The Animation Age Ghetto has been something many an animation fan has had to deal with if they were ever caught watching or mentioning a cartoon as an adult. This has often resulted in someone saying, “Isn’t that a cartoon for children?” Various animated films and shows throughout history, however, have greatly challenged this assumption, like Ralph Bakshi’s films in the 1970s and 1980s that ranged from the crude and lewd Fritz the Cat to the epic and fantastical Lord of The Rings. Likewise, there are TV shows today that target an older audience such as Rick and Morty and BojackHorseman. But I wish to address some specific shows coming out now and in the near future that offer different kinds of animated shows for older viewers, and what this could mean for the future of mature animation as we head into the 2020s.
Samurai Jack and Primal
The fifth season of Samurai Jack on Adult Swim shows us an interesting change in the relationship between animated content and its audience. What had originally been a simple action show about a samurai trying to fight evil in a weird and sometimes wacky, futuristic, fantasy world has come back 13 years after it originally ended with a season that featured intense graphic violence and heavy themes about PTSD, suicide, and failure, while telling an engaging story within 10 episodes. It shows an acknowledgement on the producers’ part that the kids who grew up loving animation still love it just as much now and that there is a market for mature animation that can tell a serious story without resorting to gross out humor and offensive crude jokes like in South Park and Family Guy. The creator of Samurai Jack, Genndy Tartakovsky, is coming back to Adult Swim this year to create another action series called Primal, which will be a mostly wordless story of both brutal violence and a meaningful friendship in a prehistoric world.
Netflix has also made attempts at creating animation targeted toward a more mature audience with its Castlevania series, a dark-horror action series based on the video games of the same name, as well as with its upcoming Magic: The Gathering series based on the popular fantasy card game.
Love, Death, and Robots
Netflix has also released the animated anthology series Love, Death, and Robots, which feels like a throwback to the days of MTV’s Liquid Television block where all kinds of weird and experimental animated shorts could see the light of day. Most of the shorts in Love, Death, and Robots are based on short stories from acclaimed sci-fi authors, and some carry deep messages about a variety of topics. The short “Good Hunting” from Ken Liu is a Chinese fairy tale about imperialism and industrialization, and the short “Zima Blue” by Alastair Reynolds is a story about a robot artist and how they grasp the meaning of identity and purpose in life. The anthology uses animation to tell more intellectually mature stories that would be hard to communicate with the same meanings in live-action. It was popular enough to get a second season, and maybe it could even become a breeding ground for pilots and film pitches that Netflix could fund.
What’s coming in the future could signal an even bigger push for mature animation. A series called Invincible is coming to Amazon in 2020, and it could be a major breakout hit. It’s based on a superhero comic of the same name from the creator of The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman. Invincible tells the epic story of a 17-year-old named Mark Grayson, the son of the world’s most powerful superhero Omni-Man, as he develops the powers inherited from his father only to discover his father’s legacy may not be as heroic as it seems. The comic starts out light-hearted enough, but as it goes on, it deconstructs the idea of being a superhero as an emotional and physical toll forces the main characters to question what it really means to save the world and what they are sacrificing personally to do so.
Invincible is slated for 8 episodes, each an hour long, a first for animation as far as I’m aware, and has a star-studded cast with Steven Yeun, J.K. Simmons, Sandra Oh, Mark Hamill, and more. The pedigree of this series both behind and in front of the camera, for lack of a better term, is almost unprecedented for an animated show, and if it is properly marketed and becomes successful, I believe it could go a long way in fully mainstreaming the idea of an animated drama series for adults.
There is also the possibility of an animated horror action film based on a comic from the publisher of the Hellboy comics called The Goon being released by Disney (yes, really). It is a project that has shopped around for nearly a decade now, with test footage of the film being released in 2010. Now there is news it has been picked up by Fox for development just after being recently acquired by Disney. The creators said they wanted to make it at least PG-13, so if this film were to come out, it could make people more open to exploring new genres and styles with the animated medium that are not typically explored in western animation.
I believe animation right now could be following a similar path to what comics went through in the 1980s and 1990s. Darker, more mature stories like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen made older comic book collectors more open about their hobby. The stories showed that a medium usually thought of as more appropriate for kids and nostalgic adults could produce different kinds of stories that did not need to be age appropriate for children in order to be read and enjoyed. The young adults today have grown up with quality animated films and shows in the 1990s which as made them adore animation. I think producers are starting to realize this and may be more open to experimenting with mature animation so that the medium as a whole may enter a new age of creativity and freedom as we enter a new decade.
Do any of the above mentioned shows strike your interest? What do you think about mature animated shows and films? Would you like to see more in the mainstream?
Rotoscopers is an animation news, reviews, and interviews site for animation addicts young and old. In addition to articles, the site has a podcast called the Animation Addicts Podcast and YouTube channel.