It’s been a long time since anime has had a hit like Attack on Titan. Over the last several years, Japanese animation has become increasingly self-referential, providing previously unparalleled enjoyment for, and arguably pandering to, its most devoted followers. This came at the cost of accessibility, though, and often shut out new fans in much the same way that the city walls in Attack on Titan were keep rampaging giants outside the city.
Joji Wada (who also goes by George Wada), is the head of Wit Studio, the production house behind the animated hit. In a recent interview with the The Nikkei, Wada talked about the keys to Attack on Titan’s success, as well as dropped some tantalizing hints regarding spin-offs and sequels.
Not so long ago, anime was distributed internationally exclusively on home video, which meant a lengthy lag between when viewers in Japan and elsewhere would watch a show. Most current anime with overseas appeal, though, is streamed online, which has allowed Attack on Titan to resonate simultaneously with fans located around the globe. “Last year, I attended anime festivals in the U.S., U.K., and Singapore,” the 35-year-old Wada recalls, “and I was surprised by how many young people I saw doing Attack on Titan cosplay.”
The show’s international success is certainly a happy development for Wit Studio, but the animation staff didn’t necessarily set out with that as its goal, and instead went with the choices that they, as people born and raised in Japan, felt would be interesting or entertaining. Wada does acknowledge that the team’s subconscious influences may have been at play, though. “Since we were kids, we’ve naturally consumed a lot of American entertainment, and I think part of the show’s global international acceptance comes from reflecting those sensibilities through a uniquely Japanese prism.”
Wada did recognize early on, however, that Attack on Titan’s central themes are universally relatable, particularly its protagonist’s desire to see the world outside his town’s multiple layers of protective walls, even if that means exposing himself to the danger presented by the colossal, man-eating giants his society lives in fear of. Wada likens this to Japanese youths graduating from college and leaving the secure cocoon of their student lives, or the international businessman who is presented with both the wide open possibilities and threats from limitless competitors in the global marketplace.
▼ Multinational CEOs do slightly less decapitating of 60-meter tall monsters than Attack on Titan’s Scout Corps, however.
Wada himself could relate to the characters on a personal level. Wit Studio is less than two years old, with most of its staff being former members of Production I.G (the studio behind Ghost in the Shell, Eden of the East, and Moribito). Attack on Titan is only Wit Studio’s second project, and its first TV series, so Wada is well aware of the mix of temerity and trepidation that comes with heading off into the unknown.
As could be expected, the studio encountered some hiccups with its first serialized anime, with the animators often spending consecutive nights at the office as they worked to bump up the quality of the show’s visuals, which early on received less than glowing reviews. One night, while slaving away during a typhoon, the power suddenly went out, which presented a problem.
The team made extensive use of digital effects in crafting Attack on Titan’s iconic scenes of its heroes zipping through the air using their three dimensional maneuver gear. No electricity meant no computers though, and one of the animators, having time on his hands, tweeted the studio’s predicament using his smartphone. Almost immediately, fans tweeted back, saying “Come back on, power!” A few hours later, when electricity was restored, Wada was relieved to find that no data had been lost. “I really felt like this is an anime we all made together, even the fans.”
▼ Someone get this guy an associate producer credit, while we’re at it.
So, given the not entirely conclusive way in which Attack on Titan’s TV run ended last September, can we expect to see more of our titan-slaying heroes? Definitely, and if Wada has his way, we’ll get a generous helping.
“The manga comic the anime is based on is still ongoing, and all of us on the staff are following and loving it,” the studio head gushed. “Eventually, we definitely want to do a sequel. This year, though, we’ve got our hands full producing an anime that will be bundled in a limited edition of the Attack on Titan manga, which tells a different sort of story than what we did in the TV series.”
So just be patient, everybody. The Scout Corps will be back soon enough.
▼ After all, everybody needs a little break now and again.