By Saki Nakagawa. Released in Japan in two separate volumes by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Bessatsu Shonen Magazine. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.
(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)
Attack on Titan has been such a breakout success both here and in Japan that spinoffs were inevitable, and indeed there are now at least four distinct spinoffs, all available (or coming soon) in English. Two of these are dramatic prequels covering life before the fall of the Wall and Levi’s past. One, out via the online Mangabox site, is a straight-up 4-koma gag comic. I had assumed that Junior High would also be that sort of title, but no, it’s got actual plot and sequential art. It is, however, aimed squarely at comedy, and some of the comedy is very funny indeed.
If you’ve ever read one of the several thousand High School AU fics on Fanfiction.Net, you know where this series is going. Eren and company all go to a junior high that’s quite unusual… it’s divided into human and titan sections. This appalls Eren, who has a hideous grudge against the titans for destroying his life five years earlier. (This being a gag manga, how his life is destroyed will be a punchline.) With the help of his exasperated yet overprotective childhood friend Mikasa, nerdy shut-in Armin, walking appetite Sasha, and “rival” Jean, will he be able to get through school life without making a fool of himself?
Of course not. Seeing Eren make a fool of himself is part of the point of this series. In fact, no one in the entire cast is spared ritual humiliation. Everyone’s personality traits are exaggerated and deconstructed. Eren’s constant anger is combined with a sort of shonen hero effect. Mikasa is still sort of crushing on Eren, but thankfully this isn’t made too explicit. Annie is definitely crushing on Eren, but seeing her interaction with Mikasa is funnier. Sasha is sadly two-dimensional, but at least it’s a funny dimension (her family’s poverty makes for some of the best side-comments). Some cast get very little screen time (Bertolt, Ymir), but this is likely due to this running at the same time as the main series was, so they hadn’t had their big reveals yet.
Indeed, this spinoff actually gives some folks a bit more development than the regular series. Hitch, Annie’s snarky co-worker in the Military Police, is here a snarky princess type, working with Annie on the Student Council, and her personality works well with everyone, but especially Jean. Levi’s squad are back from the dead as 2nd year students, and each get some of the amusing quirks we saw in the original. Nothing here is really deep or meaningful, but I’d hardly expect that from a manga of this sort. If you take Attack on Titan very seriously, you likely rejected this when you heard the title.
Lastly, I want to mention the translation. For some odd reason, this title has not been scanlated online like all the other Titan titles. This proved to be a godsend to translator William Flanagan, who is thus allowed to adapt loosely in order to make things even funnier without fear of fans pointing at an over-literal translation online and crying foul. So expect some Western Culture references mixed in. Best of all, the subject of Hange’s gender is made into a running gag (which I imagine must be Western-only, as in Japan it’s much easier to be gender-ambiguous) which mocks everyone who takes offense to Hange being anything other than ‘uncertain’. Not since Excel Saga have I read a book where it looks like the translator is having as much fun as the reader.
Don’t expect more than a light-hearted comedy AU here. But it’s very good comedy, with lots of quotable bits. In fact, let me leave with one of my favorite lines, from Mikasa as she tries to get hikkikomori Armin to come to school for the athletic festival:
“It’s true that you’re clumsy, talentless, and constantly weirding everyone out. And we know that in the match you’ll just flail around like a terrified toddler fleeing a birthday clown. You don’t have to worry about that. Everyone’s ready to accept you as the freak show weakling that you are.”