Quest Updated: Taking Down Titans
Some weeks, life is manageable. Everything goes according to plan, and the universe is digestible in bite-size chunks. Other weeks, it isn’t. Other weeks are heavy with the weight of the world. Those weeks are the ones where natural disasters, wars, famines, general apocalyptic signs happen. Those weeks are the ones where everything feels far too big to deal with. Those weeks are the Titans.
I’m not usually a big anime-watcher. People falling over when embarrassed doesn’t quite do it for me. However, I’m hooked on Attack on Titan. It is phenomenal, and what I found most surprising about its opening few episodes is its relentless nihilistic hoplelessness. Yes. Relentless. Nihilistic. Hopelessness.
For those who don’t know, the series is set in a world where humanity has been pushed behind massive walls by freakish, large, malevolent giant humanoids that grin inanely while devouring people. They’re big and nasty, and regenerate quickly. The humans are trapped in a pseudo-early Renaissance European setting, with canons being the usual way to repel the Titans, alongside some anachronistic spiderman-machines that are beyond badass. However, to the average person not well versed in firing grappling hooks to soar through the city, the Titans are entirely unstoppable. The Titans feast in the way a killer whale flings a seal about playfully before killing it. The show is rather frightening, and it doesn’t really let up with this sense of hopeless futility. While the characters make stirring speeches about the need to fight, the early episodes really do little to affirm this need. Running, or curling up in a little ball and crying, seem just as effective. Now, I’m willing to guess the story will turn a corner, and the protagonists will all take a level in badassery. Why? Because we need them to.
Why else do we keep telling ourselves these David-and-Goliath stories? God of War is premised on this fact: you, a mortal, dare to defy the cruelty of unimaginable power. And you deny it with the pointy end of your sword. This is putting your foot down in the most violent way. I mean, look at this:
Seriously? What. The. Hell.
And it’s not just GoW. Pretty much any game with a quick-time event will pit you against some astronomically huge beasty that will have you baiting your breath, hammering the buttons unnecessarily hard to emphatically smite the monstrosity and bring it down.
With corporations spanning the globe, with governments shutting down, with ecological damage bleeding across borders, and with our greater awareness of what’s happening in other places in the world, it is easy to get sucked into a nihilistic apathy. Except that, I don’t see too much of it around. In part, I’m certain it is due to our resurgence of stories, from God of War to Pacific Rim, from Shadow of the Colossus to Godzilla, from Prince of Persia to the big bad from a Dungeons and Dragons campaign.
I think it is important for our psychology that we tell ourselves these stories. They are clearly archetypal – Kratos can get into the party alongside David, Gilgamesh, Hercules, and countless figures from a plethora of mythologies/religions/folkstories. And I think that in a globalised world, it is even more important to visualise surviving something bigger than you.