If you haven’t been paying attention to pop media (by I guess actually living a life like a functioning person who doesn’t analyze these things), “nostalgia rules” right now. When it comes to pop culture right now, the 80’s and now 90’s (to early 00’s in a way) in particular are back, and along with it the strong smell of nacho and cool ranch flavored snacks, and boy is it strong.
Now, being nostalgic is nothing new; society and pop culture is always nostalgic over something that came before. As a creative writer myself, hardly any of my original pieces or adaptations are modern. My work is set all over creation with a slight aesthetic bias towards 1900’s-30’s. If it is modern, there’s a decidedly mid-century aesthetic. I’ve been told I dress and look like a grandpa and or a 50’s/60’s singer. Despite actually being 300 years old, I’ll accept the latter. I’m all about nostalgia. I understand. Oh do I understand. But we’re in the midst of an epidemic of nostalgia when it comes to movies, television, animation and kid’s media. Is it a good thing? I say yes…and no.
Younger creatives having grown up or born in the 80’s and 90’s are finally starting to land big creative gigs, particularly the director’s chair. Thus many current cartoon series like Gravity Falls, Adventure Time, Bee & Puppycat, Steven Universe, The Amazing Adventures of Gumball and Regular Show, etc, all have pronounced “retro” aesthetics or leanings one way or another and show signs of their creator’s relative young ages and influences. It’s affectionate. Dare I say cute. The influence of anime on creators who grew up with it without exactly imitating the Japanese style is also showing up in shows more and more and that cross-pollination of influence is exciting (see Steven Universe, Bee & Puppycat in particular). So called “90s kids” and post 00′ current teenagers and tweens pushing the trend are generally innocuous (if not obnoxious). This is all good (in moderation).
Now, don’t get me wrong; in general the 90s was a crazy interesting time when it came to TV so I’m not knocking peoples fascination with the era here. While often cheesy, diversity was at it’s highest with live action prime-time shows, as was creator-controlled cartoons after the 80’s “Dark Ages”. Fox, WB, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network and to an extent Disney too killed it with their animated offerings. If looking at these eras and using inspiration from certain shows means we get good new media, so be it, bring it on.
However, this fascination for this 80s-00’s era has a side effect ; properties and icons of that era are now being resurrected, continued and or retooled en masse in a way I’ve never really seen before in terms of number. And it’s both awesome, but also sort of a problem.
2014 alone launched Girl Meets World, the sequel show to Boy Meets World. There is the highly anticipated but woefully deficient thus far (in my opinion, more on that later) Sailor Moon Crystal reboot and of course the new (and justly so) critically panned but successful Michael Bay‘s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action film reboot. Not to mention his continued mess that is the Transformers series (whose box office numbers while still astronomical are, after four films, starting to wane here in the States). Godzilla also stomped its way into a new American film (franchise) and another Jurassic Park film Jurassic World is forthcoming.
Toei (spearhead of Sailor Moon Crystal) has announced a new season of Digimon for the franchise’s 15th birthday, this time starring the original first (and possibly second) series cast after years of different casts and realities. The Powerpuff Girls (minus their original creator) returned in a TV special with a new look and a new series has been announced to return to Cartoon Network in 2015/2016. A live action Jem and the Holograms film has been announced, a Rainbow Brite and a Lion King sequel animated series are also in production. Disney also has a Snow White and the Seven Dwarves reboot of sorts with the new show The 7D. Former PBS darlings Magic School Bus and Reading Rainbow are set to return too. Netflix in addition to gaining Magic School Bus has also bought rights to Clifford The Big Red Dog among others so additional new series are also most likely forthcoming. Sonic the Hedgehog has additionally given a new look and a new upcoming show and game. Courage The Cowardly Dog’s creator John Dilworth has a short clip of presumably a new short in CGI which many believe will be a bid to a resurrected series (I’d say this is a good thing, since it wouldn’t content wise change much). The list goes on and on. (Know of any other resurrections going on? Comment and let me know any I missed.).
Now, all of this resurrection and revamping is not inherently a bad thing. Felix The Cat, Popeye, Betty Boop, Mickey Mouse, Superman, Batman & Robin, all have persisted more or less for over seventy years due to reinvention. Everyone needs Magic School Bus and Reading Rainbow in their lives. Unless it’s sexifying Queen Frostine and then demoting her to a princess instead in Candyland (I’m coming after you Hasbro) most of the time these retools for properties are harmless and gradual and have been occurring as long as a property is seen as viable. Scooby-Doo and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are two examples of franchises (not just characters) that continue to go on via periodical retooling and repackaging, (Zombie Island & Witch’s Ghost are superior when it comes to Scooby, however in my humble opinion). It would be great for more franchises to perpetuate in such a flexible manner.
However the sheer number of titles being retooled or revisited all at once right now raises an eyebrow. Why revisit Lion King 20 years later? Why Rainbow Brite? Why now? And like the answer is “Why not?” and…they’re right. And that is what is frustrating.
With each of these backwards revivals, unless super unique, it means we have one less totally “original” show or content being worked on. One that could have very well become a classic if given a chance. And that is where the heart of my concern is. These sequels and revivals are great, but when is enough, enough?
The revamps can indeed be quality well made productions with distinctive art, etc, but there is no assurance they will be successes either (see Thundercats reboot, which looked visually amazing from what I remember, Sym-Bionic Titan as another gorgeous show ended too soon and ugh, Loonatics Unleashed as an example of what not to do period).
I find the reluctance to try new things with no ties to an established property a bit boring. I fear that when revisiting these properties as quickly as we are, executives will jump onto the “nostalgia” bandwagon and instead of something happening more organically; we’ll be getting many cases of hastily resurrected and sub-par material (who wanted a Dumb & Dumber sequel exactly?). It becomes more about making things just to make them and get those “nostalgia dollars” than actually retooling something. This is creativity-wise pretty bankrupt.
Ironic enough, for all it’s line’s previous saccharineness, My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic is a good example of a revamp avoiding such issues and stands alone in addition to being a new face to an old franchise.
An example of what I’m worried about will be the norm? Sailor Moon Crystal. Sailor Moon is a juggernaut of a franchise and an anime, but it’s new “closer to the manga” anime Sailor Moon Crystal is woefully deficient. I know it means a lot to people, it means a lot to me. Which is why I’m really frustrated. It’s not a particularly well animated production. It’s stiff and lacks fluidity and humor. The animation is wonky at best, hidden underneath CGI.
Now, it seems to be getting better, maybe as of episode 4, but up until now it’s been riddled with mistakes and an inability to really stay on model. I am hoping things get better; Sailor Moon Crystal was delayed for two years, the show is bi-weekly, and yet we still get a Doritos-skulled Usagi and company serving shades of middle school “How to Draw Manga” anatomy. The draftsmanship is just not there. Well maybe it will be. The recent episode looked much better and they just made a big departure from the manga this week plot-wise as well, so I hope this means good things.
The question is, considering the route they went with this show, the lack of being aired on TV, the supposed low budget, the really sloppy artwork (aside from backgrounds) is this really a new era f0r the franchise or are we just riding a nostalgia wave just to ride a nostalgia wave? Doesn’t Sailor Moon deserve better than this?
If we must revisit a property, why not take a chance to really mix things up and present a really fresh and entirely original new version of said franchise? I want things done well. I’m talking taking more creative risks. I also want to see new things, original things given a better chance. I see so many fresh new ideas and takes on things both for established properties and original stories and concepts from young people on tumblr, my friend’s own work, and elsewhere online. We’re hungry for cool concepts. There is so much we could be doing.
We’re being told to look back, and while I’m happy to, I think out of anyone we’re also more than ready to look forward too.