When I first discovered Anime, my mind was blown. Here were Japanese animations being made which told adult stories with sex, violence, and all sorts of things I'd never seen before done in American films. As a teenager the constant pandering to children and the reluctance to accept more mature themes and ideas in American animated films pissed me off. Why can't american cartoons be taken more seriously and have stuff for adults too outside of South Park and The Simpsons?
In 1998 Stephen Spielberg tried to change that. After having a successful run of kids cartoons (Tiny Toons, Animaniacs, Pink and the Brain, etc), he took it a step further by giving us a PRIME TIME cartoon series aimed at adults. It was called "Invasion America." It was a sci-fi epic, featured a slew of big name actors including Leonard Nimoy, and featured more adult oriented themes such as sex, violence, and swearing!
It sucked and was a resounding failure.
The epic plot they were trying to weave would never be complete and the series was re-edited for Kids WB instead. Since then there have been a number of other shows which pushed american animation conventions further, but none of them really resonated with audiences or made enough of an impact. Still to this day the general perception of animation in America is that it's for kids and that if you're an adult you're too mature to enjoy them.
Looking back I think I understand why these things failed. Like the video games industry, animation was trying to "grow up" by imitating what it thought being mature is (the aforementioned sex, drugs, violence, and swearing) rather than by tackling real mature subject maters in a compelling way. Enter, Avatar the Last Airbender.
The series was aimed at kids, but throughout production it got DARK. VERY dark. Even though the show was still held through the same rigorous censorship restrictions that have prevented showing more "adult" themes, the show was able to deal with very real issues through the narrative of a kids fantasy adventure series.
And right now, I can't tell you how psyched I am that Korra has been doing so well. There's so much to like about that show, and it's wonderful that they've advanced the characters to be teens and are focusing on mature themes like relationships, racial identity, revolution, terrorist attacks and the fear it creates. Sure the series is about a group of magical people who can "bend" elements and fight martial arts, but underneath it there is a lot going on.
THIS is the type of animated series I wish were being made more prominent in mainstream america. You don't have to have characters having sex, swearing, and having copious amounts of blood to be "mature." If you do your job right and tell a compelling story with likable characters, people will watch! And what's great is that kids watching Korra can enjoy the fun action scenes while adults watching Korra can enjoy it on entirely different levels. This is what the best type of animations are, not just American. It's just good stories with good characters/characterizations.
Projects like Invasion America were honest attempts to make animation more accepting in America to adults, but at their core they were misguided. I think if we had more shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra just in production, it would be soooo much more helpful to dispelling the negative perception animation has in America. Everywhere else in the world respects Animation as a legitimate storytelling art form, it's high time we fixed that here. Keep up the good work guys!
And now for myself
Things I like about Korra and Avatar? I like the fact the religious center of this world is not christianity. It's SO rare to see other philosophies and religions being represented in American productions. I also seriously hope that Bolin ends up with Korra. I really don't like Mako and I think he's wrong for Korra.
Listening to: Escapist Podcast
Reading: Paper Towns
Watching: Avatar: The Legend of Korra
Playing: Minecraft: Multiplayer
Eating: Jaffa Cakes
Drinking: English Breakfast Tea