Attack on Titan’s explosive popularity has led to various spin-off series being published. From comedies to prequels, they all sounded like they’d be interesting, entertaining reads, but the one that piqued my interest the most was the spin-off titled No Regrets. It centers around Attack on Titan’s most liked and enigmatic character Levi and is written by Gan Sunaaku and illustrated by Hikaru Suruga.
No Regrets was by far the one I looked most forward to reading following its announcement. The idea of seeing Levi in a different setting that delved into his life before he joined the Survey Corps seemed like a great opportunity to expand on what fans already knew, perhaps even giving them something new to consider. In the original series, Levi is well-liked for his short height, vulgar language and sense of crude humor, prowess as a powerful soldier, a unique outlook on the affects of his choices, and being a total clean freak.
But besides his unique perspective on the world and his personality quirks, Levi’s past was a blank slate, a mysterious character fans knew nothing about. It seemed like a dream come true to have a spin-off centering around the fan-favorite of the original series, but despite its success, No Regrets is surprisingly short, with the last chapter expected to be released next month. After reading the most recent chapter, I found myself bothered by how much this spin-off has failed to meet my expectations. How did it fail, you ask? The answer is quite simple; this spin-off hasn’t told me anything new about Levi. At all. Yes, it’s a spin-off – a short one at that – and I realize that as such, it’s not canon. But regardless of its length, I was still expecting a different, new take on Levi’s character at the very least.
The first reason why No Regrets failed to be a good prequel spin-off for me was because it barely explored the aspects of Levi’s character that fans already know and love. His obsession with cleaning was only shown in one scene, and his vulgar language and sense of humor is not nearly as pronounced. Furthermore, in the original manga, within a few lines of dialogue, Levi’s described as being a notorious thug before joining the Survey Corps – and this too was barely touched on in the prologue and first chapter. All of his distinguishable traits were glossed over in No Regrets, almost as if Sunaaku wasn’t sure how to portray Levi, and ended up just eliminating Levi’s existing personality while undermining any potential to build on it with new developments.
The things fans already knew about him aren’t made to be more interesting in a different context, and since he isn’t given any new or different character traits from the barely existing ones, he’s a rather boring protagonist in No Regrets. So much of the time, instead of making me sympathize with Levi or provide some insight into his thoughts, I felt the story and illustrations were more focused on making Levi brooding and attractive for the sake of fan service.
Instead of being a well-written, interesting character, he spends a lot of time saying “…” while glaring, and every time this happened, I was confused of what I was supposed to be learning about his character. Was I supposed to be learning anything at all, or am I supposed to think of how nice he looks as he glares boringly at everyone? Regardless, it was a poor means of character development, and did absolutely nothing to enhance Levi’s character or add anything new. It’s lazy writing, not to mention it muddles the pacing of the story – which barely exists as it is.
The second reason why No Regrets doesn’t really work as a good prequel spin-off is because the “new” character development Levi does get isn’t much to work with. Levi has to deal with his dilemma to kill Erwin and, while interesting, stems from… I don’t even know, that’s how little it’s mentioned.
Levi, in the original series, is a surprisingly complex character, revealed through his facial expressions and speeches. In No Regrets, it seems like Levi doesn’t have a personality; his interactions with his comrades, Isabel and Farlan, are hardly interesting, and though there are fleeting moments that suggest some kind of bond between the trio, these are few and far in between, lacking any real emotion to make me invested in their camaraderie. What I do know isn’t much; Isabel looks up to Levi as a brother figure for a reason that was barely mentioned, and Farlan… I don’t know. I don’t have any words to describe him, that’s how bland he is. Worry wart, maybe? Bickering-Nuisance-to-Levi-Every-Couple-of-Chapters?
But when these characters SPOILERS die and I find myself not caring because I don’t know jack about them, but instead interested in how their deaths will affect Levi, that isn’t a good thing. The original series is brutal, and every major and minor character fatality is violent and depressing. When the spin-off can’t render that same kind of power and emotion through the deaths of their “main characters”, it’s like they weren’t written to be genuinely cared for in the first place. Although, I admit that the way their deaths are handled is one of the few things this spin-off has done kind of well.
By the conclusion of the most recent chapter, Levi is beginning to face the consequences of his decision first-hand, and perhaps the reason I found it so effective was because it’s reminiscent of a similar situation in the original series. Though I may have cared less, their deaths were a good – albeit late – means of showing Levi’s progression into the battle-hardened soldier that fans know later on. Regardless, it’s a pity to admit that Levi’s choice, along with his moral dilemma, is the only good, interesting part of No Regrets. While it gives audiences a sign of Levi’s potential to grow and be a more complex protagonist, the fact that it took seven chapters to get to this point – while doing nothing to supplement fans with anything else to be invested in – is ridiculous.
Thing is, a series can’t be carried by a character’s moral compass or goals alone. Good stories and characters require more substance to drive it forward and make it compelling. What I mean is that a well-written character may be driven by their goals and aspirations, but it isn’t until their feelings and goals are challenged that they become conflicted. These situations add complexity, and the clash of differing ideologies makes them compelling and interesting characters, because a change can be tracked right away.
From the very beginning of No Regrets, nothing lends itself to characterizing Levi in any real way, and throughout its entirety, Levi continues to be a blank slate, and no measures are taken to show fans anything new about him. It struggles to repeat what fans already know, but fails to give Levi any new, unique features or real justification for his actions and behavior in the beginning of the story.
The discord between trying to convey who Levi becomes and who he was in his spin-off is apparent and makes it unclear as to who Levi’s supposed to be. No Regrets rides on Levi’s goal to kill Erwin, but there’s no real progression towards this outcome. Yes, I find his moral dilemma an interesting one, but there isn’t any clear mention of why Levi feels motivated to kill Erwin, or what spurs him to do so. The implications are there, but when I have to go out of my way to connect the dots without any insight into Levi’s thoughts, not only is a sign of poor story-telling, but also makes it difficult to pinpoint how Levi feels and why he acts a certain way.
No Regrets suffers from a lack of establishing the basic foundation of their main character in the context of the story, and Levi’s barely existing voice falls on deaf ears. It lacks any real conflict or stakes in the beginning – when character motivations and ideologies are important and will affect them – so when situations do turn sour and the characters are forced to overcome them, it’s harder to become genuinely invested or sympathetic to the character’s plight. It’s unfortunate that this series was unable to capture meaningful plot points and character interactions as skillfully as the original series it is based off of, because Levi is a great character who had the potential to be a compelling protagonist if his back story wasn’t so poorly thought out.
But to be honest, despite the fact that this spin-off has no discernible story or character motivations, it’s not all bad. Suruga’s art is pretty nice and crisp looking, and does a good job of conveying what emotions the characters do have. The art style is fairly accurate in its portrayal of recurring characters from the original series; although, the designs for Isabel and Farlan look like they were plucked from a different series entirely and inserted into No Regrets. Despite the fact that not all of the character designs are convincing and belong together, the action is pretty fluid for the most part, but over time, I found myself missing Hajime Isayama’s magical, distinct and memorable art style. Some of the camaraderie between Levi, Farlan, and Isabel does manage to convey a sense of trust, and at times, the friction between Erwin and Levi is effectively conveyed and forces the readers to recall the circumstances of their tentative alliance.
In short, my biggest disappointment with No Regrets comes from the fact that there aren’t any surprises. It barely touches on what fans do know about Levi to make him an interesting character with depth, and fails to give them anything new to ponder. I’d say that No Regrets is still a pretty good read, and one that would probably be worth it for Attack on Titan fans interested in the lore of the series. It may not offer much in real character development and story, but the art is pretty good, and if anything, Levi’s somewhat random moral dilemma and the weight of his choice crashing down on him are the only good parts worth reading. But if you go in thinking you’ll see Levi in an entirely new light, No Regrets won’t quite meet your expectations.