Attack on Titan: No Regrets Vol. 1
During an Underworld business transaction, Levi accepts an offer of citizenship in the upper-world in exchange for procuring documents from a certain, ambitious Survey Corps. captain. Meanwhile, Erwin heads to the Underworld, battle gear in tow, to “persuade” a few inhabitants into joining his squad…
Original prologue prototype cover
Extra manga short
June 24, 2014
Author: Gun Snark
Artist: Hikaru Suruga
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Genre: Shonen, dark fantasy, post-apocalyptic
Rating: OT+ (older teens and adults)
Note: All manga illustrations come from fan-translated scans. The dialogue is not the same as the official version.
Perhaps no 21st century manga has possessed the acclaim or fanbase of the Attack on Titan saga. Since its release in 2009, this colossus of a franchise has all but devoured competitors with a voracity to match the insatiable appetites of its iconic monsters.
Among the cast of titan-slaying heroes, Levi Ackerman ranks #1 in both combat skills and reader popularity, outranking the franchise’s protagonist, Eren Yeager, by over 1,000 votes in the official character popularity poll. Given Levi’s repute in the Attack on Titan fanbase, readers began clamoring for the mysterious origin story of “humanity’s strongest soldier”—a man with a past as shrouded as his steel-cold eyes.
In this prequel to the original Attack on Titan manga, Snark and Suruga bring to life the long-awaited history of Levi Ackerman… but is it the same history we’ve been lobbying for?
“I don’t understand. I never have. I trusted in my own strength… I trusted in the decisions of comrades who had earned my faith… but still… no one knew what the result would be.”
A renowned criminal in the lawless Underworld beneath the Capitol, Levi Ackerman hones his skills with vertical maneuvering equipment, using his deadly talents to survive in the brutality around him and avoid the occasional pursuit by the military police.
Above ground, rapidly rising within the ranks of the Survey Corps, Captain Erwin Smith lays out his plans to expand humanity’s existence beyond the walls that separate it from the flesh-eating titans. While the populace sees protection within the walls, however, Erwin sees a cage, and he sets out on a ruthless mission to free humankind from its prison—re-envisioning the scouting formation to minimize casualties, going to questionable lengths to prevent the dissolution of the Corps, and pushing a plan that will allow him to recruit new members…
During a business transaction, Levi accepts an offer of citizenship in the upper-world in exchange for procuring documents from a certain, ambitious Survey Corps. captain. Meanwhile, Erwin heads to the Underworld, battle gear in tow, to “persuade” a few inhabitants into joining his squad…
Despite his somewhat sociopathic tendencies and gritty manners, it’s clear that Levi would do anything to keep his friends safe—even eliminating those he deems threats to his friends’ lives (it’s said that he saved Isabel from dying in the streets). Furlan seems to have much more of a conscience than his knife-happy friend, going to great lengths to keep Levi’s anger in check, and even saying something along the lines of “vengeance is a poor way to handle a situation.”
Christians may find something to ponder in Erwin’s seeking out of criminals to enlist in the Survey Corps. The captain’s vision of a united mankind—of transforming nobodies into soldiers who will unite and revolutionize humanity—may be likened to God and the manner in which He seeks out even the most undeserving among us to add to His “army” of soul winners. (John 15: 16—”Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit…”)
Levi is hinted to be a mercenary, or at least a thug with murderous tendencies. While the grisly deeds all happen off-screen, it’s implied that Levi kills a group of men who attack Isabel (he returns to the shelter with a bloody knife wrapped in a protective cloth). Throughout the course of the manga, Levi makes very real threats to kill Erwin and others, even complaining that he can’t get any “killing done” with Isabel and Furlan around.
Dead bodies are shown in bloody pools during a brief narration about the Underworld.
Characters fall from heights, crashing heavily to the ground. A harsh interrogation ends with characters being threatened with blades, while another is held face-down and nearly choked in a puddle of sewage water.
Two members of the Survey Corps are eaten by titans (off-screen or otherwise indistinguishably). A titan is slashed deeply behind its knees and across its lower back before the traditional, killing blow is delivered (slicing out the back of the nape); an indistinctive slice of flesh flies in the aftermath, and the spraying blood looks more like dark action-lines than grisly gore.
One f-word, seven uses of d***, six uses of sh*t, four uses of bast***, three uses of a**, and one use each of h*** and jacka**. “Oh God” is exclaimed once. “Idiot” is the insult of choice, used a handful of times.
Titans are humanoid and essentially nude. While the nudity is no more graphic than a doll’s, and titans lack any sort of reproductive organs, a few panels offer close-up shots of the titans’ human-like rear ends.
Isabel holds up a pair of wine bottles while cackling in anticipation. Furlan chugs from a wine bottle. More bottles are shown littering the ground of the Underworld, alongside collapsed (presumably dead) bodies. It’s shown, or otherwise implied, that Levi, Furlan, and Isabel all drink, though whether they’re under-aged is guesswork.
Other Negative Content
For being such a clean freak, Levi’s got a rather filthy mouth and reputation, killing without any real sense of remorse. Cut from a more well-kempt mold than the criminally-minded Levi, Erwin none-the-less seems a bit shady in his own right, and he’s certainly not above “using” people to achieve his own goals. The ethics of both characters are largely left up to the reader, though it’s clear that Levi values his friends above all else, and Erwin sees his questionable actions as necessary for the good of humanity.
No Regrets combines the artistic palette of the anime with the world and scenery of the original manga. Opening the manga’s first page, there’s an instant impression of cleanliness; bordering lines are distinctive, and shading feels more deliberate and less like the artist smudged charcoal across the grim features of a character or the dark side of a structure. While Suruga successfully implements Isayama’s neat-white structures and backgrounds, she also integrates this “clean” style into the characters themselves, doing away with Isayama’s scratchy, dark profiles and haunted expressions.
One might argue that Suruga’s manga artistry is far too traditional and without its own segregated look, but even purists of the main Attack on Titan franchise are likely to offer Suruga grudging respect for her deft handling of these iconic characters. Artistic achievements in-and-of-themselves, the characters’ facial expressions are treated with the most subtle of care, particularly in regards to Levi, who looks like an angry and/or psychopathic cynic most of the time and requires more delicate handling than the rest of the cast. Snark’s scriptwriting doesn’t often hold the reader’s hand, fortunately, and even the smallest tweak in a character’s eyebrows or in the contours of their mouth creates every non-verbal message necessary to comprehend the personality at play.
As if imitating the patterns of its predecessor, No Regrets opens with a rush of adrenaline—an airborne chase, in this case—followed by a brief exposition of world history, before returning readers back to the action. And while Isayama’s sketchy speed lines do serve to create a sense of urgency and motion, there’s something about Suruga’s personal style that even more successfully pulls readers into the action. Suruga adapts cinematic techniques directly into her artwork, putting readers straight into the POVs of the characters, creating duel-perspectives across scenes, and dragging grueling moments of suspense across several panels in what reads like slow-motion.
There’s a brief scene near the beginning of the manga that allows readers a first-person view of vertical maneuvering in action; this reviewer got goose bumps just looking at it. One thing’s clear: Suruga understands the power of the adrenaline kick, and pulls readers into the rush of the action with ease.
Fans of Levi and Erwin, particularly, will be mesmerized by the wealth of character interactions that No Regrets manages to pack into its 190-something pages. Snark handles both iconic characters with the utmost care—care matched only by Suruga’s attentive visual portrayal. While there are distinct physical differences between these slightly younger variations of the characters and their older counterparts, both Levi and Erwin maintain their unique personalities. Plenty of tie-ins bridge No Regrets to the main series, such as the introduction of Erwin’s long-distance scouting formation, the start of Levi’s unique fighting style, and, of course, the suspenseful lead-up to Erwin and Levi’s eventual friendship.
Flipping to the first page is enough to tell the reader that No Regrets features some unfamiliar faces, as well. Isabel and Furlan, Levi’s thug-day friends, both assimilate well with the reader’s understanding of the Attack on Titan universe. Isabel is at once a charming goof and a reckless optimist, and she more-often-than-not brings a smile to the face when she’s on-page. Meanwhile, Furlan balances Levi’s hair-trigger ambitiousness with cautious strategizing and patience. At worst, perhaps these personalities maintain the mold of the standard anime/manga trio. Even more incriminating, though, is that the inclusion of these new faces leads to some inevitable predictability as to why said characters aren’t part of the main series itself. This weighs a sense of dread over No Regrets as a whole, but the suspense certainly keeps the reader engaged with the page.
The plot unravels through a variation of flashbacks and gradual revelations. Backstories trickle in naturally, if not sparsely, and the character development never feels too heavy-handed. Flashbacks are handled masterfully, and, even with an entire chapter dedicated to a flashback centered on Erwin, the manga keeps everything essential to the plot and paced effectively. That being said, a part of the storytelling feels just a tad lop-sided. While the gradual revelations do a lot to add suspense and intrigue, they also shroud the overall perspective of the plot. The reader jumps in, almost as an observer, and by the time it’s revealed that Levi is on some sort of mission to steal documents in exchange for his citizenship, you feel a bit taken aback—betrayed even—that you weren’t aware of this state-of-affairs before the manga made it clear.
Perhaps the manga’s biggest fault lies in what isn’t there, however. The story opens with Levi and company flying through the “skies” of the Underworld on their maneuvering gear; it’s intriguing, inspiring even, that people born in the lowest of places are able to find their own sense of freedom. But reading further into the story reveals no answers to the obvious, pressing questions: where did they get the gear, and how did they learn to use it?
More disappointing to some, though, will be the actual story that No Regrets aims to tell. Readers snatching up the manga for a full retelling of Levi’s past will be inevitably disappointed. This is not the story of Levi’s family or “thug days,” nor do we learn anything about his parents, his upbringing, his first criminal act, or the chain of events that lead to his psychological and mental conclusions about the world and his existence within it (at least in context of his early life). Any one of these subjects alone would make for a fascinating manga that Attack on Titan fans would no doubt gobble up. What No Regrets offers, however, is merely one small—yet oft-inquired of—segment of Levi’s life; namely, how he came to be a part of the Survey Corps. and befriended a man named Erwin Smith.
As a bonus, the back of the manga includes character designs, sketches, and artist’s notes; the original prologue prototype cover; and a brief extra comic, detailing Erwin’s first face-to-face encounter with Levi in the Underworld.
Perhaps the pressing question here is: does No Regrets deliver upon the expectations of its fans?
The short answer: completely… and not at all.
If you crack open this prequel in hopes of reading an account of Levi’s “thug days,” you’ll be inevitably disappointed, as this volume is more about his integration into the Survey Corps. and has nearly nothing to do with his early life.
That being said, if you go in open-minded, interested in the character’s dynamics and eager to learn about the events leading up to Levi’s alliance with the Survey Corps., you will in no way be let down. Snark keeps the story clipping along, peppering it with significant tie-ins to the original franchise and weaving character growth and intriguing interactions throughout. Wielding her artistic talent, Suruga brings the world of Attack on Titan to life through immersive, cinematic storytelling and precise character dynamics—from subtle facial expressions, to telling non-verbals (Erwin kneeling in the sewage being one of the manga’s strongest examples here).
It goes without saying that if you consider yourself any variation of “fan,” you owe yourself a read-through. Note, though, that this manga features some strong language (including the infamous f-bomb) that you wouldn’t otherwise encounter in the English dub of the anime, but that’s fortunately the worst of it; most all other questionable content feels a peg-or-two lower on the usual intensity scale, and even the visceral violence is cleaned-up by Attack on Titan standards.
It’s true that the content may give Christian readers pause, but that’s the only thing that should. With its franchise lore, honed artistry, intriguing character interactions, cinematic presentation, and loyalty to the original series, No Regrets is a far-cry from a “regrettable” read.
+ Strong artistic direction
+ Cleaner and more proportional artwork than original
+ Solid pacing between info and action
+ Pleasant character interactions
+ Cinematic storytelling
+ New characters well-suited for the franchise
+ Ideal for fans of Levi and/or Erwin
+ Loyal to the personalities of the characters
+ Bonus artwork, commentary, and extra comic
- Far from a full re-telling of Levi's past
- Plot-relevant backstory goes untold
- New faces hint at inevitable demises
- Lack of a firm POV leads to some muddy storytelling
- Strong language; some violence and drinking