Is Stylization in Cartoons Dead?

Why Western cartoons from the last decade feel unoriginal
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Created by soup

Published on Oct 31, 2023
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Are shows in the West becoming “ugly” in recent years? As someone who grew up watching cartoons (even now, I can appreciate a good animated show), I have wondered this. Most recent shows have similar art and animation as if to save cost and avoid the risk of trying something new or different. The simplistic style anyone can recognize from famous shows such as Star vs the Forces of Evil, The Amazing World of Gumball, Steven Universe, Family Guy, We Bare Bears, Clarence, etc. This style is known as CalArts, referring to the California Institute of the Arts.

It looks and feels cheap, even if the show has great characters and stories. I myself am guilty of not giving shows a chance due to the simple and boring art style. I avoided watching Gravity Falls, which people praised, but I couldn't watch it and held off on it due to my own bias. I must admit I was missing out on a fun show with an interesting mystery, all because the show's premise was overshadowed by its look. Western animation has many differences when compared to the East, with much to offer, but it’s overlooked.

 Whereas Eastern animation is visually stunning. In my opinion, it has much more variation and details. With many stylistically diverse options in anime, it naturally attracts a wide range of consumers, and its intriguing color schemes help create unique feelings for each show. From Attack on Titan to My Hero Academia to animes like Demon Slayer or Vinland Saga, the variation is crazy. Even when their story is “lacking” or generic, they can be popular for their animation and art. For example, often people complain about Demon Slayer being very incompetent in their storytelling, yet it is beloved by many due to the fact that it has amazing art. It can be watched just to take in the beauty of the show. Similarly, Spy x Family is a very popular show without the flashy visuals or fights. It is a wholesome show that has a cute art style which people use as an escape from reality.

Death Note is also a very popular anime outside of just the anime community and has become a “mainstream anime”, however, its vibe is completely different from shows like Spy X Family or Demon Slayer. It is dark, grim and more plot-driven, with questionable morality of the main character. You can see the art reflects these themes.

 Animation in the West inspired me to get into art when I was growing up. Shows like Ed, Edd n Eddy, or Ben 10, Powerpuff Girls, Danny Phantom, Chowder, Spongebob, Jimmy Neutron, etc. They all had art unique to their own show. However, now cartoons all have "bean faces" and rounded edges, even when that style does not suit the show or its story. Even reboots of famous cartoons such as Powerpuff Girls and Ben10 might have been good, but many are hesitant to give it a try because of the new overused art style, including myself. I tried, but the original has me biased against the reboot. 

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Image Source: Know Your Meme


People hated the new Teen Titans Go for being a comedy and an episodic show. The original show was left on a cliffhanger, and it also had a darker vibe and was plot-driven. Fans were hoping for the new show to continue the story but were left disappointed. It seems as though most cartoons are just for kids and have no deeper story to tell, which is a common misconception about animation.

This is making people switch to other forms of media because of the look, and I don't blame them. Judging a show by its art is natural, as it can be a huge part of the experience. This phenomenon has also allowed the success of many Western animated shows that differentiate themselves, such as the Netflix show, Carmen Sandiego. People want to see sharp edges and interesting color schemes that set the mood. This is why the Spider-verse movies might revive Western animation with its influence on style.

Are the Western standards for animation just beyond repair? I believe we will see change in the near future because animation has much to offer and can be done in intriguing ways. It has the potential to inspire many young people to pursue art or get into storytelling.

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