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.
When you break it down, life in the world of Attack on Titan is terrifying. Within the walls, there's a sense of safety, but also a sense of painful constraint. Outside the walls, citizens risk losing their lives in a brutal fashion.
Losing loved ones is a given. Every single character has endured all of these horrors, and likely others. The characters respond to their traumatic circumstances in different ways, representing the various manners in which humans react to trauma.
Eren Jaeger becomes enraged. Mikasa Ackerman remains stoic and calm. Anxiety reels in Armin Arlert. Not every character has a unique response – others are rage-fueled or calm – but the show goes out of its way to demonstrate the variety of possible reactions.
War stories are told by the victors, and for that reason it's often easier to side with the more powerful faction. Attack on Titan asks viewers to do the opposite: to identify with the underdog.
The Titans can be seen as foreign invaders trying to occupy a country and steal its resources. Meanwhile, humans are do everything they can to hold off a far more powerful force.
The show doesn't simply depict warfare, it also portrays the political and philosophical differences between opposing groups, and discusses the futility of humans fighting against each other.
Every military unit has a different crest, each with its own striking imagery. Their designs are emblematic of their pursuits.
The stationary guards' crest consists of two blooming roses. These guards maintain the walls protecting humanity from the Titans, and roses represent all aspects of this job.
According to Patrick Eyre, roses stand for "honor, faith, balance, passion, wisdom, devotion, and timelessness." Balance and wisdom relate to the wall's intended purpose: keeping the mindless, unintelligent Titans away from humanity.
Timelessness refers to the assumption the walls will never be breached (which, of course, isn't how things shake out in the series). Finally, the phrase "sub rosa" implies secrecy—there's a lot more to the walls than meets the eye.
The Scouting Legion is tasked with going out and finding Titans outside of the confines of the walls. They use a pair of black and white wings as their symbol.
The wings represent the group's desire for freedom and their ability to leave the confines of the walls. However, the wings' color scheme is also important, as the white is on top of the black.
White is often associated with purity and goodness, while black is affiliated with evil and cruelty. The white could represent the Scouting Legion, while the black could be emblematic of the Titans. The dominant white suggests humanity will win.
However, black can also represent wisdom, while white symbolizes innocence and naivety. Humans, who are supposedly far more knowledgeable than the mindless Titans, may be defeated after all.