Where's the Tech? – Attack on Titan's Tech Anachronisms

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The World of Attack on Titan

Attack on Titan has some incredible action sequences involving the most advanced personal weapons system in fiction, short of power armour. It is baffling then that the Omni Directional Movement gear is the only piece of advanced tech they have. Within the lore, the ODM gear was developed deliberately for the singular purpose of killing titans, because nothing else they had was effective.
Engineers put a great deal of work into it and eventually an effective system of cables, anchors, impellers and valves allowed for a dramatic increase in combat effectiveness when facing titans. But after that success they don’t seem to have done any further research or innovation. Furthermore they don’t seem to have done any of the requisite innovation before inventing ODM gear either. So what’s going on?

ODM Gear Components

The ODM gear is a complicated system of linked parts which serve to facilitate 3D movement on the battlefield. Putting aside the feasibility of such a system IRL, within the universe, it’s very effective. The parts must all be incredibly precise, strong, resilient, and interchangeable. The manufacturing tolerances for these parts would be incredibly slim. The fabrication technology required to make them would have to be capable of fraction of a millimetre precision.

Titan attack technical information
Screenshots of technical information

This system is something that many factories would have difficulty constructing even with our level of technology. So assuming that the factories of AoT could mass-produce ODM gear sets, they would require a veritable library of materials knowledge, high precision tooling and measuring equipment, and the experience of virtually every mechanical innovation in the last 200 years of our history.

titan ODM gear tech attack
Chart of the tech necessary to build ODM gear

The rest of their society appears to exist in a state of permanent late pre-industrial/early industrial revolution technology. The hydraulics and pneumatics that would be required were developed during the industrial revolution, and were only refined to the point of high pressure portable equipment in the late 1930s. They were developed as a solution to the difficulty of maintaining a steady rate of fire in mounted machine guns.

Air

Simple pneumatic actuators were used in some of these early guns. Because the ammunition was either not powerful enough to cycle the action completely on its’ own, or the quality of the ammunition varied wildly from shot to shot, some simply didn’t generate enough kick to cycle the action. So a portable tank of compressed air was connected to a pneumatic piston of some sort.
These solutions were quickly made obsolete by drastic improvements in ammunition manufacture. But the technology developed as a result has since found a great many other uses, most notably air brakes in large vehicles, and S.C.U.B.A. Gear.
The hydraulics are a minor part of the ODM system, but they’re the only reliable way to link the triggers in the handles to the rest of the system. The technology was experimented with in the 1600s. But it wasn’t until the 1960s that a reliable and flexible system was developed that would work in the ODM gear: Hydraulic brakes.

Manufacture

As for the manufacturing of the individual parts, a lot of work was done in many industries over the last 200 years that would also need to be done to build ODM gear. Metallurgically speaking, even modern alloys and machining would have some difficulty. The frames of the mechanical apparatuses would have to be made of a high-carbon die-cast steel, as would the bearings. They would have to make the impellers out of titanium or an aluminium/magnesium composite, and cast whole with an extremely slim tolerance for imperfections. The compressed gas cylinder would need to be equivalent to a modern scuba tank, as would all the valves and hoses involved.

Steel

The steel cables would probably not work if they were made of steel. Realistically we haven’t come close to a steel cable that would perform the functions of ODM gear IRL. Some kind of spider-silk, or carbon-fibre composite might be effective and reliable enough, which makes sense when you consider someone using the ODM gear is basically ‘Steam-punk Spider-man’.
Manufacturing processes for most of the above would ride heavily on the development of firearms. Repeating actions, machine guns, semi-auto rifles, mounted guns, and propeller synchronized fighter cannons all require the same kind of precision and reliability that would be required for ODM gear.
From the first working conception of a repeating firearm in 1885, to the most reliable automatic firearm ever built, the Kalashnikov 47, 62 years and thousands of designers resulted in hundreds of thousands of guns of varying levels of success, and this process continues to this day. So why are they still using flintlocks?

Flintlocks

titan attack flintlock
Screenshot of flintlock going off

When they pull these out in Trost, they say the crates were covered in dust, so the flintlocks were clearly old and in long term storage. From the rest of the technology around, this makes sense. Toward the beginning of the industrial revolution the flintlock was obsolete, and all muzzle loading systems were on their way out as self contained cartridge technology got better with every iteration. What does not make sense is that later in Season 1, there’s a scene in the Capital involving some corrupt officers of the Military Police selling equipment on the black market.
M.P.s are assigned to the Capital for the purpose of keeping the peace and protecting the King. In most regimes these forces are given THE BEST equipment available. Or they are given a large budget to source THE BEST stuff they can find. In this case, however, they are still using flintlocks, the same kind as were in the dusty long-term storage crates in Trost. This means that in the world of AoT, firearms technology has not only not advanced past flintlock, it’s not advanced at all. In at least enough time for the guns that never get used to be stuck in a basement corner in a building manned by people who have never used them.

titan attack flare gun
Technical screenshot of Scout flare gun

Hot-Swap

The Scouts, if nobody else, are well acquainted with the concept of a self-contained projectile cartridge, adding to the confusion. The high column coloured flare system serves as a navigation tool to communicate between units and along chains of command. The cartridges are all built into short interchangeable barrels, colour coded along the rims. While this system would not be very efficient in a regular firearm, certainly they could adapt the concept.

*Spoiler*
At one point in the manga, some of the police force are seen using a firearm of similar design to the Scouts’ flare gun. It’s a rifle with a hot-swapping single shot barrel system.
*Spoiler*

I must then ask how has the ODM gear been manufactured? And without any of the production experience gained from the endless improvement of firearms?
PLEASE!! STAY CALM! I know you must be foaming at the mouth thinking about this. I know what that’s like, but bear with me, I have more.

Transportation

Transportation is essential to any human civilization, doubly so in dangerous times. In AoT, the Scouts rely on a complex system of formations and smoke signals to keep their expeditions moving toward their goals in a cohesive unit. It’s strange then that they’re still exclusively using horses for this.

titan attack scout horses
Screenshots describing the horses of Attack on Titan

While their horses are rather impressive they are still horses. They are as such limited to the capabilities of carbon-based living quadrupeds. As previously discussed, the existence of ODM Gear in a technological vacuum doesn’t make any sense. The manufacturing processes would have involved quite a lot of other industries, including transportation.
We know they have the resources for metallurgy, high-grade casting, and storage of pressurised gas. With all of that, they should have figured out internal combustion at some point before building ODM gear, or at least as a branch of the process.

titan ODM technology
Branching chart of technology that would be developed as a result of ODM development

Even assuming they started from scratch with the concept of ODM gear, the minimum necessary technology and materials are set in stone. As they developed these, other uses for the new technology would inevitably open up. This would include motorized transportation, greatly improved firearms, and perhaps even manned flight. The idea that such things would simply NEVER occur to anybody is absurd.

Balloons

At the very least they should be working with lighter-than-air flight. France experimented with balloons for years before the industrial revolution. The Imperial Romans in fact theorized about the concept.

titan attack hot air balloon
Photo of an experimental double-decker hot air balloon from the 70s

With the level of tech involved in the production of ODM gear, they should at least be able to build a scouting fleet of large hot air balloons. See the above experimental design from the 1970s. The ability to carry densely pressurized gas, and produce extremely lightweight cables are a huge boon to such an endeavour. It would be a great tactical advantage to be able to travel long distances well outside the reach of titans. Most importantly, even if they hadn’t invented the ODM gear, a basic hot air balloon would not be an impossible challenge for them.

So what gives?

So we know they have the resources, technology, and drive to invent the ODM Gear. By extension, anything that uses the same resources and technology, so why aren’t they?

attack titan wallist church
Screenshot explaining the Wallist church

Well, the only likely explanation is the church. The Wallists revere the walls as a triad of Goddesses. They vehemently oppose all efforts to alter the walls, even going so far as to decry maintenance and repair. This does not stop the Engineering Corps from their duties, or from lining the tops with cannons. But the church persists in making a stink about it.
The Church puts this show on as a distraction from their true power. It is hinted at, and frankly obvious, that the Wallists are the largest political power within the walls. They are the only ones who know the secrets of the walls, as well as a great deal of associated information which they closely guard.

Obscuring the Truth

It is entirely likely then that the church is responsible for the state of technology as well. They allowed the creation of ODM gear because it was necessary. But they prevent the development of anything else that threatens the system they’ve constructed. Therefore they must have suppressed all technology from before the rise of the Titans. Or they directed the development of the ODM gear, and locked away everything that wasn’t absolutely essential to their construction. Common tactic to make sure nobody else would try their hand at making something else.
Throughout history this is a common occurrence. The political or religious power of the time dictates, or determines from the shadows, the path and rate at which society evolves. Equally common is the inevitable outcome: They can’t keep it to themselves forever. Even if nobody lets it slip, somebody eventually creates the same thing independently, and before you know it, it’s everywhere.
So what do you think? Did I miss anything? Got some counterpoints?
Leave ’em in the comments, and thanks for reading!

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