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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. 1Attack 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.

4 Comments

I read my copy of AOT: Before the Fall last night. It was interesting to see the familiar walled cities of the world of AOT being depicted by a different artist. The character work was also smoother, but I didn’t care for the numerous dark/blank panels. I seemed to go through this new volume even faster than a normal AOT book.

I don’t know if I’ll continue with this spinoff, but I am interested in the light novel coming out in September.

@Chris – The art is definitely more polished, though I kinda like Isayama’s rougher look quite a bit as well. I normally don’t like all the toning and black, blank, or backgroundless panels either, but I really felt the art worked wonderfully with the tale being told.

I’m not sure if I’m going to be checking out the light novel or not. I’ve read a few light novels here and there, but aside from Otsuichi’s work none of them really blew me away or encouraged me to read them again. I might give it a look just to see if there’s anything missing though.

The interview with Carl was a good read but also a good illustration of one of the things I’m finding a bit frustrating with getting into Manga.

Eden sounds like an amazing series and it’s attracted really good reviews over the years. Even though it’s been going a while I was taken by it and decided to pick it up. But because I’ve been burned before I had a look to see whether the back volumes were available. At first it looked pretty good but then you hit about vol 8 or 9 and not only is it out of print but the second hand market has it priced at about $140 so it’s clearly very rare.

I know that that is just the reality of managing stock volumes but for me at least it meant reversing my earlier decision to pick the series up. I wonder if there isn’t some kind of print on demand offering they could make so that missing volumes could be bought, even if it was at twice the retail. This would not only be another product to sell but it would increase the value of the rest of the back catalog too.

(I know – digital. But I absolutely prefer paper and would pay a premium for it.)

@Tom B – Agreed. Eden is a fantastic series and one I really enjoyed reading, but Dark Horse desperately needs to get the entire thing back in print, or bringing the series back will simply see a resumption of the anemic sales that led to it’s hiatus in the first place.

I kind of wish they’d put together some “omnibus” style collections for Eden, but I suppose it hasn’t sold well enough to warrant such treatment. It almost feels like a double edged sword at times.

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