Cartoons; Not Just For Kids

Cartoons; Not Just For Kids

In the west we seem to believe cartoons belong solely to children. As soon as something’s animated, for one reason or another, we can no longer take it seriously. I don’t really understand the reasons; it’s far from a universal idea. I spent the past weekend re-affirming my love for anime, which only baffles me more. Somehow Japan manages to create cartoons for all ages and no one thinks twice about adults watching cartoons.

It isn’t that we can’t produce high quality animation. If you ignore the white-washed, hurriedly-animated cartoons we generate for today’s youth, there are some sparkling examples of well-produced cartoons. During my teenage years there was Titan A.E. More recently there was Avatar; The Last Airbender (which far outclasses the live-action movie) and its follow up Legend of Korra. Yet despite their thought-provoking stories, these are ‘kids shows,’ and adults who enjoy them get weird looks when the topic comes up in conversation, unless you’re speaking to someone equally enchanted by the show.

And why can’t an adult enjoy something produced for children if it’s witty, intelligent and entertaining? I’ve seen almost as much hatred for the latest installment of My Little Pony as I’ve seen adoration. Nor can I count the number of people I’ve seen announce that it’s ‘creepy’ or ‘disgusting’ for a grown man to enjoy a show produced for young girls. Why is that, exactly? A grown man can’t enjoy a heartwarming, light-hearted story if the main characters happen to be female and happen to be brightly colored ponies? When did ‘for ages 8 and up’ grow an upper age limit? Or is it just that, as adults, we aren’t supposed to enjoy carefree, whimsical throwbacks to our youth?

Live actors and high computer special effects budges are hardly requirements for telling a good story. In fact, I can think of plenty of shows which have both yet only manage to produce brain-melting crap. Animation is a fantastic tool for telling stories that can’t be easily displayed without the aforementioned high special effects budget. For example, the pair of anime movies entitled Patlabor and Patlabor 2 center around high-tech terrorists and the police force that foils their plots. Both movies feature intelligent story set-up and giant robots of the same type you’d find in Pacific Rim, only without the thousands of dollars poured into animating them.

For some reason, in North America, we only devote money and effort to animating for children. Which isn’t to say the results are irrelevant or unappealing. Just watch the first ten minutes of Up. I think I cried three times during the opening sequence of that movie. But why can’t we pour the same effort into a movie produced for adults? Any such movie would probably suffer the same fate as Titan A.E.; it would end up regarded as ‘for teens.’ Parents seem to get upset when they can’t turn on any old cartoon and let it teach their child all about morality and manners. If they can’t park their five year old in front of something animated, suddenly it’s grounds for complaint.

Recently, there has been a shift in how networks and audiences view animated series. Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, for example, has had success both in showing anime directed toward older audiences and in producing animated series specifically for adults. But I would argue most of their efforts center around nonsensical comedy shows rather than the deep, engrossing plots found in most anime. So again, it seems we aren’t taking the shows seriously because ‘they’re just cartoons.’

For now I suppose I’ll just have to stick to anime, especially after the weekend’s reminder that there are so many gems if you’re willing to search for them. Hopefully someday the demand for and popularity of foreign cartoons will convince the animation studios in North America it’s worth investing the time and effort in thought-provoking storylines even if the presentation comes in the form of brightly-colored animation.

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