Monday, 31 October 2011

Form Sym-Bionic Titan…or not…

I adore cartoons, but when a brilliant show gets put down because of a thing such as a lack of toy sales, I can’t help but get upset at the whole industry.
I just finished watching all the episodes of Sym-Bionic Titan, the latest cartoon from one of my favorite animators Genndy Tartakovsky (creator of Samurai Jack and Dexter’s Lab.) I was incredibly impressed! I admit, I heard nothing about this show previous to watching it. All I knew was that Tartakovsky had a show recently canceled, so naturally I was curious. And it..was…awesome!
If you haven’t heard of it, I’m not surprised. The show didn’t get much publicity. It basically takes high school drama and melds it with giant robot battles. An alien princess, soldier and robot travel to Earth to escape from a war on their home planet. Now they have to worry about fending off alien monsters sent to kill them, as well as survive high school life. Like Tartakovsky’s past works it borrow and pays homage to a slew of pop culture references, such as obvious sources like Voltron and Power Rangers, or more unexpected tributes to the likes of Fast and the Furious and the Breakfast Club. While you can always say Tartakovsky’s shows are usually just a melting pot of pop culture cues, it’s always his execution of these ideas that impresses me and makes his shows stand out as something unique. The show does a great job of blending great action scenes (something Tartakovsky’s well known by now after Samurai Jack) and subtle teenage aimed humour.
It’s all brilliant stuff, and it’s probably Tartakovsky’s most ambitious project to date! But sadly, it looks like it was all for naught, as the show has been quickly canceled. An employee of Cartoon Network had this to say:
“Titan got competitive ratings with other action shows, but what shut it down was it didn’t have enough toys connected to it. If you don’t have the [toy sales], the studios don’t want to renew for another season.” 
Not enough toys connected to the show? Really? That canceled the show because they figured not enough kids would want to buy an action figure of this?
Yup. There's no way 10 year old me would want toys of a giant robot fighting a space lizard. [/sarcasm]
Yup. There’s no way 10 year old me would want toys of a giant robot fighting a space lizard. [/sarcasm] 
But let’s just for a minute ignore the fact that this show does in fact have a lot of merchandising potential. Let’s, for the sake of argument, take Cartoon Network’s side on this and assume there’s nothing toyetic about this cartoon. The fact that a genuinely cleaver show by an acclaimed director, which only after it’s initial 20 episode run was canceled because of this reason is something that would only happen in the animation industry. And that saddens me. Let’s take an example from live action TV. AMC’s Breaking Bad is a critically acclaimed show that, starting out in season 1 and 2, didn’t have the best ratings. But AMC kept that show around because it got positive reviews and had the potential to be great. The option to cancel the show because it dosen’t have many options for toys sales would be ludicrous to say the least…
…but on a side note, personally, I’d totally buy some Breaking Bad action figures.
You might be saying that’s because Breaking Bad is a show clearly aimed at adults, not kids. But Titan was a show aimed more so at teens then kids, having a more mature take on high school, and Cartoon Network knew that going into the project who the show was marketed towards. 
I’m not saying that no cartoon should be created with toy sales as the primary reason for production. Many cherished animated shows were entirely built to sell toys (Transformers and Pokemon come to mind) and those have excelled to become cultural icons. But Cartoon Network had a chance to produce something that could have, if given one or two more seasons, become one the most creative sci-fie properties in animation history. If they invested more into the show, I think in the long run it would have paid off for them in dvd sales for years to come. But as it stands now it’s just the tip of an unfinished iceberg (or as I like to call it, the “Firefly effect.”) I feel they shot themselves in the foot by canceling the show because of the lack of the immediate financial prospect of toy sales. 
Either way, Genndy has since moved onto Sony Pictures Animation, and I hope he’s able to have more creative freedom there. If you’ve seen Sym-Bionic Titan, and enjoyed it, do the show a favor and recommend it to a friend. Who knows? If enough attention gets placed on the show, maybe Cartoon Network will renew the series?

…or at least make an action figure out of it… 
- Moo