Attack on Anatomy – Titans and their “Napes”

Something different today! Currently I am studying anatomy and my textbook was discussing the skull and spinal cord. To be honest, it is boring textbook shit. Making it seem interesting is my way to continue studying. Straight up memorizing the 206 bones of the human body (by name and place on the body) is tedious, so READY FOR SCIENCE AND OVERTHINKING???  TBH this is possibly my longest and most ambitions post yet.
I’ll be answering two questions in this post. If you don’t wanna read my heavy anatomy/science reasonings, I have a bolded title: “TL;DR” at the very end of this article. You can’t miss it, I made the font HUGE. Makes your life easier 🙂

A good ol’ anatomy meme.

A good ol’ Tumblr meme explaining how I feel.

Content warning, I understand some people may be uncomfortable so if you’re afraid of skulls/skeletons, there are pictures of some in this post. “Attack on Titan” is gory, and I have cartoon gory pictures from the anime below. Also obviously anatomy related *Attack on Titan Season 1 spoilers*. There are anatomy related manga spoilers at the end but I will warn you. Also, I’m just a student, not a professor, so my word is not the law.

*** Attack on Titan Season 1 spoilers below*** 

But honestly, who hasn’t watched it? Lol

More memes 🙂

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Lately I’ve been watching season 2 of “Attack on Titan”/ “Shingeki no Kyojin”. I’m not much of a TV show or anime person (I’d pick playing video games over them any other day…. POKEMON) but I’ve been using it out of desperation to stay motivated and not fall asleep in class *cry* that is how boring it is. What better way to learn anatomy than see it in action and to criticize it? I was considering about watching “Grey’s Anatomy”, but there are 13 seasons so if I get addicted, it is game over… Versus 2 seasons of “Attack on Titan” with 20 min episodes each …. Aint nobody got time for 1 hour episodes. So that is what I’ve been doing, criticizing that anime’s anatomy. Sometimes the anatomy hurts, other times it is good to see illustrations of specific muscles and drawings are easier to understand than real life (the muscles are pretty accurate and can be used for study references…. if you don’t mind pausing every frame and whipping out a textbook). I’m pretty sure most people know the gist of it… Creatures called titans eat humans, but to kill titans, one must make a deep cut into the nape of their neck. Some people can turn into titans, they are titan shifters. Titan shifters are present in the nape of the neck, and reside somewhere in the nape.

(Shingeki no Kyojin Episode 5)
There is no way the shitty swords and primitive weapons can cut through the vertebrae bone that protects the spinal cord. (Shingeki no Kyojin Episode 5)

Question 1: But where exactly do you make the incision on the nape of the neck? From what I’ve watched from the anime, the nape is this vague region on the back of the neck. The cut needs to be deep enough to sever the spinal cord to kill a titan. But if you think about it, the back of the neck is quite vast. There are several vertebra (individual spinal cord bones) that are present down along this area. Here are is my line of reasoning.

An example of how to kill a titan. Note, there is no bone visible, or spinal cord/ vertebral column material (there has been no bones visible on all titan kills, to tone down the gore). The incision seems to be made almost below the nape. However since the incision appears to be deep, the spinal cord should be cut. A lot of  unneeded force and effort would have been exerted due to destroying the vertebral bone.

Firstly, below is a picture of the spinal cord. The spinal cord along the back is protected by bone. The soldier’s primitive swords in Attack on Titan probably are not strong enough to cut through bone (keep in mind they have limited technology, and their swords are built like a shitty dollar store utility knife and often break mid-battle, but if is possible if they are strong enough but it would require lots of strength/effort), so they need to find the exact place where there is the least protection from the swords. That would be the top of the spinal cord, where the brain ends and neck begins. It would be the ‘Cervical area” (there are 7 cervical bones, numbered C1-C7. Cervical nerves and cervical bones are DIFFERENT, see the notes at the bottom of the pic below) and specifically above bone C1 would be the place to make an oblique, upwards incision. But of course if they manufactured their weapons better to cut through bone, anywhere along the spinal cord would work. In addition, there could be exceptions where cutting at specific angles from the side would touch the spinal cord and sever it. I am saying the most logical and easiest way to sever the cord due to lack of bone and protection would be above C1.


Note: the diagram shows “Cervical Nerves 1-8″ NOT “Cervical Vertebrae C1-C7″. There are 7 cervical vertebrae bones NOT 8. I used this picture regardless as it illustrated the spinal cord in an understandable manner. (Pic from here)

As you can see, there are protruding bony structures that jut out and protect the spinal cord. The spinal cord in encased in bone.

(Copyright @McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.)


Need more convincing? See each picture’s captions for my explanation. These are my own pictures taken during labs when I fiddled around with bones. The first 5 feature plastic bones. *Content warning* for the last one which is a real human vertebrae.

On the left, we have C1 (the Atlas), and the right we have C2. Note that the hole smack in the middle of both bones (like a hole in the middle of a doughnut) is completely encircled by bone. This hole is where the spinal cord passes through.
C1 sits on top of C2.
This is what it looks like stacked. Now imagine 33 of these stacked on top of each other. A protected bony canal for the spinal cord. How the fuck can a bunch of tiny humans with exacto knives cut through this on a titan?
The back of the head. The head sits on top of the C1. Note the gap between C1 and the skull to sever the spinal cord.
This is what it looks like on the side. Note the gap to sever the spinal cord.
The top of the picture is the back of the body (along the spine), the bottom of the picture is the front of your body (where your face and belly button are positioned). The is a human vertebrae. When you poke at your spine and feel the bones, you are touching  that spiny thing at the top of the piece of bone in the picture. As you can see, the hole in the middle for the spinal cord is protected from all sides. 
One more picture because I can. The part labelled “spinous process of vertebrae” is the bone that sticks out along your back. As you can see, it forms a bony shield to protect the spinal cord. This was from my textbook. Reference is at the end of this post.

Eren in a titan. Poor boy being stuck in all those muscles and bloody tendons. (Pic from here)

Question 2: But where does the Titan-Shifter sit? We know they reside within the back of the neck, and they can be easily sliced out of the flesh. They are not shown encased in bone, so this leads me to conclude they must also sit around the same area, the C1 vertebrae bone or at least down along the C1-C7 vertebrae/ neck bone areas. Fun fact, C1 is also called the “atlas” after the Greek God because it holds up the world, aka the human head. Humans are pretty big and take up some space, so during the whole process where the human resides within the titan and controls it, part of their body could reside in the foramen magnum, which is the little space with no bone above the C1 vertebrae/ the atlas. Or at least their head would reside in the foramen magnum, depending on how tall the titan is, because as humans, our heads are quite large and a protruding bump in the skinny neck of a titan looks suspicious. See the pic below, this is a side x-ray view of the skull and neck area. The foramen magnum is in yellow. Also, after these 3 anatomy pictures, I have a bolded warning for Attack on Titan MANGA spoilers!!! 

(Pic was from here)


Another picture of the foramen magnum, this one is looking the skull in a different angle:

The bottom of the enlarged skull in the picture is the back of the head, the top of the  pictured skull is the top of the head. Imagine the person is lying down on their back, and their face is facing the ceiling, that is the orientation. (Pic from here)
And this is the foramen magnum location. Yep that huge gaping hole that could fit a tiny human. (pic from here)


***** ATTACK ON TITAN MANGA SPOILERS!! ( minor- only anatomy related)****

More elaboration on the foramen magnum and my anatomy related assumptions on the titan shifter location below from the Shingeki no Kyogin/ Attack on titan MANGA:

*RANT, feel free to skip this paragraph long rant* Yeah, I read the manga, what’cha gonna do? I needed to know what was in that fucking basement, and the suspense was killing me. I’m not waiting another 4 years to get season 3 animated. Ain’t waiting for nobody. Except maybe Eren Jäger … and no it is not spelled Yeager like it is on all the official Japanese merchandise because his German last name is the German translation of “hunter” which would be “Jäger” not “Yeager”. It could also be Jaeger but the umlaut, (which are the two dots above a vowel) is preferred in German writings. Using “ae” instead of “ä” is for America where the umlaut doesn’t exist on keyboards. Somebody (Fansubs and legit translation companies), didn’t do their research on linguistics and the German language before attempting to translate from German words from Japanese to English thus Yeager is used. Yeager is now widely used but it is not the actual spelling for the word “hunter” in German, which defeats the whole purpose/pun in his last name because Eren hunts titans. Jäger = “hunter”, Yeager = a rip-off of Jäger that became standardized by America due to a series of mistakes and laziness. *DONE RANT*

ALRIGHT! These shots are from Attack on Titan manga, Chapter 51, page 37. I’ve done my best to black out plot related stuffs just in case a certain extremely tall and clumsy Eren Jäger out there is still going to go ahead, ignore my warnings, and read this shit. I will explain the images after.

PIC 1. Page 38. I’ve reversed pg. 38 and 37 because it made more sense when out of context.
PIC 2. Manga page 37.

Pic 2 is for additional information as it reveals the removal of the brain and spinal cord. While the scientific terms were not used and exact location not specified, we can safely assume it is the top of the C1 vertebrae bone (aka the axis), right where the spinal cord and brain meet.

So in pic 1 it is revealed that the back of a titan’s neck (aka: nape/ C1-C7 vertebrae) is 1 metre. The rough estimate of a human back of neck (aka: nape/ C1-C7 vertebrae) is 10 centimetres. Let’s use titan shifter Eren Jäger as an example. He is 5′ 7″ tall =  170 cm = 1.7 metres. A titan nape is 1 metre. Where does that extra 0.7 metres go? The brain is the source of all nerve signals and control. It would make sense that that Eren’s head resides inside the foramen magnum of the titan’s head so he can control the titan. As revealed in the manga and suggested in the anime, the human and titan fuse together. If the human controls the output of nerve signals, which is along the spinal cord that comes out of at the base of the skull at the foramen magnum, then the human can control the titan. The human’s spinal cord can fuse with the titan spinal cord together at this epicenter of nervous signals. In other words, if the human can control the brain messages coming out of the titan’s foramen magnum, then they control the titan. The titan shifter must at least occupy the space between the C1 vertebrae bone and the foramen magnum cranial hole to hijack the titan from within.



I hope everything made sense. I don’t know if the anime’s official (unrevealed) anatomy agree with me or not, but to the best of my limited knowledge, and attempts to make anatomy class interesting for myself, those are the things I’ve concluded! Feel free to add on to my deductions about “Attack on Titan” and human anatomy.

Fun facts: the scientific term for the general nape of the neck area is mentum nuchae (the latin word nucha means “nape of neck”). The muscles that protect the nape of the neck area, and the muscles that are sliced when the nape of the neck is sliced begins at the part of the skull called external occipital protuberance. Y’unno when you rub the back of your head and feel bony bumps? That is the external occipital protuberance, and there the neck nape muscles begin. In a way and at the right angle, if the anime characters in “Attack on Titan” made an incision at the external occipital protuberance, they would have a lot of fun sliding into the spinal cord. >:)

I might do another “Titan X    blank   ” post on nerves and the brain to study for my final exam … but who knows? This post took a long time to write and organize so we’ll see. But it really helped solidify my learning.

TL; DR?? 

Question 1: Where is the nape of the neck/ where is the incision most likely to take place? Nape is at the C1-C7 veterbrae/ spinal cord. The best way to sever the spinal cord without the spinal cord bones in the way is on top of the C1 vertebrae (aka Atlas).

Question 2: Where does the shifter reside? Along the C1-C7 verterbrae, as the titan nape is typically only 1 metre long, part of the human titan shifter may reside within the foramen magnum, a large hole in the skull that sits right above the C1 vertebrae where many nerves travel out. The human can use this nerve epicenter to control their titan.


Tortora, G. J., & Tortora, G. J. (2014). Principles of anatomy & physiology, 14th edition. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


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