Being in development for some time, Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir has been through a convoluted development process that wound it’s way through various countries and formats before finally landing on the kid-friendly, 3-D CGI production we have today. It’s the type of show that’s becoming increasingly rare, but for a variety of reasons that are worthy of discussion.
Shout! Kids sent me a copy of their recently-released compilation DVD for Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir for which I was rather grateful. I was also heading in completely blind; having not seen any trailers for the series at any stage of its production bar the promo image originally released. So it was with a mixture of excitement and apprehension that DVD was loaded and the play button pressed.
It was there that the suspense ended. Miraculous Ladybug (as it is also known in some markets) is a decent show for many reasons. Not only does the show have a superbly smooth CG style that even Pixar struggled to get to ten years ago, there has been some effort to make the show more interesting in some non-traditional areas. The diverse cast is one, and another is to have Marinette be a fashion student as opposed to the more common obsessed fashionista. The character designs are also quite well done, and the design of Ladybug and the rest of the cast reveals a strong devotion to appealing characters.
For all its strengths however, the show struggles in a few key areas. For one, it exhibits a terrible case of Euro-itis. That is, being an independent, (primarily) European production, the show must rely upon international sales and as a result, suffers from simple plots, shallow characters, and over-eager animation. The end result is a show that has a lot of potential being hamstrung by the need to appeal across languages and cultures.
The main characters are too one-dimensional and rely heavily on the supporting cast. While this could be explained away as being necessary for the target audience’s sake, it doesn’t make sense when compared to other shows for the same audience. The cast also tend to have over-exaggerated traits that seem to be more for dramatic effect than being an inherent part of their character. In this, the show shares many traits with the Italian show Winx.
Miraculous Ladybug also reminds me of a North American show called Storm Hawks (above) that was similarly serviceable and sold around the world. That show was first produced in 2007 and proved popular enough to warrant a second season and a few not-insignificant merchandise deals. The thing is though, 2007 was a radically different time in the animation industry, when the traditional business models hadn’t been quite disrupted yet.
The seismic shift in viewing habits of kids in particular has meant that more than ever, shows are being tailored for niche audiences. What irks me about Miraculous Ladybug is that the concept should fit into one of the more popular genres of shows, yet it attempts to be both a magical girl show and an action show, and ends up trying to serve two masters; an impossible task. The final product is a show that is somewhat schizophrenic, bouncing between the male Cat Noir, and the female Ladybug while never committing to either. The anime-esque trailer that was produced during the initial development shows a radically different show, but one which seemed happy to exhibit one or two strong themes and an obvious protagonist. Storm Hawks was at least an unabashed action show.
The reason this needs to be brought up is that as animation production has increased, so has competition. The idea of relying upon international sales is fast becoming a memory thanks to Netflix, and the notion of worldwide popularity is quickly dwindling. How ironic is it that the arrival of a free, worldwide distribution platform would herald an increase in niche content targeted at particular cultures or countries?
Perhaps this is the price we pay for being able to watch content that holds a greater appeal to us. However, a side-effect of the drastic increase in animation activity is the fact that more than ever, content needs to be better than the competition if it is to even break even. Networks no longer have more hours to fill than there is content available, and consumers no longer have more hours to fill than content they can consume.
This inversion of the status quo means that shows like Miraculous, while good, entertaining, and visually appealing, will be dealt a short shelf life. Things changed during the years it was in development, and tastes have overtaken it. Sure there is still a fandom, but shipping characters does not pay the bills; only views and merchandise can do that. It remains to be seen how long it remains in the public’s consciousness. The old adage of ‘the don’t make them like they used to’ certainly applies to this show, unfortunately.