A THEORETICAL PROBLEM
At the outset of establishing animation as a means of expression, no one questioned the equality of the status of animated and feature films. On the contrary, this playful and flexible film genre gave authors greater freedom of artistic self-expression. Due to the example and models seen in Walt Disney, animation was, for a long time, associated with child viewers only. The retrieval came no earlier than in the late 60´s and early 70´s thanks to Japanese directors and in the west mainly due to Ralph Bakshi. Since that time theoretical thinking and practical fulfillment of the field of "adult animation" has been developing, interpreted as improper and incomprehensible to child audiences with respect to its content.
When using the concept or category of "adult animation" we have to face two types of difficulties. The first problem is that there is no point discussing such a topic in relation to events before the late 40´s and early 50´s and the arrival of television on the mass market. Even the founders and early pioneers did not see the animation technique as a tool for addressing children and it was entirely aimed at the adult audience. The authors were aware of the enlarged ability of the animation technique to express itself through metaphor, hyperbole and a dense abbreviation of the meaning. As an example, we can take the Soviet educational films proclaiming the harmfulness of the capitalistic regime, or voluptuous Betty Boop from the Fleischer Brothers´ Studio. When Walt Disney made a huge profit, having estimated correctly the most profitable economical target to be children given parents' desire to satisfy their children, the status of the animated film was established as a domain and the most convenient free time activity for the juvenile viewer. It is rather paradoxical that it was Disney´s Fantasia which entered the history of cinematography as the very first feature-length film being included into a category of "adult animation".
The second difficulty is closely connected to the first; some present day scholars and viewers refuse to use the term "adult animation" because according to them it implies that most of the animation belongs to children and its "adult" version is only its peripheral manifestation.
We can see the term "adult animation" in the western world of the 70´s, especially in the connection with an Israeli living in America, Ralph Bakshi. He was the first to retrieve the "adult" animation consistently and to introduce a wicked tomcat in the film Fritz the Cat that later became a cult figure. He used themes that were highly topical among teenagers of that time – drug use, free love and asocial or even criminal behaviour. Instead of letting the human actors perform these adult activities, he introduced animated animals to the screen. His later work refers to the concept of "adult animation" containing explicit sexual scenes, violence, vulgarisms, and generally coarse vocabulary. At the same time, he sophisticatedly worked with genres that traditionally belonged to the domain of the feature film; gangster film, sci-fi, fantasy, musical, social drama, satire etc. Bakshi´s intent is not to shock or deliberately present inappropriate content, but to help the animated film industry to grow and open itself to an unlimited amount of motives, themes, and methods.
The rest of the world has never perceived animation as solely for children, in contrast to the Anglo-Saxon countries. In former totalitarian countries authors used to take advantage of animation and thus express thoughts and attitudes that would have been censured in a feature film. Without any doubt shared pre - judice against a harmless and undiscerning side of animation films made this possible. As an example the former Czechoslovakia is frequently mentioned and especially films made by Jiří Trnka.
Japan is also a great power in animation oriented to an adult audience and is among countries that have experienced such a heyday of animation. Tezuka Osama and his studio Mushi Production is considered a crucial pioneer on this field. Tezuka became well known as an author of manga and he improved this genre by introducing phasing of motion and action, details and shifts in points of view. This success enabled him to finance his Mushi Production with the goal of producing experimental and artistic films of a high quality for adults. Nevertheless, in his production we can find the same problematic duality as in early Disney pictures. He experimented on the stylistic level while the content itself stayed conventional, even sentimental. Whereas Disney chose this pragmatic way to make a profit, Mushi Production was simply limited by a shoestring budget. Osama´s studio is responsible for Japan's first feature films in the spirit of "adult animation": One Thousand and One Nights (1969), Cleopatra (1971), and Belladonna (1973). Tezuka determined the canon of themes and introduced a so-called limited animation technique (presenting restrictions in characters and stage dynamism to save financial resources. The impression of motion is mostly acheived by the cine-camera itself). This was soon copied by Japanese TV production. Tezuka tried to use themes and narrative patterns that would in fact use this financial limitation to its advantage. He incorporated classical music and cultural allusions into films. Erotica was in most cases used only as a crowd-puller, while explicit sexual scenes were always missing (instead he used metaphor and visual structures resembling males and females forms).
Japanese animated porn, hentai, took his legacy and used it in their own way, offering its audience satisfaction in all sorts of pleasure, perversion, and deviation. It is realized in various subgenres, some of which are less controversial (space or animal-like creatures having sex) than others (those in particular where children or characters resembling children appear in sexual situations).
Now let me focus on features that classify as "adult animation". This branch is described as a set of films/serials, which include adult humour that is not appropriate for or comprehensible to children. Humour appears most often in the form of irony, grim, humour, sarcasm, satire, or blasphemy. Explicit sexual scenes, violence, vulgarism, and sexual insinuation are among integral parts of "adult animation". "Adult animation" should not be labelled as a genre, more likely it is a tool of a genre´s hybridization or a thematic specification. Films dealing with a serious statement about the state of the world or some current issues also belong to "adult animation".
We are experiencing a boom of this kind of mature films nowadays. It is worth mentioning the noir psycho-thriller Renaissance by Christiana Volckman, the paranoid absurd thriller A Scanner Darkly by Richarda Linklater, an autobiographical semi-documentary Persepolis made by Marjane Satrapi, Ari Folman´s war document Waltz with Bashir and a French collective work, a horror Fear(s) of the Dark. Somewhere at the cutting edge of both forms of "adult animation" stands the above mentioned Ralph Bakshi and free spirited Bill Plympton who frankly makes fun of human corporality and its comic aspects. We should not forget to mention the medium of TV that has been broadcasting many adult comic series, for instance Family Guy, Futurama, King of the Hill or Beavis and Butt-head in the last decade.
The category itself is vaguely defined as inappropriate and incomprehensible to children. Each culture then decides what is proper or improper for them on the basis of its historical and social development. However, western civilization is still considered the norm and the Canadian government for instance has started to censure films and TV series that are regarded as dangerous for the moral development of children and teenagers and that help to spread illegal behaviour, such as paedophilia, among others.
As we can see, the category of "adult animation" is in danger due to its vagueness. It includes such completely different films as animated documentaries of war barbarity as well as sexual orgies with little girls. This logically leads to a misconception and unsubstantiated generalization that tends to overlook the animation artistry in a great deal of work. It is important to realize that the range of this category is wide, that human desires vary and therefore we can find, both praiseworthy efforts of animators in giving statements about the state of the world as well as the darker but still rightful sides of what it means to be an adult.
- Scott Roxborough: „Adult animation comes of age at fest", na adrese: