Awhile back I posted my top 10 influential anime shows. I was happy with the final list but something nagged me about it and I couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was until just recently. I mentioned maybe putting up my most influential non-anime animation shows but didn’t really see the importance of this list. The moment of insight came as I was reading another blogger’s reason for dropping a show. I realized that I enjoyed the show for the exact same reasons that he was dropping the show and that long before I was an anime fan, what I liked in animation and entertainment in general was already being shaped. Therefore I thought it would be a good idea to create a companion list for non-anime animation and post it.
Once again the list is in roughly chronological order. This list was harder to compose because growing up I wasn’t a fan of animation, it was just entertainment for me.So, it’s somewhat hard to call a certain show influential even though I loved the show to death growing up. In the end, I cut the list down to 5 so I can realistically call all 5 influential to my viewing habits even now.
This left off several shows that deserve some sort of recognition so before I get to the list so let me mention them here:
Watership Down was an animated movie that I watched when I was three or four and all I really remember from it was being disturbed that it showed talking rabbits being hunted and killed. I really should watch this now to get an adult perspective but this movie showed me from an early age that animation could be something more entertainment.
The Rankin Bass’ version of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings left such a strong impression on me that I read the Hobbit in third grade and Lord of the Rings in the fourth grade.
Shows like The Little Prince, Unico, and The Last Unicorn all had intriguing animation styles that made watching them interesting. And technically, all are anime but growing up they were so Americanized that I had no idea they where anime.
Space Ghost: Coast to Coast was funny, unpredictable, and a great example of what you could do with animation, even on a shoe-string budget. It was one of the first shows produced by Cartoon Network and it’s success paved the way for Adult Swim.
Now, onto the list.
1. Thundarr the Barbarian
Back before wide-spread cable television and VCRs, if a child wanted to watch cartoons the only way was to wake up early on Saturday. Any other day of the week and you were out of luck. Scheduling changes, cancellations, and new additions all seemed arbitrary to me at this tender young age and was the primary source of drama for me at that age. I can still remember the anger I would feel when finding out that one of my favorites where being dropped.
Many of these shows I have forgotten, some I still vaguely remember watching but Thundarr the Barbarian is a show I still remember vividly. It was set in a post-apocalyptic America where strange creatures roam, magic is commonplace, and remnants of our half remembered society could be found. Our trio of heroes: buff dude, female sorceress, and a Chewbacca knockoff, journeyed across the country, fought evil and helped those in need. This was a recipe for weird things to happen, for example, an evil magician might make his hideout in a mall or magic would be used to get a still functioning train across a lake.
My young self thought this was the coolest; never thinking the reason a show like this existed was because the adults of the time where worried that the Cold War would end in nuclear holocaust. This was obviously where I first developed my love of science fiction in general and post-apocalyptic stories in particular. Also, because they used a setting that was at the same time familiar and alien, I started to look at the mundane and would imagine the hidden fantastical element or possibilities.
2. Scooby Doo
I must have watched literally hundreds (and probably thousands) of hours of Scooby Doo growing up.I wasn’t deterred even if I had no idea who Sonny and Cher, Don Knots, and Dom Deluise where or that I figured pretty early on that there were no real monsters – it was always a hologram, a person in a costume or something similar.
The problem is that I’m not quite sure how even this amount of Scooby Doo influenced me. Surely, it must have. Maybe it helped cultivate a desire for mimes in the shows I watched. After all, what episode of Scooby Doo was complete without the culprit saying – “And I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for you meddlin’ kids”. So when I watch something like Minami-ke, is it really a complete experience without thinking, “Haruka-neesama is amazing.”? Or maybe this is where I learned that the longer a series is around, the more the creators will monkey with the concept till they ruin the show.
Whatever the reason, I couldn’t imagine not including Scooby Doo on this list.
3. Looney Tunes
There was no question that Looney Tunes belonged on this list and I’d even go so far as saying that Looney Tunes did more to shape what I find entertaining and what it means to be funny then any other show, cartoon or live-action.
This is where I learned to love and appreciate witty physical humor. The eternal struggle by Coyote to catch the Road Runner and Elmer Fudd’s perpetually fruitless pursuit of Bugs Bunny where fertile grounds to showcase how sublime physical humor could be in the right hands. Sadly, not many other shows can match that level but it’s always nice to see some sort of physical humor bit worked into a show, be it a Kyou Dictionary Attack or a Fujioka Teddy Bear to the face.
Speaking of the Coyote, something about his character really resonated with me – maybe my support of Cleveland sports teams had something to do with that – but I was drawn to watching his countless attempts, hoping he’d finally get that Road Runner. It was always a plausible chance that he would and it felt like he just needed a little better luck. Since then, I’ve become very sympathetic towards characters that strive continuously to meet a personal objective and wish to see them finally get what they desire, even if it’s only to get the eldest Minami sister to realize your existence.
I could go on but I’ll just mention one more way that Looney Tunes influenced me. Long before watching and enjoying anime like Maria+holic that feature traps, males impersonating women, and reverse traps, females impersonating men, I learned the comedic value of gender-bending from Bugs Bunny.
This modern attempt (early-mid 90’s) at recapturing some of the magic of Looney Tunes couldn’t match the brilliance of Looney Tunes but was a very strong effort. The adventures of Yakko, Wakko, and Dot (along with Pinky and Brain) where funny with a slightly subversive streak to them. I still have the wheel of morality song burned into my brain – “Wheel of morality, turn turn turn, tell us the lesson we should learn.” – and the lesson was supposed to be something we should have learned based on the show but would often be something really out there like ‘Vote early and often’. The reason why this show was so important stems from the age I was when it aired. I was just starting to get into that teenage mindset that I was grown-up now and didn’t need to watch cartoons along with other childish things. Animaniacs showed me that more mature people could still enjoy animated shows.
5. Toy Story
Toy Story earns the fifth spot not because it was the first full CG animated movie I saw but because it proved to me that an animated show can tell a story just as well as a live action show. This is a vital thing to learn for the continued watching of animated shows, including anime, as an adult. Of course, most anime fans know this already; watch something by Satoshi Kon, for example, if you don’t believe me but for me anime was years in the future. I had to rely on one of few American animation houses, Pixar, that believes an animated show can tell a real story to teach this fact.