The Attack on Titan series had, in its inception, a great deal of thematic depth. The titans can be seen to represent sin, and particularly with Eren’s ability to become a titan, the idea of mankind as being the very monsters they fight has a lot to say about morality and humanity. Unfortunately, by volume six, the series has started to rely on that initial setup as a crutch, and fails to add new intrigue to the story.
As Volume 5 left off, we saw an in-depth look at a Survey Corps expedition, the culmination of all of Eren’s dreams to be able to travel outside of the wall. Unsurprisingly, it was far less utopian than he might have hoped, with a titan attacking the group and wreaking havoc among the soldiers. The weird thing about it was that this titan was not like the others. It was a titan like Eren’s titan, apparently intelligent, and this titan was female.
Presumably, that this titan is like Eren’s, showing intelligence and refraining from eating any of the humans, means that she, too, is a human who can transform into a titan. That idea has a lot of promise for the series’ thematic foundation. Just as the titans can be viewed as the monsters inside all of us through Eren’s story (also known as sin for Christians), that idea can be expanded to all of humanity if this ability is developed in others as well, and if the others have less control over it in particular. Unfortunately, that theoretical exploration of theme has to remain theoretical for the time being. While there are small hints at who the female titan might be, we spend most of this volume following the carnage and chaos as the female titan breaks down the ranks of the army, attempting to capture Eren himself.
Some small attempts at character development are made later on in the story. Eren is still struggling with his dual identity as both titan and human, and the fact that the humans want to view him as a titan first certainly doesn’t help matters. He says to himself, “I’m tired of being treated like a monster,” and in moments, wonders if in fact he is a monster. That skepticism extends to the others in the Survey Corps, breeding distrust between them and Eren. And yet in the end, Captain Levi asks Eren to trust them with not only his life, but the lives of his best friends.
There’s something to be said for trust here. This is a perfect example of one key difference between the individualistic culture of the West and the collectivist culture of Asia – those in the latter group trust societal institutions. Here that’s expressed through trust in the Army, even though the humans have let Eren down continually throughout the story; and yet Eren is still asked to trust in them, and does. Was he right to do so? The narrative would have us believe so, and the reason why is significant – he learned to see things from their perspective. It is an unfortunate consequence of individualistic culture that we tend to look at things solely from our perspective, and not from others that are part of our group. This frequently leads to conflict with family and friends, as well as at work, school, and wherever else we might find ourselves. This is not, to be clear, a wholesale condemnation of Western culture, but an acknowledgement of one of its weaknesses. And the strength of a culture that emphasizes trust in institutions (given that said institutions are trustworthy) is one that takes my trust off of myself and puts it in something else. This is, in many ways, an antidote to pride.
That’s a bright moment for this comic. But unfortunately, it really ends up being too little too late. This volume just doesn’t grab you like others in the series do, and ends up being an unfortunate necessity to continuing with the story, rather than an engaging continuation. There are some promising elements here for the future of the narrative, but all too often it ends up bland and cliche.