The 2010’s in Animation: AniB’s thoughts so far

The decade’s not over, but there are some definite conclusions to be drawn so far.

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So I was sitting and pondering recently about the sort of interesting animation pieces I could write, and I came very quickly to the conclusion that talking about this decade’s trends, triumphs, shortcomings, and everything in between would make for an entertaining discussion. Just this year alone there are interesting events set to happen for shows (which is my specialty), but we’re also coming off a 2016 where in the movie business, it was very strong for the medium- probably the best since 2010, where flicks like Toy Story 3, How to Train Your Dragon, Tangled, and the original Despicable Me (which was rather charming before it really exploded as a franchise) graced the silver screen. Back to the small screen, I’m very excited for the return and definitive conclusion of Samurai Jack in March, some 13 years after its initial “ending” (which was more Cartoon Network pulling the plug at the time); Star Wars Rebels has grown into a very good show that’s hitting its stride much like its predecessor Star Wars: The Clone Wars did, mixing plenty of serious moments with the typical humor of the franchise; and speaking of Disney X.D shows, I’ve unexpectedly really enjoyed Star vs. The Forces of Evil, which is all kinds of fun. Not to be outdone, Dragon Ball Super’s dub finally hit English shores at the beginning of the new year for those people looking to re-live their childhood, and I’ve been following the dub release of the incredible Hunter x Hunter, which is fully subbed and actually concluded its Japanese run in 2014, but is a must watch. (It’s actually a reboot of the franchise in anime (there was a 1999 series)  with more depth, overhauled animation, and virtually no filler -I’ll have a review, don’t worry!)

Aside from that brief rundown of current events, I must say this decade has been transformative in way that signals by and large that Western animation may have taken the lead back from their Eastern (read: Japanese) counterparts. While there have been a few stellar anime this decade, including the aforementioned Hunter x Hunter and Attack on Titan, for another example- by and large, the industry has been plagued with a sort of identity crisis ever since the 2008 recession- and compounded by the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan, in which long-held standards of quality and focus on character and narrative has given way to cheaply constructed shows, often with stunning animation and no such substance to speak of (think any number of “high school” trope shows that have been around forever in anime, but more boring and cliched than ever.) There’s also the rise in the hentai genre (which first off, I absolutely refuse to discuss on this site in the form of specific shows) which has further diluted and polluted the integrity of the shows at hand and the industry on the whole; and fan service seems to be put before story, characters and themes a lot nowadays. This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy anime still, but I’m not quite sure we’ll ever see something like the industry from the mid-80’s to the late 2000’s again.

As for the West, it too had its identity crisis coming out of 2008, and for about 2 years the show industry was bumbling around in the dark (remember Cartoon Network’s ill-fated foray into live action shows?), but it there were signs of life that would signal a new era of some great work. The transition show that defined this nebulous era between pre-2008 and 2010 onwards was Phineas and Ferb; shining like a bright beacon in a sea of mediocrity, its vibrant ideas, innovative plots for an episodic show, and consistency in music and plot structure, it survived (and thrived) well into the 2010’s, only signing off in late 2015 at the creator’s decision. (I’ll talk more about Phineas and Ferb in a proper review.) Its biggest contribution however, was the idea that creator-driven shows were a very good idea, and in 2010, Cartoon Network landed the two shows that would also engineer a steady Western renaissance: Adventure Time and Regular Show. With the last of the old generation gone on Cartoon Network (the final Cartoon Cartoon, Ed, Edd, n’ Eddy ended in 2009), these two shows, along with the aformentioned Phineas and Ferb, were the three Western shows that would lead into this decade.

Would I say it’s a new golden era of Western animation yet? Almost, but not quite. There have been some terrific top end shows that have emerged since the decade’s start, including Gravity Falls and The Legend of Korra (both of which I reviewed), and other ongoing endeavors such as Steven Universe (which plenty of people fawn over), and Rick and Morty (which is still niche, but does incredibly well within that subgroup), but the single aspect holding this generation back still is depth. Western animation still needs more consistency up and down the line; what made the 90’s and early 2000’s special was there was enough good to great shows that existed to call it a golden era in spite of the torrent of other terrible (often Flash-animated) cheap creations that co-existed there. The West is close and has been building back up to that point, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s there yet. I’ll check back in 2020 with a more definitive answer.

What you’ll find is that I’ll be paying attention to current events in animation, but it’s equally important to understand the history of the industry and the art form itself; in my case (as I stated before) it’s a heavy focus on shows, but movies prove themselves to be equally important as well. The 2010’s has had some amazing endeavors on that front; most interesting to me has to be the Lasseter Renaissance at Walt Disney Animation Studios, where the veritable granddaddy of animation has re-discovered its magic touch;  the emergence of small-studio and foreign animated films, which have gained more attention on awards stages in the past 5 years than I can ever remember, and that Pixar for the first time has faced something of a “crisis.” It might be more because of the ludicrously high standards Pixar set for themselves during their “Decade of Dominance” (2000-2010 was all them, really), but there’s been questions dogging them about the large number of sequels to original works, most dubiously the Cars franchise (which is a merchandising empire, but also their weakest franchise to build on.) Cars 2 was a misguided endeavor in 2011, made worse by a) the last Pixar film before it was Toy Story 3 and b) it couldn’t decide whether its plot was about Lighting McQueen and a world racing tourney, or a James Bond spoof featuring Larry the Cable Guy spouting one-liners, and as a result, it also signaled that this decade might be one of hits and misses for the leader of animated films in the world. And indeed it has; Brave (2012) is arguably in the lower half of the studios’ films, but curiously still won an Oscar; Monsters University (2013) and Finding Dory (2016), a prequel/sequel combo to two of the studio’s other beloved franchises found themselves locked out from the same award that Brave won; The Good Dinosaur endured development hell and was delayed from its initial launch date; and Inside Out was a veritable masterpiece- easily one of the top films from the studio. Most other studios would still take that record and run, but for Pixar, it represents a bit of a reality check, despite the fact that they still have the best overall track record of any Western studio in history.

I guess you can say the 2010’s has been a unique, fun decade like any other for the medium, and there have been soaring innovations and bombed failures like any other time in the medium’s history. As we round the final 3-year homestretch of the decade, it will be interesting to see how well my introspection here holds up; I suspect there will be much to talk about when that time comes. In the present though, there’s still plenty of good work to enjoy, one day at a time- and I suspect some hidden gems still waiting to be discovered… Regardless of time though, I’ll be continuing to produce reviews, character analysis, and thought pieces like this so that when 2020 comes, it’ll be that much sweeter.


Like what you see? Want to chime in about the decade in animation? Leave a comment!

Author: anibproductions

I am the founder and writer of AniB Productions, currently a fledgling blog with a focus on animated shows from both the East and the West. Love Buffalo sports, good political discussion, and an interesting conversation wherever I go.

11 thoughts on “The 2010’s in Animation: AniB’s thoughts so far”

  1. Well we still have a few years in this decade left, but it really is shaping up to be quite the decade for animation, at least in the West, more so on television then in film I feel. While there have been plenty of good and solid animated films that come out this year there aren’t any that I feel truly stand out. While not nearly as bad as with the rest of the film industry I do feel that animated films have been somewhat effected by the creative malaise that’s kept Hollywood (or at least the big picture/ blockbuster scene) feeling stagnant for most of the past decade (and then some).

    Like you I haven’t really been all that impressed with what’s come out of Japan. The last “new” series I watched was My Hero Academia which was pretty decent but I haven’t seen all of it yet. Before that I watched Attack on Titan which was . . . ok. Other then that I haven’t followed or collected any anime series since Code Geass, which is almost a decade old by now.

    It’s also interesting to note that it doesn’t seem like anime production companies aren’t picking up entire manga series for dedicated production anymore. This a lot of “flavor of the month” series that quickly fall off the radar when the anime stops and continued production comes into question. This happened with Attack on Titan, One Punch Man, and almost certain almost no one is going to be talking Yuri on Ice before the year is out.

    Another that I do kind of lament when it comes to anime is that since anime that isn’t Pokemon does show on TV anymore we probably won’t be seeing a successor to Dragonball/ Naruto as the shonen action that gets big in the West. If I had to guess I think My Hero Academia could have been that successor, but I can’t past the semi-niche anime audience One Piece has now.

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    1. Interesting insights. I think the “big shonen in the West” thing died to some extent with Bleach, if I’m being honest. The mid 2000’s did have some great series like Code Geass which you mentioned; Death Note, Monster (which a lot of people have not seen; it’s incredible), and both Fullmetal Alchemist series. I haven’t honestly gotten around to My Hero Academia or Yuri on Ice, but then again, my interest hasn’t really been piqued yet. Finally… Hunter x Hunter is the truly outstanding anime/manga adaptation of the decade. There was an initial anime made by Nippon Animation in 1999; this anime is a total reboot by Madhouse and has a ton more manga material not present in the original…and essentially no filler. I’m going to be writing a review on it at some point, but the dub is coming out as we speak (39 episodes in!) and the entire sub is easily watchable (as the series officially wrapped in 2014.) I’m really enjoying these conversations, by the way.

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      1. The mid-2000s was a weird time in animation. .This was around the time when anime hit peak saturation in the West and shortly after the localization industry collapsed leaving just Funimation and Viz. The DCAU officially ended, kind of closing the book on the 90s for good. Despite plenty of good shows still coming out it really was transitory period in every sense of the word and signaled some rough times to come.

        While we are on the subject of the mid-2000s I’m curious if you are ever going to get around to review any of the Ben 10 series.

        It’s a franchise that has always fascinated me, though not for the reasons the creators would want me to be.

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      2. Indeed they were. It was the tail end of one golden age and the beginnings of a tumultuous cycle that fully reared its ugly head in 2008 with the Great Recession. As for your other inquiry…I can get to Ben 10 at some point! As a kid I actually really enjoyed the original series before the next 5 spin-offs came along. Highly successful franchise in the midst of a highly transitive period for not only the industry, but its parent network (Cartoon Network); it’s an interesting analysis.

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  2. Ben 10 was a show I probably would have been really into if I was a year or two younger when it came out.

    When I did get around to seeing it though I could see the potential for it to be a really great series, which is why I was always frustrated when I could describe the series as “aggressively mediocre”.

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  3. Quite a good analysis of the last few years in animation! I think I’d disagree that the decade hasn’t proven itself as a new golden age. The number of good to great shows with dedicated followings (including adults) seems higher than in the past, although I wasn’t up on fandoms back in the 2000s, and genuine home-runs like Gravity Falls and Legend of Korra have overshadowed the weaker shows. Even inconsistent ones like Adventure Time and Star vs. TFOE have proven deeper than they first appear. (I never got the appeal of Regular Show; did that ever get any depth to it, because it usually seemed stupid when I tuned in?) Even independent shows like RWBY have gotten better with time.
    I also can’t say I keep up with every anime series, but some of my favorites have been from this decade, such as Steins;Gate and Madoka Magica. Even if series are dropping the ball, the non-Ghibli anime films seem to be getting better and better. Ghibli dominated the medium in past decades, and it’s sad they’ve gone on hiatus, but other quality directors have risen to take their place, including Makoto Shinkai (Your Name), Mamoru Hosoda (Wolf Children), and Yasuhiro Yoshiura (Patema Inverted).
    As you said, the rise of creator-driven shows has proven to be a very good idea, and it’s people like Alex Hirsch and Pendleton Ward that are likely to keep this decade of animation going strong.

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    1. Call me stingy if you want about the “golden age” tag; I can clearly see how easily someone can see this as a “golden age” and could be perfectly correct when we look back at this year and period; I’m close to the designation myself as animation is more interesting at this point since anywhere in the mid 2000’s! As for anime, there’s obviously still been good series but it does seem diminished on the whole from the mid 2000’s going back. (You may have figured out my favorite series; it’s this decade too!) I also need to take more time to watch foreign animated films. They can be delightful, but I’ve been so focused on series that I have a decent size list to watch. Finally….creator driven shows are the key to this renaissance in the West. It’s resulted in some very good work and innovations; I agree that it will be guys like Hirsch and Ward that keep the ball rolling.

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      1. It’s always tricky designating some period as a “golden age,” especially when that kind of title is usually given after it’s over. It’s at the very least a resurgence from that slump in the late 2000s.
        It’s funny that I’m kind of the opposite, more familiar with anime films and less so with series. Except for Pokémon and the like from when I was a kid, I’ve only seriously watched about ten anime series. I would recommend all three of the film directors I mentioned; their work holds a special place in my heart.
        And now I’ll have to check out Hunter X Hunter for sure; I’ve heard of it, but since you say it’s that good, it’s been bumped up my own to-watch list.

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      2. I’m definitely going to have to take the time to check out those directors and their work! I’m going to have a movie-watching bonanza at some point; just need to find time… I agree about the resurgence in Western animation. It’s clearly a much improved situation from say, 2009- when nothing much was going (except Phineas and Ferb) and the industry still reeling from the recession. Finally…Hunter x Hunter is pretty amazing. The characterization is top-tier, as is the way the story progresses. I don’t want to say more as it might spoil it, but that probably will pique anyone’s interest!

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  4. Seriously you think the dark times of Western animation 2008 to 2010
    I do not think so
    2008
    Spider man 2008
    Wolverine and x men
    Star wars the clone wars
    Batman the brave and bold
    Wakfu
    2010
    young Justice
    Avengers
    trasfomers prime
    Adventure time
    Scoby doo mistery incoporated
    mutante rex
    Bionic titans
    my little ponny
    Perhaps the worst years of Western animation were from 2006 to 2008
    That nothing came
    Not to be oban star racer, animated trasformers

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    1. It’s called an opinion, of which you’re entitled as well. Those years in question were unquestionably a massive shift in the Western animation landscape, and I have given credit to shows that rose out of it (such as Young Justice, which I have a highly favorable review of, or Adventure Time, which if you read the article careful, I credited as a pioneer of the current decade of animation). The idea of this piece was to provide a broader view of a specific time period as I saw it; there are good individual shows in any era, but few actually move the dial and get people talking outside of just the animation niche. Finally…a “good year” isn’t just defined by its current releases, but what still exists from prior seasons. Remember Cartoon Network’s atrocious live-action block? I don’t want to either.

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