Why? I mean, Kaling is not short on talent but she couldn’t have created something original instead? She’s already remaking the character, how much additional effort would be needed to make one truly her own? Not much! one wonders whether Kaling pitched an original show that got shot down for [insert your own reasons here] but got a reprieve when some executive realised they could leverage existing IP by making it about Velma.
And why does it have to be for adults? We’ve seen time and again that ‘adult’ shows are a niche product while shows with broader appeal can be just as ‘adult’ without toeing the line between PG and Rule 34.
ITS AN ADULT ANIMATED SERIES, SEE THERES GORE AND A NAKED GIRL AND EVERYTHING! THATS HOW U KNOW IT'S FOR ADULTS!!
The Simpsons is a prime example. You don’t get much more ‘adult’ than showcasing the effects of divorce on the kids, or even better, political campaigns. I suppose that’s all a bit too boring these days though.
The risk of officially-santioned Rule 34 material is also very real. Ren & Stimpy in its original series was a Nicktoon and while it was infamous for getting crap past the radar, when John K. was given free reign to indulge himself, the results are deeply buried for very good reasons; sullying the reputation of the original (amongst other reasons). The ‘nudge nudge, wink wink’ tone of a series mkaes for a good in-joke but once the secret was out, well, where’s the fun in that?
Will the same happen to Velma and Scooby Doo? What happens when Velma is taken beyond her natural environment of a kids show and relocated to a trope-laden college setting? Will the series be a critical take on female characters like Velma or is it destined to be a run-of-the-mill adult show with no real substance of any kind? Given the raft of such shows lately, my guess is a firm yes.
I like Velma, but can I like Kaling’s version of Velma? It’s too early to tell but I’m not optimistic.
Animators are a proud bunch and rightly so. Animation is not an easy artform to learn, let alone master. Animators draw upon a legacy that stretches back a hundred years whose earliest works continue to educate and inspire. Live-action can’t quite say the same; nobody makes silent films anymore but while rubber hose animation is antiquated, it never became obsolete either. Such longevity may be coming to an end and while the cause is not a single one, one company looms large: Netflix
Alternatively the hero or villain of the entertainment business, Netflix nonetheless pushed the industry into the modern era by catching it off-guard with streaming. Everyone struggled to catch up, while Netflix attempted to cement its moat with original content in every shape and form. Animation forms a key part of that moat; all the better to keep Disney at bay by acquiring younger viewers before they know who Disney even is. Netflix never set out to replace your favourite cable channel, it set out to replace your entire cable service. Ergo the often contradictory personality of the company’s offerings. High culture critical darlings on the one hand, and bargain basement, lowest common denominator trash TV on the other.
Animation was not going to escape the same fate and for every Midnight Gospel, there were a half dozen DreamWorks spinoffs. Yet the allure of a creative space with minimal executive interference was potent. Numerous high profile creators joined and excelled at Netflix and much like Nickelodeon thirty years prior, the results showed.
Yet, one wonders if their endeavours were actually part of a ruse. Not in the sense that Netflix would cast them off once the audience was acquired (which may or may not be or become true), but rather that Netflix, in its mad dash to build a library of content and reliance on data to get it there, was willing and able to actively devalue their contributions by drastically increasing the rate of production. There was a time when Disney would put out an animated film only once every three years. Then it became one every year, then it became one a quarter. Now Netflix is releasing one practically every week.
The company uses data extensively and in a capacity far beyond what Nielson ratings can ever hope to provide:
To put it simply, if you’re watching any TV show or movie on Netflix, it knows the date, location, and device being used to watch, as well as the time of your watching. On top of that, Netflix also knows about how and when you pause and resume your shows and movies. They also take into consideration if you are completing the show or not, how many hours, days, or weeks to complete the episode or a season or a movie.
Ultimately, it tracks every action taken by the user on Netflix and considers it as a data point. How many metrics will be there in total which Netflix might be using for data collection?
People and the data they produce changes over time though. What you liked as a kid is not what you may like today or what you may like in ten year’s time. Netflix does not care about the past or future though. They only care about the now, or rather, the future as far as it takes to produce and release a film or show. They produce things to appeal to viewers now. To grab their attention now. To keep watching Netflix now.
Netflix’s credo: Why rewatch an old favourite when a sparkly potential new favourite awaits to be discovered?
Caring (or Lack Thereof)
Truthfully, do audiences really even care? Netflix zeroed in on a formula that’s worked and will continue to refine it as the data suggests they should. Audiences demand entertainment; artists are among the few looking for fulfillment and a call to a greater cause. The former are concerned with their immediate gratification, not with the effort it took to gratify them or what happens to those involved thereafter. American football satiates an immediate need for pleasure; the lasting physical and psychological damage done to the players is the last thing on viewer’s minds.
Creators pour their heart and soul into passion projects hoping they will provide a lifetime of enjoyment but the reality is a flash in the pan. Culture moves so fast and things have to hit instantly and powerfully to even create awareness let alone viewership. Hence Netflix’s policy of only starting any marketing efforts a month in advance of release; any sooner and audiences will consider it old news by the time they can watch, if they even want to. Like I wrote in my recent Oscars post: stuff released in 2021 may as well have been released in 2001; that’s how old they appear now. Animation is not safer on other platforms either; all of which have the same library problem Netflix did but additionally face breakneck production schedules to catch up and keep pace with the industry leader.
Consume and Throw Away
What this adds up to is a new disposablness of animation. Artistic endeavours designed to be popular now and not the future, to be binged instantly before spending an eternity in a library; only ever a click away but obscured by a thicket of new content. The latest news out of Netflix reinforces this fear. A fear that even the greatest is simply no better than the average and no less fitting of a similar fate.
A final word of warning: animation is not a genre but may as well be as far as audiences are concerned. Westerns are a genre, and as they increased in popularity they too became formuaic and disposable and have deservedly languished in limbo for the past half a century.
The Oscars in general are struggling with relevance in an age of streaming and a population that has better things to do yet the animation community, year after year, finds plenty to alternately celebrate and complain about the animated awards. Why even bother getting worked up over something that is no longer relevant?
There was a time when the animated Oscars could be considered relevant but those days are over. In case you missed it, this year’s ceremony dispensed with the Best Animated Short category from the live broadcast (relegating it to a prerecorded segment), and the Best Animated Feature went to Disney’s Encanto; the studio’s ninth win in ten years, and 13th win in 15 years (including Pixar films).
Which, if you’re the director of a Disney animated film, almost has to feel like a participation trophy, right? You received it because of what you did not how well you did it. The award may be worth something personally, but to everyone else, it’s like the New England Patriots winning another Superbowl; exciting for them, boring (and skippable) for the rest of us, and a concern for the NFL that needs high viewership. Disney is going to release a film every year, so what’s the point? That’s strike one.
It’s not a perfect system, but at least the Annie’s acknowledge that award ceremonies are capable of becoming dominated by the films intertwined with the voting membership. Hence their ‘Best Indie Feature’ category. The Oscars skates long and hard on its reputation as the pinnacle award in movie-making yet repeatedly baulks at recognising the downright refusal of its membership to consider animation as an equal to live-action. Why even bother participating in something that shows no sign of treating you any better? That’s strike two.
Do you know anyone who watches an animated film because it won an Oscar? Of course not, everyone watches them when they are released and instantly move on to the next new film. Let’s be honest here, the Oscars are as much a promotional/marketing machine as they are a recognition of the best. There is, however, no longer an ‘Oscar bump’ to boost winning films and in any case, films on streaming networks don’t obtain the same financial benefit. Recognising the best film from the previous year is also a laughable exercise in 2022. We’ve moved on to this year’s films which are so often in practice, simply better. Everything from 2021 is so far in the rearview mirror, we can’t even see it. So you watch a film and nine months later it wins an award? Do you care? Do you feel validated that you spent the time wisely? I wouldn’t and I suspect I’m not alone in that regard. That’s strike three.
Studios may continue to see value in gunning for an Academy Award but perhaps its time the industry as a whole just moves on. Consumers certainly have.
The Walt Disney Company’s been in the news this week in ways that show it in a poor light. What’s going on and why does a company with erstwhile positive LBGTQ+ attitudes suddenly find itself on the defensive?
This week, ‘SQRAT’ creator Ivy ‘Supersonic’ Silberstein celebrated the postscript of over a decade of litigation against Blue Sky Studios/FOX (subsequently Disney). A lot of articles (and there are quite a few) comment that Disney can no longer use the character ‘Scrat’ or create any more films featuring him. Such an assertion isn’t entirely correct and once again highlights the muddy waters that lie between copyright and trademarks. Read on to find out why. …
Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) are the buzzword/fad/hot thing of the moment. FOX’s recent announcement that they were working on a show using the technology proved an inspiration to others but can the technology and the hype surrounding it be used to scam fans? It’s easier than you may think.
What is an NFT?
The gist is that since computers can create infinite perfect copies, art loses its inherent rarity factor. Enter the blockchain, essentially a glorified ledger that contains entries for each piece of art with a corresponding entry for the name of the ‘owner’. The ledger is structured such that everyone can see the entries and can therefore agree on the validity of the entries. It’s like a copy of the Mona Lisa; everyone knows the original is owned by the Louvre. An NFT takes that principle and applies it to any piece of artwork (or other ‘asset’); anyone can possess a copy, but only the buyer is listed as the agreed-upon owner.
How is This Related to Animation?
Selling the assets of shows and films always seemed like a sort of afterthought for studios. Indeed, many times they were considered waste to be disposed of. (For the life of me, I cannot now locate a link to the story of the entire, yes the entire, set of thousands of production cels from the Back to the Future TV show being put up for auction).
Enter Non-Fungible Tokens and their promise to allow creators to once-again exploit the rarity factor of their art without having to risk the exposure of having their art out there in limitless quantities.
Although FOX announced an NFT-based show a while back, Blockchain Buddies seems to be the first actual animated show to get out there with the technology. Per AWN:
The project will be a first of its kind interactive animated project, with NFT holding community members empowered to shape the future of the creative universe.
In other words, the show creates NFT assets that are purchased by fans. Those fans are then given some sort of say in how the show progresses. This is very similar to the approach that FOX announced with their project and a good indicator of the direction creator see NFT projects developing.
There’s a few positive aspects that I see to all this. The first is that it strengthens the bond between creators and fans. The latter gain a vested interest in the show, and creators can rely on their fans to guide the show in ways that keep them engaged and therefore maintain viability.
The second is that it shifts animated shows (and films, etc.) away from the consumerist approach to merchandise. Instead of cranking out mass-produced physical items, support is reduced down to a small number of relatively high-cost NFT assets. Fans thus gain more unique things to treasure.
If there are upsides, there has to be downsides and they illustrate how NFTs can be a double-edged sword. Bringing fans closer to the creators will make conflicts both more inevitable, and disruptive. If creators want to go one direction and fans want to go in another, who has the final say? Do creators need a ‘Code of Conduct’ for fans?
In tying the value of a show to quote/unqoute ‘assets’ there is a possibility that the life-span and indeed the shelf-life of shows becomes smaller. As new shows arrive using similar NFT value propositions, older shows are likely to lose value and ultimately become worthless. What happens than? When a show relies on a market as an intrinsic indicator of its value, what happens if the bottom falls out of the market for a particular show? What if fans rebel en masse and collapse the market for a show?
In business, companies must follow certain rules and regulations pertaining to the relationship between the ownership of the business, and the management who run it. NFTs are unbridled by such worries; people who buy an NFT are not considered an owner in the corporate entity that actually owns the show. (Such is my hunch.)
NFTs are new, but scams and frauds are not. How this affects animation and animation fans is through a microcap fraud. From the US government:
Fraudsters often use emerging technologies or industries – including Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and digital assets – to entice investors as part of a fraudulent or manipulative scheme. For example, they may publicly announce a development that is intended to affect a company’s stock price. Or they may promote a company that claims to be developing products or services relating to the latest news events or trends.
Here’s an example:
The image above is typical of the scam. It promotes all the benefits of buying in; even providing links that from first glance provide credibility. Clicking on the YouTube links brings you to something very different however. Animation-based NFTs frauds emphasise a community-based, common-interest, vested-ownership in a TV show or film. Yet placing them under a harshly critical light exposes the fraud. They are not simple sales agreements (exchanging money for goods or services), they are investment vehicles that require the exchange of money for an economic asset (the NFT).
Investing vs. NFTs
Disclaimer that the below is not intended to be, or should be interpreted as, financial advice. Always consult a registered financial advisor prior to making any investments
Investing is not for the faint-hearted and serious investors will always undertake their due-diligence before committing to an investment. That due-diligence is a thorough and intensely critical look at the investment being offered, but also its potential relative to other investments. For example, if you’re thinking of buying stock in The Walt Disney Company, you want to be really sure that the value of the stock is going to go up, but you also want to be really really sure that stock in Netflix isn’t going to go up by even more. Smart investors hedge their bets and buy stock in both companies.
NFTs on the other hand…
They’re more like investing in magic beans. Could they sprout a giant beanstalk? It’s possible. Can you sell or trade them to someone else? Sure. What happens if you buy the beans and nothing happens AND you can’t sell them? ¯\\_ (?)_/¯
Trust, or The Lack Thereof
Buying into an NFT-based show is akin to a rigged hoop-toss game at a carnival. The prize is right in front of you but only the game operator knows whether you can actually win or not.
The landscape is littered with failed Kickstarter projects as it is. Even major networks cast ideas and pilots aside all the time. Buying into an NFT animated TV show or film comes with ZERO guarantees that you will actually receive what is promised. Trust is wholly on the side of the fan which is why the traditional models of studio/broadcaster financing that’s firewalled from consumers is necessary. NFT-based funding runs roughshod over this; regardless if it’s a legitimate corporation like FOX, or a conman on the internet like in the images above.
I dislike the idea of NFTs although the original idea for community-verified ownership remains interesting. I also fail to see enough upsides to exploiting NFTs to create a show. People have found an interesting way of financing their shows and run their cons that skips around necessary laws and regulations. There are similar benefits and pitfalls to simply creating a company that owns a show and inviting fans to by shares. Of course that requires red tape with stiff penalties for fraud. NFTs are, for the moment, free of such government oversight and will wreck havoc until brought under regulation. In the meantime, caveat emptor.
Better late than never, the seminal anime TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion arrives on Blu-Ray at last.
Fans of Neon Genesis Evangelion have it relatively lucky (at least in Japan and the US), where the show and its films have been given numerous home media releases down through the years. The release that I happen to own is the Platinum Collection which was definitive at the time but shows its age in 2021 and hearkens back to a time when you pretty much had to buy DVDs in order to watch anime, and special features were almost always an afterthought.
Thankfully, GKIDS and Shout! Factory have created not one, but three collections for the Eva fan: the Ultimate Edition, the Collector’s Edition, and the Standard Edition. All three are a sincere attempt to appeal to all types of fan from the dedicated all the way down to the curious casual.
The Ultimate Edition
Unfortunately the Ultimate Collection sold out the day it was announced so unless there is an expansion to the limited quantity of 5,000, you are unfortunately out of luck.
The Collector’s Edition
The Collector’s Edition arrives on December 2nd and, while less featured than the Ultimate Edition, nonetheless packs a punch:
The NEON GENESIS EVANGELION Collector’s Edition is a deluxe 11-disc set presented in a rigid case, containing a 40-page book, 8 art cards, the Official Dub and Subtitled versions, and the bonus Classic Dub and Subtitled versions. The Collector’s Edition set contains over seven hours of bonus features including animatics, TV commercials, music videos, Japanese cast auditions, trailers, and more.
The Standard Edition
The Standard Edition, while lighter still, is no slouch and Shout! Factory were kind enough to send a review copy:
The Standard Edition is an essential five-disc set that will contain over five hours of bonus features, including animatics, TV commercials, music videos, and more.
This set is the closest to my own Platinum Collection but is by far its superior. I can say with satisfaction that it’s a joy to see Evangelion finally available in HD! All the detail, all the effort that went into the hand-drawn animation is finally allowed to shine and in its original 5:4 aspect ratio too. A 5.1 channel soundtrack also adds an extra level of enjoyment to the show that it lacked before and if you’re a purist, the original stereo tracks are included as well.
Both EVA films are also included, which is a great benefit given that they are usually separated from the series and in the case of End of Evangelion, are required viewing to feel you’ve seen the complete series.
The extra features are a very nice touch. So often with older films and (especially) TV shows, there is a dearth of material to work with with the result that the release’s producers have to rely on retrospectives and other gimmicks to pad it out. Fortunately nothing could be further from the truth here. There’s plenty of original content to choose from and I personally enjoyed the animatics as they offer an insight into how the show actually came together. With over 5 hours on the Standard Edition and even more on the Collector’s and Ultimate editions, they will please fans and entice non-fans further into the series too.
The only aspect I was disappointed with is that, as an [ahem] older fan that first viewed the series with the original English dub featuring Spike Spencer, Allison Keith, Tiffany Grant, et al, I would have to opt for the pricier Collector’s Edition. This is understandable as licensing isn’t free and it is unlikely to be a consideration new fans or those that live and die by their Japanese subs. That this trivial matter is the only negative aspect of the whole release is telling of the quality of the sets.
All in all, this is a timely release that will allow Eva fans to fill in the hole in their collection that the original TV series and films occupy.
It came out of nowhere: The Simpson family and friends walking the catwalk at Paris Fashion Week for Spanish house Balenciaga.
The entire scenario is a bit of a head scratcher and gives pause for thought. The first is that holey moley, the Simpsons is still relevant!? Much like old rockers still cranking out songs while never getting anywhere near the top 40 on Billboard let alone Spotify, the Simpsons remains, and is also available for hire! This isn’t the shows first ‘collaboration’ or cross-over and it’s unlikely to be the last. It does, however, speak volumes to the stature the Simpsons continues to command after more than thirty years.
The second thought, is that this special, 10-minute long episode is, appropriate? Yes, it’s a one-off and it’s a commercial, but it’s new content beyond the usual episode. It has a runtime more in line with contemporary online attention spans too. It’s also something I advocated the show do and ditch the half-hour episodes that cannot hope to keep pace with the times.
Lastly, it’s a curiously fashion-forward collaboration for the Simpsons; a family and town famous for wearing the same clothes almost all day, every day. It isn’t the family’s first dabble with high fashion however. In the Season 7 episode ‘Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield’, Marge famously bought a Chanel suit at a consignment store (that was less famously discovered by Lisa):
The theme of the episode is very much about class struggle as Marge discovers her new suit imbues her with social climbing powers the likes of which she’d never known before. Nonetheless, the episode is keen to emphasise that high fashion and the trappings it embodies do not come cheap. When Marge blows the family’s savings on a new Chanel gown to impress members of a wealthy country club she becomes aware of the sacrifice she is about to make her family undertake and the hard choice that entails. So it’s therefore amusing to see a family with humble, working class roots ham it up on a Paris catwalk wearing clothing that costs an arm and leg.
It’s easy to dismiss the piece as a gimmick because it was an integral part of Balenciaga’s show. It’s just hard to see what relevance it has to either the show or the fashion house outside of the context of the catwalk. Twitter is ablaze with hype and praise, but beyond that…? The Simpsons does not dictate fashion trends, and Balenciaga does not influence the show’s writing style or humour. The whole thing is memorable, but even fashionistas have already moved on (Paris Fashion Week continues as of writing).
What is the lesson here? Is it that The Simpsons is still relevant? Is it that the show sees new avenues to remaining relevant through stunts like this? Or is it a sign of the changing times; when media is less about relating to its viewers and more about selling them a desirable yet unobtainable lifestyle?
Fashion and animation go quite well together don’t you think? The former sees no shortage of inspiration from the latter, and the latter is rapidly expanding its fashion sense in recent years. It’s no surprise therefore, that articles on the topic of animation-related fashion come up rather frequently so here’s a few recent ones to check out.
New from Shout! Factory are Bluray editions of Laika’s films. Up first are Coraline and The Boxtrolls!
It’s hard to believe that Laika’s fantastic stop-motion films have been coming out for over a decade with very few imitators. Yet that’s positive, because those films retain their uniqueness amongst a vast array of superhero films and by-the-numbers animated comedies.
Now, with advances in HD media and so on, four of the studio’s films are getting proper BluRay releases with lots of lovely features. Up first are Coraline and The Boxtrolls which are out today (August 31st) with ParaNorman and Kubo of the Two Strings to follow on September 14th). Instead of pondering the films themselves, this review will be for the features that are completely new for both films.
However, it would be remiss to not mention how good both films look in HD. The level of detail that’s visible, which adds more to the viewing experience than you’d think, is incredible and if you haven’t seen both films in a while, be prepared for a few surprises. Returning to Laika’s early films after such a long time makes for a breath of fresh air all over again. They hold up exceptionally well and it is a credit to the artists and crew that they exhibit a truly timeless quality compared to such contemporaries as ‘Monsters Vs. Aliens’ and even ‘Up’.
Both boxsets are similarly styled and you get DVD and Bluray versions of the film along with a glossy booklet on each film. The extra features revisiting the puppets and their test footage are all new for home media. For students and fans, they are a true in-depth look behind the scenes that in conjunction with the other features from previous releases, are the kind of things that Netflix simply doesn’t offer. If you have any appreciation for stop-motion, you will want to check them out.
Just about out now from Shout! Factory, ‘Dreambuilders’ is definitely one for the kids, but that’s actually OK.
Minna’s life is turned upside-down when her dad’s new fiancée and her daughter move in. Her new stepsister, Jenny, turns out to be horrible and Minna is very frustrated. She wants her gone! One night, Minna discovers a world behind her dreams, where the whimsical dreambuilders create every fantasy and nightmare we endure nightly on their theater stages! Minna also finds out how to manipulate Jenny’s dreams. But interfering with dreams has dire consequences … and when Minna goes too far one night, Jenny can’t wake up anymore. Minna must enter the dream world one more time to face the nightmare she has created in order to save Jenny and her new family.
‘Dreambuilders’ will struggle to hold adults’ attentions but it’s the kind of film that kids will love because they’ll focus on what’s important. Two half-sisters who are more like chalk and cheese can stand in for any sibling relationship with its ups and downs. The animation isn’t Pixar-quality but then which kid ever notices that, let alone complains about it? The story is engaging and although the first half of the film trots along at a leisurely place, it gradually quickens towards the climax. Only the dialogue seemed to be lacking with characters struggling to get their feelings across without sounding mealymouthed. The cast of characters is diverse and for Jenny in particular, touches on a very real factor in many kids’ lives that is rarely if ever shown in children’s films.