Giant monsters devastate the human population, killing without rhyme or reason. Vast walls are built and maintained, protecting those that still live. These walls prove ineffective as the creatures crash through them. Humanity invents new and unique ways to combat the massive beings. No, it’s not Pacific Rim. It’s somehow more fantastical and bizarre than that. We’re talking about Shingeki no Kyojin, or, Attack on Titan.
For the unfamiliar, Attack on Titan revolves around protagonist Eren Yeager and friends as they join the military organization known as the Survey Corps. The purpose of which is to fight Titans: enormous humanoid monsters that seem to have no other purpose than to consume as many humans as they can. The Titans are so deadly that what is left of the human population lives in a country encompassed by walls. Members of the Survey Corps are given special equipment that allows them to zip through the air in an attempt to reach the vulnerable spot of the Titans on the nape of their necks. As the series progresses, more is revealed about both the Titans and the main characters.
While a lot of anime usually stays within the communities that already consume that type of media, sometimes something comes along that brings new blood into the fold. We’ve seen it happen in the past with shows like Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist, Gundam Wing, Sailor Moon, and Dragon Ball Z. They are media properties that appeal to more than just self-professed anime fans. These are the series that take over conventions, inspire fan art and fan fiction, and drive thousands of cosplayers to take to their sewing machines. Attack on Titan is quickly earning is spot amongst these titles.
The proof is in the numbers when it comes to the show’s influence. The original manga by Hajime Isayama is popular in multiple countries, with over 31 million copies in circulation in Japan. It was also the top selling manga in Japan in 2013 and has made the New York Times best selling manga list on numerous occasions in the US. The anime is wildly popular in both Japan and the US and is currently available for streaming on Netflix and other sites.
This popularity has resulted in a community that’s come together to celebrate the series on social media platforms like Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. But for some, the start of this phenomenon did not begin with the anime, but before it. DoctorDazza, an Attack on Titan fan who runs the YouTube Channel Fighting for Nippon was one of those first fans. “Through my various outlets, whether it’s my YouTube channel or through a podcast I help host, I was always kinda ahead on Attack on Titan before it was released in animated form. Through the podcast, MangaPod, we covered the manga twice before the anime was released, and I know for a fact that one of the viewers created r/ShingekiNoKyojin on Reddit, which now has 27,000 subscribers. I’d like to think that at the start, myself and my friends helped push AoT (Attack on Titan) onto the first people.”
DoctorDazza calls the fandom, “Weird, in the best possible way.” Indeed, there have been some odd creations from the fans. While it is at times very dark, a lot of fan content seems to take a more humorous turn. There are a variety of memes that have circulated around social media, including parodies of the opening sequence where the dramatic theme song is paired with hilariously ill fitting videos.
The surprising and dark twists the show can take have also caused some fans to capture their reactions onscreen. “You’ll need to check the reaction videos on YouTube to just see it, it’s amazing and funny,” said DoctorDazza.
Cupofteaandspirit who is a fan that helps run a blog that collects various photos and content of Attack on Titan cosplayers called Fuckyeahshingekicosplays said this of the show’s traumatic moments, “As a fandom we tend to grieve, and there’s a LOT of fan art and angst going on about some deaths, but I think it was much more intense (for me) when the anime aired. Grieving, as with everything has to end sooner or later! But I think the fact that the show is dark is what makes it good, because at the same time it’s not needless gore, but the deaths are very real and very shocking, so I think the realism and the heartlessness at some points was a very good move.”
There is one surprising way fans have affected the series though. The creator of the blog Fuckyeahshingekicosplays explains, “The author, Isayama, said that he changed the ending of the story because he didn’t want to upset so many fans.” Perhaps he figured fans had experienced enough morbidity, as supposedly the original ending included the deaths of many popular characters.
With the first season of the show completed, Cupofteaandspirt feels that some of the fandom’s momentum has slowed. “Overall I do think that the hype has definitely died down, and that a lot of people are waiting for the second season to air. Just thinking about it makes me realize that when it does air the wave will be HUGE once again, if not bigger!”
But this blogger also has a plea for the fandom: “The fandom is cool, and I hope we can keep going and get excited for the second season! The message I would like to send though, is for everyone in the fandom to respect those who are patiently waiting for the anime, and try to minimize spoilers (E.G. by tagging the content) and just be mindful of that. It’s what I’d like to see that I don’t see as often as I’d like!”
Attack on Titan won’t return in animated form until sometime in 2015. Until then fans will have to feed their cravings through the continuing manga, video games, details from the live-action movie, and of course, their awesome fan creations.