Pondering Attack on Titan’s Final Season

At the end of the much-acclaimed third season’s final credits, a fourth and surprisingly final season of Attack on Titan was announced to be greenlit.

We went from waiting years for a second season to getting subsequent sequels at a reasonable pace to the point that now I’m a little shocked that the end of both the manga and anime are syncing up accordingly. However, long-time fans became concerned as soon as it was suggested that Studio WIT would NOT be animating it.

In the wake of the world burning down, we were blessed with quite a climactic trailer for the final season. And the editors wasted no time telling us who would be helming it.

Studio MAPPA.

It isn’t a unique school of thought to think of MAPPA as the new Madhouse. After all, even the fonts in their logos look similar. Back in the day if a show looked like a Madhouse show, it probably was one. This is to say that they made a lot of shows that shared a similar feel to them, even if there were notable differences in art style.

Darker, more mature shows that tended to trend more in the west than other studio’s works. Stuff like Death Note, Highschool of the Dead, the 2011 Hunter x Hunter series, and who could forget Black Lagoon. They also have a storied history, producing great works by Yoshiaki Kawajiri such as Ninja Scroll and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. Perhaps most impressively, they produced Takeshi Koike’s Redline, one of the most impressive animated films ever made.

While still present in the industry, Madhouse doesn’t produce nearly as many shows with that same feel, save for sequels to established franchises. They’ve changed a lot. Nowadays, if you see a show that looks like a Madhouse production, it might be one, but it’s far more likely a show by MAPPA.

This isn’t as surprising at all when you consider that Masao Maruyama, MAPPA’s founder, was also a founder of Madhouse. The start of MAPPA’s history even has a few collaborations between the two studios. Their first big success was Shinichiro Watanabe’s Kids on the Slope, a collaboration with Tezuka Productions.

Later on, they worked solo with Watanabe on his next show, Terror in Resonance, and after that point, they started to make more of a name for themselves. They weren’t just carrying on the Madhouse feel, either, but producing popular shows across multiple genres and art styles. There was the wacky antics of Punchline, or the sexually-tinged hijinx of Kakegurui, or the sensational silliness that was Zombieland Saga.

No success quite defined their identity the way that Yuri on Ice did, however. After that point, the studio started capitalizing on the demand for more gay representation and doubled down, giving us the romance-tinged crime drama Banana Fish, followed by Kunihiko Ikuhara’s Sarazanmai.

Forgive the prolonged history lesson, but my ultimate point is that MAPPA working on a series as big as this is huge. And that’s because MAPPA is one of the more recognizable anime studios these days. For the most part, I think their reputation should stand as a reassurance. The continued traction they are getting and their versatility makes them a reliable pick.

I’ve gone on record saying that Attack on Titan’s direction began to grate on me by the time it reached season three. It felt like Araki either lost his touch or was getting more distant from the project. Stuff like the change in art quality, which felt more like a static mimicry of the manga’s already divisive art than the translation of the manga’s emotion that seasons one and two did so artfully.

Funnily enough, however, I feel as though MAPPA’s art direction looks like the manga but moves the way I felt season one did. Everything from the use of still-frames interlaced with fluid animation, to the expressions and the dramatic, exaggerated standoffs. A lot of Attack on Titan’s identity has been forged not only by the manga, but the anime as well, and – early as it is to call it – I think MAPPA understands that.

I don’t even fucking know I’m in for with this season

Looking at what shows by MAPPA I have seen and tempering that against what I’ve heard about others that I haven’t, I think they’ve only been getting better as time has gone on. They’ve become a more high-profile studio for sure with the international attention from Yuri on Ice and more recently from the positive reception to Zombieland Saga and Dororo.

Granted, I’ve had issues with MAPPA shows in the past. Yuri on Ice was infamous for its poor animation quality in the middle of the show. More recently, their use of CGI has been contentious in shows like Dorohedoro, the manga of which had stunning artwork the show failed to capture. Also, their new show Listeners… sucks? Apparently?

Keep in mind, I only talk about studios on a grand scale as a brand. So much of the staff can change between different shows that it almost seems myopic to hold a failure over a success too hard. After all, MAPPA’s upcoming shows The God of High School and Jujutsu Kaisen, both scheduled for 2020, look to be incredible showcases of action animation.

They don’t have a consistent feel quite like Madhouse, nor a track record as rock-solid as Bones, but MAPPA’s highs well-exceed their lows. Whatever concerns there were about AOT season four, as soon as MAPPA’s name was slapped on the project, I don’t think anyone was worried anymore.

Furthermore, when we get right down to it, how appropriate is it that the show experienced such a big change at such a pivotal point in the story?

At the end of season three, major revelations about the world of Attack on Titan came to light. Realistically, the show was morphing into something completely different all through season three. Now, it’s is becoming a story of war not between man and monster but man and man with monsters as the weapons.

The changes go beyond simply having a different animation team. The entire staff is practically different. This is the first time that directors Tetsuro Araki and Masashi Koizuka aren’t involved, at least according to the current listings on MAL.

The only returning staff besides screenwriter Hiroshi Seko that I was thankful for was Hiroyuki Sawano, but this time he isn’t alone. Joining him is Kohta Yamamoto, a composer who has worked alongside Sawano on Nanatsu no Taizai and Blue Exorcist to name a few. So it isn’t as though there won’t be a similar tone to the series.

The first example of Sawano and Yamamoto’s work together I found on YouTube and it’s excellent.

The new directors are Yuuichirou Hayashi and Jun Shishido. The former stands out as the director of MAPPA’s adaptations of Dorohedoro and Kakegurui. The latter directed two Hajime no Ippo films, New Challenger and Rising, produced by Madhouse and MAPPA respectively. So… I’m not too familiar with them. And I’m fine with that.

The biggest reason I encourage people to stay optimistic about this final season of Attack on Titan is that the change in the studio feels spiritually consistent with the series’ origins.

What do I mean by that?

Look up Studio WIT on MyAnimeList.net. Sort by start date. Scroll down. Attack on Titan is the first show Studio WIT ever made. WIT themselves were the offspring of legendary studio Production I.G. They made a name for themselves immediately with one of the most popular anime series of all time.

The music, the production value, and the poignant story by Hajime Isayama gripped me like a vice. I was happy to wait for years for a follow-up. And now, MAPPA, the offspring of another legendary production house, is taking over right at the point at which the story experiences a total metamorphosis.

Side-note: I find it really funny that WIT and MAPPA’s new shows are the kinds of things you would expect the other studio to work on. Like WIT’s new show The Great Pretender looks like something MAPPA or PA Works would animate, whereas if you showed me the trailer for AOT season four a year ago without MAPPA’s name attached, I would have just assumed it was WIT working on it. It’s like the staff of the two studios body-swapped.

If a completely new studio could produce something like season one back in 2013, then surely a studio that has grown since 2012 can accomplish wonders in one more season. It is gonna be epic, and probably depressing, but if my friends who have read the manga have told me anything, it’s that it only gets better the farther you go.

Attack on Titan‘s final season was originally scheduled to come out in 2020, but as of right now, a set release date has not been confirmed.

Are you excited about Attack on Titan season four? Have you read the manga, or have you only watched the anime? Leave a comment below and tell me what shows you are looking forward to this summer and in the fall.

I might end up making a separate post about this, but I figured I’d share this here anyway.

I’m starting a Patreon.

Back in March, I broke 400 monthly visitors. I was excited about when I might reach 500. It didn’t happen in April, and it didn’t happen last month either. Instead, I went from over 400 right up to over 600. I am overjoyed that more people are coming to my blog, not just for what I’ve written recently, but what I’ve written over the last four years.

And I don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. So while there is a lot of momentum, I want to see if I can’t make something more of something I already love doing. And if you are a frequent visitor, I hope you will consider becoming a patron.

Become a Patron!

Anyway, as for upcoming posts, I have a few I’d like to get cracking on, but most pressing is a review of a show I’m shocked I haven’t finished sooner. Additionally, I want to do something for Pride month… I just don’t know what yet… so keep an eye out.

Thanks for reading once again and as always, I’ll see you next week.

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