Here’s why, how, and when Attack on Titan’s art style changed:
The anime art style changed at the start of the fourth season, which saw its first episode air in 2020.
The art change redesigned all of the characters and introduced 3D animation for the titans.
These changes were mostly due to the producers contracting a new animation studio starting in the fourth season.
So if you want to learn all about the art style change in Attack on Titan, then this article is for you.
Let’s jump right into it!
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What Is Attack on Titan?
If we’re going to get into art styles, I have to talk about the material in question.
Attack on Titan is one of the most popular manga and anime series of all time.
A lot of people love it.
In order to talk about how and when animation styles happened, I have to place things in a timeline, and that can potentially include spoilers.
While this discussion doesn’t have many major plot points, it does discuss timing, and that could potentially ruin your expectations if you are not up to date with both the manga and the anime right now.
So, consider this a spoiler warning.
If you’re caught up, you might not feel like there are any major spoilers in this article.
Just in case, I’m putting the warning here since I don’t want to taint anyone’s viewership experience.
For those who don’t know a whole lot about Attack on Titan, the anime is based on the manga of the same name, and they largely cover the same plot points.
The story takes place in an alternate world.
The main character, Eren Jaeger, lives in a country protected on all sides by giant walls.
The walls are there because titans roam the wilderness outside of the walls.
Titans are giant humanoid creatures that seem to never die of natural causes.
Worse, they seem to enjoy eating people.
So, the people in Eren’s world don’t venture outside of the walls in order to stay safe.
But, in the very first episode of the series, the wall near Eren’s home is breached by the titans.
It’s one of the most intense openings to an anime or manga series, and this intense opener left a permanent impact on both media.
The story covers Eren and his friends’ journey to survive in this new world where the walls no longer seem to provide the same safety as before.
They join the military, and Eren vows to rid the world of titans.
The storyline is full of twists and intrigue, and love it or hate it, the story takes many turns.
That sets the stage, but what we’re really talking about today is the art style in the series, so let’s get into it.
Did the Art Style Change in the Attack on Titan Anime or Manga?
An important thing to remember is that the Attack on Titan anime is based on the original manga.
The character designs, art style, and imagery of the anime are all derived from the manga, even if they don’t perfectly match or mimic the original art.
Actually, for those of you who aren’t already familiar with the intimate relationship between Japanese manga and anime, allow me to clarify.
In Japan, manga is a word that you could roughly translate as “comic book.”
Because of cultural differences, manga are not exactly like western comic books, but there are some similarities.
Manga are drawn cartoon stories that are typically published in serialized publications.
You have weekly, monthly, and quarterly manga stories.
The point is that the stories are developed over time, and they are drawn in a panel form that is similar to comic books.
Anime is the term for Japanese cartoons that are derived from manga.
In most cases, anime are directly adapted from manga of the same name.
In the case of Attack on Titan, the original story of the completed manga is written by Hajime Isayama.
The Attack on Titan anime is adapted from the manga, and because the manga is the source material, the storyline of the anime is usually covering events that have already happened in the manga.
So while the manga is complete, the anime has not finished the full story yet.
As far as art goes, anime adaptations usually draw heavily from drawings of the source manga, but they are not always identical.
So, is the art style being discussed here in reference to the anime or the manga?
This time around, we’re talking about the anime.
It underwent a significant animation style change midway through its run.
I’ll get into all of those details in the following section.
The manga saw a much more consistent art style throughout its run.
This is well within expectations.
Typically, manga is drawn by the original creator and sometimes one or two additional artists.
Manga also usually run their entire production with the same publisher.
In the case of Attack on Titan, the manga was created by Hajime Isayama, and Kodansha was the publisher for its entire run.
Since the principle artist and publisher never changed, it’s not surprising that the art stayed consistent.
After all, the creative mind behind the manga was in charge of such creative decisions the entire time.
This is normal for manga, and it’s why major art style changes usually refer to anime instead.
When Did the Attack on Titan Art Style Change?
With that covered, let’s get into the specific changes.
It think the first question to ask is, when did this happen?
The major art change took place between the third and fourth seasons of the anime.
If you watch the anime in chronological order, you might notice some stark differences in character design, animation techniques, and many other visual elements after you finish the third season.
To put this change in perspective, the fourth season aired its first episode in Japan on December 7 of 2020.
As of the time of this writing, the last episode of the fourth season has not yet aired.
It is scheduled to release at some point in 2023, but since the production for the final part of the final season is not yet finished, an official release date has not yet been announced.
On that note, it’s worth mentioning that additional changes could show up in the final part of the show that has not yet been released.
While some art changes are virtually inevitable, a major redesign is unlikely.
The studio will probably want to ride momentum and conclude the series with as few overwhelming or jarring changes as possible.
How Did the Attack on Titan Art Style Change?
That covers when, but what actually changed?
How was the show different when it started in 2013?
The changes were substantial.
Basically, every single sprite in the show was completely redesigned and redrawn from the ground up.
This applies to every single character, including nameless characters in the crowds.
The places and landscapes were redrawn too.
If you compare seasons three and four, you can see complete differences in how the entire anime is drawn and animated.
Now, everything was still based on the original manga for the fourth season, so the stark differences aren’t exactly alien.
It’s still easy to recognize all of the characters and landscapes, but there are many unsubtle changes to the visualizations in the anime.
Some would argue that the newer art style better reflects the original art in the manga.
The first anime style certainly took some liberties and had its own overall aesthetic.
The new style seemed to match the extreme circumstances depicted in the fourth season pretty well.
There’s an additional aspect of change that merits discussion.
The new art style also introduced 3D computer animation.
Traditionally, anime has been produced by hand-drawn 2D art.
Over the last decade or so, a lot of studios have started implementing a lot more 3D computer animation and rendering.
There are a lot of reasons for this, some of which I will discuss in the next section, but for now, this is all about what specifically changed.
In Attack on Titan Season 4, computer animation and 3D rendering were used specifically to depict titans.
It has an interesting effect.
Because the titans are rendered in a fundamentally different way as opposed to human characters, the inhuman qualities of the titans are more pronounced.
They feel more unearthly, and it heightens the viewing impact when titans are doing titany things in the anime.
Why Did the Attack on Titan Art Style Change?
It’s time for the final question.
Why did they change anything at all?
Attack on Titan was already one of the most beloved anime of all time.
It was one of the first anime to really cross into the realm of mainstream entertainment.
Why fix something that isn’t broken?
This all really boils down to one thing.
The producers in charge of the anime contracted a new animation studio to take over production starting with the fourth season.
Up to that point, the anime was produced by WIT Studio.
By and large, the producers were happy with the studio’s work, so they maintained the contract for three full seasons.
Then, WIT Studio was dropped for MAPPA.
MAPPA had a different art team, so some artistic changes were inevitable.
So, why did they change studios?
It mostly came down to a scheduling conflict.
When popular mangas are adapted into anime, it’s common for there to be breaks in anime production that allows the manga storyline to develop.
This is because a single episode of anime, on average, can cover the content of three manga chapters.
So, anime productions tend to catch up to the source material.
At that point, they pause production and wait for the manga to pull ahead again.
This happened with Attack on Titan as well.
There was a break in production of the show in 2018.
The producers waited for the manga storyline to develop (which completely concluded in 2021).
When the producers were ready to resume production, WIT was already committed to enough projects that they couldn’t take on a new season of Attack on Titan and maintain the same quality as before.
So, the producers found a new studio, and that ended up being MAPPA.
As for specific changes, MAPPA put a lot of effort into better matching the original manga drawings than WIT ever did.
WIT put their own spin on things, but MAPPA wanted to strive to be truer to the source material.
MAPPA also committed to using computer 3D animations for titans, and that was likely for a different reason.
Computer animation of this type requires a lot less time and labor to produce, so MAPPA probably went this route to help maintain the desired production cycle.