What would you do when you finally finish up a story eleven and a half years in the making? For Hajime Isayama, creator of Attack on Titan, it’s walk around town with a cup of sake in his hand. ‘To me, that’s freedom,’ he said. Hajime Isayama’s latest interview in Bessatsu Shonen Magazine was surprisingly candid, addressing a lot of concerns fans had about the series’ ending.
Contains spoilers for the Attack on Titan manga up to chapter 139.
First of all, he described what it felt like to finish the final manuscript and bring Attack on Titan to an end after all these years. ‘I’ve still got some work to do for the collected volume, so I don’t yet truly understand what it’s like to live a life without deadlines,’ he joked, ‘but once the final chapter was out in the world, I definitely felt like things had settled down somewhat.’
What Isayama is referring to here is the fact that there will be an extra eight pages of story included in the final volume of Attack on Titan, composed of material that couldn’t be published in Bessatsu Shonen Magazine due to space constraints.
Even so, that material was created because Hajime Isayama wasn’t happy with his initial storyboard in the first place. He explained in the interview how the final page was originally going to be separated into about ‘five small panels,’ but he wasn’t happy with that: after discussing with his editors, he decided to settle for the version in Bessatsu, but add more in the volume release.
Throughout the entire interview, you get the sense that Hajime Isayama isn’t exactly happy with how Attack on Titan turned out. When quizzed by Bessatsu about the final chapter and Eren’s ultimate motivations, he said that ‘The final arc had a lot of themes that were quite hard for me to depict, so it caused me a lot of headaches. I don’t think that I managed to fully express everything in the manga, and I really regret that.’
In particular, when it comes to Armin’s final conversation with Eren, Hajime Isayama says in the interview that Armin doesn’t condone him, but rather sees himself as an ‘accomplice’ to Eren’s actions. That’s the real meaning of the line ‘You became a mass murderer for our sake,’ but he admits that it wasn’t exactly clear in the manga.
Surprisingly, he also said that he followed the commentary online closely and apologized to everyone who followed the story to the end but came away disappointed.
Regardless of what you think of the ending, a story that has existed for as long as Attack on Titan has, undergoing so many transformations and yet still being guided by one singular voice is a rare thing indeed. Hence why it has always been a testament to the serialized medium.
This also has had its real-life effects. Hajime Isayama described the series as a ‘youth come a little too late’ in the interview, referring to how one-third of his life was poured into it. Seeing his assistants and fellow mangaka go from plucky twenty-somethings to older, more responsible adults with families was also a strange thing to behold.
Furthermore, Isayama’s thoughts on the series haven’t remained the same forever. In the interview, he remarked that while he originally treated the genders of different characters ‘as if they weren’t there,’ this became more and more difficult as the manga went on. Particularly during the Marley arc, where the series began to evoke more real world parallels than ever before, there was an ‘uncanny feeling’ born from how female soldiers were fighting alongside male ones.
‘It’s just a fictional story, but I think, somewhere along the way, it became something unrelated to our reality,’ he said. Perhaps this is something he would change, if he was given the chance to start over again from the beginning.
Finally, Bessatsu Shonen Magazine asked Hajime Isayama some of his favorite things about the series to close out the interview in a positive manner, especially considering how self-critical some of the answers got. He gave his favorite scene as the fight between the Jaw and Attack Titan in chapter 104, ‘Victors,’ while his favorite chapter overall is a toss-up between chapter 71 ‘Bystander’ and chapter 69 ‘Friend’: both because of how they felt more like isolated one-shots than parts of the Attack on Titan story proper.
Undoubtedly, there are many things that Hajime Isayama regrets about Attack on Titan. One of the problems with the serialized medium is that the story can take on a life of its own; you can’t stop it from going down a particular track without severely damaging the integrity of the narrative as a whole.
Still, the author shouldn’t be too down in the dumps. He did create one of the works that defined the past decade, after all, and managed to cultivate a passionate worldwide fanbase. What’s more, a manga that ends in controversy is arguably better than a manga that ends without fanfare. A bang is mightier than a whimper.
There’s also a conversation between Hajime Isayama and Hiromu Arakawa coming in next month’s issue of Bessatsu. Look forward to it!