Attack on Titan and Claymore according to Max Scheler pt.2

Here’s the conclusion to the post of two days ago:

The mistake Attack on Titan made was to introduce tragedy before we had ample time to get to know the three main heroes, creating few places for identification due to the hopelessness and harshness of the world in which they lived, and shortly into the series introduced plenty of characters to ensure that we could never truly get to know the protagonists or any of the other characters either. Concerning the former, the very first episode gives us a few places to try to identify with the three main characters: they help one of their number against some bullies and two have a nice family. However, the very situation of being in a walled town surrounded by man-eating giants with technology similar to the Renaissance period of Europe demands that more than this is given to the audience for identification to take place.

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A couple of other things which don’t help is that one protagonist, Eren, wishes to join an elite combat unit designed to kill giants beyond the walls and that his adopted sister wishes simply to follow him wherever he goes. Not many children in modern society are driven to join an elite combat unit designed for what is essentially a Reconquista at the age of fifteen! Also, in modern society, most women don’t set the goal for themselves of meekly following in their brother’s footsteps. Then, any hope of us identifying with them as a family unit is destroyed by a giant killing the protagonists’ mother and the break up of the family following the giants breaking into the walled city.

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An additional charge against this world is that the people are too cruel and cowardice too rampant. The cowardice among military personnel reaches heights never seen in history or present times—at least, among the European nations from where we base our understanding of the medieval world or America, the country with which yours truly identifies most closely. Even if their opponents are giants, military men cringing in fear and running away from the combat for which they were trained sharply differs from the conduct of soldiers from all eras. Furthermore, the majority of the people are shown to be greedy, selfish, and generally sheep to be slaughtered. This kind of attitude dehumanizes people, who are made in the image and likeness of God, because we see a universal lack of virtue by which human beings show their excellence.

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Of course people have faults, but they are less than they should be in this regard. The total lack of virtue makes them less than human, taking away another level of identification. At least in Claymore, we have soldiers in the Holy City who are universally more ready to die than back down before the monsters laying waste to their city. Going back to Attack on Titan, we are greeted to an episode showing how the heroine’s family was killed by slave traders when she was very young so that they might capture the heroine for the child slave trade. Eren, also very young at this point, was forced to rescue her by killing two of the three slavers. The heroine killed the third to save Eren’s life. Most people, due to the extreme horror with which child sex slavery inspires, cannot really identify with a world where people make a living according to this trade. Even though it really exists on this earth, nothing quite so demonstrates the dictum that evil is a deficiency of being rather than a positive existence. Also, children generally do not kill at this age, and this marks yet another difficulty in bringing people to identify with the characters.

Mikasa, my favorite character from this series.

Mikasa, my favorite character from this series.

Claymore‘s technology is less than that of Attack on Titan, also involves monster slaying, tends toward the dramatic, and proffers characters who are essentially superheroes; yet, they succeed in making the audience identify better both with the heroes and villains than Attack on Titan. Claymore almost appears to be a study in identification. The first episode features Raki, a young orphan, meeting Claire, one of the aforementioned superheroes known as Claymores due to the long blades they wield, in a backwater town. Everyone is scared of Claymores, but Raki appears drawn to Claire and accompanies her through his town asking questions. This is all meanwhile the villagers hide in their homes scared of both the monster concealed in the village and the Claymore sent to save them from it! This reminds one of the first principle of love which Scheler describes: “In the spiritual love of the person, a new principle comes to light. For apart from his acceptance of the mere existence of the other person as given…’Persons’ cannot be intuitively understood (by reproduction of their spiritual acts), unless they spontaneously disclose themselves.”1 Claire has a bit of difficulty opening up, since she’s used to being shunned by everyone except other Claymores. Raki seems to have more in common with Claire than the other villagers: his very courage is such that the sight of his family having been just massacred by the monster does not deter him from trying to strike the monster, and he continues struggling against it until Claire comes to save him. Once Claire leaves, the villagers toss Raki out of town, fearing that he might by way of infection become a monster himself!

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Despite this ostracism and the grim nature of the second episode, where Claire must kill a friend who has succumbed to the monster side of hers (It turns out that Claymores gain their powers by grafting the monsters’ flesh into their bodies, giving them a dark side which eventually overcomes them.), the high level of tragedy does not deflect the viewers’ feelings permanently down the road of benevolence. The reason for this is the conversation that goes on between Raki and Claire, whereby they learn new things about each other and come to realize how similar they are. In spite of Claire’s cold exterior, we also see the beginnings of a romantic relationship between the two—more fully realized in the comic than in the anime. By this constant self-revelation, we are drawn to move from the level of identification through all the levels of sympathy until love for the characters is ultimately reached. Therefore, we do not look upon their grimmest hardships with an attitude of mere good will but our emotions become truly entangled in theirs, and the greater the struggle, the more the audience desires to see the victory.

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So, I hope by the juxtaposition of why Claymore succeeded while Attack on Titan failed shows the necessity of love for good drama, especially over an extended period of time. For such love to be reached, the writer must follow the ideas Max Scheler described in order to bring the audience through the lower levels of sympathy to love. If cogent identification cannot be established between the audience and the characters, then the audience can never fall in love with the heroes. Without this love binding the two, the audience would probably rather be in the mood to ask the writer to no longer place his characters in the midst of horrendous suffering than eagerly hope for their triumph.

1p. 101.

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10 comments on “Attack on Titan and Claymore according to Max Scheler pt.2

  1. japesland says:

    Although I skipped over the bits on Claymore (I haven’t seen it yet and would prefer a fresh experience when I eventually do), I greatly appreciate your take on Attack on Titan. Much like Sword Art Online, I think Shingeki has been getting much over-deserved praise. That is not to say that it is bad (Sword Art Online wasn’t “bad” either), but it definitely has its (obvious) flaws.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, you’ll really enjoy Claymore; however, some people claim that it moves really slowly or is uninteresting until episode 7. I loved it from the first episode.

      And Attack on Titan does do well in some areas–the animation and world building in particular. My biggest beef with it is that it is very lacking in good characters. (I confess to liking two of the characters on the elite Scout Team, but they are not going to get much screen time.) If the characters aren’t lovable, I find it difficult to rout for them–especially through the agonies Attack on Titan puts them through.

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  2. Genki Jason says:

    Interesting. For me Attack on Titan is one big existential question: what do you live for? It’s all about the will to challenge life and achieve something, the triumph of the human spirit and the will to overcome adversity whether it’s in the form of a bloody huge giant or the people around us. The series composition places us straight into the action to make these points.

    The immediate deployment of negativity is important in this regard. From the start we see humanity in a wretched situation. The safety the walls have provided for centuries has bred complacency and evil people have taken control of some of the power structures. We witness many scenes where people abuse their powers or just stand by and do nothing and things get worse as the episodes roll by and the walls are breached but this breach can be a good thing since it forces people to act and gives them the opportunity to reassess life and prove what they are worth. I mean, if a life can be lost so easily then you better make every moment and word count like a real existentialist should.

    There’s a lot of death and destruction and people really freak out but when faced with something as horrific as Titans you can’t really blame them. When characters do act we see the resulting damage to everyone around them which builds up the stakes that are faced.The constant misery and dangers faced by the characters could be overwhelming and facing a Titan is absolutely terrifying (some of those guys are creepy as hell and I’d probably break and run) but some rise to the challenge and overcome it. Furthermore they become better people. The breach in the physical wall allows them to get through whatever social and psychological walls they have – so long as they live long enough.

    There are different characters who react in different ways to adversity. Some value religion, some value wealth and others value their families. Eren, Mikasa and Armin want to see outside of the walls for various reasons. Their actions come from different impulses but overall they all speak of a natural human desire to survive, explore and not be cooped up which is the unnatural thing. They may die but their death will mean something as long as someone learns something from it. Life is tough but if you have the will to fight then you can make a difference. This is inspired by the only truly independent character, Eren. Whether it’s facing the slave traders or Titans, he’s got the will to live (like a typical shounen character) and he’s willing to make his actions count.

    Anyway, we don’t need to travel through different levels to sympathise with characters about to be chomped like candy or cornered by slave-traders 😉

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    • You’re quite right in that Attack on Titan does all those things well, especially the themes. I suppose that my problem with the show centers around characters that seem all too common and to whom I cannot warm up. I place this in my inability to identify with them. And if one can’t identify with people, one can’t love them. And if one doesn’t love the characters, there’s not reason to stick by them in tragedy, which is what I wished to argue.

      But, I probably did not give enough background on Max Scheler’s ideas in this post. He gives five levels to sympathy:

      1) Love
      2) Benevolence
      3) Fellow-Feeling
      4) Vicarious Feeling
      5) Identification

      One needs to have the lower levels to reach the higher. Since Eren and the rest are not easy to identify with and they don’t seem to disclose information which would bring them from the level of stock characters, I cannot reach a higher level of sympathy than benevolence (the highest cosmic love) for them. So, I sympathize with them enough to–if they were real–contribute money to them or–if I were a billionaire–to buy them some A-10 Tank Killers to wipe out those giants. But, I cannot reach the point of love (non-cosmic love of the individual), which disinclines me from watching their suffering and silently cheering them on.

      Thanks for your long comment! Multa et Multum!

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      • Genki Jason says:

        I got what you were aiming at, I think I never answered the question properly. Scheler’s approach to charting the different levels of sympathy is great but when we’re talking about post-modern fiction that plays with characterisation or even real life then it’s harder to apply. Most metaphysical frameworks are too simple to capture the breadth and scope and variables of life which is why I favour existentialism.

        I think you can love Eren because of many factors related to his portrayal. Eren can be interpreted as a stock shounen battle anime – lots of shouting, frowning and grand speeches about humanity and never say die attitude – but what makes him (and the anime) a great watch is that his approach isn’t always the right one and he isn’t always successful and he has to rely on others. He does learn and in the few quiet moments of catharsis he does grow. This mixture of hard-headed gutsiness and the will to carry on in the face of impossible odds in that harsh world makes him more of an atypical character and more human than anything seen in Bleach et al. and we come to love identify with his struggle and love him. I wish I had as much will-power as he does 🙂

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      • I’ve just figured out why the main characters don’t appeal to me that much: they rather lack a sense of humor. I know that the misfortunes which happen to them are quite atrocious, but people often find reasons to laugh despite the misery they have fallen in. (I’m thinking of Col. Pappy Boyington’s time in Japanese POW camps especially.) But, the pagan mind is often darker than the Christian one. We have the Resurrection following the Crucifixion after all. There’s no true equivalent in pagan myth–nothing which will breed joy in sorrow.

        So, that’s why I cannot identify well with Eren: he’s courageous and determined, but lacks joy. Claymore has characters that can laugh at a painful death, but Attack on Titan does not have one.

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  3. Nami says:

    Out of curiosity: what makes Mikasa your favorite character, and who are your favorite characters from the Survey Corps?

    I get what you mean about the characters–I don’t really identify with any of them on an individual level, and the only character even remotely approaching having joy is Hanji. However, the mystery of the Titans and what I consider the character depth (despite their lack of happiness, joy, and major instances of virtues other than courage and perseverance) kept me invested. Also, I felt that I could at least empathize to a certain extent: I felt the horror of Eren seeing his mom eaten; anger at the government and the rich for being selfish; just horror at the Titans in general and the fact that people who seemed generally good were dying in droves; and I could understand Jean’s feelings on joining the Survey Corps, and Armin’s feelings of worthlessness. I suppose you could say I felt mostly for the circumstances that they were in rather than for the characters themselves. Thus the question is less will they win and more why are they in this situation in the first place?

    The fact that the series movies crazy slow doesn’t help either–you’d think that with how slowly it moves Isayama would have started with character backgrounds and not just plunged us practically *in medias res.*

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    • I suppose that I liked Mikasa so much because she is so Laconic (capital to capture two senses of the word), the show’s most puissant warrior, and delightfully Japanese in her devotion to Erin, dour sense of duty, and modesty.

      The two characters who delighted me most from the Survey Corps were Levi and Zoe. The former had a remarkable sense of duty and took no nonsense. The latter seemed to display a degree of cheerfulness rather absent from the show.

      I suppose that I am far too immersed in medieval and classical literature to be sympathetic to the culture, which seems overly concerned with self-preservation. I like people with guts, even if their display of courage seems senseless. Of course, I am not here referring to the heroes, but to their fellow citizens and comrades who are unwilling to fight and hide behind walls. In such a dire situation, the draft should be instituted so that every man from the age of 17 should be trained to fight and allowed to enter the reserves at the end of a four year mandatory tour of duty. In other words, they should be more like the Swiss, as this article suggests: https://medievalotaku.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/attack-on-titan-or-titan-smorgasburg/

      Now, if courage and other military virtues were more apparent in the general populace, I should have been much more sympathetic to their loss of life. But, I might be too harsh on them.

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      • Nami says:

        The culture is absolutely way too concerned with self-preservation. Practically none of the actual citizens except for perhaps Eren’s mom and the people in the Survey Corps are willing to sacrifice themselves. When people like Hannes could fight but don’t, well…though he does redeem himself later in the manga, at least so I’ve read.

        I don’t think you’re being too harsh: it definitely makes sense that humans in general should have more courage! It makes me think of Steven Greydanus’ (of http://www.decentfilms.com) critique of The Dark Knight Rises: there seems to be no good in Gotham’s people (no matter how much its protested that there is or that they’re ‘worth saving’), who just go along with Bane instead of making a stand. The police force are the only ones fighting against him.

        I just find myself more sensitive when characters that I have little to no information about but seem generally innocent die. Like that one guy with the cellphone bomb inside him from The Dark Knight. That was the part of the movie that bothered me most, because he was mentally disturbed and through no fault of his own was being used by the Joker.

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