Attack on Titan is one of those epic manga & anime titles that demonstrates the nature of heroism.
Its cast of striving characters offers many nuggets of pithy wisdom, insight or sheer bombastic courage.
If you are looking for some clear direction in life, there are a lot of lines from the Attack On Titan script that can help. In fact, they offer some of the most inspiring Japanese anime quotes available – though they are often couched in a distinctly dark context.
Best Attack On Titan Quotes
I’ve gone back to the original anime quotes in the Japanese language to create my own translations, as I often find that existing translations are not giving the full message.
I’ve divided the quotes into different Attack on Titan characters.
Armin Arlert アルミン・アルレルト
The first quote is by Armin Arlert and offers the insight that just because something has been the way it has for a long time, doesn’t mean that it always will be.
The fact that change is inevitable can be true in a positive way, or in a negative way.
I am reminded here of the often-cited metaphor of the stonecutter who strikes away at a rock 100 times with little or no perceivable change before suddenly splitting the rock clean in two with the 101st blow.
It is true that in many things, it is the general rule in any early stages of a large and heroic venture the start is a slog. You toil away making gains so incremental that they are barely visible to the naked eye.
In the world of business, this is sometimes referred to as the “trough of despair”. There is a period in most businesses where, after an initial phase of excitement and energy around an initial idea, the grind of the daily work of achieving that idea takes its toll. The grind is exacerbated by an almost imperceivable level of tangible progress.
If you are stuck in this stage of life, whatever you are doing, you may want to pull out this Armin Quote.
It’s also worth comparing this quote with this quote from poet Robert Frost’s poem “The Mending Wall”
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun.”
Or perhaps Jimi Hendrix said it best when he sang,
“Castles made of sand fall in the sea…eventually”
This quote evokes the image of the big fish eating the small one. But Attack On Titan twists this on it’s head from being something that is simply cruel. It says that the fact that the world is so simple is actually a kindness.
Whether you are a big fish, or a small fish, at least you know the rules. And you know the rules, you can play your best game.
This Armin quote points out the simple idea that no one in life has it easy. We all have our own cross to bear.
If you walk around thinking your life deserves to be convenient or easy, you’re bound to become bitter when it inevitably isn’t.
Much better to use the ancient Stoic idea that every problem is an opportunity to improve yourself. In this view, the purpose of life is to be the best version of yourself that you can be. Problems are seen as a challenge thrown down by a higher power to help you test yourself and grow.
I am reminded here of such biting criticisms of this desire for people to leave a sheltered life as that of the band The Dead Kennedys who named one of their albums “Give Me Convenience, Or Give Me Death”.
Or the mighty Jonathan Richman gives it to us in lyrics as,
“When we refuse to suffer
When we refuse to feel
We suffer more”
Japanese has a great word that we don’t have, but deserve to, in English called 本望 honbo. The 本 hon part means “true”, or “original”, and the 望 bo means “hope” or “ambition”. So your honbo is your true desire. Do you have one of those? A deep-seated hope, or ambition, perhaps spoken, perhaps unspoken.
Armin’s quote here shows that we should be prepared to die for our honbo. Or even that being prepared to die is what qualifies us as really having a true desire.
So the gauntlet is thrown. What are you prepared to die for?
This quote by Armin shows that it is only those who are willing to sacrifice something who make a difference in the world. To make an impact, you have to decide on what you are here to do in the world.
It is interesting here to look at the etymology of the word “Decide”. The word “decide” comes from the Latin decidere. The de part means something like “off” and the “cide” part is also seen in such macabre words such as “homicide, suicide, regicide, fratricide, genocide”. “Cide” means to “cut”. So to decide literally means to “cut off”.
To make a decision is to cut off a range of other possibilities. If you want to change the world, you have to have the courage to say “I am willing to cut off all these other possibilities to pursue this one thing”.
You can see this reflected in sayings like “a jack of all trades is a master of none.”
In the same way that we said above that to “decide” is to be willing to “cut off” a range of possibilities, this quote from Attack on Titan’s Levi gives another clue on how we can go about making decisions.
When presented with a range of equally good, or equally bad, options, Levis suggests that we should choose “the way that leads to least regret”.
This connects with the idea of the 本望 honbo, or “true desire”, that we saw above. When you stack up the options in comparison to what you are truly seeking in your life, which is the least likely to lead to regret?
Seems like as good a compass as any to me.
After you have made your true decision about what your true mission is, it is still easy to lose sight of it in the fray. In particular, we have various distractions that are always exerting their influence. Entertainment, information, escape. Are these more important than “the true fight”?
Levi urges us here to play the long game.
This quote immediately makes me think of the often used adage “No pain, no gain”. This Levi quote places this in a distinctly Japanese context. Here “pain” is applied to the Japanese concept of 躾 shitsuke, which doesn’t really have a neat equivalent in English. Shitsuke encompasses the ideas of discipline, training and manners in one neat little bundle.
Levi tells us that it is the “school of hard knocks” that teaches best to be a well adjusted, and behaved, individual.
It’s an interesting contrast with the context of how we usually use the phrase “no pain, no gain” in the West as a physical fitness idea associated with toning your abs or getting a better physical figure for your own personal gain. The idea of shitsuke is much more associated with being better in the eyes of society for the greater good.
So this quote is a classic illustration of the difference between the oft-referenced difference between “communal” Asian cultures and “individualistic” Western ones.
This one is hard to translate quite right into English as the original Japanese translates the related words of 教育 kyoiku and 教訓 kyokun, both of which share the same first Chinese character 教, meaning something like “education”. The second character in 教育 kyoiku means something like “raise up” and the word itself is usually translated as “education”. The second character in 教訓 kyokun is close to the word “to train” in English. So the implication of this quote is that what is required is not learning about something but learning by doing something.
Which is often the case with learning, don’t you think?
Eren Yeager エレン・イェーガー
This Eren quote is intriguingly ambiguous. It immediately brings to mind the William Shakespeare quote
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em”
The Eren quote references specifically the second of these categories, those that “achieve greatness” of their own accord.
Eren tells us that when we are striving for our dreams, we never truly know that we are on the right path, or even if our own motivations are the right ones. There is always an element of faith. It is only those that see their path through that are able to look back and know if they were right or wrong.
Eren has a keen sense of his own identity. He reminds us that if we are true to ourselves, external influences, good, bad and otherwise, become irrelevant.
He backs it up again by saying:
Mikasa Ackerman ミカサ・アッカーマン
This quote from Mikasa shows that love of another can be a source of near infinite motivation to push on. As she says, there is no way of loving someone when you are dead. So you’ll just have to do it while you are alive.
Reiner Braun ライナー・ブラウン
Reiner represents the figure of the ideal soldier. But if we look at the soldier, or warrior, as a metaphor for life, he gives us wisdom that we can all use.
There are indeed moments in our life where, if we are being true to ourselves, there is simply no choice to retreat. The tricky part is knowing when these times are.
I am reminded here of the Stoic prayer,
“God, grant me the courage to change the things I can change, the serenity to accept the things I can’t and the wisdom to know the difference.”
What I must do is accept final responsibility as a soldier for my own actions and choices.
This quote tells that being a soldier, in war or in life, means accepting responsibility for our actions and choices.
Here we see the difference between the “victim” mindset where we see ourselves as being passively the sum of our circumstances, and the “hero” mindset where we see ourselves as having agency, and responsibility, for our own predicaments.
Bertolt Hoover ベルトルト・フーバー
Bertolt is effectively saying “to make an egg, you have to break a few eggs”, and that someone has to be willing to be the one to break them.
When you face problems in life, are you willing to get your hands dirty?
Annie Leonhart アニ・レオンハート
I guess I’m not a right and proper person…but isn’t that just normal?
Annie here points out a simple truth, no one’s perfect. Most of us aren’t even good!
She could have been reading from the good book, saying “he has never sinned may cast the first stone”.
Sasha Braus サシャ・ブラウス
Historia Reiss (ヒストリア・レイス)
Clearly Reiss is a person of action. That’s a more poetic way of saying “don’t overthink it”.
There is an ongoing debate about whether the project of self actualization is a selfish or a selfless process. If you let yourself get consumed in your creative, or any other type of work really, are you being “selfish”.
Psychologists such as Maslow would argue that, far from doing something selfish, you are contributing to the world in the best way possible by finding a way to be the best version of yourself that you can possibly be and then offering the fruits of your labour back to those around you.
You get the sense here that the “act of vengeance” that Ymir is referring to here is not so much a specific act of vengeance against any one person, as much as an existential act of vengeance against the cumulative circumstances of his life.
“Revenge” is usually considered a negative activity. Here I think Ymir is looking for more of a healthy vindication.
Whatever gets the pistons pumping, I say.
Hange Zoë ハンジ・ゾエ
This could be the slogan of any modern day environmentalist’s group. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking that what we do as individuals doesn’t matter. But Hange’s quote reminds us that, of course, the world is the cumulative sum of all of our little choices. For better, or for worse.
Mike Zacharias ミケ・ザカリアス
Brian Johnson of Optimize has asserted that poverty is defined by a lack of hope. A person is called “bankrupt” in every sense of the word if there is no hope of improvement.
So too failure and defeat. If you haven’t given up, then you’re never beaten.
Apparently, there was a group of Japanese soldiers left in the pacific islands after World War II that never heard the war was over and stayed hiding in the jungle as far as the 80s. Some have posited it was this belief in the fact that had not been defeated that kept them going so long.
This one is a message that we all need to hear from time to time. When things are at their worst, that is when heroes arise.
This is a glorified way of saying “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”.
Easy to say, hard to do.
The poignancy in this line is the passion for bringing back the mundane. This reminds me of the Tom Waits lyric about a soldier on deployment pining for home saying,
“What I miss you wouldn’t believe
Shovelling snow and raking leaves”
It has been said that the greatest crime is taking the everyday for granted. You miss things most when they are gone. Hannes agrees.
Dot Pixis ドット・ピクシス
The obvious parallel to this quote is Neil Armstrong’s iconic quote from the moon landing, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”
In the context of the Attack on Titan quote, the “Giant leap” is replaced by a “charge” in the military sense. The word used has in Japanese, 進撃 shingeki has particular resonance because it is a word used in the Japanese title of “Attack on Titan” which is “進撃の巨人” Shingeki no Kyojin, meaning Charge (Attack) of the Giants.
Dot Pixis tells us that fear can only get you so far as a driving force in life. Fear of an explosion, for example, can cause you to run several hundred metres, but it won’t keep you running for miles.
Attack of Titans asserts that this is a general rule, a natural truth.
Has this been your experience? It rings true for me.
Kittsu Vēruman キッツ・ヴェールマン
Here we have an acknowledgement by Veruman that we all have a dark side within us. Acknowledging that this is true of every one of us keeps us humble, and on the alert.
This quote from Yelena can actually be read two ways in the original Japanese. It can either be, “There is a lot you can learn from your enemy” or “I often learn from my enemy”.
Either way it is a useful idea, and one that most businesses employ as a modus operandi of what they do.
This line is spoken as the character of Kenny’s dying soliloquy. The thought strikes him as a final, revelatory moment of clarity. The way he frames the idea, that everyone needs something in their lives that keeps them going, is intriguing. Some of the examples he mentions are usually considered negative, “Booze, womanising, power”, others are more positive; “God, family, dreams, children” and others are more ambivalent, such as “king”.
He tells that everyone is made a drunken slave to these things.
You get the sense that Kenny is making a damning indictment of humanity here. But for me, I don’t have a problem with people being “drunk” on their love of dream and family. Whether I, too, will have a death bed epiphany about human vice, I can’t possibly know. I hope not.
Attack On Titan Quotes Conclusion
That completes my little survey of notable quotations from Attack on Titan.
They are words that point us the way in how we can stay on the path of our own hero’s journey, whether you’re battling giants or not.
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