(Warning: Once again, this post contains spoilers for Attack on Titan beyond the anime and discussion of war atrocities.) With facts about @migiteorerno and Japan-Korea relations on the table, time for expansion on the relationships between creator, work, and audience.
Before we begin, there are some complications to analyzing the relationship between Hajime Isayama and Attack on Titan to address: @migiteorerno being Isayama is not confirmed so @migiteorerno’s words cannot be fully attributed to him, Attack on Titan is an ongoing work (with years of more publication planned) so it cannot be analyzed entirely, and as with all works there are multiple interpretations. For all these reasons, I believe input from others is important because there is only so much one person such as myself can realize and express, so this post will incorporate what I have read from other people about this issue.
This post’s title does not refer to the death threats against Isayama, but to a postmodern school of thought known as “the death of the author” (from the title of a 1968 essay by Roland Barthes arguing for the revoking of literary authority from creators) that believes works should be analyzed and criticized isolated from a creator’s past, opinions, and intentions. In this method, Isayama’s apparent nationalism (or anything else about him) is not inherent to the text of Attack on Titan. Fans can analyze or enjoy the story without knowing details of Isayama’s life, comparable to how one can analyze or enjoy an adaptation without knowledge of the source material.
In classical literary analysis, a work is considered a reflection of the creator. To me, although knowledge of or from a creator may assist in understanding their intent of the work, it helps understand their intent rather than the final product itself. In Barthes’ words, “A text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.” A creator may have intentions in mind, but they may not be communicated perfectly because of human error (i.e. “bad writing”) and the audience having different baggage, such as when a creator aims to portray a sympathetic character who instead comes across as unlikable to the audience (or vice versa). Additionally, as hexakozioihexekontahexa on Tumblr pointed out, creators can tell stories that do not reflect their views: “Authors are free to explore any theme without supporting it. As some people write excellent stories about villains, serial killers, terrorism etc, even when in the end the author disagrees with the whole situation in the story to expose a point, some other writes happy stories even when themselves don’t believe on a better world.”
Because of death of the author, this post is not so much about “finding” nationalism in Isayama’s work so much as it is about examining possible authorial intent and how that relates to the feelings of fans. Personally I am a fan of Attack on Titan before its creator and as I said before, I am more unnerved by what I see as cognitive dissonance than wanting to write off the story altogether. Potential different authorial intent from my own interpretation also makes me want to consider what could be inaccurate translations, overlooked plot, speculation, or more. I would also like to explain to fans why people feel certain ways about this situation.
With Attack on Titan, it is unknown if nationalism/imperialism/militarism positivity is meant to be a message from Isayama, but when invoking death of the author that does not matter anyway if members of the audience do not interpret it that way, as many have. As aestivate on Tumblr said, “snk fails spectacularly as a war narrative if we are meant to look at this series from the lenses of pro-militarism and pro-imperialism. the message stops being ‘war is wholly inglorious’ and instead adds ‘war is justified’ and ‘war is heroic’ and ‘no sacrifice is too small to win the war’ […] and then snk becomes no longer a deconstruction but a reconstruction.”
Where the story is at the moment, the military in Attack on Titan is generally not interpreted positively. However, as multiple people have noted, the unfolding backstories of and increased focus on titan shifters Annie Leonhart, Reiner Braun, and Bertolt Hoover may be connected to the outlook in @migiteorerno’s infamous tweet. The shifter trio are difficult to analyze with only partial information revealed about them, but we do know they are responsible for multiple human deaths including the destruction of humankind’s outermost protective wall. Annie, Reiner, and Bertolt are first introduced as minor comrades who are strong and respected by protagonist Eren Yeager. When revealed to be traitors who can shift to titan form and aim to wipe out humankind, Eren is disgusted and in disbelief, but the trio’s motives and pasts are unclear and they have sympathetic moments. During an emotional breakdown Bertolt shouts “who do you think actually wants to kill people?” and soon after whimpers “someone has to do it… someone… will have to… stain their hands with blood.” This “sacrifices must be made” reasoning also parallels the tactics of survey corps general Erwin Smith, but for Erwin regarding his own soldiers.
As bqz said in reply to my first WordPress post (and also on Tumblr), “Perhaps his belief is that, he is aware of the corruption of government and the damages of war, but if the goal is justified enough, it is worth it to pay that price. The goal in SnK is clearly justified. For Japan’s war crimes, he believes (or was taught to believe) that colonization was absolutely necessary for Japan at time with the lack of resources and whatnot, and that the colonies would benefit from such action, so it would seem justified to him.” This is a different take from dissonance and it makes a lot of sense looking at the @migiteorerno tweet. They may also intersect or, as hexakozioihexekontahexa said, the story may not reflect Isayama at all.
papermoon2 elaborated on the dissonance point on Tumblr: “I don’t find it difficult to believe that a person could write a story that brilliantly deconstructs war narratives and at the same time believe in their own nation’s war-justifying bullshit. It’s clear that Isayama has done his research and understands on an analytical level how nationalism and racism intersect, but that doesn’t mean that he’s ever turned that analytical lens inward. Like many Japanese people, he may simply believe that war and terrorism are things that *~other countries~* do, not something that could ever or has ever happened at home. It takes a certain amount of cognitive dissonance to HOLD those beliefs in the first place, so again, not surprising.”
It is the nationalist side of this possible cognitive dissonance that has turned some fans off from Attack on Titan or Isayama, and I do not believe they should be shamed for that. Death of the author for literary analysis is not the same as individual feelings and experiences about something as serious as war atrocities. On top of all the uncertainty, no more information or confirmation about @migiteorerno has surfaced as of this post, so the best thing to do is acknowledge that separation of @migiteorerno from Attack on Titan depends on the person, so long as the situation is understood and beliefs like @migiteorerno’s are not condoned (nor are they treated as a problem exclusive to Japan).