Saturday, September 21, 2013

Animation for Grown-ups

Cartoons. They aren't just for kids anymore and haven't been for long time. This post will highlight some of the best adult animation Rohrbach has to offer. Each of these films is considered unsuitable for children, be it for extreme sex and violence or for themes too complicated or disturbing for most youngsters. Here are a few top picks:


Depending on you sensitivity, Streetfight is either an audacious classic or the most racist animated film since "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips." Originally called Coonskin, the film watches Uncle Remus's storybook creatures--Brer Rabbit, Fox, and Bear--relocate from the dirty south to Harlem. Brer Rabbit, a natural-born con, muscles into the heroin biz, taking out dirty cops, militant evangelists, and the mafia along the way. The film plays like Superfly meets Song of the South, loaded with racist iconography and explosive bloodshed. Gap-toothed minstrels tap dance among giant rolling dice, while a malevolent Aunt Jemima clobbers white pancakes with her frying pan. Coonskin earned some notoriety when the Congress Of Racial Equality violently protested the flick, goaded on by Al Sharpton. Director Ralph Bakshi, a Palestine-born Jewish man raised in a black neighborhood in Brooklyn, was considered too white to create such a rage-filled racial satire. Bakshi is now recognized as a pioneer of grown-up animation, helming projects like Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, and Fire and Ice. Coonskin (or Streetfight, if you prefer) is his most extreme film, and arguably his best.

Streetfight: Call Number: PN1997.2 .S8733 1987


Studio Ghibli is one of Japan's most beloved and respected animation companies. They've produced beautiful fables like Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle and morally complex fantasy epics like Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Grave of the Fireflies is a much smaller, more personal film, yet it captures the human toll of WW2 like few movies have. The story follows teenager Seita and his kid sister Setsuko, homeless and orphaned after the Allies fire-bomb their village. The two scratch out a living as best they can, but disease and starvation slowly take their toll. Although beautifully animated and well-acted--including a terrific English dub, a true rarity in anime--Grave of the Fireflies is a grueling sit, as its emotional gut-punch is nearly unbearable. Without resorting to cheap tear-jerking tactics, the film wraps us up in Seita's plight, as we cheer his bravery and feel his helpless anger. Small in scope but huge in resonance, Grave of the Fireflies is a heartbreaking masterpiece.

Grave of the Fireflies: 3756


In the 90s, weird was in. MTV's Liquid Television jumped on that trend with a bizarre selection of animated shorts. A few of these were successful enough to expand into their own series. Most famous was Beavis and Butthead, which buried its culture-skewering satire under adolescent grossness. Spinoff series Daria, encapsulated the hip disaffection of 90s teen scene. Then there was Aeon Flux, which began as a series of brief action shorts but eventually expanded into half-hour episodes. The show follows a sarcastic female assassin, fighting her way across a high-tech futuristic cityscape. Aeon Flux offered bizarre gadgets, cyberpunk setting, a scantily-clad heroine, and her strange chemistry with the show's handsome villain. The kinky sci-fi sex, brutal gunplay, and nifty artwork only sweetened the deal. There's something hopeful it Aeon Flux's glibly antisocial attitude. It presents a grim future where life is cheap and privacy is nonexistent, and then counters it with violent displays of anarchy and self-actualization. It's a reassuring message, in its own snarky way.

Aeon Flux: 4987

Aeon Flux: Mission Infinite: 6842

Aeon Flux: Operative Terminus: 6843


Lord knows I should be writing about Akira. It's the most important piece of Japanese animation in Rohrbach library. Along with Ninja Scroll and Ghost in the Shell, Akira solidified anime's stateside reputation as a cerebral and respectable art form; its cyberpunk setting proved prophetic, while the impossibly convoluted storyline is dissected and discussed even today. Still, I'm not qualified to sing Akira's praises, because I'm honestly not the biggest fan. To me it seems bloated and inscrutable, too assured of its own importance to clarify anything for its bewildered audience. This critically-beloved classic is, in other words, way too smart for me. Wicked City, however shamefully I must admit it, is much more my speed. This horrific neo-noir concerns an uneasy truce between humankind and an alternate dimension populated by hideous demons. Every few centuries the truce must be renegotiated, but a rogue band of monsters is out to destroy the long-standing peace treaty and trigger an interdimensional bloodbath. Wicked City does not succeed by virtue of its storyline or characters. Indeed, it exhibits many tropes of anime at its very worst. The violence is over-the-top, the characterization flimsy, the sex perverse, and there's an unsettling preoccupation with tentacles. The English dubbing is really bad, as well. Still, the film's aesthetic is irresistible. The paranoid urban setting recalls classic detective movies, while the creature design is impressively nasty. An oppressive, gloomy vibe is just icing on the cake. Wicked City's reputation as a classic may be dubious, but you can't say it doesn't have style.

Wicked City: 7103

That's all for now. Here's a list of other notable grown-up animated films, separated by country of origin. What's your favorite?


Akira: 2613

Dracula: Sovereign of the Damned: Call Number: PR6037.T617 D7335 1993

Frankenstein: Call Number: PN1995.9.F8 F7352 1991

Neo-Tokyo: 3766

Quest for Odin: 3758

Silent Mobius: 3439

Vampire Hunter D: 3752

Wings of Honneamise: 5763

Princess Mononoke: Call Number: PN1997 .M6613 2000

Not Japan

Wizards: 3754

Spawn: 6042

Ren & Stimpy Show, Vol 1: 3763

The Maxx: 6043

Brothers Quay: 2614

Chico & Rita: Call Number: PN1997.2 .C49426 2012
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