Centuries ago, the human species was decimated by gigantic, brutish humanoids known as titans.
The last outpost of humankind is a fortified kingdom guarded by three concentric fortification walls (the capital and the royal palace at the heart of the structure, the provincial towns and countryside within the walls around). Beyond the uttermost Wall Maria there is wilderness, unexplored wild nature populated by the hostile titans, that seem to appear out of the blue. The concentric structure of the kingdom can be explained like this:
STOHESS DISTRICT (the capital, heart of the realm)
WALL SINA (innermost wall)
PROVINCIAL TOWNS, MILITARY COMPLEXES
WALL ROSE (middle wall)
PROVINCIAL TOWNS, VILLAGES, RURAL AREAS (including Trost, the main setting, and Shiganshina, the leading trio's birthplace).
WALL MARIA (uttermost wall)
It is a country-esque land with a feudal society and quaint townscapes (half-timbered houses with eaves, cobbled streets, no motor vehicles at all), where nearly all the people are European-looking and have got Germanic names (though a few have got Hebrew or Japanese names). A precious setting. And the story takes, in general, place within the military; the uniforms are not as conspicuous and brightly-coloured as in other Ruritanias, the ones in AoT/SnK look like 30YW-era attire mashed up with secret agent gear, yet charming in their own way.
At first, we are introduced to Eren Jaeger, the doctor's son in the village of Shiganshina, an irascible and righteous boy with a never-give-up attitude; Mikasa Ackerman, Eren's adopted sister, a plucky and extremely strong and self-reliant girl; and Armin Arlert, an intelligent but physically frail blond orphan constantly picked on by the local bullies. The lives of all three take a turn for the worse when some titans breach through Wall Maria and march on Shiganshina, forcing the three young refugees to relocate within Wall Rose. Like most other people in the land, they idealize the military that defends the walls from the titans and decide to enlist. And the story deals with these three and their friends in the ranks, first as cadets and then as officers, as a sinister truth unfolds: there is a fifth column of titans within the military itself, some of those who fight titans are becoming titans themselves, and the nobility and royalty of the realm may not be looking for the most noble interest of humankind...
The other characters in the regiment are:
- Jean Kirschstein, a carefree and slightly perverted auburn young man, sensuous yet realistic, prudent in the fight and thus seen as a coward, who wants to be a royal guard and lead a comfortable life in Stohess. In love with Mikasa and maybe with Marco, until the loss of the latter, like that of Renly to Loras Tyrell, makes his personality take a Copernican turn.
- Marco Bott, Jean's bromantic partner, a sensitive and heartful young man (the idealist to Jean's realist) who also wants to be a royal guard, but for the more noble aim of protecting royalty. The heart of the regiment. Devoured by Titans half-way across the series.
- Conny Springer, the show's resident shavehead (there's one in every anime) as well as the regiment clown and the one who keeps everyone else's mood up. Sunny and outgoing, though always leaps before he looks.
- Sasha Braus, an eccentric sunburned country girl and somewhat of a foodie. Looks like Katniss Everdeen (a tomboyish young woodswoman with a dark ponytail) and has the same backstory as Katniss, but with the personality of Luna Lovegood, and the same issues with structure.
- Christa Lenz, a sweet and innocent, friendly and warm blonde girl who can be best described as Desdemona with the serial numbers filed off. There is more to her than meets the eyes. The heart of the group after Marco's disappearance. (Is actually Historia Reiss, the crown princess of the kingdom, and becomes its queen in the end)
- Ymir, a reserved and mannish tall and dark young woman, with an aloof and sinister air, nicknamed Freckles, and more than friends or sister figures with Ymir (the pairing, Yumikuri, is my AoT OTP). Is, IMOHO, the show's resident badass. (Is actually a titan)
- Rainer Braun, the blond thug and more than best friends with Bertholdt. A popular and rugged brawny jock à la Gaston, considered the oniisama (big brother figure) to his siblings in arms. The big man on camp, described as being strong as a bull and thickheaded as one, as well as speaking in a manly baritone. (Is actually a titan)
- Bertholdt Huwer (or Fubar), the raven-haired, sensitive, feminine other half of Rainer. Nicknamed Bert or Bertel. Shy and wavering, meek and lacking self-esteem (very like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz), even something of a doormat, he looks up to his blond and hefty significant other. (Is actually a titan)
- Annie Leonhardt, the blonde ice queen and the third leg of a trio with Rainer and Bert, as well as the trio leader. Even more of a realist than Jean, and a reserved loner even more aloof than Ymir. Has a sinister contralto voice and is an extremely skilful hand-to-hand fighter. Like Ymir, however, she is not as emotionless as it seems. (Is actually a titan)
- Levi Ackerman; the commanding officer, a cool-as-ice young army captain who is blood related to Mikasa; a sharply-dressed perfectionist with a Napoleon complex and a violent hatred of germs. Experienced, capable, and older than he looks, as well as a night owl and compulsive tea drinker. Has a type for people taller than him (basically, the rest of the cast). Known as Humanity's Strongest. For such a size, he lives up to his reputation, as well as speaking in baritone and having a sinister air when he tranquilly gets irate (Levi is phlegmatic, tranquil and never snaps).
- Hange (pronounced "Hanji") Zoe: Levi's right-hand woman and the show's resident mad scientist: auburn and bespectacled, with a contralto voice and the personality of Professor Trelawney mashed up with Bellatrix Lestrange (indeed, she can be rather sadistic). Regarded as an eccentric, and a passionate researcher obsessed with titans. Just like Qyburn, she will do anything in the name of science.
- Erwin Smith: the badass colonel and the only sane member of the regiment, a good-looking tall blond whose baritone voice and the look in whose blue eyes betray his earnestness and nerves of steel. An excellent strategist, he can be brutally honest and forced to make tough decisions due to the weight of his high rank. (Gets the same disability as Horatio Nelson, Mucius Scaevola, and Jaime Lannister)
From left to right: Christa, Ymir, Sasha, Annie, Mikasa, Conny, Eren, Armin, Marco, Jean, Rainer, and Bertholdt.
The two openings, "Feuerrotes Pfeil und Bogen" and "Flügel der Freiheit," contain (fittingly) German verses set to heavy symphonic music. Needless to say these songs are performed by Linked Horizon, the band formerly known as Sound Horizon, whose concept albums create an EPIC shared universe of historical/fairytale/flintlock/gaslamp fantasy.
The show combines military fiction with what I love the most about the Potterverse, ASoIaF, Othello, the Waterfire Saga, Monstrous Regiment, flintlock and/or gaslamp fantasy... i.e.: quaint, country-esque Ruritanian settings; a diverse ensemble cast of young people with different physiques, personalities, genders, and sexual orientatons; a sinister intrigue that gradually unfolds and unfurls, shocking revelations; the deaths of a few characters that you become attached to... Recommended if you like any of the stories above.
I've made a few projects based upon the series:
Attack on Enchantment - YumiKuri fairytale AUs: Savitri (Ymir as Savitri, Christa as Satyavan, and Annie as a Hela-inspired death goddess); The Snow Queen (Christa as Gerda, Ymir as Kai, featuring Rod Reiss as the Snow King, and a few other characters in supporting roles [Erwin as the headmaster of Trost Orphanage; Herr Arlert as the local sage / old witch character, Armin as himself/Herr Arlert's grandson; Jean and Marco as two royal guard lovers / crow characters, Rainer and Bertholdt as half-brother princes and Annie as their princess; Sasha as a kitchen maid/former friend of Christa's at the orphanage; Levi as a royal guard officer; Eren, Mikasa, Conny, and some others as outlaws; Hange as the Finmark woman character, and Fritz as the usurper of the northern ice kingdom]); Rapunzel (Christa in the title role, Ymir as Eugene, Annie as Gothel; Rainer and Bertholdt as the Stabbingtons); Beauty and the Beast (Christa as Belle, Ymir as the Beast, Annie as a dark take on the fairy, Rainer and Bertholdt as Gaston and Lefou, other members of the regiment as object-servants). Plus one that is not YumiKuri: The Pardoner's Tale/O Tesouro starring Rainer, Bertholdt and Annie, ft. Hange as a pharmacist eager to make a quick gain on strychnine ("for the rats," Annie says).
Attack on Shakespeare - YumiKuri doing the Bard: The Tempest (Eren as Caliban, Rainer and Bert as the jesters) and Othello, so far (Annie as Iago, and Rainer as Cassio, feat. Bert as an Emilia/Bianca composite character; a bit of a Wicked feel in using the traditional villain's POV in some scenes...).