At first glance, Hajime Isayama seems an unlikely author for a comic book that begins with a monster gobbling up the main character's mother.
Shy and sensitive, he has the look of an "herbivore," a Japanese term for mild-tempered men who shun relationships with women and lack ambition. But he also writes the boys' manga "Attack on Titan," which depicts a world that is an over-the-top Darwinian jungle.
The ongoing series debuted in 2009 in the pages of Bessatsu Shonen Magazine, published by Kodansha Ltd. As of July, the series' 10 books have sold a total of 22 million copies.
An anime adaptation series started this past April, and a movie is also in the works for next year as the franchise grows at a furious pace.
Isayama, 26, grew up in Hita, Oita Prefecture, which sits in a plain surrounded by mountains. Growing up, he constantly lost matches at kids' sumo tournaments.
"I recognized I was inferior," he said.
He longed to escape someplace where the sky was bigger than the narrow view from his hometown. In high school, Isayama began submitting manga to publishers. "I adored the strong, and I had this underlying desire to change my physique," he explained.
An incident that occurred soon after his move to Tokyo served as inspiration for the manga. Isayama was working a night job at an Internet cafe, when a customer suddenly grabbed him by the collar. "I felt the fear of meeting a person I can't communicate with." He projects that terror and discomfort through the titans.
In "Attack on Titan," people live inside high protective walls. When enormous titans rise above the walls, the young people risk their lives in the fight against the threat.
While the series has been criticized for its barbarity, the depiction of people engaging in hand-to-hand combat seems to resound with today's youths, who want to break out of the hopelessness they feel in their lives.
The violent images are clearly an escape as well for Isayama, who pulls all-nighters several times each month for writing sessions. Producing a popular manga series seems to have turned him into an adult. But turn the discussion to manga and martial arts, and Isayama’s eyes still sparkle like a little boy's.
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