Reinforcing Failure: Military Mistakes in Attack On Titan

AoT 1 introAttack On Titan is a big deal right now, and I decided I’d take a look and see what I thought. There are always lots of things you can address when you’re watching anime – the plot, characters, art and animation, music, etc. I’m not really an anime guy, so I don’t feel qualified to address any of that. But… I used to be in the army, and my studies took me in that direction too. If I’m qualified to give an opinion about anything, it’s probably the military aspects of the show. And as I was watching it, I had a surprising thought:

“I’ll bet there isn’t a single soldier in this entire place.”

That probably sounds pretty weird, given how important the military is in Attack On Titan. There are people with uniforms and weapons, they do a lot of fighting, and they call each other “Recruit” and “Lance Corporal”. Why don’t I rate them as soldiers? Answering that is going to mean indulging in ranting and my tendency to lecture.

What a shame.

I don’t intend to spend much time talking about Attack On Titan as an anime. The art is nice and the animation is fluid, there’s a lot of gore but it’s not (quite) graphic, the opening music is a welcome change from forgettable J-pop, the plot has pacing issues but isn’t remarkably good or bad, the characters are pretty one-dimensional and emotionally distraught, and everyone screams 80% of their lines. ‘Nuff said.

I’m also presuming that everyone has watched the show, but just to make sure that we’re on the same page let’s start with a quick overview of the situation.
Humanity used to live around the world. A little over 100 years ago, titans – large humanoids, fast and powerful, regenerate quickly, between 3 and 15 meters tall, not noticeably intelligent – appeared and started slaughtering everyone. Humanity was incapable of resisting them, and so they first built and then pulled back behind a series of huge walls. These walls kept the titans away for 100 years; the show is set during the period in which the outermost wall gets breached for the first time. The main characters are present during that event and later decide (for reasons relating to it) to join the military. The main action of the show takes place after their initial training is over.

AoT 1 recruits
Question: what’s the difference between warriors and soldiers?

If you said “there isn’t one”, then stay behind after class. There’s a lot of catching up for you, and this is a course in which the phrase “terminal examination” is unpleasantly accurate.
If your response was something like “warrior is a way of life, soldier is just a job” then you get half marks. You’re on the way to the solution, although you’re not there yet.
And if you said “warriors are DPS, while soldiers are tanks and off-healers” then a) I’m not sure that’s true in an era of viable dual-spec classes, and b) MMOs are not a good source of information about military issues, even those with anime based on them. This Sword Art Online review might be more your thing.

The real answer is “organisation”. Warriors fight as individuals, even when there are a bunch of them together. They may be good at it, but their training, their tactics, their equipment, their institutional ethos… everything is based on fighting their opponents independently. This is a style of warfare that went permanently out of fashion around the time the Romans started inflicting massive violence on everyone within reach, and it did so for a good reason: it doesn’t work against soldiers.

Soldiers, by contrast, work and fight together. They can be individually as capable as any warrior but their effectiveness is far greater, because they co-operate and complement each other. They are supported by still more soldiers, who might or might not be taking part in the same specific engagement but who are nonetheless contributing to its success. See, this is why I gave half marks to the people who said “soldier is just a job” – it is a job. It’s something you can do professionally, and as a result the organisations which are professional about it get much better results. Once this point sinks in, it starts to get a lot clearer why the humans in Attack On Titan are having so much trouble.

It’s because they’re complete bloody idiots.

AoT 1 idiots
Strategy and Tactics:
Let’s start with the basics. A strategy is a high-level statement of how you are going to win the conflict you are engaged in. It’s the continuation of a sentence that begins “We will defeat our enemy by…” and ideally doesn’t go on much longer. An example from history would be “… destroying their means to fight”. Operations are what you carry out in order to implement your strategy. If your strategy is to starve your enemy of the resources they need in order to continue fighting you might attack their transport networks. And finally, at the lowest level, tactics are how you conduct your operations. Sneaking into enemy territory and wrecking bridges has a long history.

To their credit, the humans in Attack On Titan do have a strategy (which is less common than you might think). They’re conducting operations, and they have tactics they employ when they encounter the enemy. So the good news is that, at every level, they have a plan. The bad news is that, at every level, their plan is pants-on-head retarded.
Their strategy boils down to “sit behind our walls and hope the titans go away”. This is the same sort of thing that a three year old does by sticking their fingers in their ears and pretending they can’t hear you, and it works about as well against titans as it does for three year olds. At best this could result in a stalemate until the titans find some way to get at the humans (spoilers; they do!). It certainly isn’t going to lead to any reduction in the threat the titans pose.
Their operational concept involves sending groups out into territory controlled by the titans to establish supply depots. Where, unsurprisingly, they get slaughtered wholesale for no appreciable gain. The disconnection between their strategy and the operations they are carrying out is massive; personally I think they have mistaken activity for operations.
And tactically, their method of dealing with titans is so far from effective that I don’t even know what to say. Their equipment, weapons, training… everything is predicated around getting someone with a sword up to the titan’s neck so they can slice it open. Words fail to express how indescribably fucking stupid this is. What makes this even more infuriating is that humanity has millennia of experience of how to deal with similar tactical problems. If you’re going to send out people in ones and twos against titans, with weapons that require them to be actually touching the titan to use, of course you’re going to take horrendous casualties. You are giving away every possible advantage you could have, and transferring them to your enemy. This is the sort of insane idea that could only be come up with by someone who is fixated on individual prowess and achievement at the expense of all else.

In other words their strategy, operations, and tactics all look like they were created by warriors. And that’s one of the main reasons why I don’t think they have a single soldier in the entire place.

AoT 1 Erwin

Possible exception: this guy, who is considered a genius because his plans do not consist solely of “Charge at the first titan you see!” They still have an appalling casualty rate.

Supporting Arms:
The other main reason is the lack of thought that has been put into what you do if you’re not swinging a sword at a titan. There are three arms of service – the Survey Corps, which does reconnaissance and light-infantry tasks; the Garrison Corps, which maintains and defends the walls; and the Military Police, who act as a sort of police force and praetorian guard. There don’t appear to be any organisational levels between that and the squad that you’re assigned to, which must make assigning tasks an absolute nightmare for commanders. Perhaps because of this their supporting arms are basically non-existent. Squads are assigned on an ad-hoc basis to carrying supplies, maintaining and using the cannons mounted on the walls, or anything else that someone thinks needs to be done. It’s hard to tell whether this is the cause or result of no-one being able to approach this as a profession, but effect is the same – there are some truly bizarre oversights being made.

Here’s an example: the walls in Attack On Titan are what humanity is hiding behind. They’re three concentric circles with a combined length of nearly 7000km, which encompass an area bigger than most of Western Europe. They are an engineering achievement that makes the Great Wall of China look like a sandcastle, made all the more impressive by the fact that they were started after the titans appeared and completed in time to be useful. It took huge amounts of time and resources to build castle walls which are nowhere near as big as these ones. So their builders were geniuses who were capable of efficiency and speed that stagger the imagination. While their designers, on the other hand, were gibbering idiots who would be out of their depth in a puddle.
See, the walls are built as fortifications. Their entire job is to prevent titans getting in. But that point does not seem to have occurred to the people who designed these walls. Cannons at the top of a wall can’t hit anything at the base, but the designers didn’t care. They didn’t try to channel the titans into areas where the weapons could bear on them. They didn’t provide any close-in weapons for defending the walls. They didn’t design the walls with bastions for enfilading fire. They didn’t design a series of obstacles to slow attackers and give defenders time to respond, they didn’t have secondary fortifications in case a breach was made in the wall, they didn’t put in additional walls as spokes to limit the amount of territory lost in the event of a breach… The list goes on and on. They just put up a wall 50 metres high, stuck a few cannons on the top, and called it a day. How anyone could look at it and say “Yes, this is a suitable defence for the last of mankind!” is completely beyond me.

Pictured: Wall Rose. Not Pictured: Competent design of fortifications.

Pictured: Wall Rose. Not Pictured: Competent design of fortifications.

And the same stunning lack of thought keeps on coming up time and again. The 3-d manoeuvre device that everyone uses requires incredible athleticism and conveniently placed trees or buildings to swing from, but that isn’t viewed as a drawback. The Survey Corps goes riding at full speed through territory controlled by titans and firing off smoke signals, but this is an improvement on previous methods. No-one appears to have even thought of using different weapons or gear, co-operative tactics, reconnaissance, communications, terrain features, engineering or artillery or in fact anything other than swinging up to a titan’s neck and slicing it with a sword. This is amateurish at best, and it really drives home the fact that they don’t have anyone who can think about this professionally. It’s as if someone looked through a series of military images and picked those that looked cool to base everything on (which is probably close to what happened, but let’s not distract ourselves).

So I am in no way surprised that humanity is on the brink of extinction. They don’t appear to have any military professionals at all, and it’s crippling their ability to fight the titans.
Now, it would be unfair of me to say all this and not offer any ideas about how they could do better. But that’s the subject of the next article…

Question of the Post: What do you think of the military in Attack On Titan? How would you assess their capabilities and performance? What do you think they should be doing?

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About Dr. J.H. Watson

I’m a New Zealander, in my 30s, and until recently I lived in rural Japan. I have interests in history, pop culture, video games, and the clever use of language.
This entry was posted in Anime, Military and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

60 Responses to Reinforcing Failure: Military Mistakes in Attack On Titan

  1. Mike says:

    Okay, so I’ll start this by admitting I have not seen the feature, so I can only comment on what I have read and/or seen.

    First thoughts: whut? I mean… eh? How?

    Second thoughts: How did a society of people manage to hold off this threat while building the wall?

    And then the remaining thoughts come tumbling out. The “Wall Rose” looks like an extension. How did they manage this? I understand why they might have needed to in the past as the population grew (no threats, healthy-happy-people, say 1% population growth, that’s a doubling every 70 years or so I think, so maybe 2.5-3x the original population size before the breach?). If they can do that, why can’t they cope with a breach?

    They have _no_ small-unit tactics? People in prison learn how to deal with others in groups, hell, it’s been one of humanity’s defining characteristics.
    “How we kill mammoth Og?”
    The smart (and most likely answer), is:
    “You get Arf and Burg, me grab Yarg and Ob, we use rope and spear, it just like big buffalo!”
    And not:
    “It killed Arf, your turn Og, then me!”
    Even wolves will do this.

    They heal quickly? Fine, use fire, damage them _lots_ in a short space of time before going for the neck, greek fire was circa 650, hell tubed flamethrowers were apparently in the siege of Delium in 424 BC… They have cannon? Use sharpened chain or bar-shot to cut them in two, aim for the neck if you like to speed things up.

    Use trip-wires/rope, grapnels, bring them down like the Lilliputians brought down Gulliver. Hell, keep one for study. If you can build a wall like that then you can build a prison.

    They come from a particular location? Send the scouts further afield, find out what their weaknesses are. If you can build a protective wall in the first place, and they only come from one location, start building in that particular location until you surround it. Then divide and conquer, or just crush.

    Humanity! We can do this!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was curious about how they managed to build the wall too. Given the apparent lack of soldiers, I’m guessing all the professionals got killed holding off the titans long enough for the walls to be built (which must have taken years, even assuming incredibly good engineers, no resource shortages, and a suitable sense of urgency – there’s 7000km of them, for crying out loud!). But maybe I should have chosen a better picture, because that is indeed a little extension jutting out from Wall Rose. Same style of defenses, just poking out in order to attract the titans attention.

      As for the rest of your comments… yeah, I had some of the same thoughts. But I have a whole other article coming up about that, and I don’t want to spoil that. Suffice to say that I have a few suggestions along those lines myself.

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      • Alex Hurst says:

        According to the story (as I remember it), the walls “appeared”. They weren’t built. I’m assuming it will come to light in later seasons, because the “pigs in a pen” analogy is pushed and suggested quite a bit.

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        • Thanks for your comment. I haven’t followed the manga, so all I’m going from is the one season of anime that has appeared so far. There’s a hint right at the end of the last episode about the walls origins, and to an extent that makes speculation about their construction moot. Others have commented on the social and cultural situation inside the walls, but that isn’t something that really comes through strongly in the anime. I rather feel that a show should be able to stand on it’s own and not depend on the audience possessing knowledge from other media – in that respect, it’s difficult to judge how well Attack On Titan does.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Alex Hurst says:

            I don’t read the manga either, haha. I just remember the aristocrats talking about how the holy walls just appeared by divine intervention. Since the story has not mentioned anything other than that (except during the info commercial breaks, such as the story of the man who tried to dig under the wall and found the stone coninued for tens of meters), it seems like they are trying to make the wall’s origin suspect on purpose. Or maybe I’mjust reading too much into it, haha.

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            • Oh, I’m sure that it was deliberate. Given the timescale of the titans appearance – about 100 years ago – it is blatantly suspicious that no-one seems to know more about the walls than they do. There are also references to books and other knowledge being deliberately suppressed, and strong hints that there is at least a small capacity to scrub memories (although it is less clear who possesses it).

              In this article I was deliberately excluding all that from my consideration; just taking the situation at face value and trying to make sense of it from a military viewpoint. I think it was worthwhile, even doing that it seems clear there are ways they could be doing a lot better. But that only holds up as long as the assumptions everyone makes about what the walls are FOR does. Once cracks start to appear in that, all bets are most profoundly off.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Anonymous says:

                The king used tens of thousands of colossus titans to harden themselves and become walls, thats why they can’t be broken, cause the walls are made of titans

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                • Yes, that was hinted at right at the end of the first season. I have to say it doesn’t seem to work very well, because obviously Titans CAN still get through the walls.

                  As I said, though, in this article I’m deliberately excluding that from consideration. I take the situation at face value, as it’s presented, and try to work from there.

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              • Mai says:

                Every military invention is halted by the government to hold its power. There are one page in which an inventor make a revolver and then the Military Police burst through and stole it. Also a couple who make a hot balloon is shoot by the MP

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                • Interesting. It’s the sort of approach that can only last for so long, though – the titans aren’t going away, and if technological development is halted then it’s a contest of dwindling resources versus time. My money is on the titans, in that case.

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                  • Min Reynolds says:

                    The powers that be never cared for anyone’s lives but their own – they sent out 20% of the populace under the pretence of recovering Wall Maria just to cull numbers (unsurprisingly the vast majority of those civilians, merchants and soldiers died). They also stagnate technological development to maintain their power, which is why the Vertical Manoeuvre Gear is the “best” weapons they have against the titans – it ensures soldiers will never grow so high in numbers and become strong enough to oppose the king. They know using the equipment is risky, they’re banking on there being severe casualties.

                    And, yeah, you are right, that sort of rule doesn’t last. If you haven’t, I really recommend reading the manga (chapter 50 is where season 2 of the anime ended) because the very next arc after season 2 ended deals with this dilemma. There’s also A LOT more answers to some of your speculations and they actually start behaving more like a proper military with actual goals and objectives. I don’t want to spoil more than that.

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                    • Interesting, but it does seem a self-destructive policy in the face of opposition such as that posed by the titans. I remember reading about a fictional realm which was supported by a standing army of soldiers, a sitting army of bureaucrats, a kneeling army of priests, and a creeping army of informers; the implication being that, like a table, if any of those legs wasn’t strong the whole thing would collapse.

                      In this particular setting, the same situation seems to hold true – the powers that be, whoever they are, rely on the same four pillars in order to stay in power. Deliberately weakening one of them just doesn’t seem like a good idea.

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    • Ethan M. Lee says:

      ok so in the manga a lot of these questions are like the wall was made by (spoiler) a titan a gov’t has been feeding the military and people lies about how to fight them and as a soldier you must follow those orders from their king.

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      • That will only take you so far. Combat tends to be a weeding process. If the things you are being told to do are ineffective, there is a selection pressure in favour of things that ARE effective. Eventually you run short of people who are willing and able to do the ineffective things, because they aren’t around to pass on their way of operating. I realise that the situation is an artificial one, but it is also inherently unstable. Sooner or later people will find ways that do work… perhaps similar to those we discuss in part two of this article.

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  2. rikuo06 says:

    What if the walls weren’t created to keep titans out, but to keep humans in?

    I assume you are still in the early half of the anime adaptation? I’m mostly up-to-date with the manga, so I won’t say too much. Just that it really isn’t much more realistic than your typical shounen fantasy-setting battle series, perhaps to the chagrin of people who thought they’d found something different. In these works, the mundane logistics and tactics for the many is always trumped by the logic-defying badassery of the few. And that’s before considering the ridiculous superpowers and plot devices that the author pulls out of titans’ asses whenever it feels convenient.

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    • Hmm, interesting thought. My first impulse was to say that the walls aren’t doing a very good job at that either, since they have gates (which the humans control), and the Survey Corps was operating well before Wall Maria was breached.
      That being said, however, the people inside the walls are generally unenthusiastic about looking outside them. If that isn’t just a response to the notable lack of success but is being deliberately fostered, the implications are quite interesting.

      I’m only aware of one season of the animie, so that’s all I’ve watched. Even in that, however, I’m getting the strong impression that it’s basically as you describe; full of logic-defying badassery and asspulls whenever convenient. Which is a shame, but hardly unexpected.

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  4. q____q says:

    So not only did everyone with darker skin tones die before this show is happening but also everybody who can think straight? Such a weird coincidence …

    That was an awesome article by the way, I’d really like to read a follow up where you lay out some strategies yourself that you think that could work.

    Like

    • Wish granted! My next article will indeed be on that very subject. Feel free to come back and see how it looks… and in the meantime, what do you think they should be doing differently?

      Like

      • q____q says:

        Hey, that supercool, I’m looking forward to the article.

        I’m the opposite of qualified to make any suggestions on how they could do better, I would be one of the people who’d need to stay after class because I didn’t even know the difference between warrior and soldier ^___^

        Since it is too late to change the design of the wall I think what Mike suggested would be the way to go, if you they can build a wall around Europe, they should be able to dig some deep holes, cover them up, lure titans there and finish them off while they’re trapped. And as a long term goal they really need to figure out how/where the (different forms of) titans come from. I dimly remember that they don’t (seem to) have sex? Yeah, the whole world is a large place to hide even for giant titans but they need get to the bottom of this. Btw. I think they should be technologically advanced enough to have tethered balloons/zeppelins, so that might be a safe way to scout out the land?

        Also in my mind there’s also at least one other human stronghold where all the people from South Asia, Africa, South America etc. have fled. Maybe they can help?

        Like

        • I thought about the holes etc as well, and under some circumstances – such as being incorporated in the walls defensive plan – I think it’s a damn good idea. It comes under the heading of what we call “shaping the battlespace”, and generally speaking I’m all in favour of it. But that sort of field engineering is a lot of work (imagine trying to dig a pit big enough to contain 15m tall titans), and it’s not really practical for mobile field forces.

          The balloons, though, are a really good thought. Somehow I’d neglected the third dimension! Airships would be ideal for scouting, although I’m not sure the humans technology is up to the task – it might be, or might not (there’s not much evidence on the point). But hot-air balloons are perfectly possible, and would be a big help. I can see you have a future in the newly formed Air Corps!

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Bear says:

    I enjoyed your post. There are a few points I’d like to clear up related to the story. The walls were built hundreds of years ago but Titans had not been seen for a hundred years prior to the start of the story. How the walls were built and with what is a major revelation later in the story but no one seems to know how they were constructed up to this point. The cannons on the wall can be pointed straight down down and this is shown in one episode where they lure a group of Titans up agains the wall using human bait. Now your critiques of the walls from a military standpoint are valid. The designers, however, didn’t see the walls as a military fortification. Up until this point in the story, no Titan had breeched the walls. Think of them more as barriers to keep wolves away from the sheep. New varieties of Titans appeared than were able to breach the walls though.

    Mike mentions sending scouts out. Actually, that’s what the Survey Corp is for and the supply dumps they were attempting to deploy were to allow them to range farther since they were having no luck figuring out where the Titans come from. And they do manage to capture a few of the smaller ones. Not sure I’d use fire on them though. At least not in an urban or forest area. They don’t seem to feel pain so a bunch of them flapping around on fire would cause a hell of a lot of damage and probably not slow them down.

    Now as to the use of swords. Titans are basically indestructible and will regenerate unless a small area on the back of the neck is completely severed. Even a cannon shot can be ineffective if even a small area of that part of the neck is left intact. Small arms are almost worthless. Notice how their swords have replaceable blades. The Titans are that tough and the blades dull quickly.

    So what you see at this point in the story are garrison troops who support a corrupt hierarchy that is willing (and does) sacrifice thousands to maintain their own positions. No troops have fought Titans in a hundred years and, except for the development of the Maneuvering Gear, the weaponry is at best 19th century. Whether this is due to retrogression of technology or if their world had not advanced beyond that point I don’t know.

    The strategy the leaders have is to maintain their position in the hierarchy and they appear to know more about the Titans than they admit. Hard to change a culture when it’s become corrupt and ossified. Now, I and a few others have made similar complaints to yours about the lack of tactics on anime blogs and been shouted down. Looking cool seems to be more popular than having a logical storyline. Even the troops who do fight lack any comprehension of combined arms tactics (or any tactics). Just some mobile artillery to knock down a Titan so that the sword wielding troops could finish it off before it can regenerate would be an improvement. Instead the best troops get slaughtered individually. No one seems to even try to test out tactics and new weaponry even though the ones they’re using are ineffective. Even their best (the Survey Corp) does a pitiful job of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The Survey Corps is their most proficient military body… and as you say, they’re fairly pathetic in that role. I do take your point about some of the social and cultural issues in the setting, but I deliberately didn’t consider them I(or indeed much else) in my military analysis. I wanted to stay as focused as I could, and it still ended up over 2000 words. We’re essentially faced with a highly artificial situation even before we start dealing with the usual anime tropes, so I agree that there’s not much point in expecting a sensible approach. Still, I thought it might be interesting to critique it from that point of view anyway.

      And now, I’m going to put on my artillery-nerd hat.
      First off, I’m not sure it’s possible to make a breech-loading smoothbore (like what is mounted on the walls) that can physically be pointed straight down. If it’s not using unitary ammunition or some sort of weird squeeze-bore system then I don’t think wadding will be enough to prevent the projectile simply falling out the end of the barrel.
      Even if you can do it, WHY in Saint Barbara’s name would you want to?!? Artillery pieces are heavy – several tonnes each. Lifting the entire weapon’s mass to the vertical to fire straight down is absolutely insane: there are no cranes or pulleys visible, so it has to be done by sheer musclepower. That’s a lot of work… and you have to drop it back down to the horizontal after every shot to reload anyway. This is not making ergonomic sense, to put it mildly.
      And assuming you do all that anyway, and fire it straight down, what if you miss? The projectile will hit the ground and is unlikely to do much damage to titans even if it explodes. A projectile fired downwards at a more gentle angle, however, has a chance of hitting something behind it’s intended target. Blowing huge holes in a titan’s torso or legs might not kill it, but it’ll definitely slow it down (which is a subject I’ll be returning to later).

      So even bending over backwards to include the (stupid, stupid) details the setting gives us, their defensive plan still doesn’t make any sense. Internal consistency and coherency are a big deal for me in anything I watch or read or play. And while it might seem pointlessly nit-picky to be giving Attack On Titan such a hard time about this, they rather brought it on themselves by making the military so important in the show. A major story structure lacking in coherency and consistency makes it harder for me to take the show itself seriously.

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      • Bear says:

        Thanks for the reply. I just wanted to clear up any misunderstandings of the in-universe situation. Though if I tried to justify the equipment they use (or the Titans for that matter) in terms of known physics my head would explode. I agree with you about the cannons. Jacking them into a vertical position without some system of mechanical advantage would be ludicrously hard. I wondered why the shot doesn’t fall out also. Now glossing over that :D, being able to point straight down does have a purpose in a last line of defense scenario. Titans are tall to begin with and have no problem climbing over the bodies of other Titans so they might be able to scale the wall by brute force. Blowing them apart is about the only way to stop them since (even if they could manage it) dead bodies would just pile up enough to allow them to scale the wall. I take it as the equivalent of medieval use of stones and boiling oil to stop an enemy from scaling a wall.

        Now as to your last paragraph, you have no argument from me and the manga doesn’t do any better after the anime ends from a consistency standpoint. The upper echelons of both the government and military are corrupt and decadent and the one general who seems halfway competent is a drunk. Nobody in this story seems capable of developing new military tactics to any great degree even after examining a Titan. Their sole focus seems to be using the abilities of Eren as a pseudo Titan as a means to defeat them. The maneuvering gear is more of a crutch (and given the results an ineffective one) than a useful military tool. Even with the tech that they have, why hasn’t someone developed a gas driven cutting weapon to give them at least a modicum of standoff capability? Go one step beyond and create an RPG with shrapnel that’s optimized for cutting even.

        I’ll be very interested to read what you might propose either organizationally or tactically.

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        • If the titans are clambering over each other at the bottom of the wall, you don’t have to use a cannon to deliver ordnance to them. You can just roll it over the edge in an oil drum or something (another idea that doesn’t seem to have occurred to the brilliant minds in the Garrison Corps). That would also be an excellent spot to have mortars, carronades, and other short-range but high-lethality weapons pointed at, not to mention a few explosive surprises lying about.

          But again, all we’re doing here is reinforcing the point that this is not a setting which values military competence. Viewing the show from the starting premise that military competence IS valuable has been an interesting experience, but it really shows some of the holes the anime has dug itself into. It would not surprise me to learn that increasingly wild ass-pulls are required from the writers as the anime/manga progresses in order to avoid it collapsing under the weight of it’s own ridiculousness.

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  6. daikama says:

    Interesting article – a lot of “food for thought”. I watched the anime along with reading a good chunk of the manga (though I ultimately dropped it for various reasons). First let me say that I agree with you apart from maybe the degree of “tactics” in the anime. One thing that bugged me about the series is that there is very little on a tactical as well as strategic level — well, I suppose “charge”/“go get ‘em” is technically a tactic. Even so, as you say, it’s essentially RPG “warrior” individual melee than any organized, coordinated attack “soldiering”. Good or bad, that’s very much SOP for a shounen series such as this.

    ”And tactically, their method of dealing with titans is so far from effective that I don’t even know what to say. … If you’re going to send out people in ones and twos against titans, with weapons that require them to be actually touching the titan to use, of course you’re going to take horrendous casualties.”

    I think you’re forgetting about the world setup here. The titans can only be killed by cutting the back of their neck (both anime & source material manga). Plausibility issues of that aside (and I would argue that’s not the only issue with the titans), that’s the setup we’re given. However, if I recall correctly, in both the anime and manga there’s an instance where a titan’s head and neck are completely blown off clean down to the shoulders by a cannonball (maybe a shell, not sure what their artillery is using). So… a titan dies if you slice the back of the neck deep enough, but if you blow its neck into small and tiny bits… *poof* new head/neck and it’s just fine? How the hell does that work!? To me, that’s completely “in-universe” inconsistent, and seeing/reading that was a severe challenge to my suspension of disbelief.

    Regarding the walls, you might want to watch the rest of the anime/check out a good portion of the manga (if available). There’s some very important/revealing information about them (kind of a big deal). I’ll leave it at that since more would be too spoilerish.

    ”No-one appears to have even thought of using different weapons or gear, co-operative tactics, reconnaissance, communications, terrain features, engineering or artillery or in fact anything other than swinging up to a titan’s neck and slicing it with a sword.”

    Again, there’s the whole must slice the back of a titan’s neck thing to kill it deal. That being said, I think you make another good point. Personally, I find the disparity in technology jarring. That “3D Gear” is quite advanced and sophisticated. What’s the PSI level for those relatively small air tanks to allow repeated firing of lines + metal darts/hooks (whatever the term is) with enough power to pierce into brick and hard wood? Yet that same world doesn’t understand the concepts of rifling and breach loading. Huh? I guess the answer again is “titan’s won’t due unless you cut (and not blow apart >_>) the back of their neck” and thus other technology stalled.

    Still, even if one accepts the whole “must cut the neck to kill it” plot line, as you say there are still a number of tactical possibilities remaining. One is a coordinated attack utilizing each person’s individual strengths. I forget the terms of art for the series, but essentially there are some who are better at maneuvering and some better at striking the killing blow, etc. As it stands, there’s very little, if any, coordinated attacks. All “warrior” and no “soldiering”. Have the dodgy guys attack from various directions simultaneously – maybe get in a couple temporarily debilitating hits (e.g. eye), which allows for a “finisher” type to get a clean run at the back of the neck. As was mentioned already, use traps – pitfalls and/or land mines to make a titan fall flat on its face. I suppose you could also use “greek fire”/napalm/acid to temporarily blind it as well. Long story short, do something other than “go defeat them”.

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    • daikama says:

      Typo :/ Second to last paragraph should read: “I guess the answer again is “titan’s won’t die unless you cut…”

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    • You make some good points. I watched all of the anime that I could find – 25 episodes – and I do realise it’s basically an excuse for individual heroics and things that look cool, not a “realistic” (whatever that means) examination of the situation. I had my disbelief challenged by the same things you mentioned, and in the end I just tried to make the best sense I could from the inconsistencies. The view I present here is a sort of composite resulting from that. Still, in the show there are several times when viewers are explicitly shown that titans can be killed by either cannon fire or a sufficiently brutal pummeling by another titan; from that it seemed that it was sufficient damage to the back of the neck that killed them, not that there was anything magical about the swords. For the sake of my own sanity, and in an effort to try and salvage anything coherent from the story, I had to assume that was the case.

      As you say, there’s quite a lot that the humans could be doing differently even if we accept the strictures the show seems to place on itself. In one episode we are treated to a display of “elite” tactics which involves no less than THREE people working together! I died a little inside when I saw how breathlessly that was reported.

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      • daikama says:

        Thanks for the reply. It’s been some time (over a year) since I watched the anime or read the manga so my memory’s a bit fuzzy on some of the details. Now that you mention it, I seem to recall at least one titan being killed by cannon fire (definitely titans killing another), So if we can assume other things can kill a titan by “destroying it’s neck” (whatever that means”, then yes, one does have to wonder why swords were chosen over say rifled, breach-loading cannons (I suppose something on an infantry level such as RPGs/”Panzerfausts”/”Bazookas” is asking too much).

        …it’s basically an excuse for individual heroics and things that look cool, not a “realistic”…

        For good or bad, I think that pretty much sums up the situation. I have to admit, that at least on a visual level, the anime was quite good though it did have the occasional rough spot. All that swinging around + sword flailing is more dramatic than a “simple” artillery barrage (realistic or not). Still, as we and others have mentioned, there are still things that remain within the given framework which the anime could do. Looking forward to reading your thoughts on some strategic/tactical alternatives to what’s been presented so far.

        As for the walls, I’m assuming that you know the “foundation” for them. THAT left me dumbfounded for several reasons. For one, how exactly did they get said “materials” for that? O.o Maybe I’m better of not thinking about it. XD

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        • daikama says:

          Gah! Clicked “post” before proofing. Sorry about the typos >_<

          Like

        • At an 1860s tech level, which this looks like, cannon aren’t really all that portable. They’re fine for fixed defences, but of rather less use for a mobile field force (which is the only sort that can take the fight to the titans, instead of letting them come to it). But I think something like a panzerfaust is entirely possible, and thats something I’ll be talking more about in the next article.
          And yes, I do know about the foundations of the walls. At first I thought it was meant to be an allegory of some sort, but that’s inconsistent with the rest of the show so I guess it has to be taken at face (hah!) value. How those materials were acquired does indeed boggle the mind, and I think all of us are better off not thinking too much about it.

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          • Mike says:

            In the 1860s we saw the use of the gatling gun in the US. It also saw the use of ironclads. Could a land-based ironclad be used against them?

            In the 1880s we see the use of decently sized AC generators. I wonder what effect a powerful electric fence would have on a titan?

            In 1891 PETN was discovered/synthesised, the explosive used in det-cord/cable-explosive. I can only imagine the fun that such a material would provide against something that needs its head removing in a hurry.

            Zeppelin or hot-air ballooning sounds like it could prove amusing, if only for exploration’s sake.

            Can titan be drowned? Does magic exist in the world? If they can’t be starved then why do they eat us, if they _can_ be starved, what do they eat when not able to eat us? And, slightly spoilerific (very, very slight), why/how do they have gender if they don’t breed?

            I kinda get that this is all about the heroics (where would we be without stories of individual heroism?), I’m just saddened by the losses incurred in order to secure the cool-factor. I’m obviously too old for this shōnen fan-service 😉

            A backstory (as others have alluded with respect the wall and the knowledge the ruling class posses) would be great, but by the sounds even this is only partially explained. I’d read some spoiler-filled stuff about the relationship between the titans and the history of the walls themselves, and about Annie. I’m still none-the-wiser. I guess I’m going to have to hunt down some more of the manga but I’m beginning to doubt it will help.

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            • I briefly thought about Gatling guns as well, but I don’t think they’d help a lot. As others have pointed out, small arms are more or less useless against titans and that’s pretty much what a Gatling is firing (although something more like a modern rotary cannon would be much more interesting…). They might be able to blind or distract a titan, but there are other ways to do that which don’t require an entirely new supply chain and servicing schedule.
              There’s no evidence that electricity is used by humans in this setting, and while they can certainly make high explosives they don’t seem to be very good at getting the best use out of them. Another subject for future discussion.

              As for the titans… yeah, they’re basically magic. Don’t eat, don’t reproduce, don’t breathe; going into the details about how they work is enough to make my head hurt. I don’t think even hunting down more information will help very much. They are essentially a plot device which gives our bunch of heroic idiots something to look good by fighting, and to provide an easily-digestable sense of menace to the show. Trying to take them seriously is an interesting exercise, but I don’t think we’re going to get much fulfillment from it.

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          • daikama says:

            I got somewhat of the same impression in terms of cannon/gun technology (e.g. 1850s or so), but memory fails me as to the rifles. I think the rifles were pretty antiquated (i.e. muzzle loaded), but not sure. So maybe 1850s/1860s is even a bit advanced in terms of the AoT world. Not sure.

            As previously noted, a big issue for me with this series is the in-universe technology disparity between the “3D Gear” and everything else. Question I have is if you’re going to retcon the scenario a bit, how do you factor in what might have happened if technological efforts were focused on guns rather than 3D Gear? Do you assume little advancement (e.g. stick with 1850s-1860s?), or do you ramp it up to say maybe 1890s-1900? Personally, I think anything beyond WWI or even WWI level weaponry itself is pushing things too far.

            As for the walls… yeah… just not going to think about that. XD

            Like

            • Their small arms in general appear to be muzzle-loaded smoothbores, which makes them fairly antiquated. That still fits in with a mid-1800s tech-level, though: think about what the American Civil War was fought with!
              You’re absolutely right that the 3D gear is inconsistent with anything else, though. If this was a GURPS campaign I would say that the setting was late Tech Level 5 – it’s very much had it’s industrial revolution, but hasn’t made it to the mechanised age yet. If they have techniques that allow them to build the 3D gear, I would expect to see that reflected in other ways as well. Since we haven’t, I’m going to chalk that up as yet another frustrating inconsistency.

              I think pushing their technology in even a limited area (like firearms) up beyond the 1880s or 1890s is probably asking too much. It’s important to note, however, that some weapons from later periods are actually very simple and could certainly be built even in this setting. What they might be is left as an exercise for the reader. 😀

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          • Mai says:

            Spoiler alert!
            In later Chapter (90-92 I think), there are advanced Country with WW1 Technology. They are using some kind of Anti Tank Gun to defeat the titan easily. It Armor Piercing Round even can pierce Armored Titan hardened skin. The Battleship Naval Gun also defeat the titan. The WW1 Technology is enough to render titan obsolete (although those weapon still not mobile)

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            • Oh yes, WW1 technology would have a much easier time dealing with titans. In fact, titans might not even make it to the wall in the face of that sort of firepower. But this analysis is based only on what I saw in the first season of the anime, and they hadn’t reached that level of development at that stage.

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  7. Bear says:

    Not sure a gatling gun would do much against a Titan since the kill zone is so small. Possibly something like the Whitworth rifled gun could be effective allowing them to fire accurately and “shoot and scoot”. Basically, knock them down, kill them and run. Now maybe something like a giant Taser would at least disable them for some length of time, though I don’t think there’s any indication that the humans have any technical knowledge of electricity AFAIK.

    As for magic in this world. That’s basically the Titans in a nutshell. Total violation of thermodynamics for one thing. They eat humans but don’t digest them. Don’t seem to require food at all. Don’t know about drowning but IIRC they don’t breath either. If you think about Eren’s abilities you can make some guesses as to how Titans are created (though I’ve got no conclusive proof as to as if that’s the only method). One other issue from a tactical standpoint is that when one is attacked they tend to swarm to that spot and overwhelm the attackers by numbers. There’s no knowledge of how many are out there either it seems.

    Based on the way the mangaka writes, if the humans came up with a hot air balloon/blimp the Titans would suddenly develop the ability to throw giant rocks high enough to knock them down.

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    • daikama says:

      Have to agree with you and others about the limitations (essentially uselessness) of small arms fire against titans. Now a relatively small cannon (e.g. your Whitworth gun example) would probably have enough mass/force to blow off a titan’s neck (smaller, unarmored titans anyway), but that’s about it. For me, you need sizable cannon fire – ideally 75mm & larger for the most part.

      As for other things such as electrocution, poisoning, drowning and/or fire, given the titan’s regenerative nature (and also evidently no requirement to breath air >_>), at best I think you can temporarily disable/delay them. Magical indeed. 😉 There is value in disabling tactics, but such methods would need to paired with a “finishing” blow.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bear says:

        The Whitworth (12 pounder) would require multiple shots but could probably be targeted to areas where the shot would be (temporarily) disabling. Still have to go in and finish it off by taking out the neck node.

        Weird thought just occurred to me. An analogy to taking out a Titan is taking out the Death Star in Star Wars. Just have to get the neck node instead of an exhaust port. At least the mangaka didn’t require them to take out the “exhaust port” on a humanoid. 😀

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      • I’ve got my doubts about even that Whitworth cannon against a titan. It looks like a fairly small-calibre weapon, which greatly limits the amount of explosives that can be crammed into the shell, and a solid projectile probably won’t have enough kinetic energy to take out the nape by itself (although some sort of super-sized hollow-point might… hmm, something to ponder). It will of course do very well for disabling limbs and generally damaging a titan, and the rate of fire and accuracy might be an advantage in those roles.

        The exhaust port on a titan? Gives new meaning to “bullseyeing whomp rats in Beggar’s Canyon back home”…

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    • Mike says:

      Most of my thoughts re: small-arms have been about disabling rather than killing tactics. The gatling would also be one of these. Temporarily disable the titan with a large amount of damage over a small period of time allowing the sword-bearer to go for the neck. The would mean lower risk and hopefully a faster kill. Maybe I’m underestimating the healing rate.

      Of course larger weaponry would yield larger damage, but there’s a risk-reward issue here too. If you miss with a heavy cannon then you have a reasonable reload effort, teamwork and time. If you miss with a gatling then just realign and keep cranking that handle.

      As for the “throwing rocks” ability, I think the beast could kinda do that anyway? No doubt we’d see another 60m tall titan appear to just snatch the balloons out of the sky.

      More and more this sounds like it could do well as a character-driven story. A means to tell a story about the interrelationships between the characters. The titan are a simple plot-device for encouraging these interactions. We’re just older and enjoying pointing out the obvious (to us) problems with something a 10-18yr old might not notice as much (since Fighting! and Swords! and AWESOME TITANS!).

      Liked by 1 person

      • daikama says:

        “:We’re just older and enjoying pointing out the obvious (to us) problems with something a 10-18yr old might not notice as much (since Fighting! and Swords! and AWESOME TITANS!).”

        True. I think that pretty much sums it up. Even so, there is entertainment value in such stories – if done right. The problem for me personally is that AoT tends to abuse the “flashy, over-the-top wow” factor as a method to whitewash some (in my opinion) glaring “in-universe” credibility issues.

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        • I honestly didn’t intend to give AoT a hard time in general, really and truly. All I wanted to do was look at the military aspects of the show. Unfortunately that started coming apart pretty early on (12 minutes and 30 seconds into the first episode, as a matter of fact), and once it had begun unravelling the rest started to also.

          Oh well. Sho ga nai, ne?

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      • Well yes, you’re right in that assessment. Apparently it’s extremely popular in the teenage male demographic, and I suspect the reasons are exactly those which you identify. Insofar as it is anything it seems to be a character-driven story, so I’d say you’re pretty much spot-on.

        I might have to reassess the Gatling idea based on what you’ve said. I initially thought that their healing ability would render it moot, but then again we are talking about a hail of bullets of about 7.5mm. That’s going to leave a mark, although it’ll take time to add up.
        My main concerns are with the ammunition. Gatling guns need a lot of it, and while that isn’t really a problem for fixed defences it is for the light mobile forces which the Survey Corps uses. The Gatling gun also requires unitary ammunition, and I’m not sure the humans in this setting are capable of making it.

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        • Mike says:

          The only reason I thought of the Gatling was because of the time period it saw use (1860s or so in the US) and its huge (for the time) rate of fire. This would allow say a team of 4 to have quite an impact. It would be the height of modernity for it to see use in this setting though, you’re right. It’s just a force-multiplier though. With a sufficient number of people you could probably achieve similar ends with rope and grapnel (when vs. 1 titan), and at least those are re-usable (no need for resupply).

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          • I’m still thinking about the Gatling, and it might end up having a role to play. I’d prefer to avoid sending anyone up next to a titan until it’s been slowed down a bit, but the basic rope and grapple idea has potential too I think.

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            • Mike says:

              I guess it needn’t even be a “basic” rope and grapnel. The 3D Gear already sounds like it already has a “rope” and grapnel of a better quality than I was considering 🙂

              However, if you’re using a squad of plebs then I guess there’d be no harm in falling back on the basics.

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              • The 3D gear was what I was originally thinking of, actually. It’s demonstrated on several occasions that the titans can’t break it’s cables easily, and the humans are able to produce them in large enough quantities to ensure no-one runs short. That seems like a good starting place to me.

                Like

        • daikama says:

          @Dr. J.H. Watson: No worries on my end about exploring the military aspects (or lack thereof) for the show/series. In fact, it’s something that I and others have mentioned before on other sites. Frankly, I’m enjoying the discussion, and I don’t think you are being overly harsh. Like others, I’m looking forward to your alternative suggestions.

          RE:Gatling guns/small arms fire. If we assume say 1860s technology, then rudimentary metallic cartridges are available. Same goes for primitive smokeless powder by 1870. There’s quite a bit of historic technology ramp up for guns/artillery from 1860-1900. By 1890 you have a few good breech block designs (e.g Welin) which had a significant impact on cannons. Sorry if I’m beating a dead horse with this, but if they can make “3D Gear”, I have to think they can make a basic, standardized metallic center-fire cartridge circa say 1870. I’d also argue the same for a decent cannon breach block design as well (and rifling of course).

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          • It would be possible in our timeline, but there’s no sign that it has been developed in this one. Which is weird, given the things they HAVE developed, but we all knew that anyway.
            When I’m thinking about possible equipment for this setting I’m trying to stick to technologies that we have seen demonstrated or been told they have. This isn’t always possible, but I don’t want to have to handwave too many innovations in terms of gear.

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        • Mai says:

          They are living in a Napoleonic era lifestyle. You can say it by the smoothbore rifle and the canon. But in later chapter it is revealed that they are advanced country with WW1 Technology and they are fight well against the Titan

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          • Hmm, I think they’re actually a little further along – I figure it’s roughly equivalent to the American Civil War era. They’ve got the concepts in place for an industrial revolution, but it hasn’t – quite – begun it’s inexorable march. Still, there’s not a whole lot of difference between those technology levels, so you might easily be right.

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  8. Pingback: Reinforcing Failure: Attack On Titan Part 2 | Speculative OP

  9. Ged Maybury says:

    It is elementary, my Dear Watson: As a writer, and one who has dabbled in TV script writing, I sense that the entire cause of this most epic of futuristic clusterfucks must come down to a few scriptwriters – possibly even just the one – the original mangaka.
    I’d hazard a guess that the fellow has enjoyed exactly zero military training, and did exactly zero research into the matter. But he has read an awful lot of manga and he knew that the one thing a good story needs is epic one-on-one battles a-la Samurai. It also needs lots of pretty young faces to progressively kill off, a near-robotic population, a secondary cast of stock characters, almost undefeatable enemies, and all the usual tropes re mysterious backstory and secret organisations / evil schemes / hidden purposes. Constant fuel, basically, for a long series of manga/anime.

    It is even conceivable that the manga/anime industry is controlled by a secret organisation with evil schemes and hidden purposes – feeding the population a constant message about personal sacrifice for the greater good while ineffectively fighting against an almost unbeatable and inhuman enemy. I strongly suspect that the rise of awareness within their enslaved population, then the application of intelligence and collectivist strategies is what they fear most.

    Thus you are a threat, Mr Watson! How *dare* you suggest effective military tactics?
    Expect strange men in dark glasses on your doorstep any day now.

    I can’t say any more … Excuse me, there’s someone at the d

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’re absolutely right about the cause. As someone with pretensions towards writing, I can see why it might be attractive: it leaves you with plenty of things to bring in if you feel the need, and is licence to do more or less whatever you like to the protagonists.
      But for the audience, and especially an informed and critically-thinking audience, it’s much more frustrating. It’s also hard to imagine why a competent creative team would do this, unless there so was some greater power at work – that’s funny. The fillings in my teeth just started tingling. Did you hear that? It’s like someone is sayi

      NOTHING IS WRONG. EVERYTHING IS FINE.

      Like

      • Mai says:

        Dude, I think if Attack on titan is based on reality (like the latest manga chapter), there will be little who enjoy it, and therefore it will have a poor sales. It has happened on Resident Evil Franchise whenever the team make a Great Survival Horror game with good quality, they sales poorly, but when they make full action horror like Resident evil 6, the sales is the best Capcom have (sorry for poor english btw, I still need to learn bout it, hell yeah)

        Like

        • No problem with the English, we’re all still learning things!

          I agree, a ‘realistic’ Attack on Titan would be much less fun. And these stories are about escapism, after all, so I can understand that some ideas which make sense in the real world have to be conveniently ignored here. This show just got my professional attention – I used to be a soldier, after all, and the military here is making some very basic mistakes.

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