Now we finally know why: It’s because the character’s name was too identifiably foreign for the filmmakers to comfortably deal with.
As reported by Kotaku East, in an upcoming interview with Japanese magazine Cinema Today, the film’s screenwriter Tomohiro Machiyama had a lot to say on the subject of the many changes made to the bestselling manga series’ film adaptation, starting with its overt Japanese aesthetic.
The original story of Attack on Titan takes place in a fictional world based on 19th-century Europe. Most of the characters sport Germanic names, including the main character Eren Yeager, whose name is a pun on the German word for hunter, “jaeger,” a central theme of the series. Of the ensemble, only one character, Mikasa, is identifiably Japanese.
According to Machiyama, the film studio wanted a primarily Japanese cast, and was wary of casting Japanese actors to play German parts or having them do German accents. They’d already decided to move the film away from the original time frame, from the 19th century into the 20th, by shooting on the famously abandoned Hashima Island. After some consideration about whether to change character names, the filmmakers decided to retain as many characters as they could but jettison the rest.
But Levi Ackerman, whose first name has occasionally been seen as a pun on the army song Reveille, was a special case. Although he’s not the anime’s main character, as its resident bishounen and head of the ensemble of soldiers who make up the Survey Corps, he’s far and away the most popular. Leaving him out was a glaring oversight that the creators were aware of.
So why did it happen?
For want of the letter “v.”
The “v” in Levi’s name isn’t actually a letter that appears in the Japanese alphabet. Because it would be such a glaringly Western name when written out, the filmmakers decided not to use his character.
It’s a strange decision. Presumably concern over Levi’s written name was for branding and marketing purposes—obviously it’s not a problem for the millions of faithful readers who’ve caused the manga to top bestseller lists for years in Japan.
The bigger concern seems to be the character’s undeniable Europeanness. After all, the live-action film kept just six characters from the series’ original cast, most of them because of their easily adaptable names. There are some hints in the interview that Levi could appear for future sequels.
But if that’s the case, then it’s even more perplexing that he didn’t he appear in the film to start with. Let’s hope that eventually his character gets the live-action screen time he deserves, and isn’t just relegated to a cameo role whose name no one will bother to write down.
Screengrab via Netflix