With the release of The Simpsons movie this summer, I thought back on my favorite cartoon series of the past twenty years, which can fairly be called The Simpsons Era of Animation. I decided to limit myself to half hour series, so several good fifteen minute shows on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim are disqualified. After much weeding and revising, I have cut the list down to seven.
But Matty Boy! Why not a Top Ten? Isn't that the natural number? As a mathematician, I must say no. Ten is the number of fingers on two hands of any non mutant who hasn't been involved in an industrial accident. It is not the number of quality things in any given span of time.
7. Justice League Unlimited. When I was a kid, I read Marvel Comics and disliked DC. I was still reading comics when The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen came out, so I am not completely blind to the fact that DC got better over time. When it comes to being turned into full length films, both Marvel and DC have hits and misses. When it comes to being turned into cartoons, DC kicks Marvel's ass.
I like Justice League Unlimited because the writing is good, the voice actor cast is amazing and the story is as much about the relationships among the heroes (and among the villains) as it is about the huge fights. Don't get me wrong. The show has huge fights. As my friend Art and I like to say, on the planet where Justice League Unlimited takes place, 9/11 would be a good day. Knocking down three or four skyscrapers during a super powered fight is pretty much to be expected.
6. Samurai Jack. Samurai Jack is the work of Genndy Tartakovsky. He also did Dexter's Laboratory and the Star Wars: Clone Wars cartoons. I personally like Samurai Jack a lot more than the other two. In terms of animation style, the E-surance ads with the pink haired supergirl Erin are definitely borrowing from the style of Samurai Jack, but they are done by a different studio. Think of it as an homage, or what the French call "le rip-off".
What makes Samurai Jack special are the episodes that are effectively silent film acting. I've seen a few silent movies recently, and the style from that era is so broad that even drama and tragedy look silly. The silent acting in Samurai Jack is in the style of the long dialog free scenes in Sergio Leone or Akira Kurosawa films. The story line is that Jack is a nearly unbeatable warrior, and the wizard Aku that he battles has sent Jack into the future, a world ruled by Aku since Jack was not present at the beginning to beat Aku. Aku has many tricks, so even though Jack will always win a fight, no fight is climactic until the series finale.
These are the only two action shows on my list, which will continue over the next few days. In the comments, I put my honorable mention. On the last post, I will put my dishonorable mention, the shows where someone might say, "Didn't you forget xxx?" and my answer will be "No, I didn't forget it. I just don't like it."