Maybe when you were younger you watched cartoons on television that centered around action: climbing, swinging, jumping, and fighting. Maybe in your younger days you watched those cartoons specifically for that action. Maybe it entertained you for the moment as a child and that is the end of your memory. Or maybe you not only took in the action from the show, but also the reasons for the actions performed, the reasons for such dramatic and heavy subject matter of such shows, and the morals embedded.
If you are like me, then you enjoyed those shows because of that extra substance, aside from the thrill of watching the fight scenes. I remember the feelings my heart had when a character passed away, achieved something, or stood up for what he or she felt was right during action cartoon series such as Sailor Moon, Justice League Unlimited, and Naruto. Most of these actions shows taught me life lessons that other comedic cartoons that seem easier for children these days to comprehend always lacked.
I was conscious to these lessons taught because many times they related directly to situations that were taking place in my life at the time, but maybe you watched for the entertainment aspect but still unknowingly clung to the lessons, enacting them when conflict arose in your life. Because of this I make the case that action cartoons are more than just relevant, but have been essential to the development of children of Generation Y, and unfortunately as time continues to pass, it pains my soul to witness the classic genre of cartoons slowly die.
You may ask why action cartoons are relevant to yourself or critical to the lives of average American children. You can answer that question yourself, by analyzing what shows you seriously got into as a kid. If the shows didn’t affect you directly while in elementary school, I’m sure it at least affected some of your male peers of the time. I remember when Dragon Ball Z got extremely popular and every kid on the playground was doing kamhameha’s at each other nonstop. The impact was crazy. At my school, many bigger students who bullied those smaller than them were being taken on more often by their usual victims. Shows like Dragon Ball Z influenced the bully’s daily prey to stand up to anyone bothering them rather than just backing down again. Anyone watching the show would much rather be the one that stands up for
Krillin (L), and Goku (R)
themselves and for what they feel is right, like the show’s protagonist Goku, rather than running and hiding in the face of danger like Goku’s cowardly sidekick Krillin sometimes did.
Most action cartoons from the end of the twentieth century into the early twenty-first century describe the same principles concerning the assertion of self which may warrant self defense, and the decision of whether or not action, usually violent, should be taken. A show that aired on Cartoon Network on March 6, 2000 titled Gundam Wing discussed deeper topics like imperialism and the rebellious tactics used to fight against it, letting young viewers see how the powers that be can sway the masses’ perspectives in their favor, through conspiracy involvement and slandering freedom fighters opposing their oppressive rule.
Batman Beyond, an old favorite of mine, had episodes in which corrupt companies got away with secretly creating illegal chemical weapons, showing the corruption of government when in close ties with corporations.
On the other side of the social issues spectrum, action shows like the Powerpuff Girls taught me to never underestimate the power of females and not to see them as lesser beings. I’m sure the show planted the same seed in its many young female viewers, letting them know that action should not always be left up to the boys and that they, too, can make a difference in the world. All of these messages and more flooded my mind, and as I grew older and did more research on history, I began to understand why these plots were chosen for what many write off as simply children’s cartoons: the subject matter is a direct reflection of real life. The shows displayed the issues and gave ways to solve them, diving deep into the darker side of villainy as well as the adversity faced by those associated with heroism.
(Main character Heero Yuy, with his Gundam behind him)
I presume that since shows like the ones mentioned have partially influenced many in Generation Y to grow up and use the newfound power of social media to enact change, the corporations that now own many of these cartoon channels (like Time Warner which owns Cartoon Network) would rather not air such programs, even if they are in demand. However, there are primarily two direct factual reasons as to why cartoons centered around action, adventure, and long driven plotlines are disappearing: Low ratings, and parental concern.
Regardless of the artistic masterpieces that many of the cartoons are, they are expensive to create and if the network sees that the show isn’t producing enough profit from either its ratings or accompanying toy lines based on the show, they will choose to cancel it’s run. While many of these action shows are actually toned down for the American audience with networks editing out blood and frightening imagery, some parents were still concerned about the amount of violence in action cartoons, specifically from the early two-thousands and onward. Because of this many shows were switched to different time slots for airings, usually weekend nights rather than weekday afternoons, contributing to the decrease in action cartoon ratings.
This is sad to me not because I love many of these shows that were cancelled, but because what is replacing those shows are dumbed down slapstick comedy programs that do not spark imagination or provoke thought with the newer generation of youngsters. The only promising action cartoon airing currently is Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra series that emcopasses a world at war, the show being a spin off series from the Avatar: The Last Airbender saga which owes much of its success to timing (the animation style of the show is heavily influenced by Japanese anime and the first episode aired in 2005, when anime had peaked in popularity within the United States).
Despite this, the show is overshadowed by an onslaught of new shows that are either cheaply produced or have weak plots that clearly lack depth (or both), such as Fan Boy & Chum Chum created by Eric Robles, which is about two friends going around their town doing immature activities and annoying neighbors, and Sanjay & Craig created by Jim Dirschberger, Andreas Trolf, and Jay Howell, which is pretty much about the same thing.
(Chum Chum on the left, and Fanboy on the right)
I don’t hate satirical cartoons, but even the best cartoons based on humor also had messages and morals involved in episodes. This is what made shows like Spongebob Squarepants, created by Stephen Hillenburg, originally so popular, having a Mr. Krabs as a greedy businessman, Squidward as a self-centered and pretentious artist, and Spongebob as a hard-working but oblivious character who often gets taken advantage of by those characters that he calls his friends. This is a reflection of real life! Many long time fans of the show despise its current seasons that undoubtedly lack that real life aspect that made the cartoon such a success back in its early years.
Unfortunately, most people have come to a consensus that satirical cartoons are not to be taken seriously because the same thing that happened to Spongebob has happened to almost all other humorous cartoons, with the exception of Clarence, created by Skylar Page (which is rumored to be cancelled soon due to a case of sexual assault that Page was accused of inciting), that showcases children dealing with adult issues the adults in the show have trouble dealing with themselves, in childlike ways, such as divorce, the education system, and loneliness.
(The lovable Clarence)
Since children do not take cartoons like that as serious material from which knowledge of life can be gained, action cartoons are the last hope for the moistening of the youth’s imagination that is currently drying up. They are needed in today’s new reality where the children, and people in general, are so very disconnected from it. Children’s programming networks are no longer teaching the youth, but pacifying it, and while there is a time and a place for everything, I think that now more than ever that its time for some action.