Blog 2013

Formulaic Entertainment

As many of you may know, I am an appreciator of animation; both cartoons and animated series.  I’ll discuss the difference in a future post, perhaps, but today I wanted to mention a trend I’ve noticed.

I’ve been watching a lot of 1980s cartoons recently, and not the mainstays like Transformers and GI Joe.  I’ve just finished up Starcom and I’m starting into Visionaries.  From there, I’ve got half a dozen series planned.  But I can already tell a major difference between these shows (and their siblings of the era) and modern cartoons.

I’ve been introduced in the last year or so to Ben10 and a few other shows.  I have yet to look at modern remakes like the new Thundercats series (I tried watching the new Voltron series and, while I hope I just tuned into the single worst episode of the series, I found it unwatchable after even five minutes).  But what I’ve been noticing is how different the shows are from their 1980s predecessors.  This is hardly a surprise, but I’ve spent some time trying to hammer down just what is so different.

We seem to have roughly six to seven eras of shows we’re dealing with, each era being approximately 5 years in length.  We’ve got the post-cable deregulation/non-quite-Japanimation invasion (Transformers, GI Joe, MASK, Visionaries, Starcom, others) and then we have what I am momentarily calling the post-Transformers the Movie era.  This is the last few years of the 1980s and maybe the first year or two of the 1990s.  Transformers and GI Joe are probably the best examples of this because it is with these shows that you see such a clear change in the nature and writing of the show (compare season 1 of Transformers to season 3; compare episode 10 of GI Joe to episode 100; they’re almost totally different shows).
After that, you get into the 1990s which I am currently calling the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Knock-off era, where cast size dropped.  You went from the, what?, 200 members of GI Joe to the team of 4-5 core characters for each show.  Superheroic powers began to replace more reality-based limitations.  But then, probably around 1996, you saw the second-wave Japanese invasion.  Sailor Moon and Ronin Warriors led this charge and it affected the shows around them.
And then you get into the 2000s, which may or may not be able to break up into two distinctive eras of television (probably divided between either the Adult Swim/Toonami influence or Avatar: Last Airbender).  And then you have the current era; the 2010s.

It’s interesting to juxtapose something like Ben10 (especially the most recent incarnation, Ben10 Omniverse) with a show like Visionaries.  Art-style, cast, music, world-building, everything’s so very different.  The fact that the shows are separated by almost 30 years doesn’t begin to explain why they are structurally so different.
Much like comparing Judas Priest to Godsmack, the evolution of art is always a fun thing to witness, especially when it’s the art styles within the same genre and medium.

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