Jun. 21st, 2012

nenena: (Tink - Cheers!)
I know, I know, a lot of people are reviewing Attack on Titan now, and all of the reviews that I've read so far say the exact same thing: Awesome premise, cool worldbuilding, cool technology, cool monsters, and sadly sub-par artwork, but the rest of it is so much gory fun that who cares? So for this review, rather than regurgitate what much better reviewers than me have already said, I'd rather comment on an aspect of the series that seems to have gotten little attention elsewhere: Awesome Gender-Related Things That Hajime Isayama Does Really, Really Well. But actually, rather than "Awesome" I think it would be more honest to say that this is a list of "REALLY SIMPLE Gender-Related Things That Hajime Isayama Does Really, Really Well." Because the following is a list of things that are really simple, basic things that more science fiction and fantasy authors SHOULD be doing right, but that so depressingly few creators seem to ever think about, notice, or care about.

So how does Titan do it right? Well, in a manga in which all of the main characters are members of a military organization...

1. Women are visible everywhere, especially in the military ranks. And there is almost always an equal number of men and women drawn on most pages. Not just among the named characters, but in background and crowd scenes as well. I'm serious. Every time we're shown a panel of soldiers lined up to march into battle, or the Survey Corps riding out into the wilderness, or even just the soldiers hanging out in a mess hall or tending to their wounds after a fight, there are both men AND women in those scenes. I cannot even count how many sci-fi/fantasy works I've seen or read that just simply forget to include women whenever we're shown a large crowd of soldiers, even if the worldbuilding otherwise gives lip service to the idea that women are supposedly welcome in this world's organization du badassery.

2. Men and women wear identical military uniforms. Hallelujah.

3. There's such a diversity of personality archetypes in the cast of characters, including among the female characters, that the story neatly avoids any sort of gender stereotyping. This is what happens when, you know, you actually have a LOT of female characters in your story rather than just one, two, or three. It's awesome that Titan has a lot of different female characters and gives them all different personality traits. This also neatly avoids the unfortunately common sci-fi/fantasy trope that all women involved in some sort of military organization must be stone-cold badasses (*eyeroll*) or else they're not Strong Female Characters (TM). Titan has its share of stone-cold lady badasses, of course, but it also has female soldiers with upbeat personalities, who like to tell jokes, who have timid personalities, or who struggle with self-confidence issues - to name just a few examples.

4. There isn't any tension-destroying, mood-killing fanservice. Context: this is a violent, gory manga in which an awful lot of panel space is devoted to people getting gruesomely eaten alive by freaky monsters. Amazingly, however, there are no brokeback poses, no jiggling breasts, no "strategic" ripping of clothing, no shower scenes, and - most incredibly of all - absolutely no sexualized/fetishized deaths of female characters. (Which isn't to say that they don't die, since characters of every gender drop like flies in this series, but that when female characters do die, they don't do so in creepily "sexy" ways.) It's sad that I even have to point this out as a positive, and yet it is just SO RARE to read a horror comic book or manga without all of that juvenile fanservice crap killing the dramatic tension every time it rears its ugly head.

In short: Not since Hiromu Arakawa's Fullmetal Alchemist have I read a shounen manga that pulls off all four of the above points so beautifully well. And I think this is doubly impressive in Titan's case, considering that it's a gore-drenched horror manga much moreso than it is a traditional adventure yarn (like Fullmetal Alchemist was), and we all know that gore-drenched horror manga tend to usually not do so well in terms of non-facepalm-inducing portrayals of female characters. Titan definitely bucks a lot of the more obnoxious gender-related tropes in shounen horror manga and is ultimately a much better story for it.

Disclaimer: I have only read up through volume 4 of Attack on Titan (volume 1 translated into English by Kodansha and volumes 2-4 in Japanese), so maybe some of this gender stuff changes later, I don't know. But I kind of doubt that it will.

Also, on a totally unrelated note: Goddamit Kodansha, I read through my copy of volume 1 once - exactly ONCE - and the binding glue came undone in two places. And it's not like I handle my books roughly or anything, either. Quality: ur doin it wrong.