All About Estates

Shingeki no Kyojin: An Anime Unexpectedly About Family, Legacy and Succession

Last week, my colleague Yvonne Mazurak wrote a blog post about a recently-released television show, And Just Like That, discussing the estate planning issues highlighted by the events of the show. So, I thought I would provide a bit of a television recommendation show of my own…although my taste is a bit different.

For this post, I’d like to highlight Shingeki no Kyojin (in English: Attack on Titan), one of the most popular Japanese anime series of all time. The show is based off of a manga series of the same name by Hajime Isayama. Japanese broadcasters are currently releasing episodes from the show’s final season on a weekly basis. Each episode is truly an event for fans, and I can’t help but feel that each one is better than the last.

The show’s initial premise is straightforward, albeit violent. Shingeki no Kyojin is set in a world of humans and Titans. Titans are humanoid beings that typically measure anywhere between 4 and 15 metres in height. Titans cannot communicate, and seem to only have one pattern of behavior: they seek humans out and eat them.

As a result of the threat from the Titans, humanity lives behind three layers of circular Walls, each measuring around 50 metres in height. The Titans are unable to climb the Walls; as a result, while the Walls do provide protection to humanity, they also cause certain characters to feel like they’re “like birds trapped in a cage”, so to speak.

One day, a 60-metre Titan appears outside the walls, and kicks open the outer gate to one of the Walls, letting the Titans in. In Titan fashion, they begin to attack the residents inside the Walls. Another armored Titan appears and breaks the inner gate to the Walls, rendering one of the three Walls useless and in the process wiping out 20% of humanity. Humanity retreats inside the other two Walls. The show’s protagonist, Eren Yeager, witnesses the death of his mother in the invasion. As a result, he joins the military and vows to destroy every last Titan.

Okay, so you might be asking: what does any of this have to do with estate planning? In response, let me say this: I started watching Shingeki no Kyojin because I thought it would be an anime based off of a typical shonen manga. According to the always-reliable Wikipedia:

Shōnen manga is typically characterized by high action and often humorous plots featuring male protagonists. Commonly-found themes in Shōnen manga include martial arts, mecha, science fiction, sports, horror or mythological creatures. […] Protagonists of such manga often feature an ongoing desire to better themselves and often face challenges to their abilities, skills, and maturity. Values such as self-perfection, self-discipline, sacrifice in the cause of duty, and honorable service to society, community, family, and friends are often stressed.

Funnily enough, I was actually looking for something to relax my brain for study breaks while studying for my Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners “Taxation of Trusts and Estates” exam. So, I decided to watch this show. I expected that an anime with shonen themes would be suitable for this purpose, as such anime are generally similar to action films. Also, many anime fans seemed to rave about how good of a show Shingeki no Kyojin is, so I wanted to check it out and see what all the commotion was about.

What I got instead was, in my view, a thrilling political drama with a compelling ensemble cast of characters and an amazing soundtrack that, at its heart, is centered around family, legacy and succession. I really don’t want to spoil anything (and explaining the full extent of the plot would be too long for this blog post anyway). What I will say is that this anime illustrates how the manner in which one chooses to pass on their legacy—and by association their ideologies—can have a ripple effect on generations of descendants far into the future.

Specifically, there are several characters who make irreversible choices on how to pass certain things on to their families (much like how a will, once the testator has passed away, cannot be changed—subject to a court’s intervention of course). And respectively, there are children, grandchildren and more remote descendants who wish to resist the wills of their progenitors, but to their dismay are instead bound by such wills. The notion of whether to even have a family is also a theme in Shingeki no Kyojin, as in numerous ways there are concerns amongst characters that producing successive generations of descendants will only perpetuate the cycles of violence that exist in their cruel, yet beautiful, world.

So, to bring this back to estate planning specifically, the moral of the story is actually quite simple: be very careful about the decisions you make when passing on your legacy, because it may affect generations of people in ways you won’t even be able to imagine.

As dramatic as that sounds, I don’t want to say much more than that. I only wish to highly recommend Shingeki no Kyojin as an amazing viewing experience, and in my view perhaps one of the best works of fiction I’ve ever seen (especially Season 4).

I’m not the only one who feels this way; believe it or not, Shingeki no Kyojin has the #1 and #2 entries in IMDb’s list of the highest-rated TV episodes of all time, and nine entries in the top 50 entries of that list. According to market research firm Parrot Analytics, Shingeki no Kyojin was the world’s most “in-demand” television show of 2021, a title previously held only by The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. It is also the first non-English language show to hold that title.

And on that note, I’ll say a few final things to prepare you should you choose to watch Shingeki no Kyojin. Do watch it with subtitles, as the Japanese voice actors do a tremendous job. Please also note that although it is an animated series, it is not suitable for children. It also takes some time before the show reveals the mystery behind the Walls. I hope that by Season 3 you’ll understand why I wrote this blog post. And even then, there’s so much to this show that I can’t even begin to describe. I hope that you enjoy!

About Demetre Vasilounis
Demetre Vasilounis is an associate in the Trusts, Wills, Estates and Charities group at Fasken. He has a broad estates and trusts practice with an emphasis on the evolving relationship between estates law and technology. Demetre has developed and implemented cohesive estate plans for clients involving a wide range of different family and corporate structures. He has also advised on probate planning, disability planning, charitable gifting, asset protection strategies, cross-border estates and tax issues, personal privacy, and family law matters. Demetre enjoys learning and writing about unique, unexplored issues in estates law, particularly with respect to digital assets, privacy, artificial intelligence and intellectual property.

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