually stimulating cues seasoned generously across Attack on Titan’s 89 episodes. This keeps fans and audiences attuned to the “show don’t tell rule” beyond simple framing.
ii.) Every character is a character worth developing: There isn’t a single character in the show that does not undergo a form of significant development across the seasons, each navigating their own challenges, failures, successes, growth or refusal to grow. This helps keep high stakes motivations that are often in conflict with one another as a whetstone for the story’s narrative. It’s an important lesson for anyone who develops characters to see that none of them are right, but all believe they are and have their reasons for it and how hard they are willing to fight to defend their motivations builds stunning narrative arcs and anticipation.
iii.) Fantasy and fiction are often far more effective narrative mechanisms to impact an audience and make comments on reality and society: Guaranteed, you watch the first few episodes you will think I’m talking nonsense here. The image of Titans as flesh craving monsters that are so single minded, weird running and obsessed with consuming is just ridiculous and a little creepy. I thought so too until I realised that the imagery, in a much more terrifying way, could represent the modern consumer themselves. Mindlessly gobbling down whatever is sold to them, oblivious to their own duty to humanity or the suffering of others. Often without thought, we just consume; Fast food, social media, political rhetoric, fashion, technology trends. These are things that fill our minds far more than: How do we help each other? How may we be of service to our community? How can we be kind? Who is suffering so that I may have comfort? Is what I’m doing here hurting someone else?
Of course, you can just go along for the entertaining ride, that is fun as well, but you’d be missing out on much deeper meanings hidden in this tale.
iv.) Holistic consideration: The author embedded such diligence and care in the crafting of the story. Truly exemplifying what Aristotle emphasised as the necessity for all stories to have a beginning, middle, and end, the series does not overreach itself. Despite its snowballing popularity in recent years (and undoubtedly years to come) the show does not try to extend past itself in a grab for money or status, it is content with staying true to the original structure and letting it end well, definitively and with integrity. To show the precision of this intentional design, the manga of the story ends at number 139. The meaning of 140 in Japan is thought to mean freedom. Freedom and what it means, is the bedrock of the entire story. Knowing this allowed for the crafting of art at every level in the narrative as a whole without losing fans along the way by compromising quality for meaningless quantity.
With all that to say, what I am stating here is that if you ever wondered if it’s possible to bring more than a decade of build up to a spectacular and satisfying finish, it is. This is a show that goes down in history as legendary.
Storytellers, do not close yourself to international languages or unfamiliar genres because it may appear to be different, there is much to be learned and much to still be achieved.
I am well aware that the genre of anime is not for everyone when it comes to content, nor am I suggesting it should be, but I am suggesting that if you want to broaden your horizons and see narrative at the cutting edge. This is one show that is highly recommended to watch.
Beyond that, this opinion piece is largely an appreciation for the work done by the masterful Hajime Isayama, Mappa and the AOT team. Thank you.
Enjoyed this article? Be sure to check out other Kingdom Kome posts such as the launch of The Elements educational project, The Ring of Beasts critical acclaim and our work on our first affiliate feature film done through OC House, Dinner to Die For
Entertainment opinion by Cameron Scott, 13th November, 2023
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