Marvel’s Iman Vellani dishes on her love of Attack on Titan

Marvel’s Iman Vellani dishes on her love of Attack on Titan

Iman Vellani is the kind of movie star whose enthusiasm, humor, and openness radiates off the screen and feels positively incandescent in person. The 21-year-old actress, best known for her role as Kamala Khan in 2022’s Ms. Marvel and 2023’s The Marvels, is unabashedly open in sharing her love of all things MCU-related, from playfully debating the finer points of canonical continuity with Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige to co-writing a Ms. Marvel limited series with Sabir Pirzada.

But Vellani has other passions beyond Marvel — her most recent being anime. Earlier this year at the Crunchyroll Anime Awards, Vellani shared with Polygon what convinced her to finally take the plunge into exploring Japanese animation.

“I was very intimidated by anime until very recently,” Vellani said. “I started watching anime about a year ago, so this is a new obsession for me, but I’m totally into it now. There’s just so much content, I didn’t know where to start. I mean, I can barely keep up with all the Marvel content that’s out there.”

Eren Yeager, the protagonist of Attack on Titan, standing in front of the “Colossal Titan” with his swords drawn in Attack on Titan. Image: Wit Studio/Crunchyroll

Vellani attributes her nascent love of anime to Attack on Titan, which she was introduced to via family and friends and proudly names as her current favorite anime. “They just talk about it all the time,” Vellani said, “and Attack on Titan kept coming back up whenever they would talk about anime. I started watching it and was like, This is a story that seems like it’s about humanity. I think I can get into it.

Of the entire ensemble of characters that appear in Attack on Titan, Vellani pointed out one in particular whose story resonated the most with her. “I love Mikasa Ackerman,” Vellani said. “The way that she kept Eren’s scarf at the end of the show, even though Eren told her to give it up and forget about him. Her being the only one who was able to kill Eren at the end to stop the Rumbling. That is a woman who — I don’t think I’ve seen many other female characters like her who have that authority, willpower, and determination to actually act on it. I recently cut my hair, and when I looked in the mirror, I was like, I know what my next cosplay is.”

A dark haired anime woman smiles with tears in her eyes and a burgundy scarf draped around her neck. Image: Wit Studio/Crunchyroll

Aside from Mikasa, Vellani also named one of the series’ other leading characters as one she especially enjoyed, going so far as to praise the voice actor responsible for their performance in Attack on Titan’s finale. “I like Armin because I always like to root for the nerdy characters,” Vellani said. “I watched the final half of the show with the English dub and, I don’t know who the actor who plays Armin is, but they deserve a raise because their performance in the final episode blew me away. He made me cry, his wailing and that flashback scene between him and Eren, it just hit me in all the right ways.”

After resisting anime for a while, Attack on Titan quickly became a show that stuck with her. “The ending was such a gut punch. It left me feeling so awful at the end, but it’s like one of those Succession-type endings where it’s not the ending you want, but it made sense. The ending made sense for the story, it made sense for the characters.

“I think they tied the knot so perfectly, and I can’t think of anything else I’ve watched recently that’s impacted me as much as that. I was crying in my bed watching it. My mom walked in on me and she was like, ‘It’s just an animation show!’ and I was like, ‘No, this is real!’”

A long-haired anime man with shackles around his wrists stands with a giant glowing pillar behind him and a pitch-black starry night. Image: MAPPA/Crunchyroll

Shortly after finishing Attack on Titan, she dove into exploring other popular series suggested by her friends. “I finally started Jujutsu Kaisen and One Piece,” Vellani said. “One Piece was one that I did not want to get into initially because it’s like, what, a thousand episodes now, and that felt like too much. Grey’s Anatomy was more than enough for me, and I stopped at, like, season 10. But after the Netflix show came out I was so drawn to the characters, and after the heartbreak of Attack on Titan, I needed something lighter and funnier and that made me feel good. The characters are likable and I want to root for them all, so that’s a show I really like.”

And Vellani’s love for anime doesn’t stop at TV. “I watched Suzume just before coming to Japan and I loved it,” Vellani said. “That blew my mind. Truly a masterpiece. I also recently watched The Boy and the Heron and, as a 21-year-old, it really spoke to me and it reassured me that my inner child still exists.”

Mahito and a grey heron with disturbing human teeth glare at each other face to face in Hayao Miyazaki’s anime movie The Boy and the Heron Image: Studio Ghibli via GKIDS/YouTube

When asked why she felt that her generation has embraced anime, and what it was about the medium that specifically spoke to her, Vellani cited the empowering roles and depictions of women and children, as well as the craftsmanship of studios like Studio Ghibli, as some of the reasons why anime is so popular among Gen Z audiences. “I just feel like anime feels so progressive with the way they depict women and children, especially in Studio Ghibli movies. All those movies are so good at showcasing youth and childhood and imagination in a way that’s encouraging children to keep that mindset.

“I feel like a lot of American cinema right now is just so depressing. It just wants to show the gritty real life of the world. I want to live in a world that makes me excited for the future, and I think anime does such a wonderful job in showcasing all the beauties of life. We went to the Ghibli Museum this morning and saw how they draw every single detail of the houses — the bricks, the walls, the windows — and you just realize how much people paid attention to these details when they drew it. Like, this is how they see the world, and that’s how I want to see the world, as something that’s full of life and joy.”