I decided to start a production blog to keep people updated on what our slate is for 2006-2007. Like any periodical website I maintain, it probably won't be updated often. This blog will serve as more than just a running chronology of series production, but will also talk about what I like and dislike about modern animation, and there's a lot to spread across both sides of the coin. In any case, here is the first of three series that are being developed right now, solely at Couch Slave, for the time being.
The School Show Starring School (working title) originally started out as a pitch called Accellerina, over a year ago. The Accellerina pitch was intended to be "the fastest show ever." The goal was to cram 22 minutes worth of plot into 5 minutes. Absolutely no pauses or silence, no shelter from the snowballing direction, like The Fairly Oddparents but even five times faster than that. But I wiped it out a few weeks later, because a show like that could have the potential to become extremely annoying, and the characters just weren't characters, they were hollow shells.
Then, during the summer, I had learned that one of my favorite animated films of all time, The Emperor's New Groove (Mark Dindal's salvaging of a train-wrecked Sting project), was being turned into a television series called "The Emperor's New School." The sad thing wasn't just that they took a period piece of a film from earlier civilization and set it in a present day school atmosphere, but that they had ALREADY done that years ago with Hercules: The Animated Series. It was at that point that I took a census of all the current animated series on the air, and realized just how many of them were set in school, or forced into it. The answer was a HELL OF A LOT!! Not only shows created solely to exist within the boundaries of the school, but shows that had nothing to do with school (Ed, Edd n Eddy, Codename: Kids Next Door) were being crammed into one, just for the sake of... uhhh.... I have no idea!!
Is it alright if I just were to ask what is so fascinating about school, as the setting of a television show? Is there something fantastical about it that I missed? It's a grey, lifeless building where you spend 8 hours a day learning how to do everything that has nothing to do with what you want to do with your life, and hate yourself in the process. And that's okay, it's a necessary component of the structure of our society. But I don't remember coming home from school and wanting to watch shows... about school. I'd like to think people watch cinema, and especially animation, as a means of escape from their own world. Not to be reminded of what they do for a living. I don't see Jack Bauer working in a cubicle and fighting terrorists on his lunch break. I don't remember that emmy-winning "Orbach Goes to the Supermarket" episode of Law and Order. So why do we sell kids in school, to kids who go to school? Here society is complaining about Generation X, when all they're doing right now is raising a new generation of underachievers.
Needless to say, some might think that I'm being a little hypocritical, starting this show about school myself. Well, the object of this series is two-fold. One, as always, to improve upon everything that I've done in the past and increase my patience in working in a long-form format without crumbling under the tedium. Two, the series as a whole is an allegorical hate letter to the animation industry. It's not going to be blatant, it's going to rest there under the surface for anyone with time to fish out. I just hope people find it interesting, regardless.
I don't believe in kids cartoons. "Kids cartoons" and "demographics" are phrases created by humorless people that have never created anything of their own. There is nothing more idiotic that dumbing or watering down a product because you think THIS demographic might not get it. It's a stupid, narrow-minded philosophy that helps to make entertainment so uninteresting, for children, for adults, and for everybody. If you make a cartoon "for kids", you're really making a cartoon for nobody, because kids will watch anything whether it's for them or not, so then, what audience do you have? Certainly not yourself, because most people who work on "kids cartoons" would never actually watch the finished product after the final screening. The only real purpose, then, of a "kids cartoon" is to sell merchandise, which is unfortunately why it still exists today (instead of dying in the 1990s like it should have) and is now enjoying a revival over at the now braindead Cartoon Network. Thanks to invasive advertising campaigns, the genre of merchatainment is still alive and successful.
I'm not interested in making lots of money on merchandise. I'm not interested in what certain audiences will like more than others. I make animation for myself first, then for anybody to enjoy. If you have a good story, if you have good characters, and if you're funny, then people will watch. And if they don't watch, that just makes production more challenging, and I think that it is good to feel challenged. There is absolutely no difficulty in entertaining kids. If a network advertises a show as the hit show that all the kids are watching, kids will tune in. If they don't advertise, they'll probably STILL tune in, even if it's Japanese cartoon characters having off-screen sex (ah, the miracle of cable television and parental irresponsibility!). But making a show that people will look back on in five years, ten years, twenty years, and say "that show was COOL," now THAT is tough. But I'd rather have failed trying to accomplish that than have succeeded at shooting fish in a barrel.
The original idea was just to place characters in a school setting but have the plots be disconnected from the actual school events, because from a storytelling standpoint, and this is a mistake that a lot of writers make, plot should not drive the characters; the characters drive the plot. I then decided to compromise a little, because to create an environment of shared apathy among the characters would not only be too remniscient of my old works but it would also just be, well, boring.
The series takes place in school, but only as a means for generating conflicts for Emiko and Tim to wrestle with. Otherwise I would not set it in school at all. I also felt that the school itself should have character to it. It's a character with mysterious ambitions, and odd quirks, much like any human person. In this context, a school event is a character driven story, because it creates a personified interest in the school (aka: what is the school doing to the kids? what is it raising money for?) and would make people interested to unwrap those layers. Or maybe I'm making excuses.
There's a lot of the series though that takes place outside of school, because anywhere outside of school is just a much more interesting place to be. I want the city to have a lot of hotspots, places which Emiko or Tischele would go to get inspiration, and places where people would actually hang out and have fun. You see all too often in television shows that kids are just hanging out either at their houses or... at the school. That just seems so flat to me. As a background artist I would feel so pissed off if all I had to paint for months on end was the school cafeteria, again... and again... and again... and again... then look over my shoulder at Scott Wills painting futuristic cityscapes for Clone Wars, and press my hand to the glass pane separating us, sliding it downward and lowering my head in sorrow. Luckily I'm not a background artist (I am
flat out terrible at that!) so I'll never know that pain.
When I first conceived the show, I jokingly wrote down that every character was "an average girl, JUST LIKE YOU!" Then I thought, hey, what is so average about the average kids on television? Look at the typical cartoon sitcomedy. An "average" kid is a stunted, clumsy underdog who is constantly humiliated and has to overcome all the obstacles!! "Average" kids are often frightened, ostracized, and only have one friend that they somehow wield power over. Then they live in "average" families, who have a usually wacky father and obsessive mother, who love routines and never have any problems or spats (unless they're easily forgivable within 11 minutes!).
I just don't know any kids that are actually like that. And I don't know any families like that. REAL average kids can't even pronounce half the dialogue the kids in cartoons say, and REAL average families have economic turmoil, discipline problems, power struggles, and hurtful fights. I mean, I would love if the average family actually was like the average family on TV, but they're not. I think it's about time for television to drop the whole "average" pretense. With this show I'm not even TRYING to create "average" realistic characters. I'm not going to pretend that you KNOW someone like them, or that you ARE LIKE one of them. I'm just trying to create
INTERESTING characters. If you do, you probably live a whimsical life.
I also decided that every character should have multiple dimensions, all of which feed into each other. Characters need to have recognizable archetypes but still show some flexibility. Without a foundation to work from, you just have a bunch of generic nobodies dishing out one liners, like the cast of Daria, or Ghost in the Shell. Even though they are different characters with different beliefs, they're completely interchangable. Take one out of the series and it wouldn't change anything. I don't want to fall into that trap.
Emiko is the lead character, a punk rock cutie with lots of fire but lots of youth and innocence as well. Most cartoons call their characters "punk" when they really mean "douchebag." Such characters hate everything and everyone, but they obey all the rules and let authority figures direct them. That's not punk at all! I wanted to create a character that kind of embodied "punk" qualities but was still a little girl, first and foremost. So here's Emiko, who is entirely anti-authority. She has no regard for rules or succumbing to the power-hungry, or even space and time for that matter. BUT, she is not a total recluse either. She's still just a kid. She loves her friends and family, she would do anything to protect them. And she's not afraid to be girly. I think she would feel insulted to be called a tomboy. Though... she kind of... is. She also wouldn't just do something because it was the moralistic thing to do. If a bully antagonizes her to the point of no return, she will beat the living crap of that bully.
Her main source of rebellion is the public school system which is becoming more and more suffocating to her creativity, her personality, and her individuality. Most kids would just sort of accept it at that age, but Emiko isn't an "average" kid because she doesn't live in an "average" family. The Toboshii family is slowly falling into poverty. Her big sister, Abiko, seems to have run away from home after a long stretch of insubordinance. Abiko was an extremely bad role model, smoking, hanging out with questionable friends, and never attending school. And Emiko, like real little sisters, are impressionable enough to absorb those qualities. She thought her sister was cool, and her absence just makes her seem more legendary to her. So that is sort of how her mind ticks.
I didn't want to break the fourth wall, not in the conventional way that it is done, so I got around this with a little splash of fantasy. As such, Emiko is an abnormal child, both emotionally AND physically. Thanks to a helpful contrivation in the backstory, Emiko's imagination is powerful enough to physically envelop anyone surrounding her. If she's in a playful mood, this only further heightens the sheer lunacy of the show. If she's in a nasty mood, no one is safe from her terror. It also helps her in dire situations, either to pull her out or just to cope.
So ultimately, it's a conventional character foundation that I've molded into something very horrifying and unnatural. I WILL REGRET THIS!!!
Tischele is Emiko's best friend. She is a cybernetic war machine from the future, piloted during the Hundred Thousand Month War by a micro-sized army of people fighting against the rebelling ZAON Foundation, another micro-sized army of people piloting ANOTHER robot kid from the future named Todd. The two have never met. In fact, I don't believe they'll ever meet, and if they do, it will merely be a small acquaintanceship.
Tischele dreams of destroying humanity and ending the world, like any sentient robot creation would, but fortunately for the human race, Tischele was adopted by a couple of hippy Linux programmers that are pacifistic and will fight for your right to open source software. They locked off all of her weapons technology and raised her to be a fledgling artist. Emiko and Tischele bonded almost instantly, being two of the very few creative-minded people dispersed in the establishment.
Tischele is still understanding humanity and Emiko is her only friend, so she is very protective of her, even though she doesn't understand why Emiko is so insane and aggressive at times. I would say that she is sort of the straight man of the series but only in the sense that she doesn't want Emiko to accidentally KILL EVERYONE.
Being an artist, however, she does excercise the kind of anti-attention that artists use ("Oh, I finished my latest painting, it's total crap, yawn... I'm not going to show it to you or anything.... yep... I suck and such.. no seriously I'm not gonna.. OH ALRIGHT here it is!"). So yeah, she, like Emiko, wants a stage, just in a different way. She also is helping to culture Emiko and pull her out of Abiko's grasp. And, being an artist, she is very jealous and critical of anyone stepping on her turf. So these are elements that will show themselves from time to time. She isn't just the "I don't think this is such a good idea" girl.
Mud became Emiko's friend right after Abiko ran away from home. She helped lead Emiko out of a period of misery by convincing her to take it out against the world. In a way she is half-responsible for Emiko becoming the rebel she is. And why not? Mud is an extremely antagonistic character who hates the world, hates herself, and hates you. BUT, because there is absolutely nothing interesting about a character that hates everything (see "rant on douchebags" above), I decided to make Mud really, really, really, really, really, really stupid.
Really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really stupid.
I think if there isn't at least one line of dialogue for every 3 of her exchanges that makes you rub your forehead, then something has gone way wrong. What I think makes the character interesting is that she thinks that her incredible idiocy is CORRECT, and that the rest of the world are morons for feeling differently. Most idiot characters in television have some sense of self-awareness that they're not bright, and are usually gentle and doofy people. But Mud is just this black hole of assholery that does not give her mind an inch to open (thus cutting off the circulation and perhaps placing her in an eternal onset of catastrophic stroke).
Tim Foil (A PUN NAME!!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooooooooo) is a character met for the first time in episode 1. Emiko welcomes him into the fold after protecting him from
neighborhood jerks who can't stand his somewhat delusional opinions. Tim is a conspiracy theorist and thinks there is something wrong with the school (and there very well
may be) which is not much of an icebreaker when trying to make an impression with someone.
Being a kid his theories are pretty out there and insane, but as a character he is surprisingly collected and calm. Outside of what he believes about the school, he's a man of few words and thinks he's tougher than he actually is. He's really a wimp with no athleticism or fighting prowess, but he'd like you to believe otherwise with his courage and style.
A boy surrounded by a female cast; if this were written in Japan, that would be disasterous. But these characters are just kids, not flirty adults, and this is written in America, so there won't be any forced, repetitive romantic subplots... not on my watch. Emiko and Tim? What is this, Futurama? Tischele and Tim? What is this, Not-Futurama? I won't be having ANY of that. Save that for the recluses on deviantart to recreate. Now, Mud and Tim, that would be humorous to me. Mud, who hates everything, having a weak spot for Tim because her stupidity grants her the belief that Tim is actually as tough and in danger as he claims to be. The first two proposed relationships are just "awww how cute" but Mud and Tim would actually, I think, create some humor, so I may pursue that. But there won't be characters tugging him back and forth in superdeformed mode with hundreds of blush lines drawn on every face. If you actually wanted that, I really have no advice for you except to punch yourself in the face for an hour.
Phara is probably the most archetypical of characters, being the spiteful bully character. I can't possibly subvert and mash EVERY single character type in cartoons, lest I not have any ideas for future series!! However every character needs a motivation, and I do feel the need to play an extra card or two, so I've made subtle alterations to a typical cartoon staple.
Phara belongs to an Egyptian family of considerable power, and because of her heritage, her family has always pushed themselves to rise to the top and overachieve. Phara has an overabundant level of pressure placed on her to succeed, and often cheats at school just to avoid the consequences of her somewhat physical father. She often takes this pent up energy and stress and releases it into aggravating other students. She doesn't bully Emiko because anything about Emiko actually disgusts her. She knew little about her. But she happened to cross her path, so she got caught in the crossfire. Like I said, archetypical, up to this point.
Bullies, though, are somewhat interminable characters. They boss characters around and act snobby and overagressive, and never get punished for it. That's just so... miserable. You see it all the time in cartoons. Oh, sure, they'll get a little embarassment at the end of an episode, like maybe falling in mud or something, getting some sort of laugh. But then next episode, she's back in the character's face, and the most popular girl in school again. Okay, that crap has to stop NOW.
Whenever Phara goes over the line in bullying people, she is going to be punished. Violently. In the first episode, a truck crashes through the wall and slams into her, knocking her into a locker which then falls on top of her. Holy clap, that would kill her! Why, yes it would. So I added an extra element to make sure that I am appealing to what I'm going to call "Ageless Standards & Practices" (ASP). Phara belongs to an Egyptian bloodline, and I decided to make her immortal. Yes, this would seem like a very horrible idea in real life, to give the savage oppressor a never-ending life. But giving her immortality essentially allows me to do whatever I want to her, because she'll always survive it. She will die in many, many ways. None of them gory or inappropriate for kids to see, but definitely more hardcore than general silly slapstick.
Turn the other card face up. Phara is not always Emiko's nemesis. That doesn't mean she ever befriends Emiko. But there will be stretches of episodes where she harbors a mutual respect for the character, especially after they have brawled with each other. She may feel, eventually, a need to dick around with her again. But usually when Emiko responds to pushing with shoving, she backs off. It's sort of a code of honor. I don't see a need for consistent reckless torturing of the main characters. The viewer shouldn't have to feel annoyed or obnoxed unless there's a reward for it.
Emiko's FamilyThe Toboshii family (which is katakana for lacking in money) is... lacking in money. They're falling head first into debt as the series begins with little hope of getting out of the hole. Hazuro, Emiko's father, is not making enough money at work to support the three, but because Abiko is gone, Karen, the mother, doesn't want to get a job and leave Emiko unattended at home after school. Just not a good idea. This plotline is resolved in a later episode when Emiko's friends launch a successful fundraising campaign to pay off all of the credit card companies, at least temporarily.
Hazuro is taxed beyond belief, so he usually lets Emiko do whatever she feels like. It's not because he's afraid of her but because he just doesn't have the time to put up with her when there are so many bills to pay. The role of disciplinarian falls into the hands of Karen, who, after losing Abiko, is determined to keep Emiko on the straight and narrow path. Any sign of trouble at school is dealt with swiftly by her. Despite these parental insufficiencies, they both love Emiko and Abiko fondly. Boy is that sappy. Holy hell. But hey, it's true.
Emiko actually inherits her condition from Karen, who has a very bizarre imagination but is not as extreme a case as Emiko. She can only share it with Emiko; any attempt on anyone else would just be met with confusion. Hazuro doesn't have this in any capacity. He does, however, confide in Emiko for more things than a parent should (rumors about his neighbors or how much he hates his job, etc). Yes, it's impossible for me to write completely normal people!!
And Abiko is gone. Abiko and Emiko had a very, very strong bond growing up, but drifted apart when Abiko dissented from her family. As mentioned earlier, Abiko fell into a degenerate lifestyle and then ran away from home. It's possible she's in a very ugly place with very ugly people, it's possible she's in prison, it's possible she's a fugitive. Whatever the case, Emiko's parents shield her from this information because she's too young to hear it, perhaps to understand it. Abiko left a significant void in Emiko's life and she often imagines a fascimile of her when extremely depressed to keep her company.
The FacultyDrake Conrad is Emiko's teacher, who is probably teetering over the edge with a noose around his neck. He just has nothing in his life to make him happy. He still does his job, and he still underlines the value of education, but if he were to get fired, he would have no reaction. He puts in only the marginal amount of work to get paid, unless there are ways to make more money, such as fundraising. He smokes, he usually reclines while half-asleep instead of properly teaching his students anything, and he teaches the most absurd and interchangeable lessons known to man (for example, the quality of Milwaukee, or using bees to make clothing, or ... TIMES TABLES!!!). Despite all this, Drake acts sort of as Emiko's conscience away from home, perhaps because they are both searching for something more out there, though Drake has essentially given up.
Other members of the faculty include intimidating Principal Evan (who when not dealing with kids, is really just a creepy old guy), his assistant Kate (the beneficiary of this creepiness who can't stand Evan, but luurrves kids), the incognito Kitana Eishi, and the mysterious and faceless vice principal. BUT WHO CARES ABOUT THEM?! I SURE DON'T!! NEXT PARAGRAPH:
Music is awesome, and cartoons have put so little time and effort into using and creating it. Even the good cartoons on TV like Billy & Mandy have this bloopy bloopy wah wah doodliedoo music that noone would ever listen to outside of that sitting. None of it is memorable, none of it actually commands the scene. So, I take music pretty seriously.
I haven't decided what kind of delivery format the episodes would use. If it's completely non-profit, I would use licensed music. If it's micropayments, I probably would not. If it's more substantial payments, I might use some stock tracks. If I used licensed music, I already have a good library of songs I'd like to use. Music from Big D and the Kids Table, Horace Silver, The Planet Smashers, Tokyo Skapara, The Bad Plus, Les McCann, and others. A licensing nightmare if I were ever to seek a profit. It would cost thousands of dollars, and that's being generous. Otherwise I may just pay a couple of musicians to lay down some tracks instead. But no super-retro music and no la-la-la-la-la music (unless it is extremely aggravatingly happy music, a la Kevin Manthei). Music would have to be editted for ASP.
I'm still deciding on what the style of the animation will be. I was originally planning on doing the animation on threes for regular poses, on twos for action/motion, and on ones for sight gags, wild takes, and special animation (explosions or heightened action sequences). I may still do that, BUT animation on threes might look weird with stylized designs like the ones I have. We'll see how it plays out.
You read this much, why? This is just some idiot's blog with a whole lot of words. Oh well, here's some dancing for you.