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Cartoons have been on the rise lately. Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Gravity Falls and Over the Garden Wall have gained substantial followings in the past year, and this audience doesn’t look like it will be going anywhere any time soon. Sailor Moon got a reboot in commemoration of its 20th anniversary, and Digimon got a direct sequel. Tumblr has also witnessed the return of older cartoons, and bloggers are revisiting shows like Scooby-Doo, Danny Phantom and Totally Spies!. The curious thing, however, is that majority of the participants in this Cartoon Revolution are older than the target audience.
I’d thought of it as a byproduct of the Tumblr-hype. People on my dashboard like to reblog pretty gif sets, cartoons get pretty gif sets, so therefore these people reblog these gif sets. There was nothing wrong with being an adult and still liking “kid shows” — they have short episodes, and their entertainment value is its own category. Sometimes, it’s a casual attachment that you’ve retained from childhood. Sometimes, it’s just really good, as is the case with me and Avatar: The Last Airbender. That’s all.
My weekend at ComiCon begged me to mull this over once more.
I’ve barely gotten off the GO Bus last Saturday when I spot a pair of cosplayers huddled on one side of the terminal, fixing each other’s masks. Having gotten sucked into the hype of the show and found myself a fan three trial episodes later, I recognize the characters from Miraculous Ladybug. The show is primarily broadcast in French which made the vast contingent of its fans at this year’s ComicCon a surprise. Even more surprising to me was that these people, clearly avid fans, didn’t seem to be much younger than me, if at all.
Then again, I have been religiously watching the show every week since getting into it. The encounter with the cosplayers brings into mind a text conversation I’ve had with a friend weeks back, having just gotten into Miraculous Ladybug and confused over what we actually like about it. “Kids shows are so much nicer than ‘adult’ shows,” my friend had said. “Instead of saying that there is no good in anyone, it focuses on proving that there is. If that makes sense. The messages are always so much nicer.”
We concluded that the appeal, then, must be purely escapist.
This doesn’t explain the emotional attachment I witnessed at ComiCon. My first panel of the day belonged to the cast of Sailor Moon, and not having been attached to the show as a child, I was in there as an objective spectator. Many of my peers, however, some dressed up and others just looking excited to be there, are not. There was a crowd — groups of excited girls, whispering about favourite characters and talking fondly about their memories of the show’s original run. It wasn’t something I understood, perhaps because I had none of these memories to speak of, but they hadn’t been the only group to do this.
I stopped by as many merchandise booths as I can, and for each one, I experience almost repeats of the conversation between those Sailor Moon fans. A girl in the poster booth would excitedly point out having watched Digimon as a child, and gush about how much it meant to her. A boy at the T-shirt booth waves his newly bought Adventure Time shirt, talking about how the show makes him feel a child again. Most significantly, clustered around the food court were a number of families — parents indulging their kid’s interests, or parents sharing their own childhood interests with their children.
It was an odd sight, seeing adults happily telling their kids about the first comics that they read and the first shows they’ve ever watched. Somehow, though, it made me feel guilty for having been so quick to make assumptions on people’s interest in what we categorize as children’s shows.
What I learned from ComiCon is this: we never really forget the things we love as children. These superheroes are our first role models, and these fantasy worlds are often our first encounters with the beauty of fiction. There will always be emotional attachment to something, even if we deny it, because at one point we’ve wanted to be Spiderman or, like those girls, have been inspired by the kind of female character Sailor Jupiter is. We’re shaped by our childhood experiences, and that includes the things we watch. It’s a well-grounded emotional attachment, and that’s why, when shows like Digimon and Sailor Moon get reboots and sequels, people are more than happy to gob it all up.
Is it an escapist appeal? Sure. I like Miraculous Ladybug because its superhero world was something I’ve become attached to. That said, we need to stop equating escapism with inferiority to ‘more serious’ shows. Just because she’s watching a show about Parisian superheroes and he’s rewatching the older Justice League episodes doesn’t mean they’re any less than loyal Tarantino fans. At the end of the day, a lot of us are into media and pop culture for the entertainment and distraction factors, and if that means watching singing crystal gems to forget about life’s woes for ten minutes, then so be it.
The most important thing, however, is that today’s shows are sporting what we never really got in cartoons of the previous generation: diversity in characters, prominent strong female characters, and, like my friend pointed out, more positive messages.
If the future of the next generation can be built on this foundation, if these kids can grow up with these characters as their role models, then by all means, I’ll be more than happy to see Cartoon Revolution flourish.