Animated television is drastically neglected compared to its live counterpart. For a number of reasons, including but not limited to its association as children’s programming, adult-oriented animated television struggles to receive the same recognition from critics and academics. A strong tendency to incorrectly assume similar operations, formats, and styles between anime shows due to their shared medium is particularly evident. Animation is just one medium, but with the wide variety of animated television available, it is worth discussing not only the difference between animation and live television, but also the difference between animated broadcasts.
In a growing television market with many formats to watch one’s favorite shows, each format has come to have certain characteristics that help define the types of shows broadcast. Broadcast, cable, and streaming video on demand (SVOD) formats have followed different trajectories since their inception, and so it will be interesting to explore these differences when it comes to anime shows. fox The simpsonsComedy Central South Parkand Netflix Bojack Rider (representing broadcast, cable, and SVOD, respectively) are all hugely popular animated sitcoms, and their different formats have led to different subject matter, structure, variety, and invention. Animation already has a number of key distinctions in storytelling capabilities versus live action, but each format only reinforces those possibilities.
Much of the previous research on anime television has been concerned with legitimizing the medium. For the purposes of this argument, animated television will be assumed to hold many of the same capabilities as live television with respect to structure and complexity while simultaneously possessing greater variety due to the freedoms afforded by the medium. The similarities and differences between broadcast, cable and SVOD have been of particular importance due to the rise of streaming services as a viewing format.
In “Upgrading the Situation Comedy”, professors Michael Z. Newman and Elana Levine discuss the differences between “upgraded” modern sitcoms and older, more conservative, stereotypical shows of the same genre. These enhanced sitcoms, according to Newman and Levine, follow the production practices of film rather than television, and this “cinematization” helps legitimize what is often dismissed as less culturally significant. Noting a wide variety within the sitcom genre, Newman and Levine differentiate between older and “improved” sitcoms by the number of cameras used, audio design, dialogue, pacing, and story structures. Each style has its own advantages and disadvantages, including critical appeal, cost, and audience fragmentation and retention (Newman and Levine 78-79). Many of these traditional and “enhanced” sitcoms position themselves on all three types of television formats, with cable and SVOD leaning particularly towards “enhanced” sitcoms.
Recent animated television follows these qualities of cinema as enunciated by Newman and Levine. In terms of manufacturing, The Simpsons, BoJack Horseman, and South Park all drop the laugh track and follow a storyboard format that is more like single-camera shooting than multi-camera shooting. These production choices, in addition to favoring more mature and complex content over “less offensive” programming, position animated television closer to the aesthetics of action cinema than to its own medium. Newman and Levine write: “Following the impressive influence of The simpsonsmany animated sitcoms explored styles of humor that diverged from those of traditional live-action comedies, and in turn provided models for the creators of live shows…” (60).
Animated sitcoms, in their stylistic and narrative complexities, have influenced the storytelling of a number of live-action comedies, such as Malcolm in the middle (2000-2006), Everybody Hates Chris (2005-2009) and Philadelphia is always sunny (2005-). Newman and Levine position television against cinema, but another important qualifier in the perception of “quality” is the dynamics of animation versus live action. Many animated sitcoms, such as the Netflix Originals, push the boundaries of what is generally expected of the medium, stepping onto the same pedestal previously reserved not just for cinema but for live-action storytelling.
The quality of Netflix animation is discussed by Professor Eddie Falvey in his essay, “Situating Netflix’s Original Adult Animation”, in which he expands on earlier writings that consider Netflix original programming to be “quality television”. Beginning with a general description of how Netflix animation fits the “quality” title, including characteristics such as “intertextuality”, “intelligence”, “complex dialogue and themes”, it notes the greatest visual humor as a marker of “quality”. » television specific to the animated format (120-121). Falvey offers two case studies of popular Netflix anime shows that achieve this level of quality: BoJack Rider and Big mouth (2017-).
Regarding bojack Rider, Falvey notes the intricate storytelling and intricate characterization, something that plays on the traditional sitcom format but ultimately improves on its form. (121-123). It puts animation in the same category as live TV, even offering insight into the different opportunities animation has in storytelling. Overall, Falvey strives to legitimize adult-oriented animation, specifically characterizing how SVOD programming represents the potential of the format. The complexity and originality of Netflix’s adult animation is evidenced in a number of episodes of BoJack Riderparticularly the episode “Free Churro” from season five.
In “Free Churro” (2018), Bojack (voiced by Will Arnett) delivers a eulogy at his mother’s funeral. Except for a cold, open flashback in which Bojack’s father berates his wife and verbally abuses his son, the entire episode is delivered as Bojack’s eulogy. The only character seen or heard after the opening credits is Bojack, offering a stream-of-consciousness monologue about his relationship with his mother, his life as an actor, and a time when he received a free churro at a Jack in the Box . In the final moments, Bojack opens the coffin, only to realize he’s at the wrong burial.
After discussing an episode of his TV show Horsin’ Around, Bojack comments on the nature of sitcoms. He monologues, “You can’t have happy endings in sitcoms, not really, because if everyone’s happy, the show would be over, and above all, the show has to go on. There’s always more show” (“Free Churro”). This commentary not only illustrates Bojack’s own displeasure, but it also comments on the difficult nature of sitcoms in general. In his understanding of happy endings, Bojack is dooming himself to constant doom – if he must continue on his show, he will be unhappy.
Unlike traditional sitcoms, this episode (like many others in the series) offers no emotional resolution. After the last joke is told, the episode ends and viewers are no longer sure of Bojack’s emotional state. Falvey writes, “Complex characters depend on inconclusive readings…their actions and ideas do not provide complete portraits of them, but rather offer the viewer slices of information that they can take in in different ways” (123) . Bojack is a difficult character. His toxicity brings everyone in his life down, but “Free Churro” highlights the inner turmoil and complexity of the series’ protagonist. This unresolved moral and emotional ambiguity is a marker of BoJack Riderthe intelligence and complexity of the narrative.
While Bojack Rider is marked by narrative complexity and ambiguous characters, The simpsons is more coherent and stereotyped. However, this should not distract from the program’s outreach and the commentary it offers. The show doesn’t have the same freedom of complexity allowed in SVOD programming, but it offers a unique commentary on the nature of television. In his essay, “Reading the Ungraspable Double-Codedness of The simpsons“, Professor Simone Knox argues that The simpsons can be considered both postmodern and revolutionary due to its (then) unique “double coding”. Knox is particularly interested in the popular episode “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show” (1997) and how he reviews the show itself, how fans react to it, and the broadcast medium.
Using the “show-within-a-show” format, The simpsons criticizes the nature and activity of television. While the meta comment isn’t unique to animation (or even The simpsons), the specific comment mark in The simpsons specifically emphasizes scattering functions (77). Although Knox claims that the show satirizes the consumerist interests of postmodern television, it emphasizes how it is itself a postmodern consumerist broadcast show. The “double coding” of The simpsons comments and satires at the same time while following all the expectations of a program broadcast in prime time (80).
Knox’s work highlights the constant pressure of ratings and publicity. Although The simpsons doesn’t shy away from satirizing the medium, he still has to play by the rules if he wants to maintain the funding the station needs from advertisers. This parole sets the show apart from shows on cable and SVOD, which are less dependent on ratings due to narrowcasting, niche but dedicated audiences, and subscription funding.