What? Rick and Morty isn’t Japanese and therefore not an anime? Well shut up. All animation is the same at the end of the day and it ends around the same time as this summer’s crop (actually a week later), so I say it counts.
Now don’t get me wrong. Despite my gripes regarding how this season is kind of a wash in terms of anime, I don’t hate it. With the exception of one or two shows, the bad anime I’m watching have been interesting to discuss (even if they’re doomed to be used as an example of “how not to do something”) and a good chunk of them have their enjoyable moments as well. But y’know, I also watch anime to be entertained, and even a show I generally enjoy like Ushio and Tora has its misses. If I want some consistently high entertainment whilst waiting for One-Punch Man to show up and blow my mind…I could watch the new Lupin show that’s airing in Italy right now, sure. Or I could turn to Rick and Morty.
If you don’t know what the show is about because you’re one of those hypocritical anime fans who shun all Western animation because they’re incredibly front-loaded with shitty comedies and turn to your surplus of LN adaptations for comfort, I’ll fill you in. Rick and Morty is Dan Harmon’s (the guy who made Community) new show about a wimpy high school student and his eccentric grandfather as they go on sci-fi adventures in what has been generously described as Doctor Who meets Futurama meets Back to the Future meets crystal meth. I kinda avoided it when it first came out since the early word wasn’t great and I had other things begging for my free time, but when I saw it was critically acclaimed shortly after it finished, I marathoned the whole thing and never looked back. It was wickedly funny with fucked up takes on the sci-fi genre and on being a family – and if the second season is any indicator, it wasn’t even close to using up all its good ideas.
With the exception of one episode that was mostly just good, Rick and Morty has been knocking it out of the park this season. I’ve said before regarding Community that I like humor when it combines borderline meanness with tons of irony (and some social satire thrown into the mix wouldn’t hurt either), and without spoiling too much, let’s just say that shortly into Rick and Morty’s new season, you’ll never look at farts the same way ever again. On top of that, the comedic timing is just awesome. Morty’s constant freak-outs aren’t really all that funny, but they actually add to the joke rather than stretch it out far past its peak, and Rick’s quick thinking leading to increasingly bad decisions is a joy to behold. Everyone else gets their moments to fire off jokes as well in a similarly fast manner, and more importantly, no matter what weirdness occurs, it’ll all be taken seriously within two seconds. Why yes, I am insulting JC Staff again. Why do you ask?
My favorite episode so far is probably the one when the main characters suddenly have extra members of the family that are secretly parasites (no, not that parasyte). Again, no spoilers, but let’s just say that it just gets funnier and funnier until the episode reaches a climax that is so true to life, yet so out-of-left field, that you can’t help but howl at it. The aftermath is also pretty funny too, even if it makes no sense. It’s probably the best episode in an animated series I’ve seen all year, and given that I’ve seen several good episodes from that one episode of Death Parade with ice-skating to the “yuri” episode of Euphonium, that says a lot. I’d say check it out if you haven’t, but the only ones who haven’t seen it at this point are people who never watched the show and it’s best not to start on the peak for very obvious reasons.
But Rick and Morty isn’t the only animated thing worth your time, guys. Gravity Falls also made a return this season and it has also been hitting it out of the park with a similar batting average ever since. You wouldn’t think a Disney cartoon about little kids trying to solve occult mysteries would be more cynically optimistic than most of the stuff on Adult Swim – with maybe the exception of Pepper Ann – but the latest episode crushed little girls’ dreams of unicorns and being a good person right before their very eyes, so there goes that pre-belief. And considering that I really liked the first season, it means a lot from me when I say that this second season – particularly this recent string of episodes – has been an improvement.
In particular, the humor has really sharpened in its latest stretch. Since it’s a Disney show, Gravity Falls is ultimately upbeat and never ends on the same bittersweet notes that Rick and Morty episodes usually do. But in addition to actually having an ongoing story underneath the episodic antics, Gravity Falls is not afraid to achieve those upbeat endings by making it clear that Grunkle Stan is a greedy crook, Soos has an IQ the size of a walnut, and Mabel is kinda fucked up underneath her good girl surface (though she’s voiced by Kristen Schaal, so that’s kind of a given). It just goes to show that you don’t have to be that mean-spirited to produce laughs as long as you’ve got everything else from timing and irony along for the ride.
But even without the humor, Gravity Falls is good because it’s a genuinely charming show about childish wonder and adult nostalgia regarding humanity’s need for adventure and the answers to the deep questions that fill our minds. You know how some LN adaptations like Chuunibyou and Saekano became inexplicably popular because fans could really relate to the fantastical/delusional lifestyles displayed in them? Gravity Falls is that, except the characters actually get a chance to live out said lives whilst dealing with their real lives in-between, along with being actually funny. It strikes that right balance of wish-fulfillment and the truth of reality whilst still being appealing to kids and adults, and it helps that its overarching mythical conspiracy story is tense too. As of this writing, we’re currently reaching to what I think is this season’s climax regarding the recurring villains of this show and I really hope said climax is animated before 2015 ends. I mean this season has been taking longer to finish than the first, and that took over a year to complete.
These two cartoons blow every airing anime (and every anime from the last two seasons as well IMO) out of the water right now, and I urge you to check them out if you guys have time. They aren’t exactly long shows since they’re only on their second seasons as of this time of writing, so you won’t have to struggle to catch up to them like you would if for some reason you’re one of those who still haven’t been initiated into the Adventure Time/Steven Universe cult (and Steven Universe isn’t exactly long right now either, so catch up on that too if you haven’t). And even if you don’t think they’re funny, the creative visuals and story lines in each product are worth watching at least once.
Also, on an unrelated note, this “what if Gravity Falls was an anime” art is pretty cool. Not sure Mabel’s braces would survive the transition though. You barely see teeth in the medium as is.
PS: Honestly, the new Lupin show has mostly just been “okay” at best based on the four episodes out right now.