Attack On Titan: Japan’s New Battlestar Galactica?
Possibly one of the oldest and cheapest tropes to raise the stakes in storytelling is “the world in danger motif.” The world being in danger is a broad premise and it often makes for dramatically low stakes situations. One of the ways around this trope is to actually go ahead and destroy the world. “Gotcha” and “Oh sh!t” moments come early and hook audiences. That is exactly what happens with Production IG’s and Wit Studio’s anime adaptation of shingeki no kyojin or Attack on Titan.
Attack on Titan is a show about the last remnants of humanity, who fled to a city protected by three concentric walls, struggling to survive as they fend off giant humanoid creatures called “Titans.” One hundred years prior to the start of the series, Titans mysteriously began to appear around the world and started eating humans. Yes, eating them – as in devouring them whole – relentlessly. No one knows where they came from or why the titans eat humans. They show no outward intelligence nor appear to eat humans for any other reason than to kill them. One day the outermost wall is breached by two new mysterious Titans, forcing people to flee deeper insides walls were they would face discrimination, famine and depression among other things.
Not only is the show beautifully animated, it is well written thanks to its strong source material. Attack on Titan’s three central protagonists are multi-layered and the supporting cast of fellow recruits is also well developed. Besides the constant fear and threat of a Titan attack, where death is a frequent occurrence, these new recruits face a new enemy from within; insurgents and double agents who can appear as human and are working to sabotage humanity’s efforts to survive. Perhaps the most dangerous threat would be humanity itself with various political, military and religious organizations following their own interest. Not surprisingly, there are similarities with another world ending show – the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica.
Within the first 30 minutes of Battlestar Galactica, audiences experience the devastating Cylon attack on the 12 colonies of Man. A space faring society of billions is almost completely wiped out in minutes. What’s left is a rag tag group of a few civilian ships projected by a single Battlestar – the aging Galactica. With numbers well under one hundred thousand, the group searches for the legendary (and possibly nonexistent) 13th colony of Earth, hoping to find sanctuary from the Cylons.
The search for Earth is made more difficult with the discovery of new Cylons models that are nearly impossible to distinguish from humans. With limited resources and a shrinking population, every day is a battle for the fleet of survivors. Often there are conflicts from within from different ethnic and religious groups, political scheming which undermines society, and unresolved personal conflicts now impossible to escape. More than anything, BSG persistently challenged both its characters and audience.
On the surface, both shows could not appear more different. However, it is in the structure of their premises, character relations and the nature of the primary antagonist where parallels can be drawn. The stories of both shows by the sudden appearance of an enemy whose attack wipes out the majority of the human race. While the attack in BSG happens more swiftly than in AoT, both are filled with intrigue and horror that instantly draw audiences in. Why are the Cylon returning? Why attack now? What are Titans? Where did they come from and why are they eating people? These opening acts set the tone and establish the dire stakes for these universes.
The existence of double agents fundamentally changes the political and military operations of both shows and dramatically shakes up social orders, as characters no longer know who they can trust. There’s also the issue of how does one find these double agents? Revealing this information to the public could result in mass hysteria and possibly false accusations — paranoia.
One of the more defining aspects of BSG during its run was how much religion played a major role in its story. Often, BSG would examine faith and the role prophecy and how either could aide or hamper independent action. The religious aspects are more developed and take a large role in BSG. However, AoT’s “Church of the Wall” shares many of these elements also. The Church of the Wall is a religious organization that believes that the walls are divine entities that protect humanity from the titans. The CotW has much political clout in AoT and can even sway some military action. Still, these two shows offer a fascinating look at how religion and fate take on new roles and change amidst great destruction and tragedy.
Perhaps the most interesting dynamic of BSG and AoT is family. Both challenge the traditional definition of the family unit. Each shows made it clear the concept of family is not a simply a biological one. Starbuck and Mikasa, the best fighters in their respect band of survivors, who also happen to be women, share close relations with their male counterpart (Apollo/Eren) stemming from them being adopted/accepted into their family. It’s impossible to find a character or extra that has not suffered the loss of multiple family members; however, new relationships are constantly being formed. These are loving relationships where people will fight for each other and do anything to protect their new families.
Outside of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy battles, political intrigue and religious deconstruction, noble sacrifices and bad decisions, Battlestar Galactica and Attack on Titan are about the human condition and the resilience of spirit to push on and rebuild after great tragedy. Because of that, both shows make for some pretty damn fine television to watch. They show that world being in danger is not the only way to entice audiences–fresh ideas and interesting characters work just as well.