Attack On Titan: Anger as a Source of Motivation

Attack on Titan

You’d have to be blind and deaf to not know that Attack On Titan has stolen the hearts of countless anime fans, taking the ani-world by storm and raising the bar for Japanese animation with its intricate story-line, beautiful (and sometimes intense) graphics, character intrigue, and overall excitement. The basic premise of the series, which debuted in 2013 and is still ongoing, concerns hotheaded Eren Jaeger’s quest to rid the world of all titans–giant, seemingly mindless humanoid monsters that have almost driven humanity out of extinction. The plot grows ever thicker as new mysteries concerning the titans unfold, such as where they come from, what motivates them, and how to stop them.

Throughout the series, it’s clear that it takes a lot of determination for Eren and the other characters to fight the titans. Merely breaking the spell of fear cast by the titans’ presence takes a lot of determination. Thus, it’s hard not to ask questions about what drives Eren and his companions in their quest to defeat the titans. If it takes a serious amount of determination and willpower to fight and kill the titans (strength and skill aside), where do the characters draw their emotional strength from? What drives Eren and his companions to fight back against the ominous, seemingly invincible might of the titans? Are their drives just and noble, or are Eren and his companions just as bad as the titans?

Note: this post contains spoilers.

The Birth of Anger

You don’t have to watch more than a few episodes to gather that Eren is a hothead (as the male-leads of anime so often are). His childhood reveals that he often gets into fights (and often loses them too), more or less over menial things. Eren is naturally an anger-driven person, whether he’s fighting titans or not. What’s worthy to note is that Eren resorts to violence to solve his problems.

Enter the heart-crushing death of his mother. No child should have to watch his mother get eaten by a titan…but Eren does. Whereas Eren’s anger–directed and channeled into his fights with bullies or disrespectful soldiers–used to seem pointless and immature, now Eren’s anger has a purpose. Scarred by the death of his mother, Eren now has drive. He is going to kill titans, and it is his anger that will empower him to do this.

The Consummation of Anger

Call it a plot-twist. Call it Deus Ex Machina. However you categorize it, one of the biggest ironies in Attack on Titan is that Eren is determined to eradicate the titans…and he ends up becoming a titan. In a successful attempt to save his best friend, Armin, Eren is eaten by a titan. While in the titan’s belly, surrounded by the deformed figures of the humans that were consumed before him, Eren’s will to survive and punish the titans consumes him. Through his hatred of the titans, Eren unleashes a power he didn’t know he had: manifesting his own titan form, he breaks out of the titan he is inside of. He has become a titan-human hybrid, able to switch between being a human and a titan (although with some difficulty!).

In spite of how titan-Eren tends to get the job done, it is considerably unsettling to watch him be consumed by his hatred for the titans, so much that he himself becomes one and rips, batters, and beats other titans to death. There is something truly monstrous about Eren, both literally and morally. As Armin puts it, Eren must give up his humanity in order to save humanity. Through his anger, his hatred, Eren is able to conquer his foes. The question becomes, do the ends justify the means?

The Answer to Every Problem

“I’ll kill you” seems to be Eren’s response to every conflict.

At first glance, one can’t deny that this seems like a drastic, overly-simplified response to conflict. Every time Eren’s friends are endangered, or have been killed, his immediate response is to kill whomever has harmed his friends. Reasonable? Perhaps. Righteous? This is more questionable. Eren’s only response to violence seems to be more violence; a death sentence, in fact. Once again, we see how it is pure, raw anger that drives Eren’s actions.

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to condemn Eren’s motives and actions before considering the context of his violent outbursts, as well as his character. Eren is still considerably young; he’s only a teenager, and has been through the most horrifying of experiences and watched loved ones die and get eaten. What’s more, it is more than just the mindless titans who are responsible for this; it is humans too. This only heightens Eren’s sense of anger and his desire to punish those who have offended humanity, since his foes are now conscious, culpable human beings. Eren is angry for good reasons.

Eren’s desire to kill and become a titan is also spurred on whenever he witnesses the death of his companions. Given this context (witnessing the violent death of a friend), it is also understandable that Eren would want to punish whomever or whatever has murdered his friend. It seems a natural response, reasonable or not, moral or not.

Catching Fire

Eren’s sense of anger does not go unnoticed by his friends, nor is his sense of anger particular to him alone. Rather, the fires of Eren’s wrathful determination spread to and are shared by his friends, including his adopted sister, Mikasa. Mikasa is truly the bad-ass of the series, and her ability to slay titans so effectively is blatantly fueled by a deep sense of rage towards the titans and the world. Mikasa seems to have a sense of anger and determination that comes from within herself; however, there are also times when her desire to fight is overpowered by a sense of hopelessness.

On two occasions specifically, Eren’s own sense of rage ignites a fire within Mikasa and inspires her to fight–and kill–her way out of tough situations. The first time is when Eren and Mikasa are only children; after Mikasa gets kidnapped by a group of thugs (and possibly future rapists), Eren intervenes in an attempt to rescue Mikasa. Mikasa is afraid to fight her way free of her captors, but Eren inspires her to fight back. When Eren’s life is threatened, Mikasa, even though she is a child, ends up killing one of her captors.

The second time Eren incites Mikasa to fight back is when Mikasa is cornered by a titan, her flying gear destroyed, and she is alone. Merely by recalling Eren’s words, Mikasa finds the strength to grip her broken sword, determined to fight back even though it seems futile to challenge the approaching titan. Mikasa doesn’t even end up fighting the titan, as she is saved by Eren, but this doesn’t change the fact that Eren’s words, fueled by his anger, made Mikasa’s own heart catch fire.

The Justification and Definition of Good and Bad Anger

Upon watching Attack on Titan and the anger-driven characters of the story, a worthy question to be considered is “When is it acceptable for Eren to act on his anger, and for what reasons? Conversely, when is Eren just becoming a monster, caving in to his hatred? Is there a better way for him to act on his anger and do what he must?”

Not even regarding whether his actions are justified or not, Eren’s anger is perfectly acceptable. But what is an acceptable display or response to anger?

Quoting St. Augustine, the philosopher and theologian St. Thomas of Aquinas writes about anger:

“anger craves for revenge.” But the desire for revenge is a desire for something good: since revenge belongs to justice. Therefore the object of anger is good.

-St. Thomas Aquinas

Thus, anger is oriented towards justice: it is a desire for justice. Though “the object of anger is good”, anger can be for “both good and evil”, according to Aquinas. Anger can only be good if it is directed in the right way and for the right reasons. If anger is ignited and acted upon without reference to justice, then anger is no longer good, but merely a manifestation of hatred. On the contrary, when anger is oriented toward righting wrongs and protecting the innocent from someone who is up to no good, then it is justified.

Simply put, anger that is oriented towards righting a wrong or achieving what is just is “good anger”. Anger that lacks control, that is angry just for hatred’s sake, and lacks a sense of justice or mercy, is “bad anger”.

If these can be used as definitions of “good anger” and “bad anger”, is Eren’s anger justified? Or is Eren simply a monster fighting other monsters?

The answers to these questions more or less determine the sense of morality that Attack on Titan possesses as a story. Stories are clearly very powerful, as they have always had a significant impact on society throughout all human history. Attack on Titan is by no means an exception; anyone who watches the anime could understand this. Attack on Titan is emotionally gripping, astoundingly beautiful, and full of intricacies in all the right ways. Thus, being as powerful a story as it is, one might say that it is possible that Attack on Titan has a sense of responsibility towards its viewers.

If the story merely depicts anger (and violently acting on that anger) as a means of solving one’s problems, the anime might rightly be considered a “bad example” for viewers. However, the show is rated Mature Adult for good reasons. When witnessing the intense but even cool, stylized acts of violence performed by hyper-furious characters, a sense of moral responsibility is also placed upon the viewer. Viewers must be able to distinguish between “good anger” and “bad anger” in the show and know from which to draw as a source of inspiration in their own lives. There are certainly many things to be angry about in life; Attack on Titan straightforwardly depicts this truth. But how we react to these things is a question of morality in and of itself, and a worthy question.

Can Eren and the story of Attack on Titan lead the way for how we handle angering issues in the world? Or do they lead us astray?

The Triumph of Anger

There are clearly times when Eren transforms into a titan and acts out of pure hatred. Whether he is protecting innocent people in the act or not, sometimes it seems as if Eren wants to kill titans simply because he enjoys it; simply because he hates them.

However, the thing about well-fashioned characters is that they grow as the series goes on. At the end of Season 2, when confronted by the same titan that ate his mother, Eren seems as if he is prepared to act out of hatred once again. Eren bites all of his fingers off in his attempt to transform into a titan and avenge his mother, but his normal methods for transforming aren’t working. When his childhood adult-friend Hannes is eaten by the titan, Eren finally ceases his violent attempts to transform, in utter shock.

Falling to his knees, the audience hears Eren pour open his heart and confess all of his frustration; whether to himself, to Mikasa, or the world, the viewers don’t know. But out comes the truth. Eren is frustrated because he isn’t strong enough to save the people he cares about. In this intense, beautifully crafted scene, we come to understand the true motives underlying all of Eren’s hatred. Mikasa only encourages the good, even innocent vibes radiating from Eren. She tells Eren how much he means to her, and that he is by no means a failure.

Raised up by Mikasa’s words, Eren stands tall before the titan. It is clear that something has changed about him. He doesn’t try to become a titan once again; unlike so many times before, he doesn’t confess his hatred of the titans before trying to kill one. Rather, spurred on by Mikasa’s words, he confronts his foe by throwing a seemingly insignificant, human-sized punch. For the sake of not spoiling the ending, there’s no need to explain what happens next!

The fact that Eren confesses not hatred of the titans but a desire to protect; the fact that he responds to Mikasa’s words not with more anger towards the titans, but with loving determination–is the audience witnessing, perhaps, a display of noble anger?


Attack on Titan reveals that anger is a powerful motivator. It inspires humans to act both for good and for evil…for good reasons and bad reasons. Anger is oftentimes a very justified emotion; what matters is how one acts on it, and why. Anger is meant to be oriented towards justice, dare we say even love. Although Attack on Titan seems to be full of instances where bad anger gets the better of good anger, Eren is not without the capacity to grow and change his perspective. Rather, Eren reveals to us that change is indeed possible, and that anger can be used correctly to defeat one’s enemies and protect the people a person cares about.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Author of the fantasy/anime series "Elithius", Dominic Sceski is a college student in love with writing, anime, fantasy, and God.
Edited by AGMacdonald, BMartin43, ees.

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37 Comments

  1. Gibbon
    0

    I don’t really like Eren because I never felt that he ever had a huge presence on the plot. The strength of Eren’s character is that you can understand his motives and why he’s the way he is but in the end, he’s mostly just a side character with a lot of focus in the Survey Corps.

    The only truly interesting thing about him for me imo, is the idea that Eren’s hatred would have him go on the wrong path. Especially with the recent plot developments that seem to hint at this being the true message of the story.

    I think the anime writing Eren as more irrational and insane fits very well into his struggle.

    • Alla
      1

      Eren becomes wiser and cooperative as the story continues, which leads to him having full control over his Titan during the manga ending and in future events.

    • lisssc
      0

      Nicely put. But I have to say that he is not a side character at all. He is the protagonist of the series. A story doesn’t always have to focus on it’s main character all the time.

  2. SKINNER
    0

    Attack on Titan is a great reason to get into anime – people often call it a genre – no way – it’s a medium in which all genres exist from drama to SF to horror and more so there is an anime show out there with your name on it and this action packed one is a great example of what people are missing out on.

  3. Zook
    0

    Great to see this topic getting coverage here! It’s a fantastic show.

  4. Ollie
    0

    I like Eren because he’s at his heart driven by anger. Same with the other human/titan characters. I used to be a very angry person myself. His portrayal appeals to me. That said, it also makes me happy the he learns to use that anger instead of being used by it. The boy does grow a lot throughout this series and it’s great to watch,

  5. Karate
    0

    I think what defines AoT characters from characters in other shounen anime is that they undergo subtle, yet reasonable character development for someone of their age.

    While this is fiction and anything can really go, I think it’s important to remember that a majority of the main characters are 15-16 years old. This is an age where most people are still trying to figure out who they are as a person and working on things like impulse control and responsibility.

    I think Isayama did a good job of creating these characters and developing them in a way that makes sense for teenagers living in a dystopian world. I also think Isayama did a good job of the adult characters in the series.

    I also would personally say that one of the things I love most about this series is its distinct lack of sexualization of its female characters in canon.

    Many shounen series loose credibility in my mind because they choose to adhere to the “male gaze” and create female characters with boobs that defy gravity or characters that only exist as a “token” female characters that would make the perfect girlfriends.

    I also tend to judge a series by whether or not there is an emphasis on a female characters breasts and bodies, either by how they are draw or by how the other characters view them.

    Attack on Titan is different because it is filled with many diverse female characters who are smart, caring, strong, pretty and also have many faults.

    But the one thing they don’t have are boobs that defy gravity or male peers who like to comment, poke fun of or downplay a female character’s strengths just because of her breasts or body shape.

    While shounen is generally geared towards a male audience, I don’t think that is an excuse to sexualize female characters and I applaud Isayama and the animators of the series for not doing that.

  6. ruth
    0

    It’s kinda great that Eren’s a character uniquely driven by anger. To my memory, there’s not many protagonists that are explicitly driven by such a thing, and it’s really rather refreshing.

  7. Kruger
    0

    I just don’t like Eren because I find him to be really annoying (a common issue I have with protagonists who shout a lot). Still, I really enjoyed this post as it did bring that growth and the positive aspects of the characters to the foreground. Thanks for sharing.

    • tune
      0

      True, regarding Eren’s character, but I feel many people have this stereotype that all there is to Eren is yelling, and screaming. On the contrary, he is certainly demonstrating growth, which is awesome to see, but I totally feel you on him being a very… potentially annoying protagonist.

  8. Stace
    0

    GREEEAT post, thank you! Attack on Titan is my second favorite anime and my first being Hellsing.

  9. Kah Yamamoto
    0

    Shingeki no Kyojin is fantastic. You put this perfectly. I’ve always wanted to make a post similar to this but didn’t have the right words.

  10. David
    0

    I Just finished s2, and what really drives me crazy is that the 3 season will be released by the end of next year…

  11. Signe
    0

    Really interesting post.

  12. laylay
    0

    Anime Eren’s ONLY defining trait is his anger, that is the problem. This can especially seen in the Annie fight: he turns into a Titan out of anger after being crushed, and he only overpowers her when he gives into this anger. In the manga it is the opposite; during the fight in the forest he loses because his anger clouds his judgment. Eren still has his anger, but he must get past it in order to win. He comes out the victor in their second encounter because he was able to fight with a clear mind. He still has his anger, but he does not let it rule him. He turns into a Titan when he accepts Mikasa’s statement about the cruelty of reality and he throws Mikasa up and stoically watches as she cuts Annie down from her accent, then helps extract her from her titan. There is no berserk fire titan gnawing at her neck. He works as a team with the Legion to do what he could not alone, even as a titan.

    Eren displays character development from the onset of the manga, and that is lost in the anime. It’s one of the reasons why anime-only watchers complain about Eren being whiny and constantly angry. The anime effectively removes the other side of his characterization, the ability to use his anger in a constructive manner, to see past it and act rationally and intelligently. Without that, the anime becomes more like a standard shonen, where the main protag wins through a random power up because they’re angry enough.

    • Son
      0

      Eren’s titan in the anime is basically the Hulk.

  13. Jc Flaherty
    0

    When you want to see AOT through the perspective of nazi’s philosophy or any other perspective, it will seem to suddenly have a completely sidetracked meaning.

  14. Ute
    0

    Amazing research and analysis of AoT, keep up the good work.

  15. newzealandseo
    0

    very nice and educated

  16. Jessika
    0

    Eren’s my favorite AoT character and that’s been the case even before I read the manga. All the hate he gets kinda makes me sad even though I see why he’s not everyone’s type of character.

  17. Gail
    0

    AoT is a pretty good series despite it’s flaws, but it’s flaws are not that giant to begin with.

  18. Fink
    0

    What is most engaging in attack on titan are actually it’s mysteries. The horror in not knowing anything about the titans works greatly in favor of the mystery vibe, but this one aspect lasts until season 2 only. By the 2nd half of the first season you can already see that humans are the ones behind this and those people from outside the walls are the enemies, but I don’t think that makes the story any less fascinating.

  19. Lieselotte
    0

    Its really nice to see anime getting some good space and recognition in the mainstream press like The Artifice. And Attack on Titan really deserves it!

  20. Doss
    0

    I feel like angry eren is very over hated… dude saw his mother getting eaten and his city destroyed by titans, he has every reason to be angry and wanting revenge.

  21. Treadwell
    0

    Love Attack on Titan. I really appreciate this post and the way you systematically detail every bit to defend your argument.

  22. Lockett
    0

    Amazing analysis of Attack on Titan, I agree completely with you.

  23. Baylor
    0

    Anime version of story applies more to Eren’s rage and makes for a cooler finale, but this goes against many of the past and future developments of the story.

  24. SaraiMW

    I am officially blind and deaf! However, I will now make the effort to have a look at this series. Thank you for your passionate discussion.

  25. Slaidey

    Anger and a feeling of helplessness share a complicated relationship and we can see the presence of both in Eren from his introduction as a child. He’s dissatisfied with his reality, and it’s easier for him to address that through anger. It will be interesting to see how his emotions continue to develop as the story progresses further.

  26. I’m so glad this show is getting covered! It really is amazing

  27. Yao

    Attack on Titan is something that I’ll say as a pretty interesting show, and not just from its main cast and story alone. It’s amazing world building really allows it’s characters to flush out their true colours while also allowing a great lore to develop to allow hard core fans geek over the amazing detailed writing on how it’s characters are in the current situation are and all the conflicts and actions of their ancestors that brought them to their current situation. Although people may call it overrated, I personally think Attack on Titan still deserve more credit than people give it.

  28. Agree with this article, there are lots of characters with anger issues and use them to motivate themselves to fight for many reasons. And that also include the other titans that become the mastermind behind the attack of a titan.

  29. I think this is an interesting take on Eren’s character and what his anger means for the show. His desire for revenge stems from him just being a very angry kid in general. Even before his mother’s death and the fall of Wall Maria, he killed a man because his friend’s parents were murdered. Wanting to take revenge in and of itself comes from a place of anger. It’s logical that Eren’s anger would spur him to take action against the Titans vow to “kill them all.” I only watched season 1 of AoT and was pretty turned off by Eren’s attitude. It almost seemed as though Eren’s only defining character trait was that he was angry and wanted revenge as a result. Thanks to the internet and spoilers abound, I am aware that Eren becomes a much more grounded person in future chapters of the manga. Having this idea in the back of my mind that Eren’s motivating force (at least in the beginning) is anger, it may give me more empathy towards Eren as a character.

  30. Unfortunately the simpleness of Eren’s character leads him to being a rather plain and predictable character in my view. His reaction to anything negative is to fight and scream at it. Personally, I am much more interested to see how Mikasa develops as a character

  31. The whole time I watched this series, I totally thought Eren’s anger was just. And then, I read somewhere that Isayama kinda hates Eren and wanted Eren’s depiction in the anime to be unlikable and annoying, and I was like . . . why, though? Because I care about Eren and I like him.
    His humanity is being angry. I can’t imagine being disjointed from the world. No, I may not have the means to travel it, but if I did, it’s there and it’s available. (Also, the need to have means to travel it truly annoys me, but, whatever.) If I lived within walls that cut me off from the rest of the world–if the world that I lived in was so threatened by something that it locked me inside such a small, minuscule section of it, yeah, I think I’d be pissed. His anger is relatable, for sure.
    Now, I don’t know why/where the titans came from, and for all I know, they could be used as a device to keep humanity away from Earth because they are susceptible to killing it, but I really have no clue.
    This show is all about putting your humanity on the back burner to do what’s right for humanity. And, with my predictions, that could be a task taken on by either side. This maybe is an unpopular opinion, but I didn’t mind Eren’s anger. I saw it as a relatable motivational standpoint.

  32. Zander Jones

    I think we can relate to Eren because impulse is very relatable, it sometimes clouds are judgment, and even we don’t know if its good or bad in the moment.

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