Serious Business

Animation plays a large role in modern entertainment. Family Guy, South Park, Pixar, American Dad, Venture Bros., The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, and many others.  But why is it that televised animation is a medium reserved only for comedy in western society? The one exception to this possibly being South Park, which mixes in some topical social commentary. Do we correlate animation with children, or is it just a lack of desire on the part of the viewer?

To me, the highest level of excellence in western animation is Pixar. Not just for their technical skills, but for their ability to craft powerful tales enjoyed by all ages. Reminiscent of the great Disney films of the previous generation, such as Lion King, they channel powerful themes in a way even a child can understand.

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However these films are still restricted by their target audience. There are things they cannot show, and subjects taboo. This is the gap I cannot understand. It is plainly evident that animation is capable of producing powerful story, but is neglected for anything but children’s tales. It is not that the west does not have powerful drama, we do. But for some reason we limit it to film and the stage.

Japanese animation has gained acceptance in a much wider way than ours, branching in to every possible field of storytelling. Many people’s idea of Anime seems to be that of giant robots fighting,large breasted women in bikinis, and spiky haired yelling matches with Micheal Bay level explosions. These certainly exist, but one must understand that “Anime” is a very broad term.

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Take Cowboy Bepop, an anime that may have done more to change western views of the medium than any show before it. A rich tale of love, loss, and confronting your past. Various episodes or “sessions” delve into subjects as diverse as consumerism, existentialism, mind uploading, gambling addiction, police corruption, conservationism, honor, and so many others. All to one hell of a soundtrack and doing it with more style than most of modern entertainment put together.

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Other examples abound, such as the symbolism ridden Evangelion, the psychological thriller masterpiece Monster, or the endlessly brutal picture of man’s nature Berserk. But these are all older anime, who then are the vanguards of today?

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I’ll let you decide that for yourself. The point is that many great anime would be impossible to replicate on film, at least not without a massive budget. And imagine the potential as a director for the camera to be anywhere you want it, at any time, and your actors behaving exactly as you like.

So what do you think? Why does the west prefer not to take advantage of this medium, or should they even bother? Do you have an example of serious western animation you think I should watch? Is there anything that captures your imagination right now, let me know!

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