Attack On Titan The Final Season And Studio MAPPA: Fated To End Together

Attack On Titan The Final Season And Studio MAPPA: Fated To End Together

By popular demand, we’ve written about Attack on Titan‘s new creative team, what to expect from the production altogether, and why the significant changes at studio MAPPA made them into arguably the only outside option to carry this massive load.


Just over a year ago, we published an article confirming the veracity of the rumors—or rather, of their source—about Attack on Titan’s staff being done with the series. We also added that the series was absolutely going to continue in anime form, and that if it was going to get shipped outside of the IG Port conglomerate, MAPPA would be our guess. And, as of last week, everyone knows that all of that is exactly what awaits Attack on Titan and its fanbase.

So let me get this straight before we tackle what that means for the future of the show: getting that right isn’t something worth boasting about. Knowing that the series was going to change hands didn’t take a brilliant deduction, but rather just listening to people involved in the production side of things. Guessing the destination, on the other hand, is something that anyone who is acquainted with anime studio philosophies could have done; as we’ll talk about later, it was arguably the only realistic option…other than another deal within IG Port that hasn’t materialized yet, which I’m frankly curious about now that we know it’s unrelated. Either way, this is to say that there is no magic at play when it comes to anime industry matters. Listen to creators, inform yourself about the actual behavior of different studios, and soon you’ll also be able to predict things like this. If anything, the number one reason why all of us still get things wrong sometimes is that the human brain likes it when things make sense, while this industry doesn’t.

What was it about MAPPA that made them such a sure bet, then? I summed it up as recklessness when making that prediction—that may sound like a critique of the way they operate, and to a large degree, it is. The studio has changed so much since its inception that they might as well be a different company that happens to share the same name. Most of these changes were precipitated by founder Masao Maruyama stepping down from his position as president in 2016, which quickly led to MAPPA no longer standing for what they did in the past; quite literally so, since the M in their name comes from Maruyama’s family name. Their attitude, scope, and goals changed fast, showing no signs of deaccelerating even as several years have passed now.

This new era of MAPPA has been characterized by fast, quantitative growth. In the blink of an eye, they became one of the largest studios around, with over 200 employees as of last year and multiple operative departments and side branches. Similarly, their output has more than doubled, while at the same time they’ve made no effort to change the studio’s qualitative standing in those projects; out of the 20 TV anime they’ve produced over the last 5 years, MAPPA was properly in the production committee for just 3 of them, always around the end of it if not dead last. Even when it comes to original anime, the studio tends to be little more than hired hands. With that in mind, their decision to pick up so many projects is understandable, as signing those contracts is pretty much their only source of income. Their great relationship with giants like Cygames means that they are in a weirdly stable position… as long as they keep producing way too many titles all the time.

Mind you, this is not to say that there are no skilled creators doing their best on MAPPA titles. If anything, the studio’s ability to attract talent is among the industry’s best, as seen by developments like Tadashi Hiramatsu joining them full-time. It also doesn’t mean that they’ve paid no mind whatsoever to worker demands, as they’ve made timid but positive changes to the contractual offerings and towards the legitimization of in-betweening roles. What it does mean, though, is that those talented creators and good intentions are in service of a system based on perpetual crunch that limits their potential in palpable ways. MAPPA does indeed produce shows no one else would like Dorohedoro, but it’s more due to their willingness to tackle anything—multiple anythings at the same time too—even if the workload would scare away most studios, than due to any strong creative stance like the ones Maruyama held. There are many things to like about MAPPA, some to downright admire, but it’s hard to deny that their skilled staff are wielded like a massive mercenary force.

And you know what exceedingly demanding production was in need of a studio brave enough to tackle it and ideally not take a large cut of the pie by demanding a position of power in the production committee? Now you know why guessing that the new studio in charge would be MAPPA was so easy.

We’ve covered the why by talking about the new studio in charge, but I assume most people care about the what the most—who are the new team behind it, and are they any good? Let’s start with the positives. Leading this project we’ve got director Yuichiro Hayashi, who has become a bit of a critical darling as of late thanks to a few inspired offerings. To make things even better, many of the qualities he’s been exhibiting make him look like a good candidate to handle a title like Attack on Titan too; he’s adept at horror imagery for one, as well as an evocative storyboarder who’s often very involved in that process, with a strong tendency to project outwards rather than taking an introspective approach. If I had to pick the characteristics that might help him the most with this project, though, I’d go with his flexibility and the ability to think outside the box.

As series director, Hayashi has an excellent track record when it comes to isolating exactly what makes the material he’s been entrusted with special, and then finding ways to capture that, even if he has to bypass the limitations of the production or simply make bold choices. When it came to Kakegurui, he didn’t hesitate to push for an overly ostentatious approach to the compositing, because the viewers feeling somewhat grossed out by the extravagance is part of the point. More recently, the Dorohedoro adaptation he was in charge of had to face a more fundamental problem: one of the most visceral action series in history was only feasible as a TV anime project by relying on 3DCG without much tactility to it. And, while he wasn’t able to change that, Hayashi and his team still managed to contact a handful of top of the line 2D animators to handle highlights that do look like the ideal Dorohedoro anime fans had been dreaming about. In a way, Hayashi feels like the ideal MAPPA director: perhaps not on the same level of sheer brilliance as the most idiosyncratic directors who have work with them, but so resourceful that his projects live up to their potential more consistently than the rest.

Although it will be hard to match the caliber of the directorial lineup that WIT put together over the years—very few productions can boast about having gathered the likes of Takayuki Hirao, Shinji Higuchi, Yuzuru Tachikawa, Masayuki Miyaji, Ryotaro Makihara, Akitoshi Yokoyama, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and so on—MAPPA is making an effort to surround Hayashi with capable people as well. That includes people like fledgling yet already multitalented storyboarder and supervisor Teruyuki Omine, as well as more experienced individuals like Jun Shishido, who’ll be acting as the second in command with his role of series episode director like he did on Yuri!!! On Ice. Whether they’ll be able to complement them with excellent guest directors like WIT did remains to be seen, but at least MAPPA is the kind of studio that has the contacts required to make that possible.

Of course, the directorial roster is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a production team, and here is where things potentially get dicey. Ever since the start, Attack on Titan’s animation has been a demanding effort that WIT had a consistent answer for: extremely polished if sorta stiff depictions of the intricate designs during the downtime, and then kinetic explosions during the already iconic 3D maneuver setpieces. And that, as you can imagine, took a ridiculous amount of resources and specialized artists. Hundreds of animators per week, including many whose sole role was polishing things up. Chief among them all, the dependable supervisors always at the top—character designer Kyoji Asano, as well as chief animation director Satoshi Kadowaki. Similarly, titan designer and supervisor Takaaki Chiba, as well as the make-up team whose embellishments eventually blended into the pipeline, made sure the show always maintained a strikingly detailed look. Although many MAPPA-afiliated supervisors are used to working with very detailed designs (Naoyuki Onda’s works come to mind), and despite new character designer Tomohiro Kishi reigning it down somewhat, chief animation director Daisuke Niinuma is tackling perhaps his hardest job yet, both due to the inherent workload and the fan expectations.

When it comes to the titan-slaying, much has already been said about WIT’s equally consistent team of action animation directors. That praise is often directed towards Arifumi Imai, and for good reason at that. It’s not as if the other action leaders aren’t good at what they do—few people make blade movements as slick as Takuma Ebisu—but it’s undeniable that Imai transcended them all, as well as the role of animator itself. He handled the most memorable sequences, began storyboarding them himself (even for the pre-animated teasers), and soon became the ideal form of Attack on Titan action, beloved by fans and inspiring for coworkers. Many stylistic quirks that have become synonymous with the franchise are actually Imai’s own idiosyncrasies, and there’s no replacing that. Even the 3DBG integration for those Spiderman-like sequences, which over time became integral to the show’s success, will essentially start anew since the CG is now in the hands of Takahiro Uezono and V-Sign’s team, old acquaintances of MAPPA and Hayashi himself. While none of the additions are particularly awful, it’s when it comes to matching the highs of Attack on Titan’s action that I’m least confident about this final season. Even the pre-animated teaser, which you should never take as representative of the actual quality of the series, shows glimpses that feel like sort of a step down.

We’ve gotten tons of requests to write this post, many of which ending with the fated question: is this good news? As always, no one can give you a definitive answer to that short of inventing a time machine, but I believe that by reading this and asking yourself some key questions you might be able to figure out whether you’re likely to be pleased by this final season. What was it about Attack on Titan that you loved so much? If it was the grandiose staging that Araki first established and later directors replicated well enough, or Imai’s one of a kind fluid action, you’re not going to get those; something that very intentionally resembles it, sure, but don’t expect newcomers to the franchise to nail the specialty of another group of creators because they simply can’t. Was it purely the narrative that hooked you in? In that case, your fate is in the hands of original author Hajime Isayama and his love for wild twists, since Hiroshi Seko is, despite debuting now as the series composer for the anime, the person who has written the most Attack on Titan scripts to this day. Consistency in the writing is to be expected.

If you don’t mind the stylistic changes—inevitable despite their obvious intent to create something that feels familiar to existing fans—and are willing to accept that key creators for Attack on Titan‘s past are simply done with it, I don’t think you have much to worry about. Or at least, not more things to worry about; WIT’s behind the scenes management of this franchise has historically been a mess, so despite MAPPA’s consistent struggles in that regard, it’s hard to see them as a much scarier option. A riskier one than keeping the production within IG Port among people who were used to Attack on Titan’s specific needs, yes, but still a fairly high profile effort that feels like the only option that was available once they decided to change teams completely. And if this isn’t reassuring enough: sorry, this is still the anime industry we’re talking about.


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Skywalker95
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Skywalker95

The sad thing is many “fans” are going or are attacking WIT for quiting AOT and attack their new anime Great Pretender Most likely unaware the the overworked and messy production and schedules situation or they are just so full of themselves that they think they should just do AOT. I also assume that they wanted to continue with AOT but when they have the time to do it. And asking for that got rejection which caused them to say they had enough and moved on. They where probably working on The Great Pretender and vinland saga at the time

Paula Abelenda
Guest

Although MAPPA is a big studio I never really cared about any of the anime they produced. And after I finished Dororo, I really hoped they wouldn’t be involved with the final season of Attack on Titan. Unfortunately they are and after reading this post, it just feels like they’re doing it because they’re desperate and not because they have the potential to do a better job than Wit did. The trailer had some questionable design changes that I hope will be changed but honestly since the PV trailer was directed by a Wit director and it was all pre… Read more »

M-17
Guest
M-17

Shūhei Yabuta isn’t a Wit director though, even his directorial debut was Inuyashiki which was animated by none other than MAPPA.

AmDik
Guest
AmDik

The character design is closer to the manga counterpart and as a manga reader it looks so good, yes it’s different from WIT but the change is not unwelcomed. The PV was storyboarded and directed by WIT but was all animated by MAPPA.

rafael
Guest
rafael

Yabuta is not just a WIT director. He has also worked at Madhouse and MAPPA before. That’s probably why he was chosen to direct and storyboard the PV. He was 3D director for AoT S1 and he knows the “feel” of AoT.

Bhuvan
Guest
Bhuvan

No actually mappas design is more accuate than wit studios,they have directly copied the art style from manga and regarding quality tbh wit studios actually dipped,they have quality but really less animators so it was overwork for them,on the other hand mappa has like 150 employees sobi think AOT is safe hands

Nicolai
Guest
Nicolai

They just stated that Shūhei Yabuta (From Vinland Saga) was the one who directed and Storyboarded the PV that came out a few days ago.
Does that mean… nothing from that trailer will actually make it to the actual anime?
I actually liked that trailer 🙁

fseventh
Guest
fseventh

He also stated that all animation are done by MAPPA staff. Based on footage in trailer at least it’s safe to say episode 1 and 2 probably already finished.

Hei
Guest
Hei

This was massively insightful, but also confirms a lot of the suspicions I had about the production end. The significant question this article posed was whether we’d be satisfied with the final season, and unfortunately it’s not looking likely, at least from my point of view. Wit Studio and its production team set the bar too high — the combination of both fluid and irreplaceable animation expertise, coupled with its unique narrative meant that we as viewers were spoiled with the whole package. We saw the fruits of their labour in last season’s work, which was nothing short of masterful.… Read more »

Skywalker95
Guest
Skywalker95

People would be signing a different tune if WIT did season 4 and the animation was a step down ,

It’s thanks to Imai and the other talented staff /freelancers that worked on the S3 P1 and 2 that manged to deliver despite the behind the scenes problems which is the reason why WIT are no longer doing it

Hei
Guest
Hei

I’m curious since S3P2 was excellent, what behind the scenes problems did they have specifically?
If this was inevitable given Wit’s staff being worked to death, it’d give me some comfort knowing they had no other choice.

AgustD
Guest
AgustD

“S3P2 was excellent” That just tells me you really don’t know much about animation at all. The last season had the lowest quality of all the seasons but it was the best in terms of the story adaptation.

Hei
Guest
Hei

“lowest quality of all the seasons”
Nice, not only is your comment devoid of any explanation towards the questions above, but you didn’t provide a single shred of evidence to back up your claim.
Meanwhile, S3P2 had some of the best action sequences of all seasons in Levi vs Beast Titan, the climactic suicide charge, and still managed to capture minute details like Eren’s mirrored reflection in a shop across the road en route towards his home.
But sure, if you say it’s lowest of all seasons, it obviously must be true…

James
Guest
James

kViN, assuming we’re still headed for an October/November release date, what are your thoughts on where production might be currently? I imagine things must be a little awkward with the pandemic still ongoing, so I partially worry that could be an obstacle. I know some are worried about the trailer being pre-animated, but people have pointed out that WIT’s trailers were all the same. I’m really in love with the aesthetic that the trailer presented, so I’d like to see the final production emulate it as much as possible going into the actual series. Much of the first half of… Read more »

Waterparasite
Guest
Waterparasite

How do you know Imai won’t be working on it? He’s a freelancer.

HexagonHill
Guest
HexagonHill

Nice writeup, nothing really to add, I just feel like I needed to brag that I’ve known this for sure for several months, but sat on it so I wouldn’t get the poor guy in trouble.
It’s probably fine now.
https://twitter.com/st_nomad/status/1173945845470748672

Oh, and I also have a tweet from an insider at MAPPA that I would rather not expose saying that an offer for “a sequel for a series that any anime fan would know” from mid January 2019, so that’s when that happened.

iDiDi
Guest
iDiDi

I believe MAPPA will make believers out of those who think no one other than WIT should have done season 4. you can see chinks in the armor throughout AoT’s production history, it only was as good as it was because the people making it cared about it. MAPPA is bursting at the seams with talent. They will deliver.

punpun
Guest
punpun

Even without Shunichirou Yoshihara, do you think studio Bihou will stick around or nah?
I really don’t wanna lose them clouds…

AniHunter
Guest
AniHunter

Nah, we’re getting Kusanagi instead. Art director’s one of theirs.

Which is puzzling seeing as MAPPA and Bihou have worked together before, and are currently doing Listeners together. Maybe it’s scheduling that’s preventing them from returning to the franchise?

punpun
Guest
punpun

Is it confirmed confirmed? 🙁

AniHunter
Guest
AniHunter

I looked at the credits of said art director (Kazuo Ogawa), and his past credits (Cross Ange, DBS: Broly, Wizard Barristers, Magnificent Kotobuki, Zombie Land Saga) were all done at Kusanagi, and MAPPA also has a relationship with the studio (as seen with the recent season of Granblue Fantasy, Terror in Resonance, Inuyashiki and the aforementioned Zombie Land Saga), so it’s a safe bet that’s what’s happening.

I really don’t know why this wasn’t brought up in the main article, considering Bihou could have easily been carried over if the main studio changed hands given who it changed over to.

Dkpr98
Guest
Dkpr98

*Sweats in Hyakkimaru running scene*

nezumi
Guest
nezumi

What is the point if they’re just gonna repeat the same mistakes of WIT? The pre-animated trailer means that there’s nothing ready yet, and that shit was supposed to air in october. Why give so little production time for a show they know full well is so demanding?
I just hope this doesn’t affect the most hyped scenes like it did in S3P2.

30Clips
Guest
30Clips

It honestly gets on my nerves that some “fans” are still complaining about the studio change as if WIT had any choice. It’s not a matter of laziness or profit, it’s a manner of just not having enough people and resources to make the final season as spectacular as it deserves to be. While I’ll admit that I’m just as worried as anyone else on if this final season will deliver for me and many other fans, flaming or attacking WIT and MAPPA without actually having any info on how damaging and stressful AoT already was to produce for such… Read more »

Skywalker95
Guest
Skywalker95

Exactly, S3 showed Clear signs of the problems they had ,

As well as the things this blog wrote up on as well as YonkouProductions I think it was that tweeted about S3 P2 problems

TheEpicGaijin69
Guest

Well, now I am a bit worried about aot final season, but how is it supposed to mean that MAPPA will end as soon as aot is over?
JC Staff is still continuing to make anime despite the terrible adaptation of one punch man season 2. And I think aot final season will be leaps and bounds better than that. Please enlighten me.

shelra
Guest
shelra

Great read.
It’s definitely sad that wit is not the one finishing off the series, but I’m happy this will not turn into the unfinished works pile.
For me, the story was a huge attraction, I’m really expecting the story to be a blast as it always had been.

Capt.Major Gross (Youtuber)
Guest
Capt.Major Gross (Youtuber)

I feel like the composite and post processing are the biggest changes, and a dealbreaker for me as I personally found the trailer hard to look at. I held some hope for a day and convinced myself that the trailer was a blurry low quality leak, but it seems like this is a stylistic choice by the staff. I dont think I will continue with the final season but from what I’ve seen, the average viewer can barely tell a difference, so I hope they enjoy it.

MattIn
Guest
MattIn

Great write up. Really insightful and interesting. I’m really curious to see what wit has planned out for the future now that AOT is out of the table. Does partnering up with Netflix could have any affect on Vinland saga that streams on a different platform? Or those things completely unrelated?

Dakedo
Guest
Dakedo

Honestly I’d have to disagree, I think the PV showed some pretty fantastic cuts and the CGI usage is already looking like an improvement over WIT’s efforts.

M-17
Guest
M-17

Hey Kvin, I’m curious to know what’s your take on how does MAPPA’s “tackle anything” approach compare to A-1 Picture and J.C Staff? And why those 2 studios weren’t part of the discussion when talking about the studio that would take over AoT’s production from Wit?

Paula Abelenda
Guest

kViN, do you have any idea of when did production started? I’m asking because I saw one of your past answers, that the decision to change studios happened during production of season 3. Does that mean that MAPPA was already working on it, a year ago?

The owl
Guest
The owl

No they probably began 1 month before the trailer release because this trailer was premade

JustVibing
Guest
JustVibing

Why is the staff list so short? It’s a problem of budget or what? Previous season had 4 action animation directors, 2 art settings, 2 prop designers…

The owl
Guest
The owl

Lol they didn’t anounce the full staff yet and they won’t until te real eps airs go and see jujutsu kaisen staff.