A society is typically formed by a group of individuals interconnected by shared values, norms, and culture. Members of a society maintain social order by reinforcing established customs to keep its members in check and ensure stability. In the emotionally charged Japanese anime, Attack on Titan, humanity struggles to keep its society in tact as humanoid giants called Titans relentlessly devour humans, forcing mankind to hide behind fifty-meter walls to save themselves from extinction. In the beginning of the series, the idealistic protagonist, Eren Yeager dreams of a free life outside the walls, contradicting the mores of his society which prefers a life of containment to certain death. The barriers which humans have erected to escape annihilation become both a sanctuary and a prison for the kingdom, signifying society’s propensity toward social constraint and fear of that which disrupts social order.
The three walls: Wall Maria, Rose, and Sina exemplify the way in which societies rely on social structure for stability and containment of its members. The story’s narrator explains that since its creation not a single Titan has been able to infiltrate Wall Maria, thus inspiring social tranquility. With its immense height and enduring structure made of solid stone, the one-hundred-year-old wall epitomizes permanence and security. An aerial view of the Zhiganshina District enclosed in Wall Maria reveals a somewhat medieval society with an organized collection of homes and markets. The carefree social interactions amongst the townspeople, the trading of goods in the market, presence of families, children playing, and a laid back police force give evidence to the sense of peace and stability humanity experiences within the walls. In contrast, the outside world and the Titans who rampage in it are equated with chaos and cultural genocide.
The Titans’ place on the fringe of society, their incomprehensibly monstrous behavior, as well as their unorthodox appearance makes them the antithesis of civilization and societal control. Though the Titans resemble bipedal humanoids, their gargantuan size, nudity, and deformity immediately sets them apart from the civilized humans inside the walls. Despite shambling about aimlessly in groups, the Titans do not conform to any preconception of a uniformly functioning community. The Titans’ zeal for devouring people and wiping out humanity for no discernable reason makes them a hideous blight on human progress and a potential disruption of social order. Since Titans do not need to consume people to sustain their own existence, humanity assumes the Titans’ singular motivation is the eradication of human life and culture. With Titans possessing neither a complex language system, nor a means of governing themselves their actions are unpredictable and symbolically anarchistic. In this sense Titans are more than just a threat to human lives; the terror they instill jeopardizes the social glue that keeps society from falling apart. The Titans’ resemblance to humans makes their murderous actions more disturbing, suggesting that without social control and stability the illusion of peace would falter and humanity would succumb to an existence of endless conflict and violence amongst its own members. To spare society from the Titans’ negative influence, humanity heavily guards what is left of its customs, placing an exaggerated emphasis on the necessity for containment within the walls to keep curious members from the lawless world beyond.
Although the three walls surrounding this human civilization safeguard the communities from the uncivilized outside world, they also imprison them, limiting their perceptions. The dynamics of the insular kingdom demonstrate how the walls are heavily embedded within the social structure of humanity’s sequestered survivors. A priest travels the districts of Wall Rose shouting praises and personifying the wall as though it were a savior and a god, exhibiting the wall’s influence on the citizens’ religious and cultural life. It becomes evident that any mention of life beyond the wall is considered culturally taboo when Eren’s friend Armin expresses a desire for humanity to explore territories outside the wall and is consequently harassed by a group who accuses him of heresy. This shaming ritual and other methods of social correction: such as ridicule and shunning perpetuate an isolationist mentality, a fear of change, and a dangerously irrational optimism. As Eren says, humanity’s fear of the outside world has made it like “ignorant cattle” merely “surviving” but unable to live or control the terms of its existence. Like cattle the inhabitants of Wall Maria were unprepared for the slaughter.
The sudden appearance of the first 60-meter “Colossal Titan” looming menacingly over the wall literally paralyzes society, as citizens of Wall Maria stand still and helpless beneath the Titan’s powerful gaze. With a mighty kick, the Colossal Titan breaks the barrier, instantly mangling the carefully constructed society. As citizens scramble to escape the horde of Titans, homes, families, and social order are destroyed as Wall Maria crumbles. This indicates humanity's lack of control, the inevitability of change, and society’s need to adapt to it. Once again humans must flee the Titans; the “humiliation of being kept in a cage” intensifies as they retreat to the more confining inner walls, desperately seeking structure which, like Wall Maria, has fallen apart almost beyond repair. In order to save themselves, the people must learn to accept and face the threat of the Titans head on if they ever hope to reclaim what they have lost.