By Andrew Osmond. Pictures by Carlos Nakajima.How will Attack on Titan end? In a time of serialised epic fantasies, Attack on Titan has been one of the canniest, throwing out massive story twists to shake the fans. You can revisit some of them next month with the Collector’s Blu-ray/DVD release of Attack on Titan: Roar of Awakening, compiling the second anime season. It dropped plenty of shockers, including when that character spoke and when those characters revealed their true natures. Of course, the TV episodes broadcast this year had another massive reveal, perhaps the show’s biggest, when…Okay, we won’t spoil.
As of writing, the manga is in its closing stretch – it’s extremely likely that the story will finish before the final anime TV season starts in Autumn 2020. The publishers have been milking the How will Titan end? tease for months. There was a TV programme last November peeking at what will ostensibly be the manga’s last panel… which implies that Titan writer Hajime Isayama is sure how it will end now. Six years ago, in 2013, he claimed he had considered killing everyone in Titan, but was unsure about “betraying” his fans. He added, though, that he did want to betray the fans in some way.
This brings us to Attack on Titan Exhibition Final, which is running in Roppongi Hills in Tokyo until September 8 and offers another peek at the manga ending. It’s in the summit of the towering building, which often celebrates anime and manga, as with this Gundam exhibition four years ago. While the new exhibition doesn’t offer so much information, it’s an admirably dramatic audio-visual send-off – well, nearly a send-off, given the manga hasn’t quite ended.
Exhibition Final consists of artfully-constructed galleries of manga artwork, punctuated by three audio-visual “shows,” though the last is really a listen. The exhibit is also extremely spoiler-heavy, and assumes the audience is up to date with the manga, not just the anime. As someone who’s following the latter, I was thoroughly spoiled on the fate of a major character – someone I really liked, too! – in chapters beyond the anime, so be warned. The exhibition audience seemed to be roughly fifty-fifty male-female, which says lots about Titan’s broad appeal in Japan.
Costumed staff usher you into the first cinema-style show, a presentation of Titan’s world and characters through montaged monochrome artwork, including all that extra world-building info that anime viewers only learned a few months ago. Then we’re ushered into walled tunnels – Isayama’s giants look great in all ways when they’re blown up on bricks, highlighting their monstrous physicality.
There’s a choice of entry point for visitors. You can either go “inside the walls,” sharing the perspective of Eren, Mikasa and Armin, or you can go “outside the walls,” recapping the stories of the characters on, well, the other side. The routes merge quickly, but you’re only allowed to inspect one of the two alternative displays after the entry points, which seems like a sneaky way of making die-hard fans visit twice.
Round the exhibit you go, including one part where dangling cut-out Titans swarm above the audience. The text in the manga panels is Japanese only; many of the explanatory panels are in English, but you’ll certainly get more out of the exhibit if you know the manga well. Audio guides are available, with the actors from the anime version speaking “in character,” but of course they’re in Japanese.
Then there’s a second, much bigger, audio-visual show, set in ruined cities. They’re partly represented in a giant video diorama on a 20-metre long screen and they’re partly real props. Rubble and broken flying gear lie right at your feet; juxtaposed with the images on the screen, they make a very nifty combination of 2D and 3D. The film shows us giant figures locked in time-frozen combat, followed by a frantic escalation of battle images – some of which I recognized, some of which I didn’t – accompanied by the howls of Titans and bombastic music from the anime.
Then there’s a shorter exhibition section, focusing on the major characters – this is where I had my big spoiler. After that, there’s the chance to, as the exhibit puts it, “hear the sound of the end of the story” – in other words, hear the sounds which would accompany the manga’s ending as Isayama envisages it. If you don’t mind ambiguous spoilers, you can highlight the next sentence. [HIGHLIGHT]Well, it doesn’t sound like such a happy ending. There are human screams, what sounds like thunder, and finally the yell of a boy, who’s perhaps attempting some strenuou final feat.[HIGHLIGHT]
The final room shows tons of Isayama’s very rough preliminary sketches, blocking out the basics of the action, and showing us the intense work that goes into the manga process. This work has consumed Isayama’s life since Titan began serialization almost exactly a decade ago (September 2009). Not that the 32 year-old artist looks crushed or exhausted. Rather, he looks tranquil and content in a video interview at the exhibit’s end. In it, he mentions that he still keeps all his Titan storyboards and might even like to be buried with them, if the coffin lid fits
Isayama also says that he wants his story to “hurt” his fans, a remark that may echo his comments about betrayal cited above. Is Isayama really going to go all the way, and wrest the “kill em all” title from Gundam’s Yoshiyuki Tomino? Will Titan end in an apocalypse to have fans sinking to their knees, Charlton Heston-style, and screaming, “You maniac…Damn you to hell!” It won’t be long till we find out
Attack on Titan Final Exhibition plays until September 8 at the Mori Arts Center Gallery in Roppongi Hills. It is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., with the last admission at 7 p.m. The closest station is Roppongi station on the Hibiya and Oedo subway lines; take exit 1C from Hibiya or exit 3 from Oedo. Tickets are 2,000 yen for adults, 1,500 yen for high school students, and 1000 yen for children (from age 4 to elementary school age).
Attack on Titan: Roar of Awakening is being released on Blu-ray/DVD by Anime Ltd.