Hajime Isayama's True Inspiration For Attack On Titan

One of the best movie-going experiences of my life happened when I went to a showing of the live-action "Attack on Titan" film. It started off normal enough, but as the movie diverged more and more from its original source material, the audience began to come together in a sort of oddly amused yet also horrified hoard. When a young mother and soldier named Hiana comes on to Eren in the most forward of ways — like, seriously ... she does not play it cool — the entire theater erupted into uncontrollable screams and laughter. It was a cinematic moment I will never forget, so pure was our mutual bewilderment at this sudden, bizarre turn of events. 

So what exactly brought us all together to this one small, art-house movie theater to experience the ups and downs of this live-action adaptation? Well, most of us were already huge fans of the manga turned anime series, "Attack on Titan." Created by Hajime Isayama, "Attack on Titan" tells the story of Eren Yeager, a young boy living behind the protective walls of his city where he and the rest of his community are safe from the murderous Titans, giant humanoids that have no problem destroying and eating mankind. When Eren's town is unexpectedly attacked by two rogue Titans that break through the outer wall, his mother is killed, and he vows to get revenge. He joins the Survey Corps, a group of soldiers whose job is to fight and kill Titans, and the story launches into an epic battle between mankind and the giant humanoids that threaten to destroy them all.

In some respects, "Attack on Titan" feels like a very strange retelling of "Gulliver's Travels," only this time we're on the side of the Lilliputians. Those giant humanoid Titans are not to be trusted at all. But it is not Jonathan Swift's famous tale from which Isayama got his inspiration. Instead, the source material for "Attack on Titan" comes out of just another regular, everyday interaction with humankind.

A drunken inspiration

"Anime News Network" reported on an interview Isayama gave to Nihon TV about his inspiration for "Attack on Titan." One night, while working at an internet cafe, Isayama says "the idea for the Titans themselves came to him when he encountered a drunk customer." If you've ever tried to communicate with a drunk person, you know that the results of this interaction are often frustrating and pointless. For Isayama, "he was inspired by the lack of the ability to communicate even though the person was of the same species, and thought at that moment that the most familiar and scary animal in the world is actually the human."

"Attack on Titan" is a story that centers around a lack of communication between humankind and the Titans. Fans of the series know that it's not always the Titans who are the most brutal. Human characters also eventually begin to develop the ability to shift between human and Titan form, further blurring the lines between who we're supposed to distrust. Isayama's encounter with a drunk person opened the door to creating a complex world in which humanity can be seen as both good and evil. A lack of communication tends to breed fear in those who do not understand, and if the fear is allowed to grow big enough, distrust and war eventually follow.  

With the foundation of his story formed from this interaction, Isayama turned to his childhood to finish fleshing out the rest of Eren's world. Inspired by his own life growing up "in a rural Japanese town surrounded by mountains," the idea for the walls came to him. He told Nihon TV that he always wanted to explore beyond those mountains, a trait he shares with Eren who desperately wants to know what the rest of the world looks like. By pairing these two ideas together, Isayama created an entirely new, complex world proving that inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of places.