In a 2016 interview with Gong Kakutogi magazine, Hajime Isayama spoke at length about the connections between etching manga panels and MMA, where both art forms require mastery over specific skill sets for the best results. While MMA requires controlled strength and muscle coordination, manga illustration demands consistent form and creative ingenuity, and Isayama seems riveted by these conceptual overlaps.
It is interesting to note that Isayama’s protagonists are always etched to embody strong, muscular physical forms, which he claims stemmed from an acute awareness of his smaller, delicate form as a kid, as his formative experiences included participating in weighted-envelope throwing contests. The manga-ka is refreshingly candid about his motivations behind making “weaker” characters transform into powerful entities with time, as it fulfills the fantasy of embodying a kind of strength he can only dream of. This sentiment is reflected in Eren’s arc, where he goes from a semi-skilled military recruit hell-bent on revenge to a one of the most strongest Titans on the verge of losing his humanity. This aspect makes Eren’s turn more compelling, as a taste of power has urged him to a point of no return.
Speaking of wielding unimaginable strength, one has to look no further than the Beast Titan, which had several animal-like characteristics (depending on the human) and unique abilities such as hardening its nape to avoid death and withstanding incredible damage. Isayama cited MMA artist Alistair Overeem as his inspiration for the Beast Titan, explaining that his “intimidating physique” served as a blueprint for the formidable Titan in question. In order to exaggerate the monstrous nature of the Titan, Isayama added apes, crocodiles, and elks to cement the otherworldly existence of this particular Subject of Ymir, who also possessed the terrifying ability to create Titans.