I wasn’t sucked into the Shingeki no Kyojin/Attack on Titan craze until the week after the final episode was simulcast, namely because my first awareness of the anime was listening to the complaints of my friends who simply couldn’t wait until the next episode aired. As a person significantly lacking patience and fully aware of that fact, I figured I would wait until the full season had aired before starting to watch.
Reading Attack on Titan: Before the Fall Vol. 1 elicited the exact feeling I was hoping to avoid back then. Though many aspects of the volume’s storytelling depend on previous knowledge of the franchise – either through the currently-available manga or the 2013 anime – the story itself is very fresh.
The editor’s description says the volume is about a boy who “has spent his life in chains as a freakish curiosity and a feared abomination,” but the story’s real draw is the social aspect of the story, which focuses on how years of peace and the human desire to explore has warped the society of the Shiganshina district inside Wall Maria. Within the first few pages, readers are introduced to members of a Titan-worshipping cult, a brief but interesting phenomenon, while the structure of how the protagonist, Kuklo, is treated is a fascinating exploration of being trapped within a trap.
In terms of art, Before the Fall is a marked improvement over the main manga series in most terms. Where the main series’ art feels very rough, unsteady, and disproportionate in inappropriate places, especially in the earliest volumes, the art of Before the Fall is smoother and looks more finished. This may be due to the relative inexperience of the main series’ mangaka, Isayama Hajime, for whom Attack on Titan is the first published work. The artist for Before the Fall, Shiki Satoshi, has worked on a number of series, including Kamikaze from Tokyopop (2006-2008).
However, the style of Before the Fall fits well enough with Attack on Titan that the two can believably be set in the same world, with destroyed buildings and grotesque Titans drawn in a similarly grimy manner. (It is a horror series, after all.) In fact, the largest departure, in my opinion, is the difference in style between the protagonists: Kuklo and Sharle are drawn in a bizarrely pretty fashion – they’re so good-looking that they almost don’t seem to fit in a gritty horror manga, especially considering Kuklo’s spent most of the manga getting the living crap beaten out of him.
Despite that, the volume is engaging, despite a bit of lag in the middle, with a good hook for the first chapter and indication of an interesting direction for the next volume in the last. I hesitate to recommend picking up the series at this point, however – the end of the volume leaves the next volume’s storyline pretty ambiguous, and Vol. 2 will definitely be the important point to decide to read or drop.
Story: 4 out of 5
Art: 3.5 out of 5
Overall: 4 out of 5