Attack on Titan’s Eldian Armbands Reignite Criticism of Its Troubling Politics

Attack on Titan isn't just a fun anime about a boy fighting monsters. It is an innately political series that draws from major historical events and ideologies. Themes of oppression, fascism and racism are tackled within the series. These depictions ground Attack on Titan in a realistic setting, but also spark controversy over its use of symbols of historical discrimination. One such example of this was when the franchise planned to sell replicas of the Eldian armbands. The producers ultimately decided to cancel the merchandise's sale because the armband "evokes images of discrimination."

To fully understand the controversy over the armbands, it's important to know their context in both the story and in real history. The Eldian armbands are very similar to the segregating "Jewish badge," which Jewish people were forced to wear in the 1930s and 1940s by fascist powers. The two items of clothing share more similarities than their visual design. Because of the Eldians' ability to transform into Titans and centuries of bloodshed, they have been oppressed as a racial group. They are persecuted, forced into ghettos and experimented on.

In order to be easily identified by their oppressors, the Eldians are compelled to wear these special armbands that signify their race and status; normal Eldians wear white armbands, an Official Marleyan's is red, and the Warrior Cadets wear yellow armbands. Jewish people were also forced to wear a yellow badge, often depicting the Star of David, to label their status. These articles of clothing made it easier for them to be identified as targets of discriminatory laws. The Eldian armbands serve the exact same purpose and can even share the same color.

The star on the Eldian armbands heavily resembles the Star of David. Because the Eldians are experiencing the same oppression that Jewish people once did, the two groups are parallels of each other. This can be beneficial as it creates sympathy for the Eldians, who are being forced to endure unfair oppression. It can also be harmful as it equates Jewish people to a race of characters who can turn into cannibalistic monsters, thereby perpetuating harmful myths that are used against Jewish people, even today.

The design of the Titans also reinforces this myth. Many of the Eldians' Titan forms resemble depictions in the anti-Semitic propaganda used by Nazi Germany to dehumanize the Jewish people. The Titans often have large noses, bulbous eyes, stunted bodies and evil grins. Drawing characters that are supposed to be parallels for Jewish people in stereotypical ways reinforces the grotesque mentality that leads to violence against the group.

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It's easy to see why selling the Eldian armbands would upset many people. Doing so would diminish a major symbol of murder and oppression into a fashion accessory. People with connections to the Holocaust, survivors and mourners alike, would live to see an object of Jewish oppression worn for cosplay. Selling something that so closely resembles the "Jewish badge" of the 1930s and 1940s as a prop trivializes the real-world events that inspired it. When discussing or using allegories that evoke such an extent of suffering, it is always important to show the correct level of respect and empathy that it deserves.

Turning the Eldian armband into merchandise undermines the message of Attack on Titan as well. The series depicts the Eldians as a marginalized group that is routinely attacked for something they can't control. Commercializing the armband takes away from the tragedy of their situation. They are forced to wear the armband anytime they go out in public, and if they forget or misplace it they run the risk of being arrested or killed. Fans that buy the armband could take it off anytime they wish without consequences, which diminishes its significance. As criticism of the series' politics and use of imagery has been prominent since the reveal of the Titans' origin, it is no surprise that plans to sell the armband would raise objections too.

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