'Attack on Titan' (Chapter 134).

Hajime Isayama is a Japanese manga artist, most famous for his signature series 'Attack on Titan' (2009-2021). The battle between mankind and a threat of cannibalistic giants quickly became a cult hit. A cross between a war comic, horror story and metaphor for humanity's struggles, 'Attack on Titan' has been praised by critics and general audiences alike. The series also found success in translation, eventually becoming one of the best-selling Japanese comic series in the world. 'Attack on Titan' has been adapted into light novels, video games, a musical, a 2015 live-action film and a succesful anime TV series (2013-2023).

Early life and career
Hajime Isayama (諫山 創) was born in 1986 in Oyama Oita, in the south west of Japan. He enjoyed drawing from a young age, but his interest for manga only grew when his elementary school teacher gave his class an assignment about recycling. As Isayama rummaged through old thrown-away stuff, he discovered several crumbled magazines and books. Some were manga, which he read and made him excited about creating his own stories. Among his main graphic influences were Hideki Arai, Morikawa George, Seo Koji, Ryouji Minagawa, Kentaro Miura, Tsutomo Nihei and Makoto Yukimura. In high school, Isayama started submitting comic stories to various drawing contests. After graduation, he took a course in manga design in the arts department at Kyushu Designer Gakuen in Fukuoka, while earning part-time income in an Internet café. In 2006, one of the school's assignments required submitting artwork to a publisher in Tokyo. Since travelling in group was cheaper than going alone, 19-year old Isayama went to the Japanese capital with some of his fellow art students. With him, Isayama already had an early draft of what would later become 'Attack on Titan', albeit in the shape of a one-shot book.

'Heart Break One'.

Almost all editors rejected Isayama's work, because they felt his rudimentary, sketchy style looked too rough. Isayama was aware that his graphic skills were limited, but at the same time he regarded this as a personal strength. Interviewed in the culture magazine Brutus (November 2014), Isayama stated: "Just like everyone's handwriting is unique to them. I think my art is idiosyncratic to me in its ugliness: people got a kick out of it and it somehow caught on. (...) I was scared of being a run-of-the-mill tree with run-of-the-mill leaves that'll blend right into the forest. Better to have memorable art, even memorable bad art, and stand out." The only person who saw something in his comics was Shintaro Kawakubo, editor of Weekly Shonen Jump. He suggested to Isayama to try and win the magazine's "Special Encouragement Award" for young and aspiring artists, since the winning story would automatically be serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump's pages. Encouraged, Isayama spent the following two years crafting two totally different stories: 'Heart Break One ('ハート ブレイク ワン' 'Hāto Bureiku Wan', 2008) and 'Orz' (2008). He deliberately made them as standard as possible, with a clear, easy-to-follow lay-out, plot and artwork. When they indeed won the intended award, he gained more prestige. Veteran artist Saton Yuuki asked him to become his assistant and he agreed. Another mentor who encouraged Isayama was manga artist Shuzo Oshimi (known for 'Flowers of Evil').


Attack on Titan
The early draft of 'Attack on Titan' ('進撃の巨人', 'Shingeki no Kyokin') that Isayama presented to several manga magazines in 2006 was still condensed as a 65-page one-shot story. By the time he had published his first two comics in Weekly Shonen Jump had almost forgotten about his first project. But his editor Kawakubo still remembered the comic and suggested seralizing this story instead. He only suggested a few changes in the artwork and plot.

Isayama was surprised, but enthusiastic about giving 'Attack on Titan' front pass. He had already concluded that his prize-winning stories were just routinous manga, made without much passion. Interviewed in Weekly Shonen issue #41 (2017), Isayama said: "I understood that a standard manga doesn't automatically have strong appeal. Since then I've always kept the thought of doing whatever I want in mind when I draw. In my view, creating with a sense of freedom is the only way to capture an author's personality and charm. (...) I hope everyone can demonstrate the 'wild side' hidden within their hearts. (...) If you have any idiosyncracies that you cannot bear the general public ever discovering, I think you should actually illustrate exactly that in your works! (...) I hope you release all those impulses on paper and showcase to the world something only you can create." With that in mind, he refused to alter much of his 'Attack on Titan' draft. In other interviews, he confessed that he dreaded having to redraw so many pages. A compromise was reached when his unaltered 'Attack on Titan' would be published in a new monthly magazine, distributed by the same company that issued Weekly Shonen Magazine: Bessatsu Shonen.

'Attack on Titan' (Chapter 2).

In September 2009, 'Attack on Titan' began serialization in Bessatsu Shonen's first issue. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic period, when humanity was almost wiped out by the attack of the Titans. Nobody knows where these gluttonous giants came from, but they terrorized Earth to such a degree that a surviving people, the Eldians, built three protective walls around their city. The local military force, the Survey Corps, developed steel swords, a gas-powered engine and grappling hooks that people can use to leap at the giants, trying to pull them out of balance. They receive the name Vertical Maneuvering Equipment. Later the army also invents a special rocket launcher, the Thunder Spear. Luckily, the city hasn't seen any Titans in the past century. But one unfateful day, an unprecedentedly 60 metre tall Titan, called the Colossal Titan, finds the city and manages to break through the first wall, allowing dozens of Titans to stream inside. Hundreds of citizens are eaten alive. A young boy, Eren Yeager, witnesses his mother being devoured by a Titan with an eerie smile. He survives, but swears revenge. Together with two friends, the boy Armin Arlert and girl Mikasa Ackerman, he enlists in the Survey Corps, learning all the necessary skills to fend off a possible new attack.

'Attack on Titan' (Chapter 15).

Five years later, the Colossal Titan returns and attacks the second wall. This time, the Survey Corps is able to drive the Titans back. While Eren gets wounded during the fight, he discovers he can transform himself into a Titan. He finds out that there are actually two kinds of Titans. The majority purely follow their instincts and empty stomach. In a sense, they are like zombies, only bigger and faster. But some titans are more advanced and able to think and talk. These smarter Titans are actually shapeshifters, who can turn back and forth between being humans or Titans. After being exposed to Titan fluid, a human can take Titan form by biting into his hand until he or she bleeds. They can effectively control their humongous, fleshy Titan bodies by steering from inside the brain, like a pilot in a cockpit. Since Eren has discovered the power of shapeshifting, he can now help mankind to fight the Titans. Eren remembers that his late father told him that he could find the truth about the Titans' origins in their basement, which unfortunately now lies in territory occupied by the Titans. Erwin Smith, leader of the Survey Corps, decides to invade this terrority, and reach the basement. Eren, Armin and Mikasa join a special squad, where they are commanded by officers Levi Ackerman and Hange Zoë. But paranoia strikes when they find out that there are already Titans in the city and some even within the city walls. Since any human may very well be a shapeshifting Titan, this makes Eren and his friends anxious about who they can trust.

'Attack on Titan' (Chapter 39).

Attack on Titan: inspirations
'Attack on Titan' is a engaging story, featuring epic battle scenes, impressive monstrous giants and scenes of spine-tingling suspense and horror. The tale's universal appeal could be derived from the recognizable human urge to fight against forces beyond our comprehension and power. In interviews, Isayama revealed many different inspirational sources for 'Attack on Titan'. Japanese ancient mythology has several wondrous colossal creatures, named "kaiju". The atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki traumatized Japan, but also gave the population a fascination for stories about huge destructional forces, as examplified in the post-war success of the 'Godzilla' and 'Gamera' monster movies. Isayama watched these films at a young age. He cited Gyaos in 'Gamera: Guardian of the Universe' as a direct inspiration for the horrifying scenes in 'Attack of Titan' where people are being eaten alive. Isayama also loves dinosaurs, the film 'Jurassic Park' made a huge impression on him. He was also inspired by the painting 'Kaiju' by autistic artist Kyoshi Yamashita, which depicts a cyclops (or "oni"), a giant serpent and a colossal spider attacking people, who try to defend themselves with cannons and walls. Isayama also took inspiration from ancient European sagas and modern fiction like the 'Game of Thrones' series. A direct manga influence was Sho Makura and Takeshi Okano's 'Jigoku Sensei Nube' ('Hell Teacher Nube'), in which a cannibalistic Mona Lisa devours people.

Beyond the simplicity of the "giants attack humans" story, 'Attack on Titan' is also a metaphor for mankind. Isayama credited the video game 'Muv Luv Alternative' with inspiring the alternate timelines and the post-apocalyptic themes of his manga. The game centers around an extraterrestrial lifeform which almost wiped out mankind, yet people still bicker among each other instead of uniting. To Isayama, this attitude is typical for people, a theme he also covers in 'Attack on Titan'. His manga also has a deeper, psychological undercurrent. Isayama was always a shy and insecure person. As a child, he regarded everybody as more talented, and therefore exceptional, than himself. In high school, his anxieties grew worse. He couldn't deal with the peer pressure and felt uncomfortable in his changing body. During art lessons, he discovered his fellow students surpassed him in the one thing he thought he was exceptionally good at.

'Attack on Titan' (Chapter 127).

As a result, he started to withdraw himself into escapist fantasies found in comics, films and video games. Several of his school tests show that he simply filled in strange answers or handed in assignments about different topics than the one his teachers ordered. Typically for a teenager, Isayama hated his hometown Oita, which he described as a "secluded, isolated place, surrounded by mountains". He wanted to escape from it and often wished something exciting would happen there. Sometimes he hoped that "all of humanity would be destroyed." All these feelings found their way in 'Attack on Titan', where the walled city is modelled after Oita. The scenes in which young people try to steer their "titan body suits" to become heroes is almost a subconscious psychological expression of his own teenage wish to have a more powerful body and higher social status. The lanky movements of the giants, with their disproportional limbs, also bring young teenagers in mind. Though for this particular element, Isayama also drew inspiration from a confrontation with a drunk customer. One time, an aggressive drunk waddled towards him in his Internet café, grabbing him by the collar. Isayama was disturbed by the experience, since he couldn't argue with this intoxicated menace. The man's drunk walk, but determined plan to attack him was another fearsome image reflected in the giants' attacks.

Many of the giants in 'Attack on Titan' have grotesque faces and bodies. One titan is chubby and has a head almost too big for its body. Others have a rictus grin, comparable to the eerie smile of a skull. Some giants have decomposed faces or skinned torsos and limbs. The Beast Titan looks like a huge orangutan. Isayama designed him like an ape, because "monkeys are just scary (...) precisely because they're so similar to humans." The posture of The Beast Titan was based on Alistair Overeem, a mixed martial artist with a small face and developed trapezius that gave him an "intimidating physique." Similarly, Isayama based Eren's Titan body on UFC fighter Yushin Okami and the Armored Titan on wrestler Brock Lesnar. Isayama always enjoyed drawing ugly things as a kid, which became one of his trademarks by the time he reached young adulthood. He is also interested in actors with "memorable faces" in movies, rather than the attractive people in the leading roles. Interviewed by Daisuke Okamoto for volume 42 of Febri (June 2017), Isayama recalled that when he drew the scene in the 10th volume when a Titan surprises one of his characters on the stairs, he actually felt frightened and disturbed by his own artwork.

The first human character Isayama created was Mikasa Acherman, named after a Japanese battleship. Several female protagonists in manga he admired, like Misato Katsuragi and Ritsuko Akagi ('Neon Genesis Evangelion') and Yuki Nagato ('The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya'), were named after Japanese battleships, so he did the same with Mikasa. His character Levi Acherman was based on Rorschach in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' 'Watchmen' and Yoshihiro Togashi's Hiei in 'Yu Yu Hakusho'. He initially created Christa as a cute, beautiful girl intended as a fan service, but as a result he didn't like her all that much. But Isayama then discovered that this superficiality actually made her more mysterious, helping him to eventually give her a stronger and more interesting personality. His favorite character is Jean Kirstein, the itchy officer of the Survey Corps, because he tries to find solutions by experimenting and starting over if he fails. In Isayama's opinion, this is reminscent of mankind. In some interviews, he also cited Reiner as his favorite character, since a lot of thought went into his creation, but he still turned out differently from what he expected.

'Attack on Titan', volume 25 and 31.

Quickly after its debut, 'Attack on Titan' became a cult hit in Japan, and later also abroad. Isayama decided to expand his initially planned one-shot story into a full-blown series. Each volume would have a cliffhanger at the end. Originally, he mostly focused on the Titans and their impressive battle scenes. But he quickly felt this wouldn't be enough to hold readers' attention. He shifted more attention to his human protagonists, fleshing out their personalities and building more narratives around them. Much to his surprise, he actually started enjoying their story arcs more than the Titans. After a while, his human characters "ironically became bigger than the titans", as Isayama phrased it. Now Isayama also wanted more advice from Weekly Shonen Jump editor Shintaro Kawakubo, who acted as his proof reader. He pointed out flaws or scenes that didn't make much sense to him, allowing Isayama to rework the plot. Isayama also hired two assistants to help him with the artwork, though their names haven't been revealed to the public yet.

For Isayama, it was mind boggling that his very first manga had become a global hit, read by millions of people. He credited it to the simplicity and originality of the plot. Still, Isayama remained insecure. He feared that his manga could get cancelled and readers might think certain characters and plot developments would look corny or lame. Sometimes he even felt he simply "got lucky" and didn't deserve all the praise and high sales. Since new volumes were eagerly anticipated by fans, he didn't want to let them down. He made the fatal mistake of actually tracking down what fans wrote about him on the Internet, which eventually only paralyzed his creativity. He found it particularly difficult to come up with a satisfying finale. The conclusion he had in mind from the very beginning no longer felt appropriate to him. When the final installment appeared in print in April 2021, it unavoidably divided readers into two camps. His most critical fans commented that Isayama had "obviously" changed into a different direction than the one he originally planned.

In the wake of 'Attack on Titan' 's success, Isayama released the book 'Attack on Titan Inside' ('進撃の巨人 INSIDE 抗', 'Shingeki no Kyojin Inside Kou'), which offers character profiles and interviews. 'Attack on Titan Outside' ('進撃の巨人 OUTSIDE 攻 'Shingeki no Kyojin OUTSIDE Osamu', 2013) collects conceptual art and a few interviews. A full-color version of the entire 'Attack on Titan' saga was announced in late 2020.

'Attack on Titan' (Chapter 63).

Spin-offs of 'Attack on Titan' have also been published, several of them originally released as light novels. A parody, set in junior high school, 'Attack on Titan: Junior High' ('進撃!巨人中学校','Shingeki! Kyojin Chūgakkō', 2012), was made by Saki Nakagawa. 'Attack on Titan: Before the Fall' (2013) was drawn by Satoshi Shiki. A series centering on Captain Levi, 'Attack on Titan: No Regrets' ('進撃の巨人 悔いなき選択, 'Shingeki no Kyojin: Kuinaki Sentaku'), was scripted by Gun Snark and drawn by Hikaru Suruga. Another parody, 'Spoof on Titan' ('寸劇の巨人', 'Sungeki no Kyojin', 2013-2014), was drawn by Hounori. Ryosuke Fuji adapted Hiroshi Seko's light novel 'Attack on Titan: Lost Girls' into a manga comic (2015). Isayama himself wrote the script for 'Attack on Avengers' (2014), a crossover with the Marvel Comics series 'The Avengers', drawn by Axel Alonso and Joe Quesada

'Attack on Titan' (Chapter 92).

Media adaptations
Various light novels have been published based on the 'Attack on Titan' franchise. The 'Attack on Titan: Before the Fall' ('進撃の巨人', 2013) prequel series was written by Ryo Suzukaze, with illustrations by Thores Shibamoto. Ryo Kawakami wrote the 'Attack on Titan: Harsh Mistress of the City' (進撃の巨人 隔絶都市の女王, Shingeki no Kyojin Kakuzetsu Toshi no Joō', 2014-2015) series, while Range Murata's artwork livened up the pages. Hiroshi Seko wrote the novel 'Attack on Titan: Lost Girls' ('進撃の巨人',2014), while U.S. writer Rachel Aaron penned the novel 'Garrison Girl: An Attack on Titan' (2018). Several of these light novels have also been adapted into anime series.

In 2013, the main 'Attack on Titan' narrative was adapted into an anime TV series (2013-2023), produced by IG Port's Wit Studio and directed by Tetsuro Araki, Masashi Koizuka, Yuichiro Hayasji and Jun Shishido. It spawned four compilation films, released in Japanese theaters. The addition of color, sound and a more dynamic graphic style makes the anime adaptation a different experience than Isayama's original manga. Many viewers discovered his comic series through the TV adaptation and started buying the books to compare scenes. Since Isayama's manga was still ongoing at the time of the anime production, fans also purchased the latest books to find out what would happen next. When the new 'Attack on Titan' TV season was available, they were extra excited to see how the animators had visualized Isayama's next chapter. In the late 2010s and early 2020s, 'Attack on Titan' was even the most demanded anime show on international streaming services and won various awards.

For Isayama and the animation studio, 'Attack on Titan' formed a cross inspiration. While the animators followed his comic, from the third season on, he was closely involved with the anime production too. It thrilled him to see his characters actually move on the screen, becoming "larger than life." Sometimes he requested certain narratives changes, making the TV adaptation different from the original comic. Based on the anime, Isayama also steered his upcoming manga storylines into other directions. One such example was the character Eren. Isayama praised voice actor Yuuki Kaji for bringing a new dimension to this character. Interviewed by the culture magazine Brutus (November 2014), Isayama said that in the comic scene where Eren decides to attack the Titans, he came across as seemingly unafraid and therefore unrealistic. But in the anime adaptation, "you can hear a weakness in his voice, which makes it sound like he's bluffing". This made Isayama like Eren more and he rewrote him as a more noble individual, as the manga continued. As an inside joke, Isayama also modelled the faces of some of his Titans after people from the animation crew, namely director Tetsuro Araki and his colleagues Yuki Kaji, Yui Ishikawa and Marina Inoue.

In 2015, the manga was also adapted into a live-action film, directed by Shinji Higuchi, which was well-received by both critics and general audiences. On Japanese TV, the series was adapted into a mini-series. In 2023, Go Ueki directed a stage musical based on 'Attack on Titan'. The 'Attack on Titan' franchise additionally inspired video games.

'Attack on Titan' (Chapter 77). The face of the giant is based on Attack on Titan's animation director.

In some countries, 'Attack on Titan' (both the manga and anime) have been banned out of "concern for the effect its gruesome violence might have on the youth." This is the case in China and Russia. In Malaysia, only certain scenes have been censored. However, critics suspect that these governments' real concerns are the rebellious themes in the stories, where young people fight against a colossal, seemingly invincible enemy.

The Killing Pawn
On 6 August 2014, the serialization of a new manga, 'The Killing Pawn', scripted by Hajime Isayama and drawn by Ryouji Minagawa , took off in Weekly Shonen Magazine. It's a humorous story about the competition between two shogi players. 

In 2006, Isayama's original one-shot version of 'Attack on Titan' received the "Fine Work"' award at the Magazine Grand Prix awards, organized by publishing company Kodansha. Two years later, his short comic 'Heart Break One' received the "Special Encouragement Award" (2008). The 'Attack on Titan' series has been overloaded with special awards. In Japan, it received a Shonen Award during the annual Kodansha Manga Awards (2011) and the Sugoi Award for "Best Manga" (2015). Abroad, the series was honored as "Best Shonen Manga" twice, respectively in 2013 and 2014, at the Saló del Manga in Barcelona. It also received the "Best Hope" (2013) and "Best Manga" (2014) awards during the Anime & Manga Grand Prix and two E-Book Awards, namely the "Grand Prize" and "Comic Category" (2014). The series additionally won The Grand Prize for "Animated Comic" (2013) at the Bros Comic Awards (2013), the Italian Attilio Micheluzzi Award for "Best Foreign Series" (2014), "Favourite Manga" at the True Believer Comic Awards (2014), a Harvey Award for "Best American Edition of Foreign Material" (2014), the Pochi Award for "Best Manga International" (2014), a NEO Award for "Best Manga" (2014) and the "Special 50th Edition Award" at the occasion of the bi-centennial of the annual Comic Festival of Angoulême, France.

On 2 November 2014, Isayama was declared "Tourism Ambassador" of the Japanese city Hita. In 2021, he also won the Noma Publishing Culture Award.

Legacy and influence
Various life-size statues of the giants in 'Attack on Titan' have been erected in Universal Studios Japan. On 4 March 2021, a large-format 'Attack on Titan' book was brought out, 101 and 70 cm wide in size, breaking a Guinness Record for "largest comic book ever published", a feat previously achieved by Mauricio De Sousa's 'Turma da Mônica'.

Hajime Isayama's work has received praise from veteran artist Makoto Yukimura

'Attack on Titan' (Chapter 18).


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