Manga in Minutes: Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, Vol. 1

by  in Comic News Comment
Manga in Minutes: Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, Vol. 1

Welcome to another Manga in Minutes! No new license announcements this week, though there are several interesting bits of news to be had.

Not every week can be full of exciting license announcements, but every week does have a Manga in Minutes review…

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, Vol. 1
Art by Satoshi Shiji, Story by Ryo Suzukaze, “Attack on Titan” created by Hajime Isayama, Character Designs by Thores Shibamoto
Kodansha Comics, 192 pp
Rating: Older Teens (16+)

Set 70 years before the start of the main series, Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, Vol. 1 tells the story of a forgotten and covered up breach of the wall. A single Titan rampaged through a city, devouring a number of people before regurgitating them and then leaving the area. Among the half digested corpses was a pregnant woman and, against all odds, her unborn child is born alive! From Satoshi Shiju and Ryo Sukukaze comes a dark and horrific look into the past of Attack on Titan!

This is one hell of a bleak first volume. The focus of the tale is Kuklo, the child born from the corpse of a half eaten women, but for much of the volume he’s a mute blank slate. He’s tossed from one prison to another after being bought by a merchant, and spends a good chunk of time being tortured and beaten by the merchant’s son, Xavi. As a result we’re basically treated to page after page of Xavi heaping on abuse and humiliation as Kuklo barely clings on to life, eating scraps and licking up water off the floor of his stone cell. It’s only once Sharle, the merchants daughter, is introduced that Kuklo begins to develop a personality. Sharle and Kuklo’s situations loosely parallel each other, with Kuklo’s being a training toy for Xavi who has aspirations of military leadership, while Sharle’s just a bargaining chip to be used in a political marriage to further the family’s standing. Predictably the two bond and plot an escape. Amid the grim, horrific treatment of Kuklo we’re given some tantalizing glimpses into the past of Attack on Titan. The volume offers up ideas that haven’t been seen in the main series but which feel like a natural fit for the world Isayama created. The idea of Titan worshipping cults in particular feel like they could actually tie into the events of the main series in some way. Likewise it’s fascinating to to see the Survey Corps prior to the creation of the three dimensional maneuvering gear, and I can only hope that future volumes give us a chance to see how they fare against the titans with only swords and crossbows as weapons.

Shiji’s visuals are positively dripping with atmosphere and do an amazing job at reinforcing the dark and oppressive tone. Despite the lack of backgrounds and a heavy reliance on toning, things I’m normally not a fan of, the artwork was still incredibly effective and one can’t help but get sucked into the tale. Shiji also depicts what is possibly the most disturbing rendition of a Titan attack to date. The sequence is absolutely nightmarish and terrifying, as is the disgusting aftermath with piles of partially consumed and digested corpses. While Isayama’s titan attacks might be a bit clearer, more kinetic and more exciting, something about Shiji’s heavy blacks, the bulky anatomy of this titan, and his choice of shots just ramp up the brutality and horror of it all. The clothing and equipment on display also help to establish the setting as being in the past, with some of the clothing being reminiscent of 19th century Europe, complete with ruffly cuffs and collars.

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall is definitely off to an interesting start and I’m curious to see where it goes and whether events and elements of this series are ever touched upon in the main book. The dark and oppressive atmosphere sets it apart from the original series and seems to root it firmly in the horror genre, an aspect I hope Shiji and Sukukaze continue to push to the forefront.

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, Vol. 1 is available now from Kodansha Comics. Review copy provided by the publisher.