The Titans from Attack on Titan are effectively giant human beings, with the exception of a select few like the Colossal Titan or Eren’s Rogue Titan. Yet for some curious reason, whenever we see these massive creatures in action, there’s this ominous sense of creepiness that shouldn’t be there. Why? What is it about these giant humans that frighten us in a way no other giant monsters can?

A Titan looms over a helpless Mikasa (Kiko Mizuhara) in Attack on Titan. Credit: Milady's Stuff

A Titan looms over a helpless Mikasa (Kiko Mizuhara) in Attack on Titan. Credit: Milady’s Stuff

Size doesn’t matter

Regular humans are weak and easily injured. And even in a fight against creatures much smaller than us (like a snake, for instance), we might not necessarily win. We need weapons and armour to increase our deadliness. So the same should hold for Titans – they’re unarmed, and they only advantage they have is the strength and size that they possess. We’ve seen that they can be hurt with the steel blades that Eren and company wield. So they shouldn’t be more fearsome than, say, the 50 Foot Woman. But they still send a different sort of chill down our spines whenever they appear.

It’s not just simple fear that we feel when see the Titans. Let’s take other creatures for an example. If we saw a giant hamster eating humans, one of the most non-threatening creatures alive, we would be frightened but not creeped out. If we saw a giant cockroach eating humans, and insects are already horrifying as they are, we would be disgusted but not as creeped out as the Titans. There’s something about the human resemblance of the Titans that makes them so unnerving. And it has its roots in the Uncanny Valley Theory.

Titans descend upon our heroes in Attack on Titan. Credit: Comic Book Movie

Titans descend upon our heroes in Attack on Titan. Credit: Comic Book Movie

The Uncanny Valley

You can read it up on Wikipedia, but what this theory says is that when an artificial creature or object looks too similar to a human being, it triggers an immense sense of discomfort in us. Usually, the more lifelike an artificial creature or object looks, the more we like it. But once it reaches a certain point where it looks too lifelike, our liking for it suddenly turns into revulsion. A graph depicting this phenomenon is shown below.

The Uncanny Valley. Adapted from Wikipedia.

The Uncanny Valley. Adapted from Wikipedia.

A common example of this principle can be seen in our fear of corpses. They were humans, but without the spark of life they look just a little bit “wrong” to us. Thus myths and legends of the walking dead, like zombies and vampires were born, simply because of our fear arising from the Uncanny Valley Theory.

Another Titan attacks! Credit: Crispy Egg

Another Titan attacks! Credit: Crispy Egg

Titans and the Uncanny Valley Theory

The same logic thus appears to the Titans. They’re a bit too close to normal humans for our liking, with just something that’s off about them. Their smiles are too wide, their eyes are too vacant and the movie stylises them as giant walking corpses. They eat in a savagely different way from how we eat, tearing limbs off and tossing them aside. They’re too much like us, but they’re not us.

And because of this similarity, they evoke a sense of despair and helplessness in us. They’re a reflection of humanity, a reflection through a shattered mirror. We fear them because they represent a twisted, perverted version of us that could come true some day. And to wax philosophical, perhaps their physical savagery isn’t too far from the ethical savagery that we’re capable of.

Attack on Titan 2: End of the World poster. Credit: Encore Films

Attack on Titan 2: End of the World poster. Credit: Encore Films

Attack on Titan 2: End of the World

But don’t fret! We’re not on the same level as Titans yet, and there are Eren and friends who are the last line of defense in a world full of Titans. Their adventures continue in Attack on Titan 2: End of the World, where they learn more about Eren’s secrets and find themselves facing enemies from within! Catch it starting tomorrow (Sep 23)!

Credits: Milady’s Stuff, Comic Book Movie, Wikipedia, Crispy Egg, Encore Films