Fandom is funny in how it can focus my eyes so hard in one direction that turning a bit and finding something amazing is always a huge surprise. I’ve never stopped watching Western cartoons, but for the past ten years, I’ve never felt the need to watch them actively, the way I watch anime.
I’ve mused before that if non-dubbed anime aired on TV in the US, I’d watch a lot more shitty anime, just because it was easily accessible. The act of tracking down a show and then paying enough attention to read the subtitles is enough effort to weed out weaker shows, even with anime being as easy to come by as it is now. I know this because I’ve watched exponentially more shitty Western cartoons in the past ten years than I have anime.
In my house, Cartoon Network has always been a big thing. I have two younger brothers, and between the three of us, we pretty much only watch Cartoon Network and Comedy Central on a regular basis. I don’t have any cable in my room, but both of my brothers do, and so does the living room, and I hang out in those places all the time. Almost every day, I’m bound to watch some amount of cartoons.
There have been plenty of cartoons that I genuinely enjoyed in the past ten years, especially coming out of the Adult Swim block. I’d call myself a fan of The Boondocks and Metalocalypse, and I’ll watch most of the Adult Swim cartoons if they happen to be on. I’ve probably seen more Family Guy and Futurama than I have of any one anime show, just by way of their saturation on AS and Comedy Central timeslots.
But that’s the thing—I only watch these shows when they happen to be on. I don’t ordinarily go out of my way to watch them, unless maybe I have friends over, and we all decide to watch something.
Over the past two years, I’ve seen Western cartoons emerge into what I would consider a golden age. Some of the most entertaining cartoons I’ve ever seen have started, like Adventure Time and Regular Show, alongside the still-running greats like the aforementioned Boondocks and Metalocalypse. Yet, even as I could tell that cartoons were entering a golden age, I still didn’t get into any shows enough to actually follow them.
That has changed. As the golden age glows ever brighter, cartoons have started coming out that I cannot ignore. Not only are there new shows which I love, but there are shows that excite me because of what they’re bringing to the medium, and show what direction things could take from here.
For instance, there’s a show on Disney XD called Motorcity, which I think is worth checking out at least the first two episodes of. I don’t like it because I think it’s poorly and chaotically directed, but the show has a rich visual style, and oh yeah, it throws out constant visual references to Redline. Seriously, this is a Saturday morning cartoon whose biggest clear influence is an anime movie prized for its stunning visual style and animation. Sadly, I’ve heard that Motorcity kinda blew its load in the opening episodes in terms of animation, but it was nonetheless exciting to see a show with that kind of visuals coming out of god damn Disney XD.
You also have stuff like The Legend of Korra, which is like the Western equivalent of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. Actually that statement sums it up so well I don’t even feel the need to expand on it.
Then we get into the big leagues with some of my favorite shows. Obviously the first one is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, which I’ve already written about on this site extensively. However, while MLP won me over by gradually teaching me ways to like it as I watched, there’s a new show that completely grabbed my attention in just one episode.
That show is Gravity Falls, a new comedy/supernatural show on Disney which, after five episodes, I can confidently call the best comedy on TV right now, animated or otherwise. It’s gorgeous, impeccably written, the characters are a blast, and every episode is great from beginning to twenty-two minute end.
It’s not even hard to see why these shows are clearly better than the shows that lead up to them. These are shows full of staff who’ve been perfecting their craft for over a decade, trying to create truly amazing cartoons, and they’re finally hitting their stride as cartoons become more and more mainstream entertainment, get better budgets and writers, and even the 22 minute format is coming back into focus.
This is truly an exciting time for Western cartoons, and I can’t describe that feeling I get when I can actually go into my living room on Saturday or Sunday morning, put on the TV, and be really excited about whatever I’m about to watch.