After verifying the leaks that qualified people at studio WIT have indeed said they’re done with Attack on Titan, we wrote about the staff that gave the show such a distinct identity and what could happen in the future if that turns out to be true. Big news for sure, but don’t panic quite yet.
We’ve written a bunch about Attack on Titan on this site. We covered the second season in its entirety, and regardless of how people feel about the content it covered, watching new and old directorial aces make an appearance was an interesting topic. For Season 3, we highlighted a couple of particularly inspired episodes led by some of those special directors, while briefly recapping the production as a whole. With Season 3 Part 2 – still a mouthful – currently on air we’re back to talk about it… though from a very different angle.
So let’s get it out there quickly: yes, the rumors about studio WIT being done with Attack on Titan come directly from the core of the team. They’re not a misunderstanding based on vague stuff said on social media by animators, even if it’s those comments gaining traction that caused people involved to speak out about something they’ve known for a while. I’ll be honest and admit that before everything blew up yesterday I’d simply assumed the prior whisperings were fan speculation gone wild, but after checking multiple first and second-hand sources, I can say with certainty that these aren’t mere conjectures. WIT have said they’re done.
The reason I’m phrasing it like that rather than “I can confirm WIT will never produce more Attack on Titan and/or the anime adaptation is done” is that I can’t rule out possibilities like controlled leaks to make producers panic and secure better conditions for further contracts – industry politics are wild after all. Ideas like that sound far-fetched, mind you, but consider this a disclaimer about what’s actually leaked: key voices within WIT and Attack on Titan’s staff have said this is the end for them. We’ll see what the truth is soon enough.
And that means that anything beyond stating that fact can be educated guessing at most, but since the repercussions happen to be the most interesting topic, you get this post rather than a dry tweet confirming the veracity of the leaks.
For starters, let me say that I’m confident that Attack on Titan’s anime will continue. There’s no denying that the series is past its popularity peak both domestically and internationally, but it still is a huge property. The kind of outrageously big anime that, whether directly or indirectly, makes enough money to justify any troublesome production. Trying not to leave cash on the table is the one thing you can trust producers to be motivated about, so nothing other than gross incompetence could stop them at this point. If you’re looking forward to more Attack on Titan anime, I wouldn’t fret too much.
Which begs the question: if the show continues and WIT say they’re done with it, who takes over? That’s going to lead to fun speculation no one will be able to prove; and I do mean no one, since as far as we know, they might not even have settled on another studio yet. The truly interesting part, however, is why does that matter?
We’ve urged people many times to begin looking at people more than studio brands. Not that it was a new idea, but if there’s one thing we can be proud about is that we’ve been so obstinate that over the last few years, the idea that you should look at individual creators over company names has spread significantly among English-speaking fans deeply invested into anime. For the umpteenth time, that’s not only more respectful to the people involved but also a much handier approach in an industry where the vast majority of directors and animators are freelance workers.
Unfortunately, the internet’s allergy to nuance sometimes twists that message into “anime studios are pointless,” which creates a false dichotomy (studios matter vs staff matters) and makes it harder to understand why a situation like this might be a huge deal. The truth is that, despite most creators capable of making a difference being freelance, it’s not as if they can all realistically show up at any studio. Productions are built on the foundation of interpersonal relationships and prior shared experiences, meaning that the teams in charge are more often than not assembled by rearranging pieces that have been together before. Even once in a lifetime all-stars projects are made up of such factions, threaded together by interactions that are relatively easy to track. Staff rarely show up on a production for no apparent reason.
That’s not to say that changing studios would have a huge effect on who’s involved with making more Attack on Titan… unless it stays within IG Port and we get further sequels made at Production I.G; in that case they might be able to borrow a bunch of staff acquainted with the property, who should be able to make a reasonable approximation of the work that preceded it – not the same by any stretch, but closer to it than you’ll get elsewhere. Either way, the point is that the determining factor is indeed the actual human beings who produce the show, but that the team is determined by the company behind it as well. There are a handful of individuals who’ve been critical to establishing the identity of Attack on Titan’s anime over the years, and reuniting them outside of WIT would be essentially impossible.
So, who are they, and why does their input matter so much? After four seasons, everyone knows exactly what Attack on Titan sounds, looks, and moves like. Looking at the anime production side of things, the leader is of course Series Director: (監督, kantoku): The person in charge of the entire production, both as a creative decision-maker and final supervisor. They outrank the rest of the staff and ultimately have the last word. Series with different levels of directors do exist however – Chief Director, Assistant Director, Series Episode Director, all sorts of non-standard roles. The hierarchy in those instances is a case by case scenario. Tetsuro Araki. Regardless of how you feel about his style – not a huge fan myself – his figure’s been inescapable when it comes to this anime adaptation for years, even as he gradually gave more power to second in command figures to focus more on his baby Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. Under those directors the series changed a little bit, but Araki’s volume, the production economy, and that specific bombastic approach never went away. Araki is sought after because no one can match the intensity his work operates at, so looking for a replacement to head the project won’t be an easy task.
On a similar level, perhaps even more if you consider what drew countless fans to this anime, we find Arifumi Imai. Calling him the show’s ace animator would be doing him a disservice. Imai’s personally key animated the most iconic sequences in the series, while serving as the action director in most climactic episodes. He evolved beyond animation duties as he started storyboarding important action sequences by his own hand; those were so highly regarded that Imai would receive the request to Storyboard (絵コンテ, ekonte): The blueprints of animation. A series of usually simple drawings serving as anime's visual script, drawn on special sheets with fields for the animation cut number, notes for the staff and the matching lines of dialogue. More them in advance of the normal production flow, so that the promotional materials for further seasons had exciting material to get the fans pumped up.
Even beyond his massive workload, Imai became an icon for the team. Other styles managed to flourish in isolated scenes of course, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that Attack on Titan’s specific approach to action became synonymous with his name. Other animators began looking up to him as the right way to handle the show’s most frenetic sequences, and his supervision of the episodes deemed the most important only further increased that trend. Though it’s true that the source material appears to evolve towards a different kind of action in the first place, the already iconic Spiderman-style sequences would have never been what they are without Imai. And while he’s technically more of a free agent than the other individuals we’re talking about, having him reappear if an entirely new team is assembled doesn’t exactly seem likely.
Another important side of Attack on Titan’s identity that doesn’t seem to get enough credit is the character art itself. It’s not a secret that the series has had some of the messiest productions in high profile anime history, and yet the result has always been regarded as high quality by the audience at large. The bursts of action carried by the aforementioned Imai go a long way at that, but so does the consistent polish during the lengthy exposition scenes. The team realized they could cut corners fairly heavily when it comes to acting if they instead focused on making sure all close-ups were perfectly on-model, very detailed drawings of the cast. Again, not my favorite approach by any stretch, but they did manage to find a quality criterion that most viewers can easily grasp and they’ve been acing it.
Can that be done again? Technically yes, but it’s not an easy task and they’re going to need a new crew for it. Attack on Titan has needed the support of more animation directors than any other anime out there, but it’s the current duo of chief supervisors who’ve commanded these operations all along – character designer Kyoji Asano and ex-Kyoto Animation supervisor Satoshi Kadowaki. Since both of them are attached to studio WIT – Asano quite literally co-founded it – they’re not likely to pay this kind of very active role elsewhere. Big shoes to fill.
TVアニメ「進撃の巨人」Season 3の2話（第39話）をご視聴頂いた皆様、ありがとうございました！いかがでしたか？関西地方ではこのあと25時15分からの放送です！来週の放送も是非お楽しみに！ イラスト：門脇聡 pic.twitter.com/KcZjpI4L7M
— アニメ「進撃の巨人」公式アカウント (@anime_shingeki) July 29, 2018
This might have started to sound like doomsaying, but believe me when I say that’s not the case. Attack on Titan is undeniably a demanding project, but WIT is a relatively small studio with poor management at the best of times and they still managed to put it together. If I had to blind guess who’ll take over, other than the easy choice of Production IG, I might go with a larger and reckless studio like MAPPA. And I genuinely believe they could put together a different team with exceptional qualities of their own to offer a new take on the series. It’s also possible that a company with no investment in quality whatsoever could pick it up just to have a huge property in their hands, but no point in being pessimistic when everything’s up in the air.
If there’s one thing that worries me, though, it’s the perception. If this ends up with a team trying to mimic what came before, chances are that long-time fans will feel something is off; no crew will be as good at imitating an approach as the ones who naturally came up with it, no matter how skilled they are. And if whoever succeeds WIT and this team tries to do their own thing, then I’m afraid fans will reject it on principle. I’ve written at length about the unmistakable identity of Attack on Titan’s anime and most of the individuals that it came down to. Having that distinct voice was clearly a good thing, but it has the potential to become a double-edged sword if the franchise transitions into something different. Araki’s direction and Imai’s action have dominated the series so thoroughly that at this point that they’re seen as the one and only way to do Attack on Titan justice. And that’s the reason why, even if you ignore the huge workload a production like this entails, I kind of pity whoever takes over studio WIT.
In that regard, let’s make this post’s final takeaway an encouragement to have a broader appreciation of animation. You’re not forced to enjoy everything, and should feel free to complain if Attack on Titan’s quality nosedives, of course. But if you’re open to new approaches, you might find yourself enjoying works you’d never thought you’d be into… even if they’re a new take on a series you didn’t want to change.
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