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A Guide To The Surprisingly Deep Symbolism Behind 'Attack On Titan'

Updated September 7, 2018 23.1k views11 items

If you don't take the time to look under the surface, Attack on Titan can feel like a gratuitously violent anime about man-eating monsters terrorizing humanity. However, there's a lot more to the series than what can be gleaned from a casual viewing.

Online fans have put their heads together to collectively interpret symbolism in Attack on Titan, ranging from the meaning behind military emblems to Eren's deep connection with a Tarot card, the Hermit.

Like the symbolism in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. the attention to detail is surprisingly meticulous and nuanced. 

  • The Titans' Appearances Reflect Their Personalities

    Photo: Wit Studio

    Why does each Titan Shifter have such a unique look? Some of it has to do with their physical features – Annie is blonde, and so is the Female Titan – but it could also be connected to their personalities and roles in the story

    Reiner's Titan form is covered in armor—a visible trait clearly linked with his name, which means warrior. His primary goal is to protect Bertholdt, whose name means "bright ruler," making Reiner analogous to a knight defending royalty.

    Bertholdt's regal nature is underscored by his size, which exceeds that of the other Titans. Also, Bertholdt's mouth is locked in a permanent, tightly-closed frown, representing his deep unhappiness with his situation in life and his reluctance to speak. 

    Ymir and Annie's Titan forms also relate to their personalities. Ymir's form lacks lips, and has sharp, pointy fangs—indicative of her sharp tongue and lack of verbal filter.

    The gaps around Annie's mouth and eyes make it look like she's constantly smiling – symbolizing the pleasure she takes in her duties – but they also make her look exhausted, showing the toll her role takes on her.

  • Each Character Is Analogous To A Chess Piece

    According to one TV Tropes user, a strong chess-based motif runs through Attack on Titan. This extensive theory claims every character reps a different game piece. 

    Eren is the king, the most important piece in chess. When a player surrenders their king, they lose. Other pieces are often sacrificed in order to protect the king—which is exactly the position Eren finds himself in, much to his chagrin. 

    The queen can move however many spaces she pleases in any one direction (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally). This applies nicely to Levi, one of the most powerful and intelligent characters in the Attack on Titan universe. 

    Rooks defend the King, much like how Mikasa is responsible for protecting Eren. They can only move in a straight line, but they are powerful, able to knock other pieces off the board with strength and precision. 

  • It Could Be Commentary On The Meat Industry

    Photo: Wit Studio

    It's possible to view the Titans as a parallel to meat-eating humans

    Though humans are omnivores and require nutrients easily found in meat, it is possible to get those nutrients exclusively from plant-based sources. We do not have to eat meat, but we do because we enjoy it. Obviously, the animals who are killed for human benefit suffer as a result.

    Likewise, Titans eat humans, but they don't do it out of necessity. Titans aren't Ghouls; they don't require the nutrition from human flesh to survive. A few of them have more complex motives, but the vast majority of Titans are simply eating mindlessly—a lot like meat-eating humans, according to some.