Is Attack On Titan Based On A True Story?

Attack on Titan is an internationally famous shonen anime and is considered to be one-of-a-kind. While waiting for the final arc to finish, let’s take a look at the storyline so far. It can be said that the anime is not completely fictional, but is it based on a true story?

Attack on Titan definitely contains elements of real-life people, events and societies, but the main story remains fictional. Creator Hajime Isayama says that the original idea for the titans actually struck after he was accosted by a large drunk person in an internet cafe in Japan.

Besides the accurate representation of large drunk people, some other very interesting inspirations for characters and the storyline include MMA fighters, infamous cannibals, real war events and Japanese culture as a whole. Let’s get into the background!

*This article contains spoilers!

Why Attack on Titan is partially based on a true story

The Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) anime was released in 2013 by Wit Studio. It became so popular that it is regarded as the anime that led Crunchyrolls development into a global streaming service.

It turns out that the entire manga and anime takes inspiration from nonother than us as humans. According to the creator Hajime Isayama, his idea for the titans came from encountering a drunk customer at an Internet Cafe he was working at in Japan.

Even though they were both the same species, at that moment they seemed worlds apart. The aggressive and sluggish manner of the customer made him realize that the most familiar, yet scariest animal in the world is actually others humans.

Titans are slow and uncoordinated until food (aka humans) is spotted. They lack the ability to communicate and are very aggressive, sometimes for no reason. These aspects make it easy to see where his inspiration came from.

is aot based on ww2?
Shingeki no Kyojin/ Attack on Titan – Episode 17

The concept of the walls came from Isayama’s hometown. Isayama grew up on a farm in a small village, surrounded by mountains. In an interview on Anime News Network, Isayama said the mountains felt like walls isolating his village, walls that he wanted to escape from.

He also mentions that he sometimes saw animals kill and eat other animals on the farm. The cruelty of this inspired the remorseless way in which the titans eat humans, sometimes just for fun.

As the storyline develops it turns out that the titans might not be the only villains, but that the humans also did terrible things to other humans, as we will discuss later on.

Isayama claims that the reason Attack on Titan became popular worldwide is because of its universal applicability. Humans are well-aware of the atrocities we do unto others, as well as the concept of an unequal, walled society with “monsters” waiting for us outside.

Characters and places in Attack on Titan based on real people and locations

Adding to the realistic nature of the anime, the creator Isayama used real people when creating certain characters appearances and personalities. These include specific titans and main characters, as listed below.

1. The Fighting Titan

Eren Yeager’s Fighting Titan is based on the Japanese fighter Yushin Okami, formerly of the UFC. When looking at his frame and style (see 4:50 in the video below) it’s clear to see Eren’s familiar stance.

2. The Armored Titan

The Armored Titan, held by Reiner Braun for most of the anime, is based on WWE superstar Brock Lesnar, as seen in the video below.

3. The Beast Titan

The design for the Beast Titan is based on The UFC fighter Alistair Overeem, as seen below.

4. The Titans Sawney and Bean

In Season 1, Episode 15, Hange Zoe conducts experiments on two captured Titans. She names them Sawney and Bean, which is a direct reference to an infamous cannibal clan leader, called Alexander “Sawney” Bean, from Scotland in the 16th century. The 45-member clan is said to have murdered and cannibalized 500-1000 people.

5. Commander Erwin Smith

Erwin Smith is consistently voted as one of the top 3 fan-favorite characters in the anime. His character is based on German general Erwin Rommel, also known as Desert Fox. He was part of the Nazi regime until he was implicated in a plot to assassinate Hitler.

6. Commander Dot Pixis

The admired Commander Dot Pixis is based on Japanese general Akiyama Yoshifuru who served the Japanese Imperial Army between 1916 – 1923. He is considered a hero in Japan but was unfortunately responsible for war actions against both Korea and China.

7. Levi Ackerman

Levi is rated as the most popular character of the series, and even though he is not based on a real-life person, this still deserves a mention. Isayama only completed his concept of Levi’s personality when he watched Zack Snyder’s version of DC’s Watchmen.

Both Rorschach and Levi are considered morally “good” characters. They believe in and work towards always doing the right thing, no matter how difficult the choice might be.

This also explains Levi’s personality traits, short physique, and the white cravat he wears around his neck.

8. Mikasa Ackerman

Mikasa shares a name with an Imperial Japanese Navy battleship, which translates to “Three Bamboo Hats”. Isayama said that he believes a series with a female character named after a warship tends to be successful.

9. Shiganshina District

The Shiganshina district is the hometown of Eren, Armin and Mikasa. It is based on a city called Nördlingen, in Germany. Nördlingen has existed for over a thousand years and is one of only three German cities that still has a wall around its perimeter.

What German city is Attack on Titan based on?
Nördlingen in Germany

Do the walls in Attack on Titan mean anything?

Paradis Island is where most of the human Eldians reside. They are enclosed within three separate walls (Wall Maria, Rose and Sheena) to keep them safe from the roaming titans outside. The walls have a specific meaning within the story and to the author.

The walls represent a class system by separating humans into three separate areas and treating them as thus. The richer folk and royalty live in the centre and are the most protected. The outer rings are poorer and more neglected.

This type of distinction is not uncommon within our real-life societies. Almost every country has some sort of segregation, be it racial, social or economic. Humans tend to classify each other and treat others according to that classification.

As mentioned previously, the author grew up feeling isolated from the rest of the world within the mountains that surround his town. Just like Eren, he dreamed about going beyond the walls and believed it important.

The walls could also represent the type of isolation societies experience when they cut off the world and only interact with what they already know. This is a clear message when finding out that the Eldian royalty wiped the memories of the entire nation to ensure blissfully ignorant people.

Isayama also states that sometimes even the walls of your own home can be hard to escape from. Albeit hard for some people, it’s important to venture outside of your “walls” to experience the world and learn from it.

As the story unfolds, more lies are uncovered and some say that the three walls also indicate the three main reveals in the story with each reveal more shocking than the previous!

Japanese cultural influences

Isayama mentions that Japanese people tend to isolate themselves, mainly focusing on what they are expected to do and not interfering with others. This can be somewhat isolating if done for too long.

At a panel meeting, producers also said that Isayama even does this himself. He spends long periods at home working or generally without interacting socially with others. Doing this for a long period of time can result in unawareness of others and their stories.

The isolation of the Eldians on Paradis Island with no knowledge of the outside world or other humans can be seen as a depiction of a tendency of isolating yourself from others, which is not only limited to Japanese culture.

Is Attack on Titan based on Germany and WW2?

Before we get into this, it needs to be said that reading messages within fictional stories can be dangerous, as it depends on the context and your background. The following explanations are summarized from other articles and discussions, all of which are open to interpretation.

Humans can be their own worst enemy, as we see in our history of war and destruction. Isayama manages to successfully incorporate this aspect of human nature into the plot as it develops.

A big reveal in the anime is the fact that humans exist outside of Paradis Island. We also learn that Eldians once waged blood-soaked wars against other human nations with their titan abilities, causing them to be a much-hated race.

Why the Eldian & Marleyan war sparks heated debates about Nazis and white supremacy

Once we learn about the history between Marley and Eldia, it serves as the reason why the remaining Eldians in Marley are severely oppressed. They are kept in concentration camps and are forced to wear starred armbands as identification – sounds familiar right?

That’s because it is a direct reference to the Nazi regiment and its treatment of the Jews during World War II. It’s not the only reference point, what with the Season 4 OP scenes of marching soldiers, war zeppelins, and exploding bombs.

If you delve deeper into the web of “hidden meanings” it becomes quite complex, resulting in mixed messages of white supremacy support, anti-Semitic conspiracies, and the alt-right movement.

As explained by the News Republic, Eldians could represent white people, terrorized by subhuman monsters trying to take over their land. They are also persecuted in Marley, and other nations, for the crimes of their ancestors.

The Eldians are brainwashed by their leaders to forget their previous atrocities against others, much like today’s ignorant education system glorifying and sugarcoating the actions of previous white leadership taken against minorities and other nations.

Anyone who questions this false reality is killed or sent to be eaten by titans, thus ensuring that the secrets remain hidden and people do not question that which lies outside of the walls. They only know that it is to be feared, with the government and military being the only protection.

Marley can be seen as a representation of the Jews, reminding the minority of Eldians in Marley of their atrocious past and indoctrinating them to hate themselves, their only value being to turn into titans to fight for Marley, against their Eldian race.

Is Attack on Titan Based on Germany?
Shingeki no Kyojin/ Attack on Titan – Episode 24

The story thus implies that the Jews would do the same to others if they had the chance. When it comes to light that Marleyans control the Eldian government there is also a hint at anti-Semitic conspiracies about Jewish financiers supporting the Nazis in their oppression of Jews.

Eldians are almost pictured as the ideal Nazi state. Based in Europe, all with European names and faces, rising against a pacifist state with Eren as their radicalized, genocidal leader who is going to destroy everyone outside Paradis Island.

Even though Eldians are shown as deeply flawed, they are still seen as the superior race with their capability of becoming titans and ruling over all other races. On some forums, Eren is seen as a symbol of white vitality, intelligence and heroism who is going to “ethnically” cleanse the world.

All of the imagery and nuances can be overlooked, but the concern stems from the sympathy towards both the oppressed and oppressors. When using Nazi imagery and implying that both sides “had their reasons” it’s bound to ruffle feathers.

In that way, the anime, unfortunately, takes on a fascist theme, intentionally or not, but it is important to remember that depiction is not an endorsement. Isayama prefers to not provide “right” or “wrong” answers to moral questions, especially when it comes to the war.

Another way of looking at the messages in the anime is seeing the real villain, not as a person, but as an idealogy, perpetuated by institutions that spread hate to grow their power.

According to an article posted on The Observer, the series could be suggesting that there will still be one last war where humans are not pitted against each other. This time it will be people against the systems of belief and idolatry.

The following words by Shaan Amin about this topic ring true:

“The range of audience responses serves as a reminder of people’s tendencies to sift through stories to find the messages they expect.”

– Shaan Amin (Critical Mass)

Eren’s aim to destroy the world seems drastic, but it remains a work of fiction and a great one at that. It is not uncommon that messages in works of fiction have been taken out of context to fit the reader’s agenda.

What do you think will happen in the final arc of the anime? Leave us some comments below!

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