Okay, this is my final reflection on Attack on Titan, and it’s thankfully shorter than the other two. After this, I’ll have gotten it all out of my system, hopefully for quite a while.
The final big reason I have for why Attack on Titan initially caught my eye was because it actually seemed to treat its female characters like, y’know, human beings. The cast included way more women than most shonen manga does and even more shockingly, none of them were ever sexualized or treated as eye candy (in the manga moreso than the anime).
Isayama’s art style was pretty gender ambiguous a lot of time, the women weren’t drawn differently than the men really- slighter and smaller, sometimes you could see they had breasts somewhere, but that’s it. (The ‘Female Titan’ being a glaring exception). Mikasa was allowed to be as muscular as a lot of the boys. Even Christa/Historia, who was canonically supposed to be smokin’ hot, wasn’t drawn in a “sexy’ way. I read a good chunk of the manga, and I can’t recall one instance of a woman being drawn in an objectifying way. That was kinda incredible. Sadly, not a lot of manga (or media period) hops over that low bar.
Isayama was in fact so comfortable with gender ambiguity, that he requested no gendered pronouns be used in regards to Hange, making them effectively canonically non-binary, or at least intentionally non-gendered. That’s was really cool when it happened. there’s no denying it, it’s not something you see often.
There was a variety of women, a variety of relationships and they all seemed to be important to the narrative. They were treated as just as capable in combat, and the story didn’t make a big deal about gender overall.
And we had wlw! Wlw, who were, at first, well written and complex. Who were just as messy and flawed as the others, whose story felt at first like it would be important and major to the story. I can still remember how excited I was about Ymir and Historia. Even after I lost interest in the rest of the manga, I still couldn’t let them go.
I still remember a post I saw talking about the scene where Historia and Ymir are arguing over whether they can save the boy suffering from hypothermia and Ymir reveals she knows Historia doesn’t really care about him and how she sees through to her martyr complex, etc. This nameless boy only exists as a prop to motivate character development and relationship building between these two queer women. How incredibly rare is that to see? Female characters have been props for male development a million times, but here for once, we see women being valued more by the narrative, even if it was for just one arc. What a thing.
But let’s look beyond that. Let’s look at how Ymir and Historia ended up.
My previous post goes into a bit more detail, but here’s the gist. Ymir dies without even getting to kiss or say goodbye to her partner, and the surviving wlw (Historia) is now straight-up forced to become a baby factory for The Sake of the Country, so the main character man can feel sad about it. Yep, it’s not enough that her girlfriend dies! She has to become the dead-inside-seed-receptacle for some dude! That’s what wlw get in AOT land!
And there’s more!
God, it makes me roll my eyes in the back of my head to even THINK about Reiner and Bertholdt. The signs Isayama didn’t know what the hell he was doing with his characters were there from the beginning with them. The fandom was so excited by their apparent relationship. Except the writing surrounding them was so goddamn confusing and messy it wasn’t clear what Isayama ever even intended with that. Like, when Reiner implied he was gay to Ymir, was that an act? Did only his fake personality have a crush on Christa or was that real? What was with Bertholdt suddenly being in love with Annie with zero foreshadowing of that? Remember that shit? Remember how we thought it’d all go somewhere or be explained at all?
Nope! I guess the queer implications were just some weird, poorly written fake out. Now one guy’s dead and the other’s alone, so even if they really HAD been queer, we lose.
At the end of the day Attack on Titan just gives us the same bullshit most other media gave us- being gay means suffering, so either die or go fulfill your true purpose and make babies.
But! You might say! There’s still a lot of women in this story! And I want you to consider something.
Every single girl from the original squad except for Mikasa (whose life continues to revolve around Eren of course) is now dead, a hunk of crystal or forced to go make babies in the countryside. Yes. Every single one. I don’t care if more girls were introduced in the meantime. This alone shows how little regard AOT has for its female characters and what we can expect for the remaining ones, or for characters like Hange.
And this isn’t even getting into stuff like the unpleasantness surrounding the attempted sexual assault of Armin when he was disguised as a girl, the treatment of mental illness, etc. It’s bad, guys.
And we really should not be surprised it turned out this way.
We should not be surprised Isayama does not care about progressiveness or his female characters at the end of the day. you cannot possibly expect a man who believes the rape and abuse of Korean women is justified to have anything remotely resembling “feminism” in his narrative (see this post for info about Isayama’s views). So I implore you, please try not to go around calling this narrative progressive anymore. It never was and it never can be as long as its written by a war crimes apologist, a rape apologist and just a bad person overall.
That’s the end of the essay, but I also have some additional analysis from replies I made on tumblr I’d like to archive here. Under the cut, I compare and contrast Fullmetal Alchemist and Attack on Titan, and I speculate on the specific brand of nationalism Isayama believes in.
Continue reading “The final reflection on Attack on Titan: How the narrative failed its potential in regards to gender and queer themes- also some extra stuff.”