Pokémon’s leading man transforms yet again for new film with animation production from the studio behind Attack on Titan.

It’s been more than 20 years since the first episode of the Pokémon anime aired, which is a lot of time for the series figurative camera to be trained on protagonist Ash (or Satoshi, as he’s known in Japan). So over that time, in order to keep the series’ look fresh and contemporary, periodic changes have been made to Ash’s character artwork.

However, most of those changes have been subtle, often so much so that without a side-by-side comparison, casual fans may not have really noticed them. So it was a pretty big deal last year when the Pokémon TV anime entered its Sun and Moon arc and gave Ash’s character design a huge overhaul, which turned out to have a polarizing effect on viewers. Some liked the new, more rubbery look, while others clamored for a return to the sleeker lines of the old designs.

And now, Ash’s appearance is set to change yet again, as the teaser for the next Pokémon theatrical anime shows the would-be Pokémon Master looking like we’ve never seen him before.

In the trailer, our point of view bursts out of the water and swoops over an azure sea, with the shadow of some majestic yet unidentified Pokémon visible on the tide. In the distance, there’s a young boy standing dramatically on a cliff with his back to us, a red cap on his head, and a Pikachu on his shoulder.

It’s got to be Ash, right? It sure is, but while he’s as recognizable as ever from behind, his face is quite a bit less familiar.

Detractors have complained that Ash looks too pudgy in Sun and Moon (though he’s apparently still incredibly strong), but for the currently untitled 2018 Pokémon movie, the pendulum has swung towards a more classical heroic style, with the new designs coming courtesy of Pokémon franchise newcomer Shizue Kaneko, whose previous character design credits include multiple Doraemon movies and the If Her Flag Breaks TV series.

The onscreen text reads “This is the beginning of everyone’s story.” It’s not entirely clear who constitutes “everyone” for the film, though. All of Ash’s pre-existing companions (including Brock and Misty replacements Makoto and Soji from last summer’s Pokémon movie) are absent from the preview, which instead gives us a glimpse of a mysterious rainbow-tressed girl who picks up Ash’s hat once it’s blown to her by a gust of wind.

▼ The unnamed young lady almost looks like she could have stepped out of a Rumiko Takahashi (of Ranma 1/2 fame) series.

Serving as director and animation supervisor are Pokémon veterans Tetsuo Yajima and Kunihiko Yuyama. Animation production is credited jointly to OLM Digital, a regular part of the Pokémon movie teams, and Wit Studio, best known as the studio that produces Attack on Titan. While Wit has been listed as contributing “animation assistance” or “animation cooperation” for a handful of Pokémon anime projects, this is its first time to be touted so prominently, and knowing it’s involved gives the trailer’s ocean flyover just a bit of an Attack on Titan 3-D Maneuver Gear vibe.

No details have been released regarding the plot or which specific Pokémon species (other than Pikachu, of course) will appear. The 2018 Pokémon does already have a release date, though, with the big day being July 13.

Source, images: YouTube/ポケモン公式YouTubeチャンネル

Follow Casey on Twitter, where since Kunihiko Yuyama directed Shin Kimagure Orange Road, he can’t help wondering if Ash meeting a girl after a hat gets blown away by the wind is a KOR reference.