He Blinded Me With Science, or The Science of Attack on Titan

Attack on Titan volume 10 cover. Art by Hajime Isayama. Kodansha.

The Science of Attack on Titan by Rikao Yanagita. Penguin Random House/Kodansha, June 2015.The Science of Attack on Titan

Writer: Rikao Tanagita
Illustrations: Hajime Isayama and Maru Fujishima
Translation: Ko Ransom
Kodansha Comics
June 2015

The ubiquitous Attack on Titan strikes again! We have the original manga, spin-off series, light novels, anime adaptations, live action movies, videogames, and now…a pop science book? Not the first thing that would have come to mind, but I guess when you’re trying to ride the popularity wave, anything’s fair game.

To be fair, this book’s origins stem from reader demand. Rikao Yanagita writes about the science of anime, manga, and science fiction and sends a free weekly newsletter to high schools in Japan. Many readers of that newsletter contacted him, suggesting he write a book dedicated to Attack on Titan, so when the opportunity presented itself, I’m sure it seemed like a no-brainer.

Now I love me some science. My academic background is in science, actually. And while I’m not the most ardent Attack on Titan fan, I am perpetually fascinated by the way it mirrors Japanese sociocultural anxieties. So this book seemed like the perfect union of those two things.

I want to emphasize that this is a pop science book. Anyone going in expecting a dry, rigorous breakdown of the physics of Attack on Titan will be sorely disappointed. Ultimately a good thing, because I worry some overenthusiastic fan might have attempted to make fully functional three-dimensional maneuver gear, and I can’t see that ending well. What this book does offer are a lot of theories, explained in a light, humorous tone.

In fact, the humor—beyond the science, beyond the theories, beyond even the commentary on Attack on Titan events—is what stood out to me the most. Humor is tricky. It’s so subjective. What works for one person can fall flat for someone else. I, myself, prefer dry, sly humor. I don’t care much for slapstick. The humor in The Science of Attack on Titan falls somewhere in between, making it a mixed bag. Sometimes I snorted. Other times, it felt like the author was trying just a bit too hard.

(Yes, we know Titans are scary, Mr. Tanagita. We get it. You don’t need to repeat every five pages.)

Now who should read this book? Probably not me (Oops). I know just a little too much science and I’ve read just a little too far in Attack on Titan. There were many sections where a hypothesis would be introduced and I’d say to myself, But they explain that in the manga! What made those moments irksome was that five pages later, the book proceeds to say that it was later explained in the manga. What? Why introduce that hypothesis then? I’m willing to let one or two instances of this sort of thing go, but it happened throughout the entire book.

If Titans were plants from The Science of Attack on Titan. Art by Maru Fujishima. Penguin Random House/Kodansha, June 2015.
If Titans are plant-based lifeforms, does that mean that cutting their necks severs their vascular bundles?

The people best suited to reading this book are casual fans. People who’ve watched the anime and maybe read only a couple volumes of the manga. And probably people who didn’t work for over a decade in a research laboratory. It’s hard to shut the science brain off sometimes. One of the hypotheses put forth by the book is that Titans are a plant-based lifeform. Not the most outrageous claim since the Titans are inactive at night and, in fact, cannot go underground. But this sent my brain whirling off into tangents like: “If the Titans are plants, how do you explain their blood? Are you saying their blood is actually chlorophyll? It’s red, not green! And how do you explain the blood evaporating after a Titan is killed?” Some of these questions are addressed but never when I wanted them to be. My science brain wanted the theories and explanations to be arranged differently. I found the content order to be very disjointed in all honesty, and I’m not sure if that’s simply a wrong audience thing.

The Titans in the walls from The Science of Attack on Titan. Art by Maru Fujishima. Penguin Random House/Kodansha, June 2015.
Readers who know the secret of the walls will understand why this illustration is so funny.

It wasn’t all frustrating, though. The interior illustrations are a delight. Tanagita uses Isayama’s illustrations from the original manga for his theories but he also uses additional illustrations by Maru Fujishima. These drawings are solid gold. Fujishima’s clean, simple lines and sense of visual humor form the perfect counterpoint to the serious, often ominous illustrations selected from the manga.

Dislike is too strong a word to describe how I felt about this book. Irked is close. Frustrated is probably closer. I do appreciate that it included some useful explanations for those of us who don’t follow every single spin-off. Did you know that in this world, they discovered something called metal bamboo? It’s ultra-strong and ultra-light, and it’s what the 3DMG is made out of. In case you ever wondered how the soldiers’ equipment could function without weighing a gazillion pounds. But in general, this is a novelty book best suited for the casual fan. Attack on Titan fanatics might find that it doesn’t answer the questions they want.

Back matter from The Science of Attack on Titan. Penguin Random House/Kodansha, June 2015.As an aside, the last page of the novel cracked me up. In a nice reversal of the how-to-read guides added to some English-translated manga, this books features a reading guide instructing us that this is a Western-style book. Hilarious.

Vernieda Vergara

Vernieda Vergara

Writer. Manga and webtoon aficionado. I hail from Washington D.C. where I consume too much media and cause only a little trouble. Tweet me @incitata.

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