I think a lot of people underestimate the power inherent in children’s cartoons. When they hear the word “cartoon,” they picture something light, fluffy, and utterly vacuous, filled with loud noises and sight gags. Or they might think of the painfully awkward and cheerfully grating tones of newer “edutainment” shows, most of which are not nearly as good as classics like The Magic School Bus or Wishbone. (Or maybe that’s just the nostalgia talking.) Either way, cartoons tend to serve as a kind of temporal placeholder to keep little kids occupied while the grown-ups go do important grown-up-things.
This woefully misrepresents and denies the kind of narrative impact that cartoons can possess. After all, cartoons are a staple of childhood, often giving kids their first real taste of serial storytelling. Obviously different age groups will be drawn to different types of shows; one can’t expect a two-year-old to have the same attention-span as a six-year-old. And to be fair, there is a place for cartoons comprised of stand-alone episodes and humor, both physical and verbal, like Looney Tunes, Rocky & Bullwinkle, or Tom and Jerry. Such cartoons don’t require a viewer to invest a lot of time in order to get the payoff, and with no over-arching plot to worry about, it’s very easy to introduce newcomers to the show. But I do believe that longer forms of story-telling can and should be presented to children at a young age so they can come to appreciate the art in all its forms. Unfortunately, animated story-telling gets ignored because a lot of people still think that anything drawn, and in some cases even CGI, as a “cartoon” and therefore “just for kids.” I have heard people refuse to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender, one of the greatest TV shows ever made (in any style) simply for the sin of being animated. And that’s a real shame. Continue reading →
This is the fourth part of a series of entries discussing various books that deeply influenced my writing and outlook on stories. You can read the Introduction here, Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here. Please note that discussion of these books may contain spoilers.
The next round of influential books didn’t come until I entered college. Granted, I found lots of books that I loved between the age of 12 and 18, but truly influential books are much rarer. In my freshman year, I discovered anime and manga. Last Exile was the first anime I ever watched (I’m not counting random Pokemon episodes I saw when I was little), and reading manga soon followed. A six-year obsession with all things Japanese had begun. During that time, I read and watched so much anime that I needed a list to keep track of them all. Three series stick out in my mind from that time that remain favorites and powerful influences.
Image via mangahere.com
The first of these was Pet Shop of Horrors by Matsuri Akino. This 10-volume series is a horror manga, not my usual genre of choice. It’s both beautiful and eerie, revolving around a pet shop in Chinatown run by the enigmatic, androgynous, and amoral proprietor known only as “Count D.” Each volume contains about four stories of various people who come into the pet shop and leave with a pet…under certain conditions. Like in Gremlins, disobeying D’s instructions as to the care and feeding of their pets often results in calamity. Sometimes the pets are helpful to their new owners, but most of the time it ends in tragedy. Weaving through these tales alongside D is Leon Orcot, a detective who is sure that D has something to do with the various mysterious deaths throughout the city, but is unable to come up with any proof.