The Powerpuff Girls, Blessed Ignorance and Fan Pigeonholing

Powerpuff GIrls-Bubbles

The Powerpuff Girls continues to exude an influence over American animation and beyond. Such a success was the original show, Cartoon Network brought it back for a one-off 10th anniversary special. Not being able to leave well enough alone, they’re dipping into the pot again with another, CGI special coming out in 2014. Undoubtedly popular and influential, the show also made pariahs out of certain fans.

Ben Mitchell has posted a great review/analysis of the show over on British animation site Skwigly that is personal but at the same time, hits the spot when it comes to the show:

I suppose we were the Bronies of our generation. After a few minutes you either got it or you didn’t – that alternately beneath or above the surface of innocuous kids’ fare there was something a lot more clever, sharp and self-aware going on. Little tells such as the passive-aggressive asides the show’s narrator (Tom Kenny) would make, or the blink-and-miss-them double entendres and obscene sleight-of-hand sight gags all cultivated a general sense that the folks behind what you were watching were up to something not nearly as innocent as the squeaky voices and bright colours would have you initially believe.

All these are qualities that the show has become famous for. However, fans of the show (when it was being broadcast) were expected to follow certain, well, expectations:

Such was the lament of all Powerpuff Girls fans who didn’t happen to be preadolescent and female. The world just didn’t understand, nor could they without giving it the hours of semi-drunken attention I’d had by that point.

Which in essence is the very issue the show has had to struggle with since it first began. Yes, it featured three female protagonists and was overly sugary, but it wasn’t overly girly. Not to use that term as a perjorative, rather I mean it didn’t conform to the usual notion that shows with girls and heavy dose of pink needed to be aimed at, or exclusively enjoyed by, girls.

The show garnered a large fanbase spread among all sectors of society, but ran into the problem that shows before (and since) have had to come to terms with: the show appears to be better suited to girls, therefore it is only suited to girls.

Fans of the show know the truth, but impressing that on others is a tough sell. Is ignorance to blame? Certainly in a partial capacity it is. Plenty of people form opinions on things they haven’t seen and form subconscious policies on them as a result. That means that if they think or believe that the Powerpuff Girls is a girly show, then they are much less likely to conclude that it isn’t, even if they’ve watched it. It’s not impossible, but the odds are high that they won’t.

The issue extends to fans themselves as well. Become known as a male fan of a supposedly female-oriented show, and opinions and biases are immediately applied to you.

It’s an unfortunate human nature, and it’s one that is hopefully starting to change in terms of animated content. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and the subsequent Brony phenomenon (coincidentally another show that Lauren Faust worked on) has shown that there is the potential for fans to be more open about which shows they enjoy without having to justify it to a higher standard than previously.

Can you name any other examples of shows where fans could be unfairly stigmatised?

Why Make A Show That Makes People A Little Uncomfortable

The MIPCOM conference is currently under way in France and it attracts people from all over the world looking to buy and sell TV shows. Naturally, the large US networks are represented and indeed undertake keynote addresses to help sell their wares and to hint at where the networks themselves are going.

Cartoon Network plays a part and Turner Animation president and COO Stuart Snyder had this to say about the stuff that the network looks for:

As for how to stay ahead of kids’ interests and keep them tuned to his cabler, the Cartoon Network, Snyder said it’s all about finding unique voices, from wherever. “We look at projects and pitches that make us a little uncomfortable,’ he explained. “If one does, we think we’ve got something.”

Now I will admit that finding ‘unique voices’ is absolutely what a network should be looking for, and fair play to Snyder for bucking the trend and blazing a trail for themselves with the likes of Adventure Time and Regular Show. But to find them from “wherever”? Surely they should be looking in defined places, no?

Simply picking content from random places doesn’t seem like a particularly sustainable method of discovery. Annoying Orange is a prime example of this approach and it is, sadly, destined to be a fad; a show very much of its time. Comparatively, Adventure Time was a short in the finest Fred “throw a bunch to the wall and see what sticks” Seibert tradition and it’s done massively well and looks set to become a true classic.

At the same time, there’s a distinct lack of explanation as to what constitutes “uncomfortable”. Does it mean hard to watch, makes the viewer feel down/dejected or is it that they won’t admit to liking it. Or is it the fact that Synder and his team is uncomfortable about the need to move away from the ‘safety zone’ that all corporations love because it brings them reliable revenue?

My hunch says the last one. Only by taking risks can Cartoon Network hope to stay ahead of the pack (for now) and if a concept makes executives a little uncomfortable, then it surely must be right.

Any thoughts? Add them in the comments below!

When Cartoon Network Shoots Themselves in The Foot

Although this was posted on r/AdventureTime today, I had to go and check it out for myself just to be sure. Here’s my actual screenshot (click to embiggen):

 

Nice isn’t it? Instead of a full episode of Adventure Time (or any other series), I’m greeted with a nice reminder that I don’t, in fact, have cable or satellite.

While I heartily laugh at the subtle suggestion that I start forking out and arm and/or leg for channels with more commercials than content, this screenshot nonetheless represents Cartoon Network shooting themselves in the foot and taking aim at Adventure Time fans too.

Why? The answer is simple. By restricting online streaming of full episodes, guess what that does? It not only inconveniences fans who want to catch up on the latest episode, it also directly prevents new fans of the series from increasing their enjoyment of the show. Surely the whole point of entertainment is to get as many eyeballs on it as you can, right?

Turner Broadcasting seems to think differently however, and would rather cut off fans both old and new from their favourite show, by extension reducing the audience and the market for any merchandise.

Now that is not to say that the show will disappear, even the post on reddit is called “This is why I torrent” alluding to the fact that the show really is that good. The downside for Turner and Cartoon Network is that any fan who moseys on over the torrents is a lost fan, one whose interest (and potentially money) is directed away from their operations.

If I were studio chief, I would have serious misgivings about seeing fans go elsewhere for the sake of ensuring that only paid-up subscribers see the legitimate stream.

The Adventure Time Season 1 DVD: Already Past Its Sell-By Date?

Finally, after 652 days (or 1 year, 9 months and 13days), the Adventure Time Season 1 DVD will be released on July 10th, 2012. While this is good news, is the idea of DVD boxset already past its sell-by date?

First though, a clarification; I ‘m not referring to the content. We all know Adventure Time is awesome and has maintained a great level of success since its debut. No, I’m talking about the very notion of a DVD boxset itself, and in this case, the almost egregious delay between the end of the 1st season and this release.

Oh sure, we’ve had the odd DVD featuring a handful of episodes, but we’ve had to wait well over a year for the complete boxset. Why is this so? The answer is as maddingly simple as it is annoying, release windows.

Release windows: wherin studios/networks attempt to extract the maximum revenue from one source before permitting another one to supplant it. Much the same as why DVDs must come out after the theatrical run, DVDs of TV shows are only permitted to be sold well after the network has eeked all the ad revenue it can from the season.

That’s not to say the episodes won’t be broadcast, they will, but they won’t command near as much revenue in the perpetual reruns that they do when they fresh. Hence the lag, which persists despite the fact that two additional seasons have been broadcast since and the 4th began last night.

So that’s left me asking, just why do season boxsets continue to exist, and why, oh why, has the idea of a delay not been beaten to a pulp by now?

Consider the following points:

  • Internet streaming is on the rise (Cartoon Network themselves stream the latest episodes)
  • As a sub-point, the incredibly internet-savvy generation that are precisely whom Cartoon Network are targeting have probably already downloaded the torrents already (as if the fact of Frederator leveraging the internet as a promotional tool isn’t an indication enough of this already)
  • Boxsets are costly to make and distribute. I’d wager the profit margin on DVDs isn’t near as high as it was)
  • TV shows depend on regular viewship. Leaving more casual fans in the cold causes them to move onto other things as they are starved for new episodes.
  • Just think, all this time, Cartoon Network could have been making even more money through boxset sales. Advertising revenue is one thing, but it doesn’t evaporate when boxsets are released.

Now in fairness, a year and some change isn’t too bad. Some series have to wait much longer. Some are never released at all, destined to languish in the archives forever.

Thankully though, the rise of the internet and its associated services like Netflix have meant that TV shows are making it online quicker than ever before (Portlandia comes to mind, as does Futurama). Animated shows deserve similar treatment, not being trotted out over a year after the iron was struck.

The Adventure Time Season 1 DVD boxset is the last of a dying breed. I’m willing to wager that we won’t see a fourth season boxset come 2014.

A Look at Cartoon Network

Via: Wikipedia (yes, I’m old school)

Today’s the turn of Carton Network, a channel that I used to watch religiously at my friend’s house back it had a lot of Wacky Races on it.

There’s a few hardcore folks out there who feel that calling it “Cartoon Network” is now false advertising considering that it has live-action as well as animation on it. That’s missing the point though, because when compared to the other networks, it still has by far the most and broadest range of animation of the lot.

While there are the channel’s current offerings in Adventure Time, Regular Show and the Amazing World of Gumball, it’s somewhat dismaying that the network seems to banish slightly older shows like Billy and Mandy and Foster’s from the schedule. They then remain in limbo before they’re considered ‘old’ enough to be broadcast on sister channel, Boomerang (which by they way, features the likes of The Secret Saturdays and Johny Test if that didn’t confuse you enough already).

In fairness, there’s nothing particularly ‘wrong’ with the network, it just seems to be all over the place when it comes to the programming. I mean, who are they targeting? Yes, they’re gunning for 6-14 year old boys but how well do they compete with Disney XD, a channel created for and devoted solely to, boys? My guess is they’re coming up short.

They had a massive hit in the original Ben 10, but they’ve been riding that horse for years now with nothing similar appearing to replace it. On top of that, there was/is the bizarre situation where the network is in the same corporate family as Warner Bros. and DC (comics) yet the content of those divisions are more often seen on other channels owned by competitors!

That doesn’t make an awful lot of sense as CN could be leveraging those libraries, and those that it owns; think Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry. Yes, there is the new Looney Tunes Show, but that simply updates the characters to the modern era in a manner that keeps the characters alive but in no way endangers the viewing numbers with Baby Boomer content.

Cartoon Network has been lurching from hit show to hit show as of late but in fairness to them they’ve been on the ball for Adventure Time when it comes to merchandise, an area they’ve traditionally been spectacularly weak in.

It would be nice to see some more cohesion between shows as well as a more robust lineup that doesn’t skew so hard towards different tastes.

Overall, Cartoon Network remains the best choice of all the channels for animation, but it has been slipping of late, and it is still uncertain how far that will continue.

Character Sundays: Mandy

Mandy from Grim and Adventures of Billy & Mandy

Okay Grim, when the rainbow appears, you take me to the end of it, and I’ll shake down the leprechaun for its gold.

I first discovered the Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy way back in 2005 and it very quickly rose to become one of my very favourite cartoons. Yes, the humour is slapstick and sometimes violent, the stories are completely wacky, and even the very premise is rather absurd. I mean, just how could two kids end up “owning” the grim reaper after winning a game of limbo?

The above reasons are not the full story however, as the characters themselves are one of the strongest and most likeable aspects of the show. You have: an idiot (Billy), a beleaguered anti-hero (Grim) and an acerbic, domineering little girl (Mandy), our focus for today.

Mandy’s character is comparative to a black hole in nothing good can ever come out of it. She is selfish, controlling, conniving, intelligent and above all, pessimistic about life in general. These she impresses upon everyone she meets; no-one is safe from her ire.

Surprisingly enough, Mandy does have some positive aspects. She remains friends with Billy despite his idiocy, and while she never displays a lot of emotion towards him, she does see to it that he is kept safe from himself and others. She also displays an odd mixture of tolerance and acceptance of Grim, who in spite of his powers is rendered subservient to her and her will and makes his dissatisfaction known.

Mandy remains somewhat of a loner throughout the series having only superficial relationships with other characters besides Billy and Grim. It is implied that she is equally feared and loathed by others, a situation that causes her some consternation. Although she often tries to bury it as the problematic “nice” side of her character, she still somewhat resents the situation.

What makes Mandy so endearing is that she, in a way represents, the sane voice of the universe of the show. In such a crazy world where a kid can have an Egyptian mummy for a mother (Irwin), there is a need for someone to fly the flag for sanity. Mandy happens to be the one in this case, even if she is notably missing a nose.

It is this apparent contradiction between sanity and uncontrollable rage that makes Mandy such a great character for a cartoon. She engages so much with the other characters and adds a lot of depth to what otherwise could have been just another slapstick cartoon.

Did The ‘Rule 63’ Episode of Adventure Time Boost Female Viewer Demographics?

Via: Frederator

[Updated below]

So here’s what I’m curious to know: Did this past week’s episode of Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake have an increased number of girl viewers compared to a normal episode and if so were the numbers of male viewers impacted?

I ask this because I’m curious to see whether the gender of the lead character can impact viewer demographics. Considering that the show is a male-leaning one anyway, did the number of girl viewers pick up because of an episode with a female lead character?

Also, how about the number of total viewers? Arguably if more females were watching and all the usual lads had tuned in, we should see an increase, right?

What are your thoughts?

Update: And the numbers are in, but curiously their only broken out for boys, not girls. Overall, 3.3 million viewers tuned in to see Fionna, Cake and Prince Gumball.

The press release only provides numbers compared to last year, so that’s not a lot of info to go on unfortunately. However seeing as it is the highest rated episode of Adventure Time of all time, which would suggest that its performance in each demo is up.

In any case, it would appear that this one-off, gender-swapped episode didn’t scare away male viewers in the slightest, which, if the wags are to believed, was nothing short of impossible to achieve.

Top Cat and Timeless-ness

Today’s post is a guest review of Kung Fu Panda 2 by Emmett Goodman. Emmett is a graduate from the Pratt Institute in New York and is a notable member of ASIFA-East. His personal review blog is here and his sketch tumblelog is here.

Top Cat is one of my favorite cartoons. But the recent news of a Spanish Top Cat feature (entitled Don Gato) has gotten me to thinking about how dated the stories of Top Cat are, and it looks like Don Gato is based on a pre-existing episode from the original series, which is just as dated. The original series is clearly set within its then present day of 1961-62. The characters are written with mannerisms that suggest a tame anti-authortarian attitude that looks more than harmless today. The show was also considerably more sophisticated in writing than Hanna Barbera’s other shows, particularly in the humorous conversations between Top Cat (“T.C.”) and local cop, Officer Dibble. The characters all idealize a perfect way of life, something left over from the innocence of 1950’s Americana, and still hanging on in 1960’s America.

I still like the artistry of the original series. The character designs of “TC” and his gang are still very cute and appealing (even though a couple of them look similar to one another), as are their individual personalities. And this was still in the days when HB’s cartoon backgrounds were rich in design and texture. The new Don Gato feature has a different look to original designs that makes them cartoon-ier, but still recognizable. However, the backgrounds are now rendered in 3D, which I have mixed emotions about. And while I can understand some being nostalgic for the good-natured feel of the old show, replicating that setting and mood doesn’t necessarily guarantee long-term success. Audiences today are more likely to mock and turn away from something that’s clearly dated and old-fashioned looking. Don Gato has a slight chance, however, as it is not as dated as some of HB’s other properties.

Timelessness has been proven to be a key to animation longevity. If nothing is set in the stone of its own era, it can viewed by any generation without fear of it being too dated. Most of the original Looney Tunes cartoons are perfect examples of being timeless, as they are a collection of characters for any situation handed to them. The personalities are not dated in any way. In fact, character personalities are not dated for the most part. And since the settings varied from middles ages to dali-esque fantasies to an exaggerated present day, they could be viewed by any generation, with the focus exclusively on the characters’ personalities.

With most modern cartoons, its a mixed bag. Some could have come from anywhere (I suggest re-reading out how Charles describes Adventure Time‘s success, as well as shows like Spongebob Squarepants, Futurama and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends) while others are clearly products of the present time (I cite the Ben 10 series and most of the Disney channel series, among other things). The recent Looney Tunes resurrection on Cartoon Network is a mixed bag, as the characters who were once placed in various settings are now placed in one sitcom setting. In a way, this makes them look like caricatures of themselves, and in turn, they look dated. And seeing Yosemite Sam singing over-produced rap-rock just doesn’t work.

If the Don Gato film was written with a new story, and explicitly stated to be taking place in the 1960s, I think it would move a lot smoother. But that’s just my opinion. I’m thinking of the last time Top Cat took feature length in 1988, which tried to put the characters in a 1980s setting complete with them singing badly-written hip-hop to meet the (then) young audience’s approval. Go check it out, and ask yourself why you never heard of it until now. Its called Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats.

As an adult now, timeless cartoons are easier for me to watch and still enjoy. Just watching something to mock its dated aesthetic doesn’t last very long for me. Although I understand show writers and artists needing to keep the present audience interested, they should really examine characters from the last 50 or so years, and narrow down why they are still remembered and beloved to this day, generations later.

The 7 Things That Made Adventure Time A Success

Adventure Time Promo art

Soon to be premiering its third season, Adventure Time has been on a seriously roll since it was first broadcast all the way back in 2010. Is there some kind of secret sauce that Pendleton Ward and co. have been hiding from everyone else? The answer is no, but there are a few things that the team, the studio and the network have done to ensure the shows success.

1. It’s Premise

Two best friends living in a magical land called Ooo? How could that not be special? How about if one of them was a magical dog who could talk? Even more so of course! The setup for Adventure Time is the ideal cartoon setting in that it allows for plenty of room for story. Being magical and all that, there have been no shortage of stories that make full use of such a location.

2. The Diverse Characters

Adventure Time is chock full of quirky characters who fill an episode and make it all the more fun to watch. Besides that, the regular cast are a diverse crowd, with a human, a talking dog, a bubblegum princess, a vampire and a flying ‘rainacorn’. Much like the Land of Ooo, the core characters are suitably different and complex as to permit a wide array of stories to be centered around them.

3. The Original Short

The original short, was part of Frederator’s Random! Cartoons and was broadcast on Nickelodeon back in 2008. Since Nickelodeon declined to pick up the series, it could have sat on the shelf for a year and a half. Instead, someone (somewhere) was clever enough to ensure that the short made it onto YouTube. In no time at all, it had ratcheted up over a million hits and a pseudo-cult following.

Besides that, the short was also extremely effective at introducing the world, the cast of characters and the kind of situations they have to deal with in the land of Ooo. Such a solid base was perfect as the foundation for the show’s fans on which to grow.

4. Getting Picked Up

With a bit of internet popularity, there was already an audience waiting for a series, so it came as no surprise when Cartoon Network announced their acquisition of the series, that there were many fast-paced discussions on forums as to how the show would turn out. As a result, the show’s premiere was one of the highest watched in Cartoon Network history and the show has remained a top ratings winner ever since.

The key here is that thanks to the show being on YouTube, it already had a group of people who wanted to see it. As such, it was easier for the creators and network figure out which direction the show should go in and what made it so popular in the first place.

5. The Tumblelog

The good folks at Frederator have run production blogs for all their shows since My Life as a Teenage Robot so it is no surprise that they have one for Adventure Time too. Stretching all the way back to the original short, there is literally hundreds of bits and bobs from the show like character model sheets, colour studies, sketches, storyboards and promotional art. It’s a veritable treasure trove of Adventure Time paraphernalia.

Why this is so important is because until now, the vast majority of shows normally hide such stuff away and try and keep it out of the public’s eye until at least the show’s premiere (the common fear is ‘piracy’). Posting such a large amount of art on a regular basis only served to whet the appetite of the fans, however, and when the first series was broadcast, many fans were already familiar with the episodes and were anticipating them even more.

6. The Secret Sauce of Awesomeness

[Shhh, don’t tell anyone]

7. Actively Engaging The Fans

I wrote about this last year sometime, but it is still something of a rarity in the cartoon landscape in that the producers actively engage fans and encourage them in many ways. Of note is the original tumblelog but also the many many fansites that have sprung up. The official tumblelog also requests, accepts and posts fanart and pictures of people either cosplaying or wearing Adventure Time clothing. No other show (outside of Frederator) seems to be doing this even though it has immensely helped cement the show’s reputation as being fan-friendly.

Conclusion

So there you have it, seven things that have helped Adventure Time become the success it is today. It should serve as a role model for other shows on how to successfully grow your viewer base into a fan base.

 

http://twitter.com/#!/buenothebear

These Characters Are Some of the Best Ever Created

Of course we already knew that, how could we not? It’s a show about imaginary friends, the kind that are uninhibited by the realities of life or the sober self-awareness of adulthood. Such a diverse range of characters are exactly the kind that kids are likely to invent and animation turned out to be a superb artform to showcase them.

It’s fascinating to me to see how such superficially simple characters can often have many, many different levels of personas and traits. Of the core group, not one of them could be considered ‘simple’. What was even better was that they all bounced off of and into one another which made for some very entertaining stories.

I suppose that’s what eventually got me hooked. Yeah, the visuals are wonderful (courtesy of Boulder Media in Ireland) and the stories are top notch (thanks to Craig McCracken and Co.) but it is the interraction and interpolation of the characters and their distinct personalities that made me watch it religiously when I lived in Richmond for the year.

The Whole Concept of ‘Primetime’ As A Going Concern

This morning I read over on ToonZone about the [Adult Swim] block of programming taking up an extra hour, meaning it will now begin at 9pm every evening. The blog post makes some goo points about the various challenges inherent in such a move and discusses the possible cannibalization of viewers from Cartoon Network.

I personally don’t think it will matter all that much, although it is a strange move. [Adult Swim] viewers are normally male, under the age of 25 and are presumably relatively intelligent. Being in the same category, I know that I watch a growing amount of programmes online after their original broadcast.

This got me thinking, does the entire concept of “primetime television” even exist any more? I know plenty of people who record hit shows like Dexter, Weeds and pretty much anything on HBO to a DVR to watch later. I know I watch tons of stuff through Netlfix and to a lesser extent, Hulu and with so much content available online afterwards (legally or otherwise) there is a growing cohort of viewers for whom the schedule of the broadcaster means little or nothing.

My concern when it comes to the [Adult Swim] decision is whether or not the added hour will be filled with meaningful programming. Sure, an hour or two of Family Guy and American Dad is great, but when you’re tacking on another hour just to broadcast re-runs if syndicated shows rather than re-runs of original shows, then you’re heading down the path of becoming a ghost network. A better move would have been to increase their budget, perhaps let them make longer format shows or to actually hire some animators instead of relying heavily on interns.

If the time of broadcast does not factor into [Adult Swim] viewers plans as much as other networks, then adding an extra hour may not have the same affect that it would have had say, five years ago. I might be wrong and it may still work, but I do wonder whether the tech-savyness of the audience figured in their decision.