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by Rebecca Silverman,

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall

Novel 2 - Kyklo

Attack on Titan: Before the Fall Novel 2
After the events of the previous novel, a baby is discovered alive in a Titan's vomit. Called “the Titan's son,” the boy is raised in captivity as a monster until a girl sees past the rumors to the human within. She and the boy, named Kuklo, escape from their mutual captivity and start new lives. But Kuklo is haunted by his past nickname and the role the Titans have played in shaping his life. He seeks out the newly resurrected Survey Corps, setting in motion a new future for himself...and the fight for humanity's survival.

How well do you know Attack on Titan? How much do you like adventure novels with a slight science fiction bent? If the answer to the first is “not very” and the second “a lot,” then you're in luck – Vertical's translation of Attack on Titan: Before the Fall Novel 2: Kuklo Unbound is an exciting read that requires little prior knowledge of the AoT world. While readers who are well-versed in Hajime Isayama's increasingly large story will find plenty of tidbits that will enhance their enjoyment of the franchise – particularly those who read the first of Suzukaze's novels – the book is strong enough to stand on its own as a work of adventure fiction, hearkening back to the pulp novels of the 1940s and 50s in its style and relatively bloodless action.

The story starts after the Titan attack of Before the Fall, with Carlo Piquer wandering through the ruins of Shiganshina District. He's helping with rescue efforts when he comes across a pile of Titan vomit – mangled but undigested human remains. In what is by far the grossest scene in the book, he discovers the body of a pregnant woman, whose body has birthed her child postmortem. Horrified rather than thrilled by this sign of life amidst the stench of death, Carlo unwittingly thinks of the baby as a “Titan's son,” thus relegating the child to a life as a sideshow freak. At some point the boy is given the name Kuklo (pronounced, according to the text, like the “cu” in “cucumber”), and he endures first a horrible life in a freak show before being sold to a man who gives him to his son Xavi to use as a punching/stabbing bag. Fortunately for Kuklo, Xavi's sister Sharle realizes his humanity and, disliking her own life as an ornament to be married off for her father's benefit, she helps him to escape. The two begin a life below the radar, and the story really picks up when they're fifteen, with Kuklo finding the Survey Corps and actively seeking out a Titan so that he can better understand their role in his life, as well as his own humanity.

As a character, Kuklo is well-rounded and interesting. While Suzukaze skips over large swathes of his life in order to move the story along, we still get an understanding of his emotional issues. He was treated as less than human since his birth to the point where even he himself wasn't sure if he was really a person. Sharle was the first one to truly see that there was no way he could be other than human, and through her kindness and willingness to help, he becomes able to accept who he is and what he wants to do. She's also the only one we see him be really comfortable with. While he befriends Cardina and Rosa, you get the feeling that he's always holding something back. They don't truly understand what he went through the way Sharle does, and rather than explain it, he simply stays at an emotional distance. This is most obvious with Cardina, who appears to honestly like and admire Kuklo, a favor Kuklo always stops just short of returning.

More interesting, however, is the role the Survey Corps plays in Kuklo's life. They are the ones who find him and inadvertently condemn him to his horrible first fifteen years of life, and later when they see his skills and stamina (brought on by what he suffered at Xavi's hands), they recruit him, essentially playing on his inner conflict in order to use him for their own ends. Admittedly, it is difficult to see how that last is all bad, given what humans face in terms of threat level from the Titans, but there's still an uncomfortable aspect to the way they rope him in. This and the fact that Sharle, who begins as a promising character, is woefully underdeveloped and underutilized are the chief issues with the plot of the book; the aforementioned lost chunks of time are a little disconcerting but don't really affect the story very much. Vertical's translation has a conflict of language in places, mostly sounding fairly formal but for the use of the word “guys,” which is the most slang/colloquial the book ever gets. It feels out of place in a text that regularly uses phrases like “Seeking the cruelest way to kill their own kind was nothing but demonic.”

Suzukaze does an excellent job of making the Titans terrifying and bringing Isayama's world to life as well as making us feel for Kuklo. Vertical's edition contains both volumes of the Japanese original, which was a very good move as the story would have felt unnaturally bisected if we had to wait months between halves of it, plus it reads very quickly in terms of pacing. Fans of Attack on Titan should enjoy this glimpse into the world's past and those new to the franchise may find this an easy way in, as the book is pulpy good fun. Kuklo Unbound gives us what the original manga does in novel form, and there really isn't much higher praise that an adaptation can get than that.

Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B

+ Pulpy good read, fast-paced and exciting. Kuklo is easy to root for and the Titans are terrifying. Easy place to enter the franchise but with lots of goodies for fans.
Some awkward language choices, lots of time skipped. Survey Corps' role in Kuklo's life is a little uncomfortable, Sharle is underdeveloped.

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Production Info:
Story: Ryo Suzukaze
Original creator: Hajime Isayama
Licensed by: Vertical

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Attack on Titan: Before the Fall (light novel)

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Attack on Titan: Kuklo Unbound (Novel 2)

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