As Attack on Titan Final Season returns once more, it can be tempting to look back at the series so far and wonder how we got here and how this series grew to the phenomenal level of success it enjoys today. For me, part of this comes down to the high quality of its opening episode as both an introduction to Eren and to the Titans. Within a single episode, we learn about the city inside Wall Rosa, we learn about the Titans … and then we watch them break through the wall and see their grotesque forms seemingly kill thousands. What a way to start.
At the time these Titans felt unknown — unknowable even — and it was hard not to feel fear at the mere sight of them. Over time, we’ve learned a lot more about the truth of these creatures, and our understanding of the world has grown beyond the walls we once knew. Even our understanding of the Titans and their connection to humanity has grown. As we've dove further into the world of this series our understanding of how Titans live has evolved, yet much of our knowledge of these beings remains as we first understood and feared when the show first burst into the mainstream.
The question remains: Could Titans exist in our reality? Are there any scientific justifications for the abilities of these Titans and their origins, or does the logic of this series remain firmly rooted on the page and screen, devoid of any grounding in our world? Surprisingly, the science of these impossibly tall Titans, from their ability to regenerate limbs to their links to a common ancestor, not only have some scientific justification in reality but aren’t too far removed from our own understanding of humanity and the world around us.
Don’t think that this statement suddenly means scientists plan to — or even necessarily have the means to — genetically engineer a human to transform into a titan. Still, it’s fun to consider what functionality of the Titans in Attack on Titan is scientific fact and which ideas are most certainly science fiction.
Put your thinking caps on! It’s time to dig deep into Titan science.
Titan Body Regeneration: Science Fact Or Science Fiction?
In Attack on Titan, one thing that makes the Titans of the series so terrifying is their ability to regenerate their limbs and aspects of their body near-instantly. While you can certainly injure and immobilize a titan, if you don’t sever the connection in a Titan’s nape, their limbs and injured body parts will soon regenerate.
In nature, many creatures have been shown to possess the ability to regenerate areas of their body if they have been cut off or damaged. The axolotl, also known as the Mexican Salamander, is one such creature that can regenerate the function and appearance of almost any part of the body if injured. As for more complex organisms such as humans, however, such regenerative capabilities are far more limited.
Humans do possess some abilities to regenerate parts of their body, although this is nothing close to the instantaneous regeneration of entire limbs observed within Titan bodies in Attack on Titan. The human liver is an organ particularly known for its regenerative capabilities, thanks to a high concentration of hepatocyte cells in the liver (a type of cell that starts to multiply when the liver is damaged). Even if a substantial part of the liver is removed from the human body, the organ can regrow to full-size over time. Thanks to stem cells (a type of cell that can transform into other cells) that are found throughout the body, other areas and organs can also regenerate, albeit not as effectively.
Where human regenerative abilities differ from Titans is how long it takes for these body parts to recover to their original state. The time needed for a liver to regrow can be months or even years depending on how much has been removed or damaged. Also, while we do witness cell and limb regeneration in various animals and even to a limited extent in humans, the idea that a humanoid-like creature could regenerate its body to such an extent and regrow entire limbs is fictitious. Scientists have researched the possibility of growing body parts in lab conditions, but even this takes far more time than the mere minutes and seconds it takes for a Titan.
Titan Survival Instincts And Feeding Habits: Science Fact Or Science Fiction?
Titans in Attack on Titan are established as beings that require no sustenance in order to maintain their form and avoid death. Until we learn more about the creatures as the series develops, this leaves a rather chilling thought in the minds of viewers: When Titans eat humans, they aren’t eating for food, but for mere instinct. For all we knew at the time during the opening episodes of the series, it’s easy to assume that such Titans hunt for the fun of the kill; even as they seem to eat humans, they don’t need to do this and gain very little from doing so.
Such killing without it being necessary for survival is known as surplus killing, and is an observed behavior in nature. A number of predators in nature have been found to kill animals beyond their need for food and have simply acted for the joy of the hunt or control over their territory. Lions are one such animal, as they are known to hunt certain birds just to play with their captures before feeding. Picture the scene in The Lion King where Scar plays with Zazu and this idea of a lion playing with their food — food that in no way would be a part of their normal diet and would provide little satisfaction to any hunger the animal may feel due to the bird’s small stature — is something rooted in reality.
From the smallest ant to animals like hyenas or even whales and dolphins, various animals have been observed with this behavior. And yes, that includes humans. So I guess you could call this surplus killing an instinct shared between humans and Titans.
The Founding Titan’s Similarities To The Mitochondrial Eve
As the series develops, we soon learn about the true origins of the Titans. While to fully recap these complicated origins is beyond the scope of this article, what should be known is that the power of the Titans originated when a girl named Ymir Fritz obtained the ability by coming in contact with the “source of all living matter.” She was the Founding Titan.
The origin of the Titans harkening back to a single being is a trait humanity shares. The Mitochondrial Eve is the term given to the symbolic organism that is also the most recent common ancestor of all living humans today. In essence, this means that all humans alive today share some aspect of their genetic code with early Homo Sapiens from which all living beings living today are descended, this genetic code being inherited in an unbroken line along the line of motherhood across all humanity.
This genetic split from previous delineations of humanoid speciation is estimated to have occurred roughly 155,000 years ago, somewhere on the current African continent. As a species evolves over thousands of years, genetic mutations occur between offspring, eventually delineating enough from one another to be classed as two different species with distinct enough genetics and characteristics from one another to be unable to mate or be seen as the same species as one another. At some point in the far distant past, such a split occurred, and the Mitochondrial Eve is the representation of this.
To simplify? While the Mitochondrial Eve may not refer to a single person, what it does mean is that all of humanity as it exists today could, in theory, have evolved and descended from a single being for which genetic code is shared amongst all living creatures today. Just like Ymir Fritz and the Titans.
Of course, the biblical tones for which Ymir Fritz is discussed as a historical figure within Attack on Titan clearly point to a more spiritual link between Titans, rather than a scientific one. Ymir Fritz, in this sense, is more of a god-like being, something further supported by the fact that the Subjects of Ymir are all connected via a spiritual connection known as Paths that links everyone back to Ymir.
But we’re looking at things from the perspective of science here, and it turns out there may be some scientific basis to the idea that all living beings of one delineation could derive from a single, far older, being that all living creatures share some sort of connection.
All of these things are interesting ideas to ponder, aren’t they? That’s not to say that Attack on Titan is exactly scientifically accurate, or that these scientific ideas were the basis for the series. It’s just a fun thing to consider, especially if you want to think about the scary possibility that, someday, real Titans could exist.
What would you consider to be the coolest fact you’ve learned about the Titans over the course of the series? Share them in the comments below!
Alicia Haddick is a freelance features writer for Crunchyroll. If they aren’t watching anime or way, way too many movies, they’re probably outside taking photos or listening to their favorite idol groups. You can find them sharing their other work on anime, gaming, and film and rambling on just about anything over on their Twitter account @socialanigirl, or on Letterboxd.
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