Animation Fans, Turn Your Gaze Westward

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.


15 thoughts on “Animation Fans, Turn Your Gaze Westward

  1. Here is a potential problem: anime is full of Japanese things (puns, references, cultural memes) but Japan is such an alien culture that anime fans take it and love it and don’t feel like they’re kowtowing to Japanese nationalism etc. But American culture is known everywhere, and I imagine a lot of non-American anime fans would not like all the American things in Cartoon Network animation, and they would feel as if becoming fans of it would be like kowtowing to American imperialism etc. Maybe I’m wrong on this point…

    As I’ve said before, I love Adult Swim and will watch pretty much anything on it, animated or not. There’s a lot of quality shows, though I dare say there’s still a predominance of episodic shows. If they started to do more single-story, cliffhanger at end of each episode kind of animated shows, I think that would be awesome..

    • I certainly do think that foreign-ness is part of anime’s attraction, but I really think it’s more disenfranchisement with other cartoons, at least for Americans. For me, I grew up with cartoons and loved them, then I found out how Japan was making much better ones, so I turned my attention to those. I can’t speak for others, but I know that a lot of American anime fans are still nostalgic about old cartoons, and would probably be happy to see American cartoons they can genuinely enjoy.

      I can’t speak for peoples in other countries and how they feel about American culture and shit. Anime has made Japanese culture as completely normal to me as American culture, so I’ve long forgotten what it’s like for that to have something to do with my interest in anime.

      Also, not all of these are US American. MLP is Canadian.

      • No, no, I wasn’t talking about a show’s nationality as possibly being an attraction. I was talking about it possibly being a turn-off. Anyway, I’m wrong because these anime fans I speak of watch live-action American stuff all the time and love it.

        My Little Pony is a creature of Hasbro, which is American. The Canadians just developed the inherent potential that was already in these little horseys. Parallel example: Transformers, where it was Hasbro which took Japanese products and then developed them.

  2. While I don’t really stop to check out western cartoons very often, this is definitely something I’m aware of, and it excites me as well. There’s something extremely satisfying about watching Legend of Korra not needing to pause to really make the distinction between western cartoons and anime; rather, I can just feel proud that it is, in fact, something created by people who share my nationality. Not everyone whose opinion I value is a fan of anime, but it’s still great to hear them speak so highly of western cartoons.

    The one thing I’m interested to see in the near future of this Golden Age, however, is how our side of the fence handles cartoons directed at a more mature (though not necessarily adult) audience. I feel like we do have a fair amount of overlap into that territory already, but I’d like to see a more direct focus towards it. Some people I’ve talked to about this are a little afraid of the prospect, but as sexualized and foolish as a lot of western (specifically American) culture can be, I have high hopes for those cartoons.

    • I think you could make a great case for Japanese cultural products being “sexualized and foolish”. I actually think they beat the USA to a pulp in that regard :D

      • In a lot of ways, yeah. But the impression I’ve always gotten from the sexualization of Japanese culture is that there is actually a greater percentage of the population who looks down on it, in at least a passive way. For western culture (again, mostly America), while it isn’t necessarily ‘approved of’, it’s…enabled, so to speak. Very much ingrained in our media over a very long period of time, and when I look at it, I can’t help but feel we have a lot of other cultures beat.

        Cultural bias weighs heavily on this, I’m sure, but it’s a difficult thing to separate out the right amount of it in this situation.

  3. I didn’t get cable TV in my house until 2005, so I unfortunately didn’t “grow up” watching Adult Swim and Cartoon Network. Even now that I have it, I rarely watch TV at all since I’m much more fond of surfing the web and watching anime (since my mom and I don’t watch the same thing, she has a TV in her room and I have one in mine rather than one in the living room). Plus, now that my HD TV is also my computer monitor, I’m even less inclined to switch from the Internet screen to the TV.

    So, since I don’t watch TV much, the only thing I know about recent Western cartoons is what I sometimes see commercials of (which don’t impress me) and what I hear online (which do sound encouraging). I’m glad to hear that Western TV cartoons have gotten better in recent years and have gone beyond just silly slapstick hijinks to entertain kids, which is what I got the impression of based on commercials at least.

    I did watch the first two episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and it was cute. I may watch more again if I get in the mood. And I’ve been hearing good things about Avatar for a long time, and more recently Korra. I’ll have to check those out one day. Anime is still my top priority and interest, but I do like to take a break from it once in a while, and good Western animation is one way I like to do it.

    • I’m kinda surprised about this because if there’s anyone I could imagine getting into American cartoons easily, it’s you. Definitely check out Avatar, it’s one of the best animated series ever made.

      • I love and regularly watch American animated movies, like Disney and Pixar, but not TV shows (again, mostly due to lack of watching TV and disinterest in the little I’ve seen of Cartoon Network shows). But I’ll keep Avatar and the other ones you mentioned in mind.

  4. I’ve got the anime-Western cartoon relation on the brain. Can’t believe I never noticed the Motorcity/Redline link, but there are the other shows, too. You mentioned that Korra was like the FA:B of Western animation (interesting that your view of it is so positive; by contrast, I ended up writing a sharply-worded post about why the structure of it really bothered me). Then there’s FIM, which is interesting because its expressiveness and extremity can’t really be linked to stuff other than anime. Okay, well, I don’t mean that totally seriously, but the face faults are pretty similar—as well as the sorts of scenes in which they’re introduced. The Boondocks is yet another example.

    This all gets me thinking: cartoons seem to have lost a level of “Westernness,” somehow. Now, this doesn’t strike me as a bad thing. Sure, I agree that there *is* a golden age, but holy shit! How in the hell did it happen? How do we explain the re-emergence of the 22-minute plot-driven episode, and giving a shit about one’s work (the kind we see in better anime)? I sure never saw it coming in my cable-less adolescent years—back when KidsWB was dying, One Saturday Morning was gone, and I had nothing but the fucking FoxBox to watch. I swear, only Kirby kept me watching that shit.

    • I’ve come up with enough theories about this that I could fill another post. Basically, I think cartoons have gotten more mainstream, and a generation of people who watched anime, especially with the expansion of the internet, have bred a growing market for good Western cartoons. Also, just the fact that we have a smarter generation of kids, a falling toy market, and an emphasis on TV that’s more entertaining in general.

      As for Korra, I only watched the first two episodes. What I mean by calling it like FMA:B is more that it’s a ridiculously high-quality animation on TV, which is following a success of a 2005 predecessor which was also greatly animated, but shows its age in comparison. Story-wise, though, I’m sure there’s no comparison.

  5. I’m just thrilled whenever I hear that quality is rising somewhere, in whatever medium. I’m all for it even if I don’t watch much western cartoons anymore(this is bad ; I’m shutting myself in).

    Like animekritik pointed out, the main reason I watch anime is because it comes from a culture so alien it’s fascinating. I don’t think I hold a grudge against America for spreading its culture everywhere, that would be stupid. Plus, I don’t have to look hard to see the good things we have in Europe. Things I have easy access to.

    Man I should take the time to check out TV sometimes. Maybe I’ll stumble across Futurama.

    • It’s definitely cool to watch mediums improve. I’m of the mind that stuff theoretically should always be getting better, because it constantly builds on everything before it, and the technology to do more always improves. I think on a grand scale, this proves true, even if a medium can have its trying times.

      Of course, it’s also a matter of perspective. I’ve been finding anime boring so far this year, but everyone I know has been loving it. Surely no shortage of people think that Western cartoons have already been doing well, but for me, this is like a renaissance.

  6. Just watched the first few episodes of Gravity Falls. I think I’m in love.
    Phineas and Ferb still beats it though because of the singing.

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