(Spoiler warning for those who haven’t read the manga)
Shingeki no Kyojin is currently one of the most popular anime series in the world. For some viewers, it’s all about the awesome fights and action sequences. For others, it’s about the captivating characters and each of their histories and personalities. Many fans are enticed by the element of mystery, wanting to find out the truths of the SNK world and its history. It helps that the series features unforgettable music and stunning visuals. Any or all of those are valid reasons to enjoy the show.
On top of all that, there’s one other fascinating element to SNK: searching for the themes, messages, and deeper meanings within the story. Titans are bizarre. Do they even symbolize anything outside of madness? Perhaps they symbolize the madness of humans as they continue to war with one another. The theme of the endless cycle of violence is prominent in the manga, especially if you’ve read beyond the basement discoveries, but it’s also spread throughout the anime. So is the theme of bigotry and division among humans. Perhaps Titans are symbolic of bigotry itself, or the tendency of people to divide into “different peoples.”
These are just a few interesting meanings of SNK, but in this post I wish to focus on only a single possible meaning. I want you to re-imagine Shingeki no Kyojin as a whole with Titans as metaphors for technology and weaponry. To properly show what I mean, I must provide some information on the history of the Titans.
Two thousand years ago, the great Ymir Fritz gained the power of the Titans, supposedly by asking a demon for help. When she died, her power split between nine heirs, who became the Nine Titans with special abilities and intelligence. For centuries, the Eldian people carried the power of the Titans. At first, it was used to help civilization, but over time, the Eldians used the power to dominate all other nations. That started the long cycle of war still ongoing. The Marleyan people, after ages of war, became the world’s dominant power, controlling seven of the Nine Titans. Karl Fritz took the remaining Eldians to Paradis island, where the Founding Titan and the Attack Titan were hidden. You know the story from there.
Rethink the story like so. A few thousand years ago, primitive humans made some kind of break-through (demonic or otherwise) that vastly increased their potential and changed their history: technology. Ymir used her abilities to help the world, building cities with huge and unbreakable buildings, walls, and bridges; clearing and farming immense expanses of land; changing the courses of rivers, building ships, and more. However, Ymir’s descendants became drunk with power and tried to subdue the entire world, using Titans (technology) for intimidation and mass violence. That sounds an awful like what happens in our history when a nation prospers with a sudden new leap in technology.
As the ages passed, the potential for Titan powers to be helpful to humanity was all but forgotten. Titans were thought of only as weapons: the ultimate armament. Whoever had the most powerful weapons and technology controlled the world. Once the Marleyans came to power, the remnants of Eldians who didn’t flee were oppressed and treated as subhuman. A few were forced to inherit the Titan powers and serve the Marleyans as “Warriors.” This is an example of the weaponization of Titans. In addition, it was discovered that Titan spinal fluid, if injected into the blood, could turn a human into a mindless Titan.
Thus, Eldians, criminals, and enemies of the Marleyan government were transformed into monsters. Some were used in wars with other countries, and many were banished to Paradis Island to wander endlessly in search of humans to eat. This is part of why there were so many Titans outside wall Maria. More Titans were added whenever Reiner or others came to Paradis for their missions. In this example too, Titans are treated as weapons.
They say that a certain level of technology is to less advanced cultures indistinguishable from magic. If it’s technology that helps people, it’s seen as the wondrous, miraculous type of magic. But if it’s technology in the form of weapons, it’s seen as devilry or the demonic kind of magic. Remember how new Scouts and Survey Corps recruits react to seeing Titans for the first time. They are terrified beyond words not only becasue of the physical menace, but also because Titans are so obviously beyond their understanding. Once Zoe Hange is introduced, we see that with more time and research, it may be possible to comprehend the Titans and how they work. However, anyone who doesn’t analyze them “scientifically” will continue to view Titans as giant demons– and with good reason.
On Paradis Island, Karl Fritz used the power of the Founding Titan to build walls Shina, Rose, and Maria, and then wipe the memories of all the people in the walls. From then on they were taught they were the last of humanity and they should never go outside the walls because of the Titans. In AoT season 3 part 1, we discovered that the Fritz and Reiss Kings used the Military Police for information and technology control. Anyone who tampered with technology more advanced than colonial-era was killed by the Military Police, and any research destroyed. Titans and the powers of the Nine were another case of technology that the monarchs prevented anyone from learning about. It’s an example where it makes sense to think of Titans as technology/ weaponry.
That should be enough to give you the general idea and get you thinking. There’s just one more comparison I want to make. Some people have said Shingeki no Kyojin and Neon Genesis Evangelion are similar. Why? I’m sure partly because of the death, and violence, and other dark themes and adult content. But it’s also because the Titans in SNK are like organic machines controlled by humans, similar to how the mechas in Evangelion are partly organic and infused with a human soul. You could think of Titans as bio-weapons. They are neither machine nor animal, but if I had to say, I think they’re closer to being machines.
On a final note, let me just make it clear that I’m not saying technology and weaponry are evils that destroy the world, and we should all throw down our PCs and guns, hold hands, and eat organic. No. War, violence, weaponry, and making technology that has negative effects are all parts of human nature. They are rooted in our psychology. If they are evils, they are necessary ones. Whatever one’s views might be, my only point is that terrifying technology and monstrous weaponry are themes present in Shingeki no Kyojin. This has been Anime Rants. Ja ne!