The Cross-Cultural Exchange of a Couple of G’s

In 1996, Russian-American animator Genndy Tartakovsky premiered Dexter’s Laboratory and pioneered the thick-lined,”flatter” animation style. This style can also be seen in Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars, as well as in Powerpuff Girls, where Genndy was director.

Flash back a few month to 1995 and we get one of most the influential anime ever, Studio Gainax’s Neon Genesis Evangelion. Gainax, known for a variety of works from various genres, are especially fondly remembered for their giant robot fare, most notably Evangelion but also Aim for the Top! and Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann.

Now, in late 2010: Gainax’s latest anime is a tongue-in-cheek cartoon about a pair of misfits and heavily utilizes thick outlines and very flat character designs, while Genndy Tartakovsky’s newest show is an honest, non-parody attempt at a super robot-themed series. Both series’ debuts occurred less than three weeks apart from each other.

While the relationship between Japan and America’s cartoons and comics have been put in the spotlight recently with collaborations such as the joint Iron Man and Wolverine projects involving Marvel and Studio Madhouse, the fact that Genndy Tartakovsky’s Sym-Bionic Titan and Gainax’s Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt have come into existence so close to one another puts an even greater focus on the two nations’ cartoons. Here in one cross-section of time, we can see the active/passive exchange of ideas as these cultures’ animation styles appear to intertwine so tightly that they sling each other across the Pacific Ocean.

Neither show is so like the animated series of the others’ country that they come off as weak imitations. Sym-Bionic Titan takes fusing robots, a fight against a powerful invading force, and various other giant robot tropes, mixes them in with Genndy’s own character aesthetics, and places the story firmly within America and its own cultural norms. Meanwhile, Panty & Stocking utilizes the visual elements and humor of early “Cartoon Cartoons” (as Cartoon Network referred to them) while also injecting very anime-esque expressions and reactions from its characters, most notably in their faces, and also ramping up the humor to more “adult” levels. The two series and their hybrid styles reinforce both the idea that creativity is not limited by national borders and that individual cultures can still maintain some of their distinctiveness when it comes to artistic output.

This is not a bad thing.

As a final aside, the personal robot used by the character Lance in Sym-Bionic Titan reminds me of the titular robot from Galaxy Gale Baxinger.

I can’t be the only one, right?