Generally, animation is seen as a less-than-mature form of entertainment. Cartoons are fit for children or raunchy comedy shows. Rarely is it something to take seriously. But when we deride a form of expression by the dictation of our preconceived notions, we limit ourselves. Fascinating themes and complex philosophies can and have been explored in the realms of animation.
To really drive my example home, I’ll use one of the most suspect forms of animated television: Japanese animation. First engaging Western attention in the 90’s, shows like Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon captured the imaginations of Western youth. And this is before the merchandising explosion of Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh. But those shows are actually meant for children. Neon Genesis Evangelion is not.
The story sounds simple enough. Children pilot giant robots in order to fight hostile alien invaders who threaten the Earth. But truthfully, this is a show about robots in the same way that Fight Club is a movie about underground fighting. Every character displays impressive psychological trauma, usually as a result of their relationship with their parents. Ladled on top of that is a multitude of religious references, commentary on emotionally abusive relationships, and an analysis of the damaging effects of alienation.
This show is painful, brutal, and frankly very bleak throughout. But it’s also remarkable in its exploration of themes and character development/purposeful stagnation. Yes it’s a cartoon, but its a great cartoon. It’s even inspired Western directors to adapt some of its traits, as can be seen in Pacific Rim. I recommend it, for however much my recommendation is worth.