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Cheer and Loathing in Animation: Episode L - Backwash Television

Every Friday Chris Robinson unleashes improvised and hastily scribbled cheer or loathing on the animation community to be digested, swallowed or... expelled. Today: When will North American Television grow up?

'Cheer and Loathing in Animation' drawings by Theodore Ushev

I’m not all that well versed in Japanese anime or TV shows and that ilk but have been watching a bunch of Japanese TV series (e.g. Kemonozume, Kaiba, Tatami Galaxy) recently that involve Masaaki Yuasa (Mind Game, Lu Over the Wall, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl).  They are all such pleasant discoveries. The animation, stories, design... so much vivid imagination (flesh eating monsters, people whose minds live on in memory chips after their bodies die, university life via parallel universes and surrealist situations, even a series about ping pong) along with a willingness to experiment (fusing photography, live action, animation). No pandering to the audience. No over explaining things, instead trusting the audience, and allowing them to be mystified while exploring the depths of the often complicated plots.

I watch and savour these mature and intriguing episodes and wonder why we can’t get quality like this in North America? (Canadian TV animation is the Charlie Brown ‘rock’ alongside the sweet sugary shit shine that is US TV animation) Why are we saddled with the same tripe year after year? The same loud awkward characters screaming the same stupid things. The repetitive and stagnant design and plots. The pandering to the audience, in fact, treating them like they’re idiots who won’t understand their oh-so-complicated plots (sarcasm, kids). It’s embarrassing how much we are treated like infants in North America. In an age where adult animation is defined by The Simpsons, Family Guy, Mike Tyson Mysteries, well you know you’re in a culture for the special people, the undeveloped and immature, those who think fart and puke jokes are hallmarks of refined humour (yes, there’s a least Bojack Horseman, which offers some hope as did Regular Show and Adventure Time).

It’s no wonder my kids, bored with North American pop culture, have turned to Japanese mange/anime for pleasure and inspiration.

When are the rest of us going to grow up?

Chris Robinson's picture

A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.