There seems to be a social stigma attached to animation as a medium, especially over here in the western world. Typically when the average Joe hears the word “cartoon” they will immediately think of Saturday morning children’s shows and leave it at that. Any other animated work aimed at an older audience tends to be a sitcom revolving around a caricature of the modern american family, right? Similarly, when some poor soul mentions anime to those unfamiliar with the platform they can still be met with scoffs and groans of apathy. If I’ve just described you, you’re not entirely wrong. I get it and I understand why you would think that. But bear with me here because I want to talk to you about some pretty neat things that I think are pretty rad.
Exploring The Second Dimension
I’m not gonna lie, I’m biased here. I live and breathe cartoons and anime, I always have done and I probably always will. But let me try to explain briefly why I think these art forms are just so gosh dang good.
Animation is pure creativity plain and simple. You can portray anything you want with animation. From the mysteriously bleak world of Angels’ Egg all the way to the over the top and wacky Amazing World of Gumball. If you can imagine it, you can animate it. It’s an incredibly direct communication between author and audience and there isn’t a medium quite like it. Limitations arise when creating a vision in live action; stunts, glaringly obvious CGI, set pieces, location etc. Loss of creative vision is less of a concern when these limitations can be overcome with hard work and talent rather than money and logistics. Animation is incredibly stylized too. Usually if you watch a Tarantino movie you can tell that it’s a Tarantino movie and it’s no different here. Studios, animators and directors have incredibly pronounced and varied styles meaning the extreme talent behind these works are all incredibly recognisable given that animation is a very visual art form. Because of this we find a vast array of artistic creativity; rich thought pieces, symbolism and representation that can not be found outside the medium. With a seemingly infinite set of art styles it has the potential to reach every demographic under the sun, there will always be a cartoon or anime for everyone.
Disney: The Cause and Solution to all our problems
Let’s be real. Disney is the sole reason why the majority of western cartoons are aimed at younger audiences. Disney is huge, rich and influential and when the animation industry was young these guys were the king. Don’t get me wrong, I love Disney’s 2D animated features. The rotoscoping techniques of their early films like Snow White were a marvel at the time and still hold up 83 years later (yes, Snow White is nearly a century old). The problem here is that during the industry’s infancy, Disney set the tone of what mainstream animated works in the west would become for the next 50 years.
The western animation industry has always seemed to play it safe and is incredibly prone to being stuck in trends. Since The Simpsons in 1989 we’ve seen an explosion of more adult centred animated sitcoms, especially recently with the likes of Bojack Horseman and Archer. But regardless of how much I enjoy these kinds of shows, at the end of the day the only mature cartoons tend to be situational comedies. The problem we have here is that cartoons are split between only a handful of genres which is a massive shame considering the creative nature of the medium and the overall potential it has. That said, there have been shows over the years that have tried to be something more and have not allowed themselves to be tied down to their original target demographic.
Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel, The Legend of Korra are both absolute masterpieces despite them being a Nickelodeon cartoon for kids. Despite the fairly goofy nature and visual humour, Avatar embodies what western animated television should strive for: deep worldbuilding and character driven stories that utilizes animation in a way that only the medium can get away with. I’d like to see live action works try to match the choreography of Avatar’s fight scenes consistently while maintaining immersion, because honestly I don’t think it can be done. Don’t let Avatar fool you, it’s as much a show for adults as it is for children with themes of war, dictatorships, loss, as well as some emotionally powerful scenes. Stand out shows such as this, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the more recent She-Ra reboot all feel like they’re pushing the boundaries of what people believe cartoons can be and it gives me hope that one day we will start seeing large projects become that next fantasy epic or adult drama that everyone talks about around the water cooler at the office. It might be hard to imagine but that’s only because we haven’t seen it been done before and I’m definitely ready to break that stigma.
Going back to Disney, I think it would be an amazing step in the right direction if we start seeing Disney pioneer a second renaissance of western animation. Especially now that they own so many IPs such as Marvel. Having such an influential company set a new standard for animated movies would definitely get the ball rolling. Learn from Sony and let’s have more movies like Spiderman: Into The Spiderverse please!
Anime has been given a bad reputation, even now where the industry has grown a more universal appeal the stigma still remains. Anime has overcome the limited genre issue I have just mentioned and has branched out so wide and far that it has even created many sub genres within itself that exist in no other medium. Despite this, the attitude that anime is either immature or pornography still persists. And while these kinds of shows do definitely exist, it’s incredibly ignorant to dismiss the entire industry based on a couple of niches it appeals to. The bottom line is that anime has played an incredibly important role in media and continues to do so. Don’t believe me? Have a gander at how much movies have been influenced by anime over the years. Here’s a short list:
- The Matrix (1999) was heavily influenced by Mamoru Oshi’s Ghost in the Shell (1995) and Akira (1988). Not only that but a lot of the choreographed fight scenes in the Matrix trilogy follow anime inspired cinematography with slow motion and uniquely focused camera angles.
- Inception (2010) has a story that shares an incredible likeness to Satoshi Kon’s Paprika (2006). In fact there’s a couple of scenes that are essentially one to one recreations.
- Black Swan (2010) was originally supposed to be a live action adaptation of another one of Satoshi Kon’s works: Perfect Blue (1997). Before the pitch was rejected, director Darren Aronofsky had purchased the rights to Perfect Blue and was able to recreate a scene from the movie in his own film Requiem for a Dream (2000).
- Hell, even Disney’s The Lion King (1994) was plagiarized from Osamu Tezuka’s Kimba the White Lion (1965).
I could go on but you get the idea. If you’re not into anime that’s cool but if you’re a big movie goer or just a fan of film in general you must recognise the implications anime has over the industry. The sheer variety of animated works coming out of Japan is mind blowing compared to what we have over in the west. Yes, this means there’s a bunch of goofy dumb anime out there but honestly, the best anime can go toe to toe with the best live action movies and television shows. I’m serious. Anime is the direction I want western animation to aim towards. Want a gripping crime drama? Go watch Monster. Want a dark thought provoking cyberpunk dystopia? Go watch Ghost in the Shell or Psycho Pass. Want romance? Kimi no Wa or 5 Centimeters Per Second is right up your alley.
All in all, if we all drop this ridiculous stigma towards anime and cartoons and truly explore what the medium has to offer then we will see that it’s definitely worth pursuing. Perhaps we’ll change the minds of certain producers and get a better animated Game of Thrones or something. Animation is an underutilized art form and I really hope that one day we can see it produce stunning masterpieces that receive all the love and praise they deserve.