Return of the Animation Age Ghetto?

When Batman: The Animated Series first aired over two decades ago in 1992, it represented something: it was the first in what would come to be an almost constant presence of well-written cartoons with compelling plot lines and characters.  Cartoons that carried a true mass appeal, and could appeal to viewers regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity.   For better or worse, it's the reason why now we have so many twenty- and thirtysomethings who consider animated television series as valid television options.    But has that come to an end?

The Animation Age Ghetto is a term to define how cartoons are both treated and written as kiddy fare because animation itself is thought to be only for a certain age (and arguably, gender) group.  It can affect everything from the way a given series handles violence to the series' continued existence itself.  Arguably, the term has gone out of fashion as B:TAS led to increasingly superior television series for action fans, with the 90's even having somewhat of a renaissance in terms of well-written animated television.   But as we really start to get into 2014, I have to wonder if the mindsets and attitudes that caused that era to exist aren't starting to creep back up again. 

In 2012, we hit an apex in terms of excellent Western animation series.  Young Justice, Green Lantern: The Animated Series, Avatar: The Legend of Korra, Thundercats, and Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes all aired weekly, and they all managed to find their own fanbases.  Despite that, with the exception of all but one, they were all canceled within a year.

What happened?  The story remains the same regardless of the series:  "the ratings were good, but unfortunately the toy sales were poor."  It was the case for Young Justice and Green Lantern, and it was the case for Thundercats.  Regardless of how popular a series is, if it can't sell enough action figures, it's going to be canceled.    More specifically--if the show doesn't sell enough young male-oriented toys, it's going to be canceled.   The flaw here is self-evident: if a series is popular with audiences outside of just young males, why not aim towards all of them?

Technically the same show as...

...this, but not really.

But instead, we're seeing networks cancel shows only to relaunch similar, clone-like series weeks later that have been re-tooled with the intent of having lesser drama and greater humor, things that supposedly boys prefer.  Action series are now being asked to be more like series such as Adventure Time and The Regular Show.

This hasn't even GOTTEN a replacement yet, but given how things are you WANT one?

Indeed, that's what happened with Marvel, which launched Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes around the same time Young Justice came out...and canceled it in the same year, only to launch Avengers Assemble a few months later, with a similar cast but simpler, more kid-friendly storytelling.  Assemble airs alongside Ultimate Spider-Man, which suffers the same problem: it swapped out the fan-favorite, tightly-plotted Spectacular Spider-Man for a cartoon that goes for jokes and more basic stories than its predecessor.

Funny thing: I thought this show would suck based on its promo image.

Marvel in general has abandoned more story-focused series like Avengers: EHM, Spectacular Spider-Man, and even the short-lived Wolverine and the X-Men to focus on more action series with a comedic bent, much to the chagrin of countless older fans.   Current Marvel TV big wig Jeph Loeb has discussed how he'd like their animation to be aimed "towards a younger crowd", and despite how all of their shows used to be aimed towards every crowd, it's been made clear that this is standard procedure from here on out. 

Pretty much has a free pass.
The only show that has largely remained untouched has been Avatar: The Legend of Korra, a series which recently got another two season extension.  One would have to attribute this to the breakout popularity that the original Avatar enjoyed that for the most part extended to the new series, because even Nick is not exempt from this "let's make it funny" rule that networks are operating under, choosing to follow 4Kids' amazing (you'll never see those two words side by side again) 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series with, well...this.

I think the question fans should really be asking is: Did we ever REALLY leave the Animation Age Ghetto to begin with?    Even back in the early 90's, when CN aired popular action series like SWAT Kats canceled because animation was considered to be for children, and had no business being violent.  (This is actually a more egregious example of killing a show, as SWAT Kats never even had any toys to for young boys to buy in the first place.) 

Preeetty sure I would've bought this...if I could've FOUND it anywhere.

And more importantly than that, there's the eternal action series-killer, the "Rule of 65".  Without a ridiculous level of popularity, most shows don't go beyond 65 episodes.  Networks find it cheaper to cancel the series, place it in syndication and instead release a new show complete with brand-new toys for kids to spend their parents' cash on.   These things have rarely ever been seen as anything more than quick cash cows, as a show can spend 3-4 years on air, accumulate 52/65 episodes and then be sold into syndication just in time for another series to roll off the assembly line.

These practices have been going on for years, and the only reason fans notice now is because of the obvious dip in writing quality, as showrunners are now being told that "writing for everyone" isn't good enough, and they have to focus almost all of their energy on writing for just one age group. 

One supposes the better question is what do fans do about this problem?   On some level, I think just staying the course might be the simplest way to solve it all.  With things like Youtube and Netflix becoming more popular by the day, it's only a matter of time until a cartoon series or three starts getting first airtime on Netflix, at which point demographics will hopefully become entirely irrelevant.  Until then, one supposes the fans will just have to rely on the past to supply their fix. 


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