Adventure Time started out as a buddy comedy with a
predominantly fantasy theme. The Simpsons started out as a traditional family
sitcom. Neon Genesis Evangelion started out as a fairly straightforward mecha
show. What all these examples have in common, is that they started off as one
kind of show, and transformed into something quite different. Which begs the
question, are animation audiences more tolerant of their favourite shows
Live-action shows don’t seem to be nearly as resilient.
Shows that survive many seasons also stick to one genre, and make sure they are
very good at it. New seasons of old favourites can find themselves on the
chopping block quite quickly if they try and make too great an attempt to shift
Animated shows on the other hand, seem to be quite flexible
when it comes to switching genres. The Simpsons is a great example of how
that’s true. Starting off as in a very traditional mold, it quickly morphed into
the high-water mark of television. It could freely bounce between slapstick
comedy, serious drama, and political thriller; sometimes all within one
Other shows are more subtle. Adventure Time and Evangelion
strung their changes out over multiple episodes. Both beginning as relatively
innocent shows before taking a decidedly darker and more sinister turn. In the
latter’s case, it evolved into a true psychological drama with some pretty
Yet live-action can’t seem to match animation in this
regard. Shows that try to mimic the Simpsons have found themselves relegated to
history. Shows that changed over time, stayed well within the boundaries of the
genre they began in.
Is this a special quality of animated content, or merely a function
of the content itself?
It’s well known that audiences must suspend belief when
watching any animated content; they must if they are to enjoy it. Consequently,
they are more open to things that they otherwise would not; such as, shifting
genres. Live-action content also requires suspension of belief, but on a far
more basic level than animation. The result is that what audiences perceive to
be within the realm of possibility for a live-action show, is far more
restricted than for an animated one.
Animated shows that allow their chosen genre to waiver
obtain a real benefit too. If done correctly, it can provide a compelling
reason to watch; many people have more than likely gone back to watch Adventure
Time from the beginning to see how it all began.
Can animated shows build upon this peculiar trait? I think
they can, because it opens the door to all kinds of innovation. Steven
Universe is a great contemporary example that has meandered and developed in a
way that not only provide for excellent entertainment, it also draws out the
depth of the characters in ways that are different to more story-driven shows
like Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Overall, it’s an opportunity that has so far gone relatively
unnoticed. The time is right to exploit it and allow one of the true advantages
of animation to shine.