Title: Attack on Titan: Before the Fall
Japanese Title: 進撃の巨人 Before the fall (Shingeki no kyojin: Before the fall)
Creator: Isayama Hajime (諫山 創)
Author: Suzukaze Ryō (涼風 涼)
Illustrator: Thores Shibamoto (THORES 柴本)
Translator: Ko Ransom
Publication Year: 2014 (America); 2011 (Japan)
The year 743. Mankind was facing extinction at the hands of the Titans that had suddenly appeared at the center stage of history. Where had they come from, and what was their purpose? Some said that they were natural disasters, while others insisted that they were divine retribution. Either way, mankind had been reduced to a simple, clueless prey whose total population had plummeted to 500,000.
I am heavily invested in the Attack on Titan franchise, and I enjoyed this book. If you are as invested as I am, then you will more than likely enjoy this book as much as I did. In fact, you’ve probably already read it.
If you have no idea what the Attack on Titan franchise is, this book is not a good introduction. Give the opening episode of the anime a shot! It’s worth your time, I promise.
This review is for people who have some experience with Attack on Titan and are wondering if the first volume of the Before the Fall light novel series is any good. I think it is! Despite being a bit shallow, it’s a fun read.
The story is set before Isayama Hajime’s original Attack on Titan manga, when the human race has only been living within a massive walled city-state for a few generations. The action of this novel occurs before the events of the Attack on Titan: Before the Fall manga, which adapts the events described in the second and third books in the Before the Fall light novel series.
The first novel in the trilogy is an account of the development of the Three Dimensional Maneuver Gear that allows human beings to fight the giant murderous creatures roaming outside the city walls. This equipment, along with the swords that accompany it, are the work of a young engineer named Angel Aaltonen, who is aided in his efforts by his bright assistant Corina Ilmari and his older colleague Xenophon Harkimo, who specializes in gunpowder and chemical flares. Jorge Piquer, the leader of the Survey Corps military unit specializing in missions outside the walls, is interested in this equipment, hoping that it will allow a human to finally bring down one of the Titans, which are considered immortal. Titans are not the only enemies Angel and Jorge will face, however, as there is considerable political pressure to seal the gate leading outside the wall and thus disband the Survey Corps.
Attack on Titan: Before the Fall is a light novel, and it reads like one. Paragraphs and sentences are short, and the writing is simple and straightforward. There’s also not a great deal of complexity in terms of characterization or character motivations. The reader is assumed to be familiar with the world in which the story is set, so the book doesn’t offer much world building, and nothing is learned that isn’t already covered in the first season of the anime series. As a result of this “lightness,” most of the plot developments in the novel seem too easy. For example, Angel’s inventions are made possible by the discovery of two materials in the lands enclosed by the walls: Iron Bamboo, which is strong and durable despite being light and flexible, and Iceburst Stone, which provides an endless supply of steam energy under certain conditions. Both of these materials are impossibly convenient, and Angel’s team experiences almost no hardship in learning to manipulate them.
What the book can offer the reader are finely crafted action sequences which work well without a visual element, which is no mean feat. Although someone who hasn’t seen the animated adaptation of Isayama’s manga may be confused regarding how large the Titans are relative to humans and what sort of movement the Maneuver Gear allows, a reader already familiar with the visual stylizations of Attack on Titan will be treated to several tense battles. The universe created by Isayama is like Westeros in that important characters can die horribly at any point in the story, so the suspense generated by these fight scenes is gripping.
Suzukaze Ryō’s vision of the world of Attack on Titan is interesting and entertaining, even if it discloses no major revelations. The light novel style of writing makes the book a quick read, and the action scenes are fast paced and attention grabbing.
If you’re not into the animu and mangos, feel free to give this novelization a pass; but, if you’re intrigued by walled cities, government conspiracies, and postapocalyptic struggles against an incomprehensible enemy, you should totally check out Justin Cronin’s The Passage, which is the perfect blend of Attack on Titan madness and highly accessible Stephen King-style storytelling.