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Animated TV for Grownups
January 2, 2004 5:59 PM   Subscribe

I was trying to find a good animated TV show/miniseries to watch, and got to wondering why there are virtually no non-japanese non-kids/comedy animated series to be found? I'm sick of "anime" - does anyone have any ideas as to why Japan has cornered this market so completely, or better yet know of any non-japanese shows/series for me to check out? I'm into scifi and adventure stuff.
posted by ac to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
The Triplets of Belleville (movie, sorry) is getting rave reviews. Sometimes the dearth of stuff that I like makes me think I should try making my own.
posted by mecran01 at 6:26 PM on January 2, 2004


This was something I talked about extensively with my animation professors at NYU, and even before I got there.

Basically, the advent of 24-hour television as a babysitter in the late 50's on led to the idea of streamlining the old Warner Bros. cartoons- adult-oriented, usually politically-themed cartoons- into something to show the kids. Saturday morning blocks of Bugs Bunny reruns were around as early as the late 60's, maybe earlier.

Since Disney dominated the cartoon world in that early era, and it was family-oriented, the stigma arose in the U.S. that cartoons were for kids. Cartoons weren't made for adults for the same reason you don't see Westerns anymore- pre-emptive public perception and/or disinterest dominated the market.

The other reason, which is probably the big one nowadays, is that animation is damned expensive. Excluding shows with big effects budgets, it usually costs about twice the price of a live-action show to animate one within the U.S. The advantage of Asian markets is that they have the manpower and thereby lesser cost- there's so many more animators in Japan and Korea than there are in the States. Hell, even Disney doesn't have a 2-D studio anymore, and that's what the company was created on.

Europe and Asia sticks to television more closely as an art form than just trashy entertainment, I feel. Though that might be argueble, surely this other reason isn't: Japan also has the advantage of a MUCH more lenient censorship practice. Courtesy of Donald Wildmon and the high horse he rode in on, Americans are forbidden to see the sexual, violent, intense, deeply psychological, and ESPECIALLY religious tones of many popular animes. As a result, shows from Japan with huge adult themes, including Big O, Trigun, hell, even Sailor Moon, were toned down, and of course dumbed down, into something that, frankly, only little kids WOULD want to watch.

I think the last chance in the U.S. for an adult-level animation great was "The Iron Giant-" without a doubt the finest animated film ever made. No songs, no cuddly sidekicks, just fantastic writing and a compelling, tear-jerking story. And it went down in flames because Warner Bros. declared from the beginning that the only marketing would be in the kids' toy department. Jesus, all Jennifer Anniston needed to do was talk about doing voice work in it for five minutes on Leno and it would have been one of the highest-grossers of the year.

We had "The Flinstones," and of course we have "The Simpsons," which along with South Park spawned the late-90's adult animation boom- shows like Family Guy and Mission Hill and Gary & Mike and slews of other shows that were picked up and levelled within a season or two because good wasn't good enough: the networks require the expense of an animated series to merit Simspons-level profit, both in ad sales and merchandise.

The one thing L.A. execs in TV land never want to hear is how they're wrong. Animation is one of the biggest things they continue to be wrong about, and as always their solution is to curse the darkness rather than light a candle. The only way the U.S. will see an animation renaissance is if something comes along that goes beyond "fun to watch" but peaks even The Simpsons as a cultural mainstay.

I don't see it happening soon, unfortunately, but when it does, good lord is that show going to be fucking great.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 6:27 PM on January 2, 2004 [1 favorite]


I don't see it happening soon, unfortunately, but when it does, good lord is that show going to be fucking great.

Cowboy Bebop has been responsible for turning many, many anime-skeptics of my acquantance into converts. It may never eclipse the Simpsons in terms of popularity, but it's still my gateway drug of choice for adults.
posted by gd779 at 6:44 PM on January 2, 2004


What gd779 said, in spades. I had absolutely zero interest in anime until someone turned me on to the Bebop. A more believable near-future inhabited solar system and cultural melting-pot I've yet to see...or read about.
posted by WolfDaddy at 6:54 PM on January 2, 2004


So is there really nothing? I'm looking more for TV shows/serials/miniseries etc. I mean, what about any other place, besides Hollywood? It seems strange that Japan could have completely taken the entire market... doesn't it?
And talk about an answer XQU, thanks man
On preview, people do tell me to watch Cowboy Bebop, and I probably will, but I mean - "Cowboy Bebop"? What the f? Is that some bad Japanese translation or something?
posted by ac at 6:56 PM on January 2, 2004


The anime junkie I know best rents dozens and dozens of DVDs via Netflix, and supplements it with a little Adult Swim on Cartoon Network (Inu-Yasha, etc.). Each DVD is typically several episodes of a TV show. I'm sure there are untold millions of sites out there ready to explain to you what any particular title is about.

I'm racking my brain trying to think of any sort of animation that would have come from continental Europe; all I can think of is smurfs. (Maybe Asterix or Tintin? Anyone? Am I missing something?)
posted by gimonca at 7:32 PM on January 2, 2004


Good non-Japanese adult sci-fi/adventure animation series? Not a lot out there.

Spawn. Maxx. You might like Cybersix, based on an Argentinian comic, but that is almost too close to anime in style.
posted by bobo123 at 7:35 PM on January 2, 2004


So, from my understanding of your posts here, ac, you don't like anime on general principle because some shows have strange titles? Or because you don't like shows that originate in Japan? You claim to be "tired of anime", but you also don't seem to have watched much, which leaves me somewhat confused.

The only suggestions I can give are the American-produced content on Adult Swim: Sealab 2021, Harvey Birdman, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Space Ghost Coast to Coast. If you find yourself displeased with the programming fare Adult Swim has to offer, at least they have you covered in the wardrobe department.
posted by Danelope at 7:53 PM on January 2, 2004


It's true I haven't seen much, but I just don't want everything Japanese all the time, I guess mostly because I would just rather have English/American shows rather than foreign ones which have alot in common with one another in terms of style, and have to have subtitles/bad dubs for.. etc
posted by ac at 7:55 PM on January 2, 2004


Samurai Jack maybe? highly stylized, and beautifully done, but not anime. And there's always Futurama reruns.
posted by amberglow at 8:18 PM on January 2, 2004


but I mean - "Cowboy Bebop"? What the f?

It'll make sense once you watch the series...which, by the way, has a rich musical context and underpinning to it. You'll hear everything from jazz to opera to J-pop ... and love every bit of it. If the song "The Real Folk Blues"--which closes every episode--doesn't have you in tears during one scene in the final episode, you're just not human.
posted by WolfDaddy at 8:29 PM on January 2, 2004


it's not adventure, but i'm a huge fan of "Home Movies" on adult swim. a new season begins soon. i've yet to come across anyone who mentions that show as a favorite, but i think it's brilliant.

from Europe; how about Asterix, Lucky Luke, and Tin-tin as someone mentioned above. there are feature length films with these characters.
posted by edlundart at 8:33 PM on January 2, 2004


Heh.. All my friends rave about Home Movies.. I watched 3 or 4 episodes and can't stand it - what's the point? It just isn't funny to me.

I will have to check out Cowboy Bebop though. Stuff with other stuff underpinning it is always great. I was expecting some heretofore unknown explosion of shows that I just didn't know about, but I guess there is nothing like that. I suppose one day I will have to just create such a show, hah.

animation is damned expensive. Excluding shows with big effects budgets, it usually costs about twice the price of a live-action show to animate one within the U.S

Why is that? I mean speaking abstractly, maybe, but with a big star such as, for example, Kelsey Grammer getting $2 million dollars per 22-minute episode, it would seem animation wouldn't be so expensive. Anyone here into the technical details of how animated shows are made? That's something else I am very interested in.
posted by ac at 8:40 PM on January 2, 2004


As a long-time animation aficionado who has tried (with minimal success) to appreciate anime myself...
Personally, I've never gotten into "Cowboy Bebop", but it is one of the least-Japanese-looking Japanese shows (in spite of the title that sounds like a screwed-up translation); basically, it's bounty hunters in outer space, film noir style. Currently airing on Cartoon Network's late night Adult Swim block at 1:00 and 4:00 AM, and it's now a big-M Movie on DVD.

My personal fave in anime-style is a 6-part miniseries titled "FLCL" or "Fooly Cooly", recently aired on Adult Swim, which mixed aliens, X-files paranoia, pre-teen sexuality, robots, decent rock music, baseball and a very dysfunctional Japanese family into an almost indecipherably surreal and incredibly well animated experience. *catches breath*

I am anticipating with great hope and great fear the revival of "Astroboy" on KidsWB in two weeks. It was the true Mother of All Anime in black and white in the '60s, and one of the best-written non-comedy cartoons I have ever experienced... But I digress..

If you don't rule out comedy, I'd recommend "Teacher's Pet", which is about to premiere theatrically, and in its Saturday Morning incarnation (now in reruns on the ToonDisney cable channel) benefited from the character designs of Gary Baseman, the writing of a team of 'Cheers' veterans, and animal voices from Nathan Lane, Jerry Stiller and David Ogden Stiers.
(And no, I do not have a Pinocchio obsession)
And I also have a weakness for the well-animated, visually-distinctive and off-the-wall "The Angry Beavers" (sibling rivalry in a beaver dam, with Nick Bakay as 'the smart one' and minor characters like the first Mexican wrestler in American toons: "El Grapadura"), now rerunning on Nickelodeon's all-toon spin-off channel and the '60s-throwback-styled "Whatever Happened to Robot Jones" (juvenile robot studying junior high humans, characters like a school principal named "Mr. Madman" and a human female love interest with an artificial leg), currently underperforming on Cartoon Network.

For North American productions of non-Comedy, non-kidstuff, I can only think of two worthy entries:
The previously mentioned MTV 12-parter The Maxx which could be summed up as a psychiatric deconstruction of comic book superheroics.
And the Canadian computer-generated pioneering show Reboot. Life inside a computer. Good characterizations, thinking-person's violence and geek-friendly inside jokes. My advice: watch it from the beginning.

Of course, if you look back, what was non-Comedy non-kidstuff TV animation before anime? Jonny Quest?

On preview, ac, you should be aware that Kelsey Grammer is doing cartoon voices too (may explain a lot of things). I'd get into the logistics of animation, but I'd better post this before my computer crashes.
posted by wendell at 8:55 PM on January 2, 2004


aliens, X-files paranoia, pre-teen sexuality , robots, decent rock music, baseball and a very dysfunctional Japanese family

Uhhh.... Very strange indeed.

Kelsey Grammer is somewhat of a curiousity of mine. What is so good about him? And would an animated series featuring his voice be paying him those Frasier-esque megabucks?

I'm not sure which Jonny Quest you are talking about, but I remember a cartoon on Cartoon Network which was a kids show basically.

Incidentally I just remember that I used to LOVE Batman: The Animated Series on Cartoon Network, it ran for a very long time. I would really like to find it somewhere on DVD/download etc - I enjoyed it and still may, even though its a somewhat childish show; and I'm too young to have watched the original Batman show in the 60s.

Thanks for all your suggestions. I will be checking this out. If anyone knows how animation works in general, I'm very interested.

wendell - reboot and get back in here
posted by ac at 9:16 PM on January 2, 2004


And I also have a weakness for the well-animated, visually-distinctive and off-the-wall "The Angry Beavers" (sibling rivalry in a beaver dam, with Nick Bakay as 'the smart one' and minor characters like the first Mexican wrestler in American toons: "El Grapadura")

There was an episode of that show featuring the luchadore guy, and the entire episode was done in broken incoherent quasi-Spanish with equally bad subtitles (think a Spanish version of Pepe LePew's "French") What sold it for me was the fact that the cartoon at no point whatsoever explained why they were doing this. Because of that it ranks with most Space Ghost episodes as the most brilliant cartoon I've ever seen on television.

Sadly, Nickelodeon has outclassed Disney, I think, in doing everything in its power to prevent good cartoons from existing. Love it as we all do, the only reason SpongeBob exists is because Spongebob DVDs and T-shirts sell well.

There was an interview with the producers of "Invader ZIM" a while back where they complained that once SpongeBob became a hit, everything on Nick had to "be like SpongeBob," a concept which distorted the very reason SpongeBob was popular in the first place: there was nothing like it. I will never, I repeat NEVER, forgive Nickelodeon for cancelling Invader ZIM.

And AC- Kelsey Grammer doesn't get anywhere NEAR $2 million for doing a cartoon voice. The benefit of a celebrity voice, aside of course from talent, is that recording a season's voices can be done in a few days, leaving the actor to take their scale pay and get extra for promoting the cartoon on talk shows. Trust me, it's not a huge profit thing; even the voices on the Simpsons still do TV shows, movies, and radio/TV voiceover. Mark Evanier has loads on the truth about the glorious life of cartoon voice work.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:23 PM on January 2, 2004


ac, if you liked Batman: TAS (and love comic books), you might want to check out the second season of Justice League. While the first season was kinda lame, the second season has really kicked ass, and included some very well-done re-imaginings of classic JLA villains. The storytelling has been quite diverse: in one two-part episode, we didn't even see a hero in costume until the second part, and the first part was just Princess Diana and Bruce Wayne. And in another episode, who woulda thunk one would get teary-eyed over Solomon Grundy?
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:32 PM on January 2, 2004


Buy yourself the Family Guys DVDs. You'll never want for animation again.
posted by Orange Goblin at 4:44 AM on January 3, 2004


"My personal fave in anime-style is a 6-part miniseries titled "FLCL" or "Fooly Cooly", recently aired on Adult Swim, which mixed aliens, X-files paranoia, pre-teen sexuality, robots, decent rock music, baseball and a very dysfunctional Japanese family into an almost indecipherably surreal and incredibly well animated experience.:"

FLCL is something you show a seasoned veteran of anime. it really is "too much."

if you're into disney films, you might want to try out miyazaki's work like "spirited away." wonderful movie.

like all the others, i suggest CN's adult swim block.
posted by lotsofno at 6:35 AM on January 3, 2004


I have to second wendell's recommendation of FLCL even though you're not really looking for anime. Its weird as hell but amazing. You should be able to download it off of Kazaa or something of the sort. Home movies took awhile to grow on me, but know I think its a great show, I liked it better with squigglevision though, but what can you do. Other than that just watch Adult swim on sunday night I guess.
posted by philcliff at 6:42 AM on January 3, 2004


For all intents and purposes, there is no such thing as what you're looking for. American and European animation has been stagnant for decades, with the vast majority of product following either the Disney summer blockbuster formula or the Saturday morning formula. Even series that promised to break new ground in early episodes, such as Samurai Jack opening with its ode to Kurosawa and Justice League seeming to promise to go beyond cardboard cutout superheroes, haven't really moved too far beyond basic happy-ending/good-guy-bad-guy/moral-of-the-story storytelling. And of course, in order to get a piece of the television bandwidth, programs have to cater to at least some common denominator. With animation in the US, that common denominator is children.

Even the anime finding its way to American shores isn't the most adult-oriented stuff, by and large. The big bucks are coming from shows oriented to kids under 12. Those children have the time to spend slouching in front of the tube in most households and are the most receptive to merchandising. Think Pokemon and its various clones, and the sudden, rapid proliferation of Dragonball Z. All of the profit on series animation in this country is in merchandising.

It sure would be nice for animation to go beyond Pixar, princesses, and Ninja Turtles, but at this rate it will be decades before that happens.
posted by majick at 8:17 AM on January 3, 2004


at this rate it will be decades before that happens.

Dammit! I guess I will just have to accept this. The weird thing is, I have several completely white, generic, European-roots suburban friends who are COMPLETELY immersed and surrounded in everything Japanese: culture and especially anime: they watch it by the truckload. I found myself wondering where the hell this came from. Even they don't have an answer for me. Japan japan japan.

Buy yourself the Family Guys DVDs. You'll never want for animation again.

Orange Goblin - Already own em. I consider Family Guy the funniest show ever created, I've seen every episode multiple times. If you like the show, read this: wow..
There are also rumors of a straight-to-DVD movie.
posted by ac at 11:30 AM on January 3, 2004 [1 favorite]


There's a set of animated DVDs based off the Starship Troopers movie (but not the book =/). They're 3D animation though, and I haven't watched any of them so I can't say whether they're good or not.

About the reason behind the Cowboy Bebop name: The show goes for various 'western/cowboy' themes, which takes care of the Cowboy part, and the twin reasons for Bebop: Bebop is the name of a ship in the show, and the show also has a great varied soundtrack. If Kanno (the woman behind most of the soundtrack) could find a young disposable popsinger to pretend to lip synch for Kanno's music so that it would get Clearchannel/MTV airplay, life would be good.

And to basicly repeat what others had said, animation for adults is basicly dead worldwide except for Japan. Its a pity.
posted by Darke at 11:50 AM on January 3, 2004


Let me be the third or fourth person to recommend Fooly Cooly (or FLCL). Yeah, the pre-teen sexuality part is a little weird (if very Japanese), but the reason it's there is that FLCL is like a satire of the plots of most anime--the kid who can control a robot, the wacky alien girl, etc. It just twists all of those elements into things you've never seen before and never will again. This is an anime that even has a section parodying South Park (and quite well). Yes, it's intended for people who know a shitload about the culture, especially other Gainax works, but I went into it without knowing anything. I decided to watch FLCL without having seen any anime except for like, Ghost in the Shell. I left the TV on after Family Guy because the Adult Swim bumpers promised Fooly Cooly was the type of show that changes your life. They were right.

I'll also be like the fourth person to recommend Cowboy Bebop. The name kept me from watching for years, and oh how misled I was! Bebop is some of the best sci-fi I've ever seen, animated or live-action or in novel form. The music is just icing on the cake...very delicious icing.

As a sort of tangent to Bebop, there's Firefly. Firefly is like Cowboy Bebop, except live-action. I'm mentioning it because the computer animation and other visual effects they use are stunning, without a doubt the best on a TV series. I never saw it when it aired on Fox, but have fallen in love with it on DVD. I used it to lead a friend of mine into watching Bebop, actually, and until I explained Bebop came first by a number of years, he thought it was a shameless rip-off. Both take Gene Rodenberry's idea of a western in space, half-heartedly introduced with Star Trek, and make it more than the sum of its parts.

Oh yeah, don't forget Futurama and Family Guy, those other bastard children of Rupert Murdoch. Futurama shows how cel-shaded 3d work should be done. Family Guy shows how to take advantage of the freedoms of animation in a sit-com, in a way even the Simpsons didn't achieve til late in its run (though on DVD commentaries Groening likes to bitch how McFarlane stole the whole cut-away idea, it's at the heart of Family Guy, while the Simpsons just use it for the occasional laugh).
posted by jbrjake at 9:31 AM on February 2, 2004


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