Is Attack on Titan Fascist? – Part 1

Is Attack on Titan Fascist? – Part 1


To live in a fascist nation is to surrender oneself to the government, monarchy or any other central authority one lives in. In the 6th decalogue of fascism Mussolini writes “Do not ever say the government will pay… because it is you who pay;” Showing that a subject is in servitude to the government and not the other way around. Attack on Titan is however critical of the government. In Chapter 55 of the manga where Erwin explains the unlawful killing of his father at the hands of the military police and his realization that the government officials he had spoken with wanted nothing more than to protect their positions and garden homes, Isayama portrays the government officials’ preoccupation with protecting material wealth as selfish and detestable. Not only this but Erwin was liaising with government officials hoping to strike up a deal in hopes of achieving his personal and individualistic goal of symbolically avenging his father by finding the truth about the Titans. That is why in the scene we are first told about the circumstances of Erwin’s father’s death and his own great sacrifice to achieve this goal with his beating at the hands of the military police. It is here we see the values of Attack on Titan are in direct contrast with fascism as fascism “accepts the individual only insofar as his interests coincide with the State”. Erwin’s action of both individualism and opposition to the state is portrayed as heroic and morally correct. “Had you shown that you actually gave a damn about protecting the people you govern I would have stood by and watched as you sent Erwin to the gallows, in fact depending on the choice you made all of us were prepared to forfeit our lives.” Erwin furthermore is a key character in understanding the anti-fascist subtext within Attack on Titan for he is designed around the archetype of the ubermensch. However, I would argue that instead of filling his archetypal role that coincides as an aesthetic property of fascism Erwin is actually a deconstruction of the ubermensch. The greatest example of this is his bodily sacrifice that happens at the climax of season 2. The final decalogue of fascism states that “One thing must be dear to you above all: the life of the Duce.” The Duce being in this context a leader in which an individual within a fascist society would pledge their life to examples being Mussolini himself and of course Hitler. Erwin when caught by a Titan does not let his soldiers risk their lives in saving him but instead orders them to charge onward “Slipping through isn’t going to be easy. ADVANCE! Commander Erwin! I said ADVANCE, GOD DAMNIT! Eren’s right in front of you, do not falter!” Showing that the life of the Duce is not what soldiers should live for like fascism insists but instead the dream of freedom of peace for humanity, and this action of his results in a mission success. The untrustworthiness of those in positions of power is not just limited to the State, also within Attack on Titan. Isayama presents those in positions of power as fickle, selfish, individualistic and inherently human. They are not presented as aesthetically perfect role models like those seen in fascist art. From the lovable drunkenness of Hannes to the satirical undermining of the King “Pixis! Wait, Pixis! PIXIS!” Attack on Titan seems to have no respect for authority outside of one’s own authority on oneself. Perhaps the most memorable example of this value revolves around Keith Shadis. Whilst training to become part of the military Eren is unable to balance on the 3d maneuver gear. As a result, he’s ridiculed relentlessly by Shadis and faces the unfortunate reality that perhaps he is not able to become a soldier. Shadis is however, wrong. Because of his own selfish distaste for Eren as it is revealed in Chapter 72 of the manga, that Shadis was once in love with Eren’s mother Shadis is unable to account for the possibility of broken gear when assessing Eren. Although this plot point seemed trivial to many when first aired, over time it is shown to seamlessly blend into the anti-fascist themes of attack on Titan. A fascist state uses authority and enforces discipline to control the lives of its subjects, but how could an unreliable Authority be trustworthy? Through this example Attack on Titan pokes holes in the idea of benevolent Authority by showing that those in positions of power can be just as flawed as those that are not and that therefore one should be critical of the structures of power that they are subjugated by. To convince a soldier therefore that first of all their Duce is worth dying for and secondly that authority must be followed with no exceptions, a fascist must place great importance on martyrdom. There is a tendency in Nazi propaganda to portray death of one’s own nation As heroic, the ultimate sacrifice, and a true act of martyrdom as seen in films such as ‘Hans Westmar’, ‘Kohlberg’ and ‘Wunschkonzert’. This glorification of death links to the belief that individuals exist wholly within the State and that their self-sacrifice to protect the State is the final and greatest act one can do to reject their government or ruler. Many soldiers of the Survey Corps did not die nobility or heroism as implied in the Doctrine of Fascism that “War alone sets the seal of nobility…” for humans, but instead die in vain and irrelevancy. In Chapter 1 of the manga Keith Shadis leads the remains of the survey corps back into town where he’s confronted by the mother of one of his dead soldiers named Braun. At first he tries to keep up the facade that the son’s death helped further humanity’s goal to restore freedom But is unable to keep the lie alive. Instead he admits in an emotional outburst that due to his incompetence Braun’s death accomplished nothing Isayama does not glorify death in Attack on Titan like fascist propaganda would but instead portrays it in the grim reality that it is. I cannot help but think of the shocking reveal of Marco’s death, his body lying there brutalized and inanimate only for Jean to discover. “I-is… Is that… Marco?” When Eren is quite literally trapped within the belly of the beast It’s really not subtle, is it? He recounts on how his dreams were taken from him, and that although he and his peers were ready They had achieved nothing. This presentation of death is antithetical to fascist martyrdom. The anti-authoritarian themes of Attack on Titan that I’ve explored here muddy the waters for a wholly fascist reading of the show. Join me next time where I look at the Marxist subtext of the series.

22 thoughts on “Is Attack on Titan Fascist? – Part 1

  1. Interesting take, but it has to be remembered that the Meiji restoration of Imperial Japan and the Emperor also significantly took away from the shogunate and gave power to an oligarchy known as the 'Meiji Six Society' which did indeed emphasize the value of logic based governance and governing for the people, yet Erwin's willingness to throw away even the most elite of his survey corps to achieve whatever goal he sets his mind too, including releasing a titan within the walls itself does reflect the kind of attitude Japanese military training instilled in it's soldiers that they were disposable tools of conquest, only honored by success on the battle field and to place their own individual safety above the needs of society is selfish and cowardly.

    This does not inherently mean that their lives are dedicated to the leaders at any one time, but rather to the ideas of the nation, AoT does not give the 'deaths in service of the nation' aspect any shade of romanticism, but most of the characters are willing to make these sacrifices regardless, in many ways this is actually makes for a more convincing argument this is unapologetic in it's view of a soldiers role, since we know they will die gruesome deaths, but all the main character's are often willing to make that sacrifice them-self regardless, even when it seems pointless to fight and they are shaken, most of them conclude it is still their duty to fight, which mirrors the defensive strategies employed by the Japanese army in defense of Okinawa, that any cost made to halt the enemy advance even if their defeat is almost absolute is the right cost.

    This reflects the fascist doctrine of the 'new man', who is nationalist and patriotic first, his duty to his nation and family placed above his own well being, he provides for the state, which in turn provides for him (although not really in practice). The slovenly royal nobles that govern Paradis Island's walled city do not reflect this attitude and are thus discarded by the militarist arm of the government, e.g. Pixis' coup.

    The power shifted from the Shogunate in Japan to the military colleges, in particular, the Toseiha and Kodoha factions, which were both politically conservative and xenophobic in nature, the Toseiha desired to have the zaibatsu and bureaucracy fall into line before engaging in total war with it's soviet and chinese enemies. and the Kodoha whom wanted to strike rapidly against the Soviets. Whilst both had more open forms of government, they were certainly anti-democratic and sought to emulate consolidated western fascist power structures, where there were efficient civil service and economic bureaus that could all be applied to advancing the state's goals, rather than a singular individual, the selfish individualist nobility being replaced by efficient military bureaucracy in AoT definitely makes this parallel seem plausible.

    The western navies they saw in the late 1800s, the 'Black Ships' as they were known, made it clear to Japan they were lagging behind the west, and the Meiji restoration sought to bring about western advancement with traditional eastern values. To reflect this the emperor's role, was heavily symbolic in nature, being viewed as a 'deity in human form' and the State Sponsored Shintoism centered around him merged the role of the traditional Japanese nobility into a reflection of State will. These kinds of things are obviously not going to work on a modern audience, but portraying officers with a kind of radiating charisma, either through sheer battle prowess like with Levi, or a sense of 'cool calm collected thought' even when they are making clear tactical errors, e.g. Erwin contrasted with the cartoon stupidity of the royalty definitely centralizes whom we are supposed to be on the side of when the coup comes around, the notion is still that a rational figure in charge is still better than an indecisive royalty that is 'content' to sit behind the walls, which as you already mentioned, is clearly an analogue for the policy of Japanese disarmament.

    I think the observations you make are well informed, but I don't think it is fair to say that Attack On Titan's society is directly emulating Western Fascism as much as it is Japanese Imperialism

  2. Fascists always criticize authority when that authority isn't explicitly fascist, from which I can presume from a cursory look at this show. Fascism has always occupied itself with attacking a decadent elite and replacing it with a strong warrior caste, which in the case of the 20th century were the veterans.

    You need to take this in context of Japanese society as a whole, an already crypto-fascist state that valorizes ubermen (salarymen) and has all the trappings of fascism sans the militarism. And that's only because of America stripping them of that ability. We must also remember that Japan actively denies its wrongdoings in WW2 and that manga/anime as a whole was borne out of an attempt to paint japan as a victim of the war.

  3. I've remained up-to-date on both the manga and the show, and am looking forward to the next part of this series, which seems well researched for analyzing everything. I have my BA in History in college, with a particular focus on History of Propaganda, and so I'd definitely scrutinized for messages of nationalism, militarism, and authoritarianism in art, but while I can well see why there is controversy around Hajime Isayama, the assertions of the series being all about being for those things never quite sat well with me because of the very things you hone in on with this video.

    That said, I am watching to see how the manga goes as it nears the end, but I've always much more seen the series as depicting pretty much all power structures as corrupt, and being about what an individual of free will is to do in a world filled with it. In latest Marley arc, there have been a few monologues by Eren in regards to free will versus feeling compelled along by these corrupt power structures, and so I think the ultimate message of the manga will rest on its main protagonist who changes massively from his former naive self.

    Anyway, I like your approach to this, and am interested in seeing where your research takes the series next!

  4. Well made video with excellent contextual evidence from the show. Part 2 coming soon I hope! It seems a strong differentiation between fascism and Erwin's goals is the motivation behind them. Erwin's goal is not to consolidate power for selfish ends, but in pursuit of a Truth that will shatter society and free the people.
    While cynical critics would say many fascist leaders use these concepts too, in their cases (Lenin, Hitler) it was a fascade. We have insight to Erwin and his history and his goals, and can see they're not selfish.
    He shares his true goals with his confidants, and inspires them not with promises of gardens and fine dining, but with promises of understanding the lies and structures that surround them.
    It seems other commenters are conflating a need to use force and organization with fascism. Not all armies are fascist, but a well organized military does require dedication to their leaders and discipline. As a model for how to act, I think this show is excellent in propping up truth seekers willing to die for their noble goals like Erwin and Erin.

  5. I've been taking a look at your Twitter – is it true that you're not going to finish this series? Furthermore, I'm wondering if your interpretation of AoT changed – how would you answer the title's question now?

  6. marxist subtext of the series NICE….i just remembered this!
    http://socaltorchlight.blogspot.com/2014/03/a-marxist-analysis-of-attack-on-titan.html
    sadly his blog is dead, so he never wrote about season 2 or the manga.
    I would like to see how you go deeper in that. suscribed.

  7. Hey there! I appreciate your videos but I have to admit I disagree with what you're saying in another comment. You say that the plot twist is fascist apologia, but I think it's the exact opposite of that. I mean, I understand the historical comparisons can be seen as offensive since Marley (Nazi Nation) has a reason to despise Eldians (Jewish people equivalent) but the narrative doesn't support that view I think. What Marley is doing is definetely portrayed as bad. Also I don't think the titans are meant to be a direct allegory of jewish people, I guess the parallels were used just to give a sense of reality to the story, as in poor taste as it may be. But I think we need to see how the story will end to form a clear opinion, since Eren's view is not clear yet.

    Also since Isayama is allegedly (because we don't know if that twitter account was actually his I use this word) pro-imperialism, the story could be seen more as propaganda of THAT mindset. I mean, a once glorious empire was defeated and its sent back to an island and the people are treated like shit by the once conquered countries sounds A LOT like japanese negationism and victimism when it comes to this topic. This would make more sense to frame the series as "problematic", even if I love it and I would be really disappointed if a series that can display such a beautiful anti-war sentiment was actually propaganda for such a rotten worldview.

  8. I see why you might interpret some anti-fascist leanings, but Attack On Titan is very much a patchwork of Imperialist and Fascist ideology and history. This is just my current take as of the last episode that aired: Both the German and Italian Fascists governments, those of hitler and that of Il Duce Mussolini, were the products of a minority coup that was based around nationalism and dedication to the concept of that nation BUT were both in direct opposition of the idiocy and incompetency of the states previous government. The Coup that occurs within Attack on Titan to restore the “true Monarchy” is very much in line with the Coup that first brought the National Socialist party of Hitler into power. Wielding violence and a strong sense of being on the right side of history, they both wanted to restore the true sense of power and grace that they believed had been lost before. The Eldians, too, held as prisoners in ghettos within one land, and as “cattle” serving a false king in another, ironically do not represent the Jews (evens though they resemble the ghettos and badges of WW2) as much as they symbolically represent how the Japanese themselves (and possibly the Germans in a sense) were trapped from achieving greatness at the hands of invisible, evil and underhanded forces- the Japanese, especially after WW2, trapped in the cage of their lands without the ability to use their once lofty imperialism to spread their nation further, and the Germans- after WW1 stripped of their ability to grow and prosper through imperialism and freedom. The Germans also believed that the Jews had a sort of shadow government that controlled the true German people from behind the scenes, and the Coup, in large part was to install a government of and for German Blood to take down their shadowy oppressors. The end goal is to restore The nation to its rightful BIOLOGICAL (see: Aryan, see biologically pure Japanese, see: the Italian greatness of Machiavellian rule) or previously Monarchical/ freely Imperialistic state and strip the state from the humiliation of being controlled in any way by foreign hands, who are always depicted as monstrous and having malicious and culturally corrosive intent.

  9. It’s insane how many people are stupid enough to think that Attack on Titan is promoting all the things it’s CLEARLY against. Over and over we see evil, totalitarian governments that use race to oppress and repress their subjects portrayed in a bad light. The Eldian empire, Marley, Paradis with the Reiss line. Clearly, the series is trying to say that governments where the people are oppressed and subjugated are ones that need to be toppled.

    And what does people in this comment section do? What do these journalists working for the least credible sites on the internet do?

    They say that “Attack on Titan promotes fascism” “Attack on Titan supports racial segregation and genocide” “Attack on Titan is a reactionary shonen shitshow that doesn’t delve into any other topics besides killing bad people."

    It’s…frustrating, as someone who would argue again and again for punching Nazis.

  10. Did you quit making videos? These two initial vids were fantastic and well researched! Would love to see a continuation!

  11. You just gained a subscriber! Excited to see what you upload in the future. You say these were rushed yet still they impress me :3
    also, i love your hair

  12. Well , so , fullmetal alchemist is fascist ??

    I mean , some importants characters commited genocide, the villain Scar who was oppressed by them is show as the villains

    Our protagonists are into a dictatorship's army etc…

    if we follow the logic of theirs idiots, FMA who is the manga that LGBT and SJW etc… love to appropriate is also fascist so ??

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