I recently saw someone on Twitter post something about Samurai Jack. I don't have the exact tweet on hand and it was a re-tweet so I have no recollection of the name. For the purpose of this blog, they were implying that the resurrection of Samurai Jack was a giant flag for the television industry that people had more desire for "adult animation". Except they didn't say it in quotation marks like I did to imply a generalization, they actually said that. I'm not faulting them in any way. A full new season of a Cartoon Network original that started in the early 2000's running on Adult Swim is an obvious shift in the tides for animation in general, and that's a great thing. But since I'm a big realist, which makes everyone see me as a negative asshole, I have to point out the "be careful what you wish for" scenario. You know, the entire premise behind Fairly OddParents... as in... the key lesson behind the entire... fucking... series... oops, off topic.
Before I get started here, I would like to point out that I am not a fan of Samurai Jack. I have nothing against the show, its art style is captivating, and that Season 5 trailer is a joy to watch by itself. I just didn't like it when I was a kid for whatever stupid reason so I don't have any nostalgia for it or a large source of inspiration to invest time in watching the entire series. Also I don't have cable, so even if I caught up to Season 5 right this minute, it wouldn't matter for a long time. So this blog is specifically about my thoughts on the term "adult animation" and where I think this idea is heading along with where I hope it is heading. So this isn't a blog about Samurai Jack, but now is a good time to use it as a referential point.
Yes the revival of Samurai Jack that can now magnify the darker and more violent themes of the show in full is a sign of the time for modern animation, which I can fully get behind. However, I personally hope we can come to a point as a society, now get ready for this, where we don't gauge something's (or someone's) success based on its status on television. GASP! Television doesn't have to be the judge and jury on whether or not I am supposed to like something? Wowwweeeee!!!
Yeah, back in the day it was Broadway, cinema, or television, and if you couldn't make your way into any of these things, you might as well have not existed in the creative field. But welcome to you reading someone's stupid-ass soapbox on the internet. Yes. Right now. I have seen plenty of short films that are fully animated anywhere between twenty seconds to twenty minutes long, 2D or 3D, and most of them were thoroughly impressive. But for whatever reason, these aren't seen as viable contenders for entertainment in comparison to something like umm I dunno, Shrek? All memes aside, that movie is okay and for its time it is somewhat impressive for sure, but now for some reason, as with all great trends in cinema and television, things get Hollywooded. Not real verb, but you know what I mean. No? Okay: streamlined. Compressed into easy-to-drink canisters that you don't have to think about or chew on for too long to form your own opinion. This is where you get... ummmm I dunno, every Shrek installment after Shrek 2 and even arguably Shrek 2 or possibly even arguably Shrek 1 in comparison to Toy Story and Monsters Inc. or even 2D classics like Tarzan, Hercules, and The Emperor's New Groove. Hell, even Pixar has gone off the deep end (Cars 3?), and Disney has been off the deep end for a while. One could say since they own everything now, they are the deep end. If something makes you think, makes you feel something, and is written in a way that makes you appreciate or at least reevaluate something in your life, who cares if it had a billion-dollar budget or if it was made by three people sending files over the internet? Which leads me to my hopes for the future of animated series (or maybe even movies) in general, and if you haven't guessed yet the answer does not lie in TV.
The internet! There are plenty of places that could house an animated webseries, proudly. If it needs sponsors, ad space, et cetera, that can happen too. It has happened before. Bojack Horseman was a big deal for people, and that was a Netflix original; not TV. That show was "adult animation" in its most simplistic form, but it didn't base "adult themes" as the show's backbone. The backbone was its heart, which doesn't fit with the whole anatomy analogy but what I'm trying to say is it made you feel something. It wasn't a cartoon about a bunch of animal people boning each other. Well, it has that too, but not to the extent that this is all the show has to offer. Sex in Bojack Horseman is used as a tool for character development and in turn jokes about the characters and their respective sex lives rather than just the joke being "sex! HAHAHAHA!" It also has themes that I think are being put under the umbrella term of "adult animation" but really there is nothing "adult" about this. Growing up. Growing old. Losing friends, gaining friends, seeking fulfillment, understanding our peers, changing our lives, introspection: these are all themes that any show could do, but most don't, or they try to do it but its demeaning to its audience. This is why I agree with the sentiment in the rise of "adult animation" but I think that the term is too vague and not what I really want.
Cursing can give a cartoon a certain air of human allegory, sexual themes can give a cartoon atmosphere and frivolity, and farts with the accompaniment of genitals can play around with society's joint inner infancy, but having a heart and brain at the show's core does not require these things. Am I opposed to these things? One of my favorite shows of all time is Drawn Together. Short answer: no. One image search of "Drawn Together" with Safe Search turned off and you can come to a more accurate conclusion: hell no. But there are still "kids' shows" that are plenty entertaining and really broke the boundaries of not only what you could do with animation at the time, but what you could do with television shows in general (again, back in the time where if your animated series wasn't on television, it didn't exist). Ren & Stimpy is the first one that comes to mind, but even if we shift our focus back to Samurai Jack from a whopping fifteen to sixteen years ago is barely a show for kids, but also wasn't labelled as "adult". Even Powerpuff Girls had gratuitous yet shameless amount of violence and both shows to my recollection both featured actual blood here and there. That wouldn't get past a censor today more than once a season for sure. This is the television industry's way to Hollywood these productions to make them safe enough to not have to answer to a bunch of complaints from horrible and lazy parents... or just angry people who really like to yell at people on the phone about things they should not be that worried about.
So for a show like Samurai Jack to be accepted again, it has to be aired on Adult Swim, and that's not inherently bad, but what if a show could exist with a similarly sized production team and have less strings attached? Even let's players and vloggers come to networks to gain a following, and this could be done the same way with a moderately sized staff working towards a common goal of making a kickass animated series. This series might be void of swear words but still question human morals at the same time, or it may be Tarantino levels of violence and cursing with inner workings of the human psyche as a central theme. But the important thing is that the original vision was kept from whoever the creators were, and if the show needs to be "adult" to get artistic themes across then I think the medium has missed the point in execution somewhere. If not for the labels and censors of television and to a lesser extent cinema, this would all be semantics and I would not post this stupid blog about it, but we don't live in that universe, or at least not yet.
There are already shows trying to be more like The Simpsons, or Archer, or Aqua Teen, or I dunno... Family Guy? Because a bunch of shameless producers can make carbon copies and bring a diet version of something that already exists to the forefront for people to digest under the premise of "it's better than nothing" or "better than waiting for the next season" or "there was nothing else on". This is lazy on both parts of the creators and viewers, and even if all of this internet animation hooplah I talked about were a reality, this would still happen, but the internet is a cruel and selective place. A rip-off of Hellbenders, Starbarians, or Bojack Horseman could have its fifteen minutes of fame but then would be eaten alive within months and in turn cancelled.
All I'm saying is "original" or "keeping the original artistic integrity of the show's conception by their loving creators" shouldn't have to be "adult" to exist. Yes, seeing shows like Samurai Jack and Rick and Morty are refreshing and a beacon of hope for the medium, but there could be a bevy of animated bliss right under our noses in a few years from now, and I hope when that time comes, we won't still be asking each other "what channel is that on? Oh it's a webseries? Eh, it's not a real show then."
What should you take away from this ramble that I really should not have wasted my time with? Support the stuff you like. If its airing on television, watch it when it airs. If you don't have cable (me), buy the blu-ray when the season comes out (my relationship with Rick and Morty). If it is something online or an animation you found on YouTube that has like 100 views and the channel isn't getting much traction, watch the videos to the end and maybe share with your friends if it really impressed you. Maybe even go a step further and tell the creator(s) what you liked about it, or just that it really made your day a little bit better. This is the only way a future with animation can still occur, and from where I sit now, the future really isn't all that bleak. Before Ren & Stimpy aired, cartoons were almost exclusively used to advertise food and other products. Before then, a team worked day in and day out to create the first ever full-length feature film about a pretty lady hanging out with a bunch of dwarfs. In a few days from now, a cancelled action show about a samurai that was way ahead of its time had to be rebooted to a slot near Family Guy's for another shot at the audience's heart. The age isn't over, it just changed the game up a bit. Support the players.