Sunday, January 19, 2014

Goya’s Giants and Attack on Titan

I’ve never watched a great deal of anime, not out of any particular prejudice against the medium, mind you, but for the same reason that I’ve never watched The Wire or Breaking Bad: I am reluctant to make the necessary time investment.  But I heard that Attack on Titan was the shit, and when I watched the trailer for it, I was powerfully struck by the image of the monstrous giants at the heart of the show.

Some background for those who are not yet aficionados.   Attack on Titan is an anime series about a dark future in which the Earth has been overrun by giants (the Titans) who eat humans, and the remaining human population has withdrawn behind a series of massive walls.  The Titans vary in appearance: some have idiot grins plastered on their faces while others glitter with sadism   They vary in height, with the so-called “Colossal Titan” reaching over fifty meters tall.  It’s this Colossal Titan that first drew me into the show.  He looks like this:

It’s probably a failure in terms of my skills as a critic, but I can’t quite articulate the feelings that that image evokes in me.  It’s unsettling and maybe uncanny.  It’s also somewhat moving.  It reminds me of the giants that Goya painted, and which evoke a deep pathos.

And as long as we’re on the subject of Goya and titans who eat people, we mustn’t forget Goya’s famous painting of Saturn devouring one of his sons (which Goya painted directly onto the wall of his house; he theoretically looked at it while eating dinner):
Now, the Saturn picture is just gruesome.  But if we can turn back to his giants, we find a far greater complexity.  They’re these towering piles of flesh and musculature; they’re big, puffed-up towers of humanity.  A giant is likely to have giant-sized feelings: gigantic melancholy, gigantic rage, and gigantic caprice.  It’s this capriciousness that can prove especially deadly for us regular-sized humans, as Goya was quite aware and as proves to be the case in Attack on Titan.  Eren, the protagonist, makes reference to the horror of “living at their mercy.” One has no peace of mind with monstrous forces like this on the loose.  They can kill you at their leisure.  At the time of this writing, I am seven episodes into the series.  Maybe the Titan killing machines will develop a more Goya-esque complexity, as the seventh episode suggests will be the case.


  1. Obligatory: Shadow of the Colossus
    Also, the best image gallery I was able to find, though it pales in comparison to the experience of actually playing the game and interacting with the colossi.

    1. Ooh, I remember Doctor was very keen on this game. I wish I had a gaming system beyond the N64.