What Do You Think Are The Three Most Important Elements In Action Cartoons

SweetShop209

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Action cartoons come in all shapes and sizes, whether it involves superheroes (like with Teen Titans or Spider-Man), martial arts (Avatar or TMNT), high fantasy (She Ra, Niko And The Sword Of Light), and so forth. There are many elements that make them unique, but they usually have a few common elements, such as tackling themes of growing up, rising up to take on a challenge, or conquering your personal fears, and so forth. Besides good action scenes, name at least three important elements that you think can make help make an action cartoon great, and give some shows as examples. I'll start:

1. Moments Of Levity: Many action shows are generally grounded in some sort of reality in order to go to some darker places. As such, any levity would have to be well placed so that it doesn't get too depressing. One show I think does it well is Stretch Armstrong And The Flex Fighters. The characters feel like something straight out of Spider-Man (which isn't surprising given what the creators worked on) with how they'll occasionally give some cheesy one liners and quippy remarks (usually Jake or Nathan would make them). What makes it work is with the slower moments where the characters are just talking or having to deal with personal issues, like with Ricardo having to always move and thus has trust issues, or how Riya is affected by the death of her parents. We get as much scenes of Jake trying to be a good son and student as he is helping Rook (and later Dr. C) with missions. As such, when action scenes come about, it's in compliment to their issues.

2. Showing Realistic Consequences But Without Being Depressing

Action shows generally go into some dark territory, usually when the antagonists/villains are in some high position of power (whether political, hierarchial, or so forth). It's a good idea to showcase consequences, but also be able to say (whether subtly or not) that there's a way to fix this. One example I can think of is with Zuko from Avatar The Last Airbender. In season 3, he realizes that he's meant to be an ally to Aang and company, not his father. Everyone is understandably hesitant to trust him given how he let Azula and company take over Ba Sing Se in season 2. Even when he proves his worth, they're still hesitant. He then gets a few episodes to win over everyone's trust, such as helping Aang learn fire bending, helping Sokka find Hakoda and Suki, and helping Katara gain closure from the death of her mother. There are other elements that make this work, but those are the key points.

3. The Emphasis Of Friendship And Strong Bonds

Now, it's important for the audience to find characters likable, but I think it's just as important to show in-universe why the characters are friends and why they're working to take on evil. I'm going to give two examples here: The Rocketeer (which is more a loose action due to emphasizing rescues and not combat, but it's worth noting) and Glitch Techs.

With The Rocketeer, while Kit turns into The Rocketeer in every episode, that's not the only thing the episodes have going for them. She also wants the best for her friends and family. For example, an episode like "X-treme Heroes" puts a great deal of emphasis on how Tesh looks up to Xena Treme due to how she pulls off all sorts of great stunts. When she later takes advantage of Tesh to get his customized scooter , you feel for him. Kit then transforms into The Rocketeer and Xena is caught. Tesh then renames his truck after Kit, and she's touched, and you feel that moment. Another episode that stands out is "The Valkyrie Cleans Up". Despite Kit and Valerie being in their secret identities for most of the episode, there's a great deal of showcasing their characters. Kit wants to hang with Valerie, but her family volunteered to clean the Rocketeer statue. While Valerie does take the statue at night, it's just to clean it, and she's as concerned about hanging with Kit as she is showing that she isn't trying to intentionally make things worse. It helps that, more often than not, Kit is often doing something mundane before she finds herself in this situation.

Now we talk about Glitch Techs. While much of the action involves Hinobi Technology, there's a great deal into developing Five and Miko, and the world around them. For example, there's both plots in "Collection Quest". The main plot is about Five and and Bergy trying to gain more experience points in order to get some sweet merchandise. We get some fun, geeky moments between them. We get a subplot with Miko and her older sister Nica being forced to hang out. However, they grow more comfortable with hanging around each other, as Nica learns to loosen up and not be afraid of what others think, with Miko realizing that, despite differences, she and Nica do have similarities that helps her make more of an effort to connect.

And that's all I have. What are 3 elements that you think are key to a great action show (not necessarily just these elements)?
 

Frontier

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My take:

1) Characters and stories you can get invested in.

2) Good action choreography and pacing.

3) Fluid animation.
 

Mostezli

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1. Moments Of Levity

2. Showing Realistic Consequences But Without Being Depressing

3. The Emphasis Of Friendship And Strong Bonds
1. At just the right moments; the difference between the default standard (episodic action sitcom) and the more wide-ranging action shows

My number one is world building and characters of varying backgrounds/ideologies on a great ebb & flow to make the stories thrive. I think that just applies to every single one of the major ones even if they don't have as many characters throughout the series as one may expect. It was actually Redwall and Cyberchase that first developed that preference in me.

2. "without being depressing"...that's what make them great; cartoons that can make you cry or a sense of pity.
We thought ATLA could be as heavy of a premise as it can get for a cartoon aimed at kids,
but then Adventure Time is the aftermath of a post-apocalypse where humans are on the edge of extinction.
All the characters (anthropomorphic & otherwise) evoke what makes humanity so special.

My number two is action (not necessarily a beat-em-up), interaction, and reaction.
In comedies, that's the set-up, delivery and punchline.
In action toons, it's what makes something like Lost in Oz so impressive.

3. That's also not really exclusive to the best of the best within the "action" sphere.
Even a decent one will tick that box off.

My number three is villains who aren't merely sympathetic rather get to be complex as their protagonists.
They're people too with thoughts, feelings, motivations, and aspirations. Now this is genuinely hard to come by.
My most succinct go-to would be Baccano! where all the characters (good, bad, completely irreverent) are on an equal footing to each other and you're on a roller coaster ride with everyone.
 

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You pretty much all have my thoughts. Levity, character development and progression, actions and consequences, etc. are all important.

I'll add a strong sense of continuity. It doesn't have to be super exact and detailed like any of Greg Weisman's shows, but there must be some consistency to the characterizations and the world. I think the inconsistency of recent shows like Marvel's Spider-Man and Harley Quinn made me appreciate it.

Worldbuilding isn't a must, but I always appreciate it when it is attempted. Again, Greg Weisman's shows are full of it, but even shows that struggle with empty environments, like Beware the Batman, get points from when when they still throw in details regarding their version of Gotham.

Of course, there's also quality action scenes. I'll still watch a show that has subpar action (like She-Ra) if everything else elevates it, but there's something so cool about watching great action scenes. I'm rewatching Spectacular Spider-Man and many of the action pieces aged very well.
 

The Overlord

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1. At just the right moments; the difference between the default standard (episodic action sitcom) and the more wide-ranging action shows

My number one is world building and characters of varying backgrounds/ideologies on a great ebb & flow to make the stories thrive. I think that just applies to every single one of the major ones even if they don't have as many characters throughout the series as one may expect. It was actually Redwall and Cyberchase that first developed that preference in me.

2. "without being depressing"...that's what make them great; cartoons that can make you cry or a sense of pity.
We thought ATLA could be as heavy of a premise as it can get for a cartoon aimed at kids,
but then Adventure Time is the aftermath of a post-apocalypse where humans are on the edge of extinction.
All the characters (anthropomorphic & otherwise) evoke what makes humanity so special.

My number two is action (not necessarily a beat-em-up), interaction, and reaction.
In comedies, that's the set-up, delivery and punchline.
In action toons, it's what makes something like Lost in Oz so impressive.

3. That's also not really exclusive to the best of the best within the "action" sphere.
Even a decent one will tick that box off.

My number three is villains who aren't merely sympathetic rather get to be complex as their protagonists.
They're people too with thoughts, feelings, motivations, and aspirations. Now this is genuinely hard to come by.
My most succinct go-to would be Baccano! where all the characters (good, bad, completely irreverent) are on an equal footing to each other and you're on a roller coaster ride with everyone.

See I am going to disagree with that third point somewhat and say what I think what works best is having a variety of villains some sympathetic and some unsympathetic.

DCUA has a lot of sympathetic villains, with some major exceptions like Joker and Darkseid, who's rivalry with Batman and Superman respectively was defined by their cruelty and ruthlessness.

Red Skull being the most iconic Nazi villain in comics is hard to make sympathetic in animation.

In the recent She-Ra cartoon, villains like Catra and Hordak were sympathetic villains with tragic backstories, while Horde Prime was not, being a cruel, megalomaniacal tyrant/cult leader.

That is not to say that every villain has to be pure evil either, it's more like having a balance between sympathetic and unsympathetic villains works best, heck you can have a sympathetic villain play off a unsympathetic one, the fact that a sympathetic villain can often be reasoned with while an unsympathetic one cannot provides a good contrast between the 2 villain types (it's why Magneto and Apocalypse can play off well against each other).
 

Mostezli

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See I am going to disagree with that third point somewhat and say what I think what works best is having a variety of villains some sympathetic and some unsympathetic.
That was the point I made. Just like with heroes, villains come in all colors beyond those with a vendetta spurred on by a troubled past. That's as trendy as the thief and the tyrant.
 

The Overlord

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That was the point I made. Just like with heroes, villains come in all colors beyond those with a vendetta spurred on by a troubled past. That's as trendy as the thief and the tyrant.

Fair enough, I just disagree with the idea some people have that ''sympathetic villains are the only realistic villains'' ignoring the parade of nightmarish human beings throughout history. A good villain just has to be compelling and to be compelling a villain has to get some sort of reaction out of the audience.

You can admire a villain that is clever, but an easy way to get a reaction from the audience is to play on their emotions and biggest ones for villains is sympathetic or disgust. A villain you feel sorry for and villain you love to hate are equally valid reactions to various villains, depending on how the writer presents them. Though an evil villain will have to do something evil, a villain who has no redeeming qualities, but never does anything worse petty thievery is kinda lame.

What you don't want is to give mixed messages with your villains, like Steven Universe redeeming White Diamond after she is presented as a genocidal, control freak tyrant.
 

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I'd argue that not every villain with a sympathetic backstory should be redeemed. Demona from Gargoyles or more recently, Jonathan Rook from Stretch Armstrong, have tragic pasts that shaped who they are. However, they still committed horrible acts that make them hard to forgive, and they're not even interested in redemption or anything. While I wasn't into the idea of redeeming Catra in She-Ra as far as they went, they actually sold me on it by the end by actually giving her the initiative to make up for her crimes without gaining anything from it.

What you don't want is to give mixed messages with your villains, like Steven Universe redeeming White Diamond after she is presented as a genocidal, control freak tyrant.

I think Steven Universe was kind of sloppy about it, but White Diamond was never truly redeemed. Steven merely used his connection with her to stop her imperialism. She still views other lifeforms as lesser and Steven is still uncomfortable with her. He still resents what she did to him as seen in Future.
 
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Fone Bone

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The most important things in action cartoons:

1. Characters. Characters are the most important thing in any story. Good tip for good characters. If you know the reason your characters are doing the things they are doing, your characters and story will be better. Just having random things happen doesn't work.

2. As far as the story goes, good writing is more important than good animation. Good animation IS important. But I find fight sequences the least interesting part of action cartoons and believe character drama is a far bigger deal.
 

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