Erwin’s final gambit is failing – the Survey Corps are trapped on all sides. The Colossal Titan has appeared on the battlefield, and Armin might be the only one able to stop him.
The Survey Corps fight a desperate battle against the titans in Shiganshina in hopes of reaching Eren’s basement. The Beast Titan awaits on the horizon, and the Colossal Titan has entered the fray despite the best efforts of Eren and his friends. Now trapped on all sides, Erwin and Levi contemplate their last move while Eren, Armin, and their friends attempt to take down Bertolt once and for all.
How Was It?
After a couple volumes worth of table setting, Attack on Titan Vol. 20 goes full action-movie in a thrilling way as the battle between the Survey Corps and Titans escalates in earnest. One of the things that defined Attack on Titan especially in the early going was the way that it fostered the feeling that no character was “safe”, and this was something that I think was lost a little bit as the series proceeded. Although there has been plenty of death, of late this has primarily been the deaths of many of the bit players in this series, and in some ways this undermined the emphasis on sacrifice that this series has broached at a number of moments. In contrast, this volume goes all-in, and one of the things that really stood out for me was the way that Isyama-sensei reintroduces this danger in a very real way over the course of this battle, giving some real flesh to this theme of sacrifice.
The battle in this volume proceeds in two sections – the first showing Erwin, Levi, and the rest of the trapped Corps members on the outside of the wall facing down the Beast Titan, and the second showing Eren, Armin, and the rest of their crew as they try to take down the Colossal Titan. Erwin’s battle is particularly special because of the way that it really digs deep into the idea of true desperation as he and Levi contemplate the nature of their impending annihilation. This linked in quite well with the burden that previous volumes established Erwin as carrying with regard to the fallen members of the Survey Corps, and I thought that the arc that he and Levi undergo in weighing whether to send their soldiers to their deaths was equal parts fascinating and horrifying. I particularly enjoyed the way that we see all of the aspects of Erwin’s resolve here, and this entire process paid appropriate care to the weight of this moment as a leader.
I thought that the way the stakes at hand in this storyline were emphasized was fantastic – we see them make their decision, and then have to more or less tell the soldiers that they will be charging to their deaths. This is well-done because we see the idea of sacrifice in a couple different ways; first, in Erwin resigning himself to his fate, and second, in the soldiers’ reactions at being told to die. I liked that Isayama-sensei doesn’t shy away from depicting the consequences afterwards as we get an action scene that is not only cool as a spectacle, but one that is truly difficult to witness as the soldiers meet their horrible end in explicit detail. The artwork is fantastic here in a number of ways such the level of detail depicting the sense of impact as limbs are blown off and the clear paneling, but I was particularly impressed with the way the alternating expressions of desperate courage and sheer terror were portrayed in the faces of Erwin as well as the rest of the soldiers. All of this cemented the weight of the previous scene because we see every facet of this experience, and I was altogether impressed by the way that this entire segment emphasized the human cost of the battle. It’s thrilling and terrifying, and I thought that this storyline was Attack on Titan at its best.
The battle against the Colossal Titan also succeed in introducing some real stakes into the battle, and I think one of the most fascinating things about this battle was the way that it placed many of these established characters in a position where they seemed appropriately vulnerable given their situation. The action remains crisp as well, moving at a frenetic pace which accentuates the sheer desperation of their fight quite well. I also enjoyed that strategic moments were included into the scene even as the battle reached a fever pitch – the way that Armin’s role in the Survey Corps has slowly been expanded over the course of the past number of volumes has been quite excellent, and it definitely pays off in this volume. That said, Armin’s character arc in this volume is another standout because of the way that Isayama is able to explore his bravery in the context of this battle, and I thought that this was a particularly strong supporting aspect of this action-packed segment.
Attack on Titan Vol. 20 is a wild and entertaining ride which recaptures the rawness and desperation of early volumes of the series. The stakes are as high as ever here, and this volume succeeds because it doesn’t shy away from placing the brutal nature of the Survey Corps' situation in context by showing the emotion process of the soldiers as well as their demise. This volume is an excellent bit of payoff after a couple volumes of table-setting, and it definitely captured my excitement and interest for this series again.
Attack on Titan Vol. 20 was translated by Ko Ransom and published by Kodansha Comics USA on December 27th, 2016. Authored by Hajime Isayama, the series is currently ongoing in Kodansha’s Bessatsu Shonen Magazine with 20 volumes currently released in Japan. The series also received a two-cour anime adaption in 2013 by WIT Studio with a second season on the way in April 2017.
Date of Publication: December 27th, 2016
Author: Hajime Isayama
Translator: Ko Ransom
Editor: Ben Applegate
Publisher: Kodansha Comics USA