Nostalgia, Animation, and the Rise of Adult Cartoons


Ariana Duckett

Copy Editor & Senior Staff Writer

Swearing, violence, sexual content, and other trademarks of shows made for mature audiences have typically been associated with live-action filming. The popularity of recent adult animations, like “Nimona,” “Arcane,” and “Entergalactic,” portray a new interest of some mature audiences: watching realistic scenes through the comfort of animation, a style which corresponds more with childhood television.

Forms of animation have existed in the world for thousands of years, and caricatures of people appeared in newspapers as political satire and social commentary from the 17th-19th centuries, well before the rise of popular animators such as Walt Disney. The invention of celluloid film in 1888 allowed for stop-motion images and could be accompanied by music and voice actors, leading to the creation of early animated films such as “Steamboat Willie,” which became the catalyst of Walt Disney’s empire. Alongside other early films, such as “Fantasia,” and a slew of Disney Princesses based on mostly European folktales, the genre lacks diversity in all aspects — portraying women with tiny waists needing to be saved by men, with few LGBTQ+ or BIPOC characters in the spotlight until recent decades. Adult animation has formed a unique industry of inclusivity backed by the same creativity that made some of the greatest animated children’s films ever made. For older generations craving reminders of the past, adult animation can be an imaginative blend of the two.

“Nimona” features LGBTQ+ characters that deal with betrayal, social isolation, and classism alongside many cool fight scenes. Its setting blends futurism and the medieval period with an artistic animation style similar to that of Marvel’s “Spider-Verse” franchise, making it stand out.

“Arcane” is even grittier. An elaborate ensemble of anti-heroes battle a powerful drug network, controversial magic, and mind-boggling inventions. Diversity is at its forefront alongside its complex plotlines. In my opinion, “Arcane” is one of the best shows ever made.

“Entergalactic” follows the love story between a cartoonist and a photographer in a city similar to New York City. Similar to “Nimona” and “Arcane, its animation style has more vibrant colors, and “Entergalactic” can take advantage of portraying acid-trip-esque fantasies the characters have of one another because it is not live action.

Each one of these films take place in energetic cities with relatable and realistic characters that older audiences may prefer in their film choices.

However, not all adult animations fall in the drama genre or use colorful, three-dimensional animation. Shows like “South Park” satirize childhood by featuring characters still in grade school. “Family Guy” utilizes the sitcom format of live-action shows and follows a dysfunctional family and critiques American culture. They began before the turn of the millennium, highlighting an older generation of jokes yet still capturing audiences to this day.

Dark fantasy anime has garnered large fan bases as well. “Attack on Titan” follows the struggle of a society to fight against vicious monsters that wreak havoc on their civilization, which relies on the fighting skills of a select group of soldiers to keep the masses safe.

When cartoons confront the struggles of adulthood by challenging the innocence and safety of animations, drawing upon what can be considered make-believe, audiences can be both intrigued and repulsed, amazed and shocked at what the blend of nostalgia and modern storyline can reveal.


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