It was Chinese New Year, CNY for short, and I was back at my parent’s house. This year’s CNY was slightly different due to the uprising Covid-19 cases and the consequent Malaysian lockdown where our traditional house-hopping/visitation was no longer allowed in efforts to curb the virus. With that, there was a lot more time to be spent with family and also some extra time for leisure.
So, I was scrolling through Netflix to relax and unwind and when I reached the ‘Popular on Netflix’ section, one movie caught my attention, and it was an anime called ‘Attack on Titan’. Well, actually, I’ve been wanting to watch this show for some time now but have never gotten the chance to due to my schedule. And because it was CNY and I had a little bit more time on hand, I decided to go ahead with it and to my surprise, it wasn’t just a really good anime but there were quite a number of theological themes that I could see from the anime and that made it even better! In this blog-post, I’m going to share some of my reflections after thinking theologically whilst watching this anime.
Now, some context about Attack on Titan that I got from Wikipedia:
“The plot of Attack on Titan centers on a civilization inside three walls, the last location where humans still live. Over one hundred years ago, humanity was driven to the brink of extinction after the emergence of humanoid giants called Titans, who attack and eat humans on sight. The last remnants of humanity retreated behind three concentric walls and enjoyed nearly a century of peace. To combat Titans, the nation’s military employs Omni-Directional Mobility Gear, a set of waist-mounted grappling hooks and gas-powered propulsion enabling immense mobility in three dimensions.
The story revolves around a boy named Eren Yeager, who lives in the town of Shiganshina, located on the edge of Wall Maria, the outermost of three circular walls protecting humanity from Titans. In the year 845, the wall is breached by two new types of Titans, named the Colossal Titan (alternatively named the Colossus) and the Armored Titan. During the incident, Eren’s mother is eaten by a Titan while Eren escapes. He swears revenge on all Titans and enlists in the military along with his childhood friends, Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Arlert. As the battle against the Titans intensifies, Eren and his companions fight to defend their land while uncovering the mysteries about the Titans, their civilization, and what lies beyond the walls, eventually engaging themselves in a conflict to decide the fate of the entire world.”
From that setting and plot, there is one key theme that reminded me of Christianity, and no, it is not about some fantasy Armageddon scene where we get eaten up by giants. It reminded me about the powerless-ness and hopeless-ness of mankind before a ‘force’ that they cannot control or even comprehend (because in the anime, mankind was clueless about the titans, their whereabouts, etc. They only know how to kill them but in a very risky manner). Throughout the anime, the protagonist experiences a lot of pain and anguish because no matter how much he trains with his comrades, at the end of the day, he sees them die on the battlefield. There is a sense of hopelessness and an incapability to do anything.
Another theme that popped up throughout the anime was the theme of leadership. The anime portrays two kinds of leadership ‘styles’ by two of the protagonists. One of them, being Eren, is usually the emotional and rash decision-maker (understandably because of his past of seeing his mother being eaten by a Titan) but his enthusiasm latches on to you. He is really driven, charismatic and will be able to inspire you, even to the point of death. This is one of the quotes that I remember even up till now (I’ll explain a little more later):
Another kind of leadership that was portrayed would be another protagonist called Levi (which is the main reason why he’s my favourite character). Levi is regarded to be one of the most skilled Titan-killer and at the same time, he is objective in how he makes decisions and assesses situations, not overwhelmed by his emotions like Eren. He leads by example in how he puts his life on the line on the battlefield as well which in and of itself, inspires his comrades to do the same. He is willing to die for his mission.
I learned about leadership through this anime. As a leader, you are going to be overwhelmed with emotions that come from your duty but you will need to be objective and make the right decisions because it involves the life of your troops and in a Christian context, the life of the church. Also, being a leader is not just about barking orders or being a dictator (but of course it does entail that). You’ve got to be as much of a soldier as you would a leader. You have to be willing to enter into the battlefield and do the mission and there is no greater example of a leader than Christ himself.
We see that from Philippians 2:5-11 where Christ, although he is God, did not count equality with God as a thing to be grasped. He did not see himself as God but instead, he came down to earth on a mission, to be the Servant of the Lord and to die for his people on the cross, all for God’s glory. He demonstrated perfect obedience to God’s will. He is now the exalted King who reigns over the world and rightfully and deservedly deserves all worship and praise. This is the call for every Christian, not just leaders. We are called to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ — to live in perfect obedience to God, fear him and obey his commandments, that is to do his mission.
There is a quote by one of the main characters and it goes like this:
We were created as God’s images to serve God by multiplying and filling the earth to spread his glory across the globe but we have marred that image by serving ourselves instead of the Creator. But thankfully, God has been gracious and merciful and He spared mankind from destruction. Not only that, He saved us through His Son, as we have seen in Philippians 2 above. We have been saved to serve God and we are to do this by proclaiming the gospel. The gospel is God’s way of saving and restoring mankind as we are no longer under the dominion of sin and we’re now in the kingdom of God. This mission is a lifelong mission and like a soldier, we Christians are to remain devoted to it, to run the race with perseverance, just like Christ did. We are to imitate Christ in His life of service.
Hebrews 12:1-2 says this: 1Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Let us, as Christians, run the race together, doing the mission that God has commanded us by proclaiming the gospel, all for the sake of His glory.