SINGAPORE - A group of humans live peacefully for a century in a city surrounded by enormous walls that keep out gigantic man-eating humanoids called titans. They believe they are the last of humanity left, but one day, the titans tear down the walls and reveal a far more complex world.
This is the premise of Attack On Titan by Japanese writer and illustrator Hajime Isayama, a best-selling dark fantasy manga series which has won over legions of fans with its intricate world-building and sometimes gory artwork.
The manga - the first issue was released in September 2009 - has spawned an anime series, several video games and live-action remakes. The anime series (2013 to present) is mid-way through its final season, with new episodes rolling out weekly on Netflix.
Fans of the manga will be able to get more of it at an exhibition at the ArtScience Museum from Feb 19 till July 3. Attack On Titan: The Exhibition, which debuted in Japan in 2014, has had tweaks and additions over the years. This is the overseas debut of the exhibition in its latest form.
When they enter the gallery space, visitors are presented with two choices: the blue path takes them outside the walls to where the titans reside, while the red path leads them inside to where the humans are.
The choices show two disparate perspectives that eventually converge into the larger universe of Attack On Titan.
In a video call with regional media, Mr Shintaro Kawakubo, the manga's editor who worked closely with Isayama over a decade to develop and refine the story, says the team wanted visitors to be active participants in the exhibition from the beginning.
The 39-year-old adds: "To those inside the wall, the people outside are the enemies, but on the outside, the people inside are their enemies. This is part of the appeal of Attack On Titan - there's no clear right or wrong."
The exhibition features more than 150 artworks by Isayama depicting important scenes from the story. Some sections focus on the titans and their genesis, while others highlight the journeys of the main characters such as protagonist Eren and fan favourites Levi and Sasha.
Some of the artworks are accompanied by short comments from Isayama, 35, about how he felt drawing certain panels and how he sees his work in retrospective.
Spoiler alert for fans who have yet to read the manga's ending, though. One section of the gallery features drawings from the final volumes of the series, which was released in early 2021. This is a new highlight as it is the first time the exhibition has been mounted since the manga wrapped up.
The most Instagrammable part of the show is perhaps the Colossus Titan's head, which has been recreated to scale. Colossus Titan is one of nine titans with special traits and stands at 60m tall.
Fans can see a battle sequence brought to life from paper to screen on a 10m-wide screen. They can also get an up-close look at important items in the story - such as the key to Eren's basement, the scarf Eren gifts his childhood friend Mikasa and the iconic green cape of the Survey Corps, a military branch that combats titans. These props were made specially for the exhibition display and not employed in the live-action remakes.
But perhaps what will delight hardcore fans the most is the zone showcasing sketches from Isayama that span over a decade. These are extremely rough drawings of characters and scenes, with scribbles in red by Mr Kawakubo asking questions and refining scenes.
Mr Kawakubo says it is not common for editors to hold on to such sketches after the final draft is done. Isayama was 19 when he first ran his idea by the editor.
"From the beginning, I had a feeling that this would be a wonderful title, so I started collecting all of these sketches. I have more than a thousand pieces," he adds.
And for those who are coming in fresh to the story, the exhibition ends with a 20-minute summary of the series.
On why the manga has found so many fans beyond Japan, Mr Kawakubo says: "The pursuit of freedom and escaping from one's confines is something that can resonate with people around the world - regardless of nationality, age or gender."
Book it/ Attack On Titan: The Exhibition
Where: ArtScience Museum, 6 Bayfront Avenue
When: Feb 19 to July 3, 10am to 7pm daily
Admission: $14.70 to $21 for an adult ticket, $11.20 to $16 for a concession ticket.