By: Skywing Knights

心臓を捧げよ皆さん!

Subtitles: Shinzou wo Sasageyo, Minna-san!

Real Subtitles: Consacrate hearts, everyone!

(And fans of Attack on Titan, if you didn’t sing that last part in your head, I’m disappointment in you. Jk, jk. 😉 )

I hope this finds everyone well! I’ve been in a bit of a revitalized good mood primarily due to rewatching episodes of the anime 進撃の巨人 (“Shingeki no Kyojin”) Season 2, popularly known in the USA and English speaking world as “Attack On Titan” based off of Hajime Isayama’s (諫山 創) manga of the same name. (Might also have something to do with the fact that I’m also still in the Halloween mood and I was actually considering dragging out my Sasha Blouse cosplay for the holiday too, lol) ;). As such though, I thought I’d relate an experience I had while living in Tokyo in 2015 called “Attack on Wall Tokyo”. Along with that, I also wanted to share another one I had during a trip to Sapporo in 2016 called “Attack on Wall Sapporo”.

 

***For those who have not watched the series or read it, there are spoilers to come. You have been warned.***

 

First, a very brief backstory on “Attack on Titan” though for those of you unfamiliar with the series. The story focuses on Eren Jaeger, who lives in a world where humanity has been pushed to the brink of extinction and must live within 60 meter tall walls to protect themselves from man-eating giants living and roaming around beyond the barriers. When a 60 meter tall “Titan” breaks down the gate, destroying the first wall of defense for humanity, Eren witnesses his mother being eaten by one of the monsters. In response, he vows to destroy every last one of the Titans. To accomplish his goal, he joins the military and enters the Survey Corps. Now equiped with 3D Maneuver Gear, Eren is able to swing through the air and attack his enemies.

Movie poster signed by seiyu, or Japanese voice actors, producers and directors.

The story’s popularity since its initial release in September of 2009 in Kodansha’s Bessatsu Shonen Magazine (講談社別冊少年マガジン) continued to grow with every volume published, eventually leading up to the release to the first season of the anime in April 2013 and a live action movie adaptation released in July 2015. Additionally, both the manga and anime mediums had numerous spin-off series and collaborative efforts/publications with artists around the world. Needless to say, a pretty big deal (no pun intended).

In January of 2015, Tokyo was lucky enough to be greeted by a tour revolving around the art and story of “Attack on Titan” in the form of “Attack on Wall Tokyo”. By that point, my students at the time had gotten me waist deep into the series and I was hooked, so naturally, what did I do on my Monday off? Get eaten by a Titan, that’s what. Okay, not really, but almost. Sort of. Allow me to explain.

Arriving in Ueno (上野), I met up with my friend Jann outside of Ueno Royal Museum or Ueno no Mori Bijutsukan (上野の森美術館) where we bought our tickets, got in line, and waited to go in. While normally, to enter any area of the museum, entry isn’t regulated, this exhibit had a certain interactive experience that you went through before proceeding to the rest of the exhibit. It wasn’t an ordinary interactive experience though. All of us were getting jitters waiting outside, primarily due to hearing all of the screaming coming from inside – and we were next!!

To be clear, YES this was life size!!

When our turn came, we were guided in by an employee dressed as a member of the military from the series. They led us into an area that seemed to be designed to appear as though we were in a building that had been slightly destroyed in a war. On a large wall, a decrepit drape seemed to billow on a projected screen. Our guide told us to be quiet as “we didn’t want to be found by the Titans that were currently swarming the town outside.”

A Survey Corps cape and notebook!

Unfortunately, one hears us and our guide is dragged out of view behind a curtain and on the screen we see them being ‘eaten’. The effect is clever, but not what makes us ‘panic’. After watching the Titan ‘eat’ our guide, the Titan tosses half of her remaining body up and out of site. We think it’s over until a terrifying clang from above frightens all of us and that’s when the screams start. Above, we see the bloody remains of a human body from the torso down. Now THAT was scary, creepy, and VERY morbid. We grabbed our chests to regain our composure as we are led into the main exhibit, which was thankfully not as startling.

Prototype model of an Eren figure.

The exhibit itself takes us through the beginnings of Isayama’s (the creator, author, and artist) process of drawing manga pages. We see drafts, a short video of him talking about how he creates his panels, and some of the first panels he drew with the concept. Isayama himself has admitted that his early work was poor, and frankly, it was. I remember reading the first chapters of the manga and thinking ‘I can’t read this’ primarily because of the art. But like many artists, Isayama worked hard to improve his art and style and it seriously shows, both in the series now as well as when we went through the exhibit. As we progressed through, we could see his art change over time and the difference was startlingly impressive.

Once past the ‘creation’ portion of the exhibit, the showcase of the art that plays out as the story progresses, with a key focus on the concept of ‘humanity’. Some of the most striking imagery there was that of the effects of the war itself due to the Titans’ savage nature – in other words, the death, mutilation, and sheer terror in the eyes of those about to die.

I’ve always found it interesting (and seriously different) in regards to “Attack on Titan” that Isayama’s work is extremely ‘raw’. What I mean by this is that, it’s not ‘pretty’, it’s not ‘clean’, and it’s not ‘glossed’. This has nothing to do with his skill level either, which as I said, improved over time. It has to do with the fact that when he draws his characters and the surroundings, the feelings of the actual situation bleed into their faces, the settings, showing the bleakness of the various situations they find themselves in, which he often does with his shading and use of lighting.

Fan art of the character Ymir.

It’s a stark contrast to the majority of many manga and anime of today, which are sleek and stunningly gorgeous. Isayama clearly decided to push towards a different end goal with his art to add to the ominous and ever-foreboding experience that is “the war on the Titans”. Even as I write this, it occurs to me that the style is reminiscent of Japanese Horror movies and comics. It’s literally terrifying and adds so much to the overall tone to the story.

A depiction by a fan artist of titans attacking Tokyo, Japan.

In the midst of all of this, as one travels through out the exhibit, moments of overwhelming bravery, unbelievable human spirit, and a relentless desire for freedom could be seen, while the questions of “What does it mean to be human?”, “What would you give up to defeat a monster?”, “Is it possible to preserve one’s humanity during times of war?”, “Why do we fight to go beyond our ‘barriers’?” and even “What makes life worth living?” were posed.

All of this starkly contrasts the overwhelmingly dangerous threat that looms within the story, which creates an intense intrigue in the characters as they go through and live in such a time. The whole exhibit begs the question as you pass through, “How will it end?” Only Isayama knows for sure, and, as readers know, he is unpredictable. Not to mention sometimes, we’re all pretty sure, he seems to enjoy making his fans cry out in horror. To all the fans, I say, how can anyone forget Marco’s moment so early on in the story? As more and more sad moments come, no one can really predict how Isayama will end things and if it will indeed all be worth it.

Fan art of the character Erwin Smith.

In any case, after going through the majority of the art exhibit itself (where sadly no photography was allowed), we entered a display case area where inside we saw recreated items from the series, such as the door to the basement, Sasha’s potato, the crystal found around Annie, and….

Mikasa’s scarf (which you could touch),

Eren’s key,

the spoon that Even attempted to pick up,

notes on Titans (which were written upside down in Katakana – try translating it yourself!), and more!

And yes, all of these likely sound completely irrelevant and boring, unless you know the story. But trust me when I say, it was cool!!!

I mean, how cool is this guy?!? So cool!!

But the thing that clearly garnered the most attention by far was the 3 Dimensional Maneuver Gear brought to life. After moving pass the clearly stunning and amazing Levi-Heichou (リヴァイ兵長) life-sized cut out (so fun!), we were greeted by this beauty. A little bit of background for those unfamiliar with the series, the 3 Dimensional Maneuver Gear (Also called Omni-Directional Maneuver Gear or 3DM Gear for short), has two different designs. One is for the manga and one is for the anime. It’s easily one of the most recognizable items from the series as it gives all of the soldiers their signature ability to fly through the air.

I had been doing research on how to make a replica of one for some time when I saw this and immediately, I caught myself thinking ‘Well, this isn’t the manga version that’s for sure.’ As I scrutinized it (like a trained, total expert, haha), I recognized that while it wasn’t an exact model of the anime version of the 3DM Gear, that was its closest counterpart. And 100% accurate or not, the thing was so cool. Even more interesting too, they used the actual materials that would have been utilized to create it. (They likely were thinking ‘take that cosplayers! Try making that with such accuracy in your basements!!’ XD).

It’s worth noting that later on that year, they released a promo offering gear similar to that in the exhibit for cosplayers. The price tag? Try about $1,000 USD. Yeahhhhhhhh, I’ll stick to my $50 dollar store DIY version thanks. Now if it was a gift… totally different story. 😉

Ok, creepy…
CUE THE HORROR!!!
Run away!!

Even after the interactive display though, the exhibit wasn’t over. If anything, it was time for the “big” event. Turning the corner, we met the giant hands and head of the “Colossal” Titan ripping through the building. Both were accompained by a light show and background noises, which added to the intimidating effect of the massive structures. Easily it was one of the coolest parts of the exhibit.

Fan art of the character Levi Ackerman.

Afterwards, we went around to see fan interpretations of the series that included a myriad of styles. While some focused on traditional ‘anime’-ish looks, others utilized more classic Japanese styles, pencils, watercolors, and scrolls (掛物, pronounced “Kakemono”). Some would show off work revolving around certain characters, while others focused on the concepts and themes of the story. Many also went with the concept of “Attack on Wall Tokyo” and went on to show, in classic Japanese fashion one might say, the monster-movie like attacks of what would happen should the Titans invade Tokyo and Japan as a whole.

Fan art with the Colossal Titan depicted on a wall scroll.

Finally, we met with a unpainted prototype of an Eren Jaeger figure. Surrounding it, were promotional posters and items for the live action movie and anime, many signed by the casts. Of course, we couldn’t forget to stop by the gift shop on the way out!! I got myself two cute little chibi-figures of Eren and Levi along with several postcards. So cute no??

How can something so cute come out of a series so incredibly destructive?

On our way out, we stopped by the exterior where we met a few unique Christmas trees! They were all decked out with ornaments of various characters. Now I’m going to be a little mean and inform everyone that we looked and couldn’t find Marco. Not even a half of him. But all of the other characters were there, so… perhaps that made up for it?

Oh my gosh Hanji’s standing on an ornament bulb I can’t.
Now THAT is a unique Christmas tree.

Before leaving to explore more of Ueno, we got pictures in front of the giant “Attack Titan”, as it’s known in the series. All very fun. Let a little inner rage out too, haha.

Afterwards we went through Ameyoko (アメ横) where tons of promotional flags waved off of lamp posts for the exhibit. Talk about awesome! Oh, and we found a puppy. So adorable, right?!? Overall, a very enjoyable day.

Forgive me, but I must share the picture of the puppy!! <3

The exhibit traveled around Japan for quiet a while, though it changed its name with every city visited. One of the last ones to enjoy the exhibit was Sapporo, which hosted the exhibit during the 2016 Sapporo Snow Festival (札幌雪祭り). While I didn’t go to the exhibit while it was in Sapporo (札幌), I went to something that was unique to Sapporo and also promoted the show and Sapporo Exhibit: their mountain of a snow sculpture for Attack on Titan: “Invasion of Shingeki no Kyojin into Sapporo”. Nothing to sneeze at in terms of size to begin with, but the night show for this was spectacular and included a light show mixed with music by Linked Horizon (Composed by REVO) and Hiroyuki Sawano from the anime. Totally awesome experience! Check out a brief video I captured of it below!

(I will link to my Sapporo Album once it’s live. Then you all can see photos from the experience too – pinky promise!)

Though it’s been 11 years since Attack on Titan first debuted, it’s still a very popular series. Since that time, it made numerous comebacks in terms of exhibits and even theme parks. (Be sure to check out Universal Studios Japan. Their special “Shingeki no Kyojin” park might be back when you go to Japan!) Definitely not a show for the faint of heart, but one I would definitely recommend for those looking for a little fear. (That is, if Halloween and 2020 weren’t enough for you 😉 ). It also is great for those just looking to experience that quintessential Japanese anime that’s famous around the world. And hey, if you can experience it ‘in person’ and ‘live’, than how much cooler will that be? A Colossal Titan’s amount of cool, that’s how cool. 😉

Till next time guys,

~Skywing