The moment I heard what others had to say about Attack on Titan, I knew that I was obligated to watch this show, and to write something about it. Apparently, Attack on Titan relates the way in which the titans treat humans to the way in which humans treat animals. Apparently, it could function as a commentary on animal exploitation.
An anime that makes people think about animal exploitation? That is a hit amongst the masses? Surely you jest.
Okay, so the comparisons are plain as day. By moving mankind down the food chain, Attack on Titan allows us see things from the perspective of the animals below us. To them, we are the titans, enslaving them and killing them when they haven’t done anything to wrong us, and want nothing more than to be left alone.
But here’s my conclusion: you won’t learn much about animal exploitation by watching this show.
Take a look at this scene in Episode 2. When Eren accuses Armin of being a coward for wanting to live like cattle, the implication is that only cattle would be content with such a fate, and Armin shouldn’t give up precisely because he isn’t a cow; because he’s human, because he’s better than that.
This is symptomatic of the way in which animals are consistently viewed throughout the show. They are a metaphor for what we don’t want to become, a foil that helps us understand why we, as human beings, continue to fight. Because we aren’t dumb animals who only know how to bow down to the dominant species, right?
This kind of thinking couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, humans are more intelligent than animals. Sure, we experience certain kinds of existential pains that animals don’t. But none of these matter when we treat them like how the titans treat us. Animals, too, have families and loved ones that they wish to be with. Animals, too, understand that life is precious, and want to live. They thrash and struggle and scream all the time. Like human mothers, they mourn when their children are taken away from them. They fight back against us in the exact same ways that the characters in Attack on Titan fight against the titans.
But they lose, because there is no deus ex machina to save them. Imagine if Titan Eren never comes to the rescue when Mikasa is cornered in Episode 7. Mikasa fights until her very last breath, hoping for a miracle, but is killed because she’s human and a titan is a titan, and that’s just how the food chain works. In the end, Wall Rose is lost. Afterwards, Wall Sina is breached, and every single last person is eaten. End of story.
Could we accept such an ending? No, because it would be too bleak. We can’t bear to think that there might be a predator species so powerful that defeating them is a complete impossibility. Well, to the animals, this isn’t even fiction. This is reality. This is the reality that Attack on Titan doesn’t allow us to see.
In the end, while I commend Attack on Titan for attempting to start a dialogue on animal exploitation, it is unable to escape the very prejudices that perpetuate it. Nonetheless, it’s a good starting point. It says a lot about how we treat animals, that we’re able to use them as a framework to understand human oppression meaningfully. If we didn’t already acknowledge, somewhere at the back of our minds, that what we’re doing is wrong, the point of such a comparison would have been lost on us.