“Fight to win! Risk it all for even a glimmer of real freedom! It doesn’t matter what’s waiting outside the gate or what comes in! It doesn’t matter how cruel the world can be, or how unjust!
Fight! Fight! Fight! FIGHT!”
Readers, I want you to imagine a dystopia the likes of which you’ve never seen before. The human race has been driven to the brink of extinction by a race of colossal monsters who seem to exist only to kill it, and the survivors have fled within supposedly impenetrable walls to defend themselves. This world gives no pretense of being perfect, is in fact genuinely terrifying, and humanity’s defenders are fighting a seemingly endless battle to protect a hopeless population. That’s right, I’m talking about the world of Hajime Isayama’s best-selling manga, Attack on Titan. And as Tumblr user acronymexe so aptly summed up: “Attack on Titan has taught me that no matter what the odds, no matter what stands in my way, if I have the right mindset and fight with my mind and my soul, I will still most likely die.” I actually discovered animated adaptation of this manga before the manga itself; while the first season of the anime ended after twenty-five episodes, I discovered that the manga was still ongoing and immediately began reading.
**SPOILERS: I will not discuss in this blog any plot points extending past Chapter 34 of the manga / episode 25 of the anime.**
The series begins an indefinite time in the future. The remainder of the human race lives in a small span of territory protected by three concentric circular walls, driven there one-hundred years ago and reduced to pseudo-Napoleonic-era technology by the appearance and attack of the Titans. These are humanoid giants who have a serious case of the munchies for humans, and the walls (protected by a three-branch military force) do a pretty good job of keeping them out…until a mysterious Colossal Titan appears and breaks down the outermost wall. In this attack, the mother of adopted siblings Eren Jaeger and Mikasa Ackerman was killed, and their best friend Armin Arlert’s family was killed as well. Eren’s anger toward the Titans for the death of his mother quickly led him to decide to eventally slaughter them all. The three friends join the military in order to stay together, and eventually become part of the Survey Corps, the branch of the military devoted to exploring outside the walls and fighting Titans on their own turf. It is ultimate goal of both Eren and the Corps to eradicate the Titans so that humanity can live free outside the walls they’ve been imprisoned in for so long.
One symbol that keeps appearing again and again throughout the series is the “wings of freedom”, the stylized wing crest on the back of the Survey Corps’ jackets and cloaks. Not only is it mentioned over and over again by the characters, but it is constantly referenced in the franchise outside of the story: the first chapter of the Attack on Titan: No Regrets spinoff manga is named after this crest, as is the anime’s second opening theme. Wherever you go in the AoT universe, the Wings of Freedom are there. The further I went into the series, the more attached I became to this symbol.
Why exactly? The Survey Corps do indeed represent and fight for freedom, but they’re also the branch of the military with the highest death toll. They lose every battle but still fight with hope that they’ll win the war. They fight ceaselessly, selflessly, with full knowledge that they are statistically going to their demise, just to give humanity a chance at freedom and survival. Because they know that if they don’t fight, they can’t win.
Talk about relatable.
Yes, Attack on Titan taught me that no matter the odds and no matter what I do, there’s always a chance that it will end in horrific failure. But does the possibility of failure really matter in the end? What good does sitting around, locked in whatever cage I’m trapped in, do? Whenever I feel powerless, I remember that I wasn’t born to accept defeated: I was born free. I don’t even have to think that I have a chance to win in order to take action – I just have to fight.
And so, in a way, the Wings of Freedom to me are like armor. I wear them across my chest on a t-shirt when I go about my classes and normal day, emblazoned across my back and catching in the wind when I cosplay a Survey Corps soldier, and firmly imprinted across my heart whenever I’m afraid or feel chained to the ground, frustrated with the cruelty of the world I see around myself. With how popular Attack on Titan has become in the wake of the release of the anime in English, I’ve seen many people around LMU and Harrogate wearing the Wings of Freedom as well – an uplifting, validating sight if there ever was one.
What about you, readers? Has there ever been a work of fiction that you didn’t anticipate you’d become so attached to? Or a symbol from a story that resonated particularly strongly with you? Let me know in the comments! This is the second post in my ongoing series on graphic novels and comics. Check out the previous posts in the series here, and feel free to follow my blog for future updates!