Reviewby Theron Martin,
Attack on Titan: End of the World
Humanity has protected itself behind three concentric rings of massive walls for several decades now, ever since the sudden emergence of Titans and the ensuing Great Titan War devastated the population a century ago. No Titans have been seen in ages though, which only contributes to young Eren's sense of being trapped like livestock in their strictly controlled society. When the Titans do suddenly reappear one day and break through the outermost Third Wall, Eren and his close friends Armin and Mikasa can do nothing but scramble for their lives from the giant, people-eating creatures. Two years later, Eren and Armin have undergone military training with special VME (Vertical Maneuvering) equipment and joined the Survey Corps, which aims to take the fight to the Titans and complete a twice-failed mission to patch the big hole in the outer wall. Fighting the nearly-immortal Titans quickly proves to be no less horrifying than running from them, and on top of that, someone seems intent on sabotaging their mission. But what could anyone hope to gain from that? And what became of Mikasa, who Eren lost in the confusion of the initial Titan attack? Those truths with shake Eren and Armin's world to its core.
While the synopsis above will no doubt sound familiar to fans of the anime or manga version of Attack on Titan, this is actually a novelization of the two live-action Attack on Titan movies released in 2015. It's a crucial distinction, as the movies used the core characters and basic concepts of the source material to otherwise go off in a markedly different direction. The jury's still out on whether these changes were improvements in any way; ask me again after the upcoming second season has aired.
For those not familiar with the live-action movies, this version still features Eren, Armin, and Mikasa as the central trio, with their original personalities more or less the same at the start with the exception of a less physically assertive Mikasa. A few familiar faces from the anime/manga also have prominent roles; Jean and Sasha become regular companions to Eren and Armin during their Survey Corps days. Hange also pops up, although purely as a scientist rather than fellow VME warrior. Otherwise, the story is populated with a plethora of new characters. Some play roles similar to characters from the anime version, but others are entirely new. Standing between these extremes is Shikishima, who kinda-sorta takes on the role of Levi as the ultimate badass amongst Survey Corps members. His personality is quite different than Levi's though, and his goals and motivations run much deeper. It's also notable that, due to being based on a Japanese live-action adaptation, characters of Asian descent are not rare in this version compared to the original story, where Mikasa was the only one.
More complicated large-scale plotting is the main structural difference between this version and the anime. Whereas the anime adaptation has remained straightforward despite all of the intrigue over who may or may not be a saboteur (and who besides Eren can transform into a Titan), this is a more conspiratorial tale with more complicated motivations. Friend and enemy alliances shift a few times throughout the story, and the ultimate villain's motives are suitably repugnant even if there is a cold sort of logic to them. The movies also reveal a much more detailed backstory behind the Titans in general and why Eren (and others) can transform into them; how much of this aligns with the original manga story remains to be seen, but the anime at least seemed to be headed in a different direction as of its first season.
The novel isn't a perfect replication of the live-action movies, since it skips a few choice details (like the baby Titan) and expands on others (we get a much more thorough view of several characters' thought processes, especially Mikasa). However, it largely shares both the strengths and weaknesses of the movies. It excels in its brisk depictions of action scenes, with particular attention paid to how the anchors for VMEs work, and it effectively conveys the sense of menace projected by the Titans. On the downside, characterizations are still pretty weak. Of the main trio, Armin comes through most clearly, but Mikasa still feels very limited; she hardly has a personality beyond how she reacts to Eren. Meanwhile, Eren's portrayal never quite exudes the sense of driving anger that propels his character in other versions, which leaves him feeling aimless in a way that was probably not fully intended. Supporting characters actually come through much stronger in their more limited depictions.
On a technical level, the writing is passable at best. It avoids many of the pitfalls common to light novels, but it rarely reads sharp and doesn't have the greatest sense of flow during conversations. There's even a point where one villain literally says, “this is the part where I tell you everything” before doing exactly that in a tedious fashion. At 321 pages, with no illustration beyond the glossy first page, this probably qualifies more as a regular novel rather than a light novel. It offers no maps or other extra material either, but at least the cover art is compelling.
Overall, this release from Vertical, Inc. is a worthwhile read if you haven't seen the live-action movies, since it offers an intriguing alternate take on the basic story (even if the new definitive ending leaves an awful lot unanswered). However, it doesn't add enough to the story for me to recommend this to anyone who has already seen the movies.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : A
+ Offers an intriguing alternate take on the concept, substantial world-building
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