The Fall 2017 Manga Guide
Attack on Titan: No Regrets: Deluxe Color Edition
What's It About?
Years before Captain Levi of the Survey Corps became the Titan-fighting legend that crosses paths with new recruits Eren Yeager, Mikasa Ackermann, and Armin Arlert, he was a pauper living among the discarded dregs of humanity in The Underground. Alongside his two thieving cohorts, Isabel Magnolia and Furlan Church, hoodlum Levi evades the Military Police with stolen vertical maneuvering equipment. Despite being criminals, their skills with the equipment attract the attention of Erwin Smith, a rising star in the military ranks. When Erwin invites them to join the Survey Corps in exchange for clemency from their crimes, Levi and his friends accept, although their cooperation isn't as straightforward as they lead Erwin to believe. However, Levi may have underestimated the ambitious young leader—and the danger that awaits him and his comrades aboveground.
Attack on Titan: No Regrets Complete Color Edition (12/19/2017) is a colorized two-volumes-in-one re-release of the Attack on Titan: No Regrets manga with art by Hikaru Suruga and story by Gun Snark (Nitroplus) and which includes new bonus material. A spin-off prequel manga based on the world and characters in Hajime Isayama's Attack on Titan manga, it will be available in oversized hardcover from Kodansha Comics for $29.99. A two-episode OVA anime adaptation is packaged with the special editions of the Attack on Titan manga volumes 18 and 19, which retail for $19.99 each.
Is It Worth Reading?
Captain Levi makes for a strong candidate for his own spin-off series. Not only is he popular among fans, but he's also stoic and mysterious, revealing little about himself until late in the Attack on Titan manga, not even his own last name. While Attack on Titan: No Regrets doesn't paint the entire picture of the clean-freak captain's formative years, it provides enough for the audience to understand what drives him to take down so many titans and how he's managed to prove so much more skillful than many other members of the Survey Corps. Even before the tragedy of events that concludes this volume, Levi is hardly a jovial man, so it's clear that the end of his time with Isabel and Furlan isn't the only thing that's responsible for his dour personality. Life in The Underground hardened him, but his two friends (and his obsession with cleanliness) are enough to give him a touch of levity. It's these unexpected humorous moments that make the character so compelling.
Isabel and Furlan, the two original major characters, suffice for the story's purpose, but they're not particularly memorable. They're at ease around Levi, which makes it clear their bond is strong, but they don't do much to shine without him to guide them—which actually winds up leading to Levi's grave mistake. The new bonus side stories (which add some much-welcomed comedy) actually provide more characterization for both of them, but there's little time for them to evolve in the story proper. Erwin isn't in the story as much as these two, but the earliest days of his relationship with Levi are here on the page, though their confrontation at the end feels rushed. Levi learns not to put his pride first and does as Erwin tells him, but it feels like there should have been more to reconcile their two objectives.
Suruga's art is polished and clean—much nicer to look at than Isayama's artwork in the original series. At the same time, Isayama's gritty style helps breathe life into this dangerous, unclean world, whereas Suruga's art seems more fantastical. The colorization works to make her art truly pop off the page, but it chooses a more cartoonish palette than the dark setting demands, making this “too clean” effect even more jarring when compared to the story told therein. Still, it's a nice collectible for serious fans to have, especially with the inclusion of several short bonus stories.
Any Attack on Titan fan who's yet to read this side story owes it to themselves to pick up this two-in-one volume. While there's less depth than in the series proper, Levi himself makes reading the story worthwhile. People who've already read the black and white versions may choose to pass on it unless they really loved the story. Because it's not as riveting as the original, anyone new to the series should skip it until they've caught up with the original manga.
Attack on Titan is a force to be reckoned with and the series' own popularity is only rivaled by its own brooding Levi. The character stomped his way all over Eren and into viewers hearts. Attack on Titan: No Regrets, a prequel manga about Levi's exploits before Eren entered the scene, is such an example of character's staying power. The magazine that ran the manga during its serialization sold out within a week until Kodansha upped its circulation numbers ten-fold. Inquiring minds could not get enough of the stoic clean-freak.
So, having acknowledged this side-story's star power and his fandom, the meat of No Regrets is, unfortunately, pretty lean. The world of Attack on Titan and the new underground that we find Levi and his two friends eking it out in goes largely unexplored. Levi himself, mostly an enigma to anime fans thus far, keeps his cards close to his chest. This seems to be a case where Hikaru Suruga and Gun Snark were given a pretty short leash to keep from stepping on creator Hajime Isayama's toes. As readers, we're introduced to an interesting setting but unfortunately never learn how society operates within it or how Levi and is two compatriots ended up there, much less survived until young adulthood. All three are in possession of maneuver gear, but we're not sure how they swiped that either. These are the finer details that keep No Regrets from becoming completely immersive. Instead, the maneuver gear is treated as a narrative convenience so all three characters can mostly skip training and go straight to Titan slicing.
The narrative format is also a bit tricky. It's sometimes hard to decipher between current and past events when the story jumps back in time. Levi, Magnolia, and Furlan only appear in one outfit in both timelines, so there's no immediate visual cues when the story hops back to set-up its blackmail plot, which also feels poorly set up based on initial reactions of the trio when Erwin captures them. Supposedly they were warned ahead of time and even hired to join the Corps retrieve documents from Erwin and kill him, but the first chapter doesn't play out like Levi intended to join the Corps all along.
A prequel story has to be pretty clever when audiences already know the inevitable conclusion going in, either by defying expectations or fleshing out its characters motivations more thoroughly. I'm not convinced No Regrets manages to pull that off, presumably due to creative limitations. This complete release is also in full color which, admittedly, does not do the artwork any favors. This is the kind of black and white to color auto-fill job you see on black and white photography. The palette is far too bright for a work dealing with a grimy underground and man-eating humans. The effect seems more like a hopeful of attempt of crossing over to Western comic fans than adding anything of actual aesthetic value to the work.
No Regrets is a decent enough excursion for Levi fans but it fails to shed any new light on the series' most popular and enigmatic personality.
Of the dozen some-odd Attack on Titan spin-offs, only No Regrets ever looked like it might serve a purpose deeper than cashing-in on the franchise's runaway success. Levi is not only one of Titan's most popular characters – understandably so, given his hyper-competence and a no-nonsense temperament that often leaves him a welcome contrast to Eren and company's histrionics – but one of its most mysterious. His past exploits at his murderous uncle Kenny's side and his uncharacteristic respect for Survey Corp captain Erwin suggested an origin story of real purpose and power. The idea that No Regrets might elaborate on how “humanity's most powerful soldier” came to value a life of service over one defined by brute survival and sadistic slaughter seemed rife with opportunities not just to explore his origins but those murkier elements of the Ackerman clan's past that have always been an important if subtle thread in the ever-more elaborate tapestry of Titan's mythology.
Unfortunately, that promise was empty, as No Regrets proved an entirely forgettable side-story that did nothing to clarify Levi's past; if anything it only muddied already unclear waters. His time at Kenny's side was not mentioned even once. Barely any attention is paid to his time in the underground. Instead, focus was turned entirely upon Levi's adventures with a pair of bandits whom he had so little chemistry with and so little emotional connection to that it was unbelievable their deaths could have catalyzed his decision to join the Survey Corps. The fact that they were not – and have not been – mentioned in the series proper only emphasized their expendability.
Meanwhile, his loyalty to Erwin was not, as one might have guessed, a matter of sensibilities slowly swayed, but of undying devotion born from one awkward conversation and a later burst of grandiose rhetoric. Nothing was done convince the skeptical reader that a pragmatist like Levi would so easily lose sight of larger objectives when faced with Erwin's death as he does in the core story, only paint-by-numbers narrative beats that feel at best like a matter of missed editorial connections. Or, at worst, like a matter of commercial exploitation.
This deluxe hardcover edition does nothing to address these problems. The story remains the same. The extra content at book's back remains the same. All that's been altered is the artwork, which actually suffers from what feels to me like a half-hearted coloring job. Hikaru Surugua's rounder, more polished character designs and environments and her less sketching shading work may have stolen a bit of the rebellious energy and personality inherent to Hajime Isayama's amateurish style, but they at least kept something of it. This color job robs even the battles and action, those elements Suruga could deliver on, of their dynamism. It's flat, lazy: there's little gradation between colors, little shading to suggests that light is distributed differently across surfaces: the result is a world almost without dimension. Blues and greens are so dull it seems laughable Levi would be wowed by these pastures and these skies; backgrounds are almost uniformly dull and empty; there's little sense of consequence to anything as a result.
The binding is nice and the paper quality better than those of the trades, but the Complete Color Edition of No Regrets proves as cynical an addition to the Titan franchise as the original release.
You know that when an Attack on Titan spinoff manga about a major character from the main series introduces new people things will probably end badly for them. That's absolutely the case with Levi's old friends from his younger days living in an underground slum; seasoned AoT readers will already know not to get attached to them, and to be honest, No Regrets actually makes that kind of easy. That's because neither Isabel nor Furlan stand out particularly or seem to have any special relationship with Levi beyond being his friends – they're characters who were created to give Levi a tragic backstory to explain his position in the main series and not much more.
That's a shame, because the story itself is pretty interesting. The idea of an underground slum beneath the most affluent part of the walled cities is fascinating, and I wish that we'd gotten more of Levi and the gang's life there before they're whisked away by Erwin to join the Survey Corps. Sure, we see how Furlan and Levi pick up Isabel, and how Furlan and Levi met, but how did Levi end up the underground badass in the first place? Why did he decide to join up with Furlan? And how on earth did he get the Vertical Maneuvering Equipment and learn to use it? (Also – why hasn't the Survey Corps created an underground training arena? It's perfect for it!) Rather than answering these questions, the focus in on a nebulous plot by Powerful People to disband the Survey Corps and both Levi's and Erwin's roles in it. It all feels a little half-baked because we don't really get much motivation for Levi beyond “I'm an angry thug!”
On the plus side, the oversize, glossy full-color format is fun. It isn't beautiful, but it does capture a feeling of being somewhere artistically between the anime and the manga, which is neat. Characters are also easier to tell apart in color, which is important in this book especially, when there isn't otherwise a whole lot of distinction, and the flying scenes feel really dynamic. That's in part due to the skill of the artist, but also the larger format and the color, with each piece contributing to make the panels really stand out.
If you haven't read this side manga and are an AoT fan, this is a good time to do so. It isn't great, but it is interesting and has plenty of bonus Levi Cleaning moments, and the previously unavailable short stories are nice. Really, it only leaves me with one last burning question: have the Titans always had thigh gaps?
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