Comic/Video Game Artist Joe Madureira took to twitter the other day and articulated what my friends and I have been thinking for many years.
Sad that animation is still largely viewed as a medium for telling kids stories in the west. Some brave major studio will make a mature animated film/series someday and make a bazillion dollars off it. So many of us want it. Remember, I told you so.
— Joe Madureira (@JoeMadx) September 18, 2018
Now I do not want to write off the quality animated content we have at the moment. We have shows like the Avatar series that can appeal to kids and adults, and quality cartoons geared for adults like Rick and Morty.
What’s really missing are cartoons that are mature. Not just sitcoms with raunchy jokes but shows that tackle every genre in a mature way. What we’re really looking for is the sienen category, which targets audiences in their 20s and 30s.
I have written about this topic in my series called: Predictions For The Future of Animated TV PARTS 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Only a little time has passed and already I’m seeing some of my predictions coming to fruition. Animated content is expanding into new formats and exploring different techniques like cell-shading and mixed-media.
Final Space has been this year’s surprise success. The show might be humorous but the creators aren’t joking around. There are life and death consequences for the characters and hard continuity between episodes building up to an epic season finale that will leave your jaw on the floor.
What makes Final Space innovative is that the show is a space opera first and a comedy second. It’s not a sitcom that gradually gets darker or a mature reboot of a kid’s show. Final Space was an adventure story for adults from its inception.
You can watch the first episode for free right now.
The Gorillaz band will be diving into TV animation with their own 10-episode miniseries. The band members are great characters with tons of personality and potential for humor and drama. The Gorillaz utilize mixed-media and multiple animation styles in their music videos, so a TV series would be visually unique.
Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch recently signed a deal with Netflix to create both animated series and features geared for an adult audience. Hirsch’s breakout series, Gravity Falls had smart humor and an intricate mystery that hooked viewers young and old. Therefore, having a series developed by Hirsch for adults is something to be excited about.
However, Netflix is not some grand savior for original content. The shows on Netflix are of varying quality. Netflix exclusive content looks identical to the content we already see on the big and small screen. Only time will tell if subscribing to Netflix becomes like subscribing to cable TV.
Adult Animated Feature Films
After concluding Samurai Jack with a mature fifth season and directing Sony’s highest grossing animated feature, Hotel Transylvania 3, Genndy Tartakovsky has proven that he can do mature action shows and profitable CG films.
But his work in animation is far from over as Tartakovsky is slated to direct two more features for Sony animation. Fixed is an R-rated comedy while Black Knight will be an action adventure. Given the projects Tartakovsky has delivered in the past, we have films to look forward to in the future.
Contrary to popular belief, we have had several high quality animated theatrically released feature films for adult audiences. Anomalisa was rated R, while Isle of Dogs and The Breadwinner were rated PG13. All three films were beautifully crafted and told original stories in unconventional genres.
Isle of Dogs in particular stands out with record-breaking per-theater average screenings and by having grossed $32 million in the United States and Canada. To have a PG13 rated stop-motion film with an original plot this well received and make money is a movie miracle.
GKids has the best track record for cherry picking international animated films and distributing them to Western audiences. I know it has “kids” as part of the brand name, but seriously–these guys rock. Check them out.
Comic Book Movies
DC has released many animated superhero films with a PG13 rating. In my opinion, Batman: Under the Red Hood is their finest achievement. The tragic story and unearthly soundtrack blend to create the animated equivalent of The Dark Knight.
Under the Red Hood tells the story of the death of Robin and his return as the violent vigilante Red Hood. In the film, Batman must confront his past mistakes and analyze his own moral code if he hopes to save or defeat his former protege.
John DiMaggio delivers his first and only portrayal of the Joker and he knocks it out of the park. Under The Red Hood is a testament to how superhero stories and cartoons can tell riveting mature dramas. If you haven’t seen this film yet, please check it out.
The internet is unencumbered by the commercial constraints of animated film and TV. There are many examples of mature animated content beyond anime. These can be hard to find, so I’ve made a youtube playlist of my favorites. I’ve also written several articles about adult cartoons you should be aware of like: Bloody Bunny , The Reward: Tales of Alethrion, Song in The Sky, and CliffSide
It won’t be one movie or TV show that will usher in a new age of mature animated content. It has to be a movement–with dozens of creators and perspectives all working toward one goal. There are creators young and old who want to see more mature animation. If you find good content, share it and don’t shut up about it. We can give life to the type of content we want to see by keeping the conversation going.
This is our time!