Attack on Titan is my favorite anime of all time. In it, humanity is caged in walls and their survival constantly threatened by incoming Titans who try to eat humans alive. The anime is notoriously good for its unforgiving brutality, plot twists but ultimately its characters, who touched many of the owners of its 100 million copies in print around the world. That’s not to mention the anime’s animation, music, and overall production quality which ultimately stole the place of Naruto Shippuden as my favorite anime of all time in my heart.
So why would such a touching manga & anime be banned from circulation & streaming in China?
The titles have been banned because, according to officials, they “include scenes of violence, pornography, terrorism and crimes against public morality” that could potentially incite minors to commit such acts.
Granted, AoT (Attack on Titan) does contain some brutal scenes, notoriously its first episode which serves more as fraternity ritual to the AoT fan club, which to the ordinary person’s eyes is full of masochistic individuals like me.
However, the deeper reason is the political metaphor it contains.
To understand it, we must first recap the history of Hong Kong.
TLDR – When British signed a 99-year lease on new territories it colonized in the first Opium War, Hong Kong and Kowloon weren’t included. As the British built up Hong Kong to become the “pearl of Asia”, their plan was to grant Hong Kong self-governance like all the other British colonies, threatening to invade Hong Kong if British tried to make Hong Kong democratic. In addition, China wanted Hong Kong back as well when the lease to the other territories expired, so they snuck in a small technicality in the UN letter drafted by China’s first UN ambassador that removed Hong Kong from the list of colonies that would be granted independence. This small technicality eventually became the legal basis to it’s handover to China.
This twist in history became the political interpretation of AoT, although according to this interview of AoT’s creator it’s unlikely that was anywhere near his intention.
“On that day, mankind received a grim reminder. We lived in fear of the Titans and were disgraced to live in these cages we called walls.”
(Attack on Titan)
Some viewed as the ruthless encroaching of the Titans as akin to China’s encroaching of Hong Kongers’ liberties. There’s an inevitable dread that the last stand of “humanity” would fall, one wall/liberty at a time to the totalitarian, capitalistic teeth of the Titans.
This metaphor is taken one step further at a critical plot reveal in the later seasons, one that some may interpret as China’s plea that “Hong Kong is part of China”. It throws into question the very identity of the humanity in AoT themselves.
If you still haven’t closed this window and began watching the first episode, I would seriously question your priorities.
Personally, I had no knowledge AoT was banned in China when I binged through all three seasons before my finals last spring, so learning of these political interpretations afterwards just makes it all the better.
Perhaps it is because of this beautiful anime that I am now sympathetic to the Hong Kong protesters. Whichever side you want to assign blame to (CCP? British? Rich landlords?), I share the sense of injustice the protesters’ feel. From the colonization, handover in 1997, to the absence of promised universal suffrage today, the Hong Kong people never had a say in any of it. If anything, the British built Hong Kong up to become the financial hub the Asia, the “city on the hill” for China’s humanitarian reforms in the Deng Xiaoping era. As a result of China’s own by-any-means-necessary mercantilism practices of economic growth, Hong Kong’ers lost their economic bargaining power, but nonetheless have something to say to all the broken promises like universal suffrage and individual freedoms.
More on the history:
My opinion on the matters is this.
If you grow up brainwashed by the Communist Party but get to live as a happy pig, fine by me. It’s in many ways opposite to the principles the US drafted its Constitution on, but it’s a system nonetheless, in the same way Confucius and Socrates might not want to draft policies together but can still learn from each other nonetheless.
But if you grow up enjoying the liberties of democracy, only to watch it get encroached upon and taken away?
Then as a fellow human being, I’m of the opinion you must fight back, because whereas whether you have individual freedom depends on which system you’re in, the taking away of liberty is cruel and inhumane.. just like how even the basest of animals would fight when their food or land is encroached on.
Which is why… moments like these from AoT is one for the ages.
Now go watch it!