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This video explains why US adult animation is almost always comedic. US animation studios transferred their efforts to television in the years following Hollywood's anti-trust case (which meant future shorts were less likely to be assured of theatrical releases), but this was only cost-effective if the animation style was simplified and the content made child-friendly enough for extensive ad-heavy re-runs. With the exception of a 1972 series, adult TV animation waited until The Simpsons. Although this series was a risky investment, lessons learned from its rapid success allowed a transition from expecting adult animation to be unviable to expecting it to be viable as long as it was comedic, preferably in a sitcom format.

Clearly, adult anime is in a very different situation and has been for decades. (One need only look at the lists here.) The reason, in short, is that the historical factors mentioned above are unique details of US history. A similar overview of the history of Japanese animation, both cinematic and televisual, would sound completely different and make sense of the diverse range of adult anime that resulted, including in the present day.

So my question is: what are the key details of that history? (If it's an inappropriate question here, I might move it to History.SE instead.)

Edit for requested clarity: I'm referring to work with an adult target audience, without specific implications of sexual or violent content (though these could well apply in some cases).

  • For clarity, please add to your question what you mean by "adult" as opposed to "non-adult" anime and western cartoons. – Hakase Jun 24 '17 at 19:15
  • In my view, serious animation in Japan has evolved from such works like studio Ghibli's classics and series which were supposed to resemble western soap operas and dramas, and shows which are basically propagandas of healthy way of life, social adaptation, acceptance and patriotism. And to be taken seriously, they had to drop the funny act. That's one thing that comes to my mind. – Hakase Jun 24 '17 at 19:20
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    By "adult", I take it you mean "targeted at adult audiences" and not "sexual / violent"? (This question is fine here and is likely to receive better answers here or on Movies.SE than on History.SE.) – senshin Jun 24 '17 at 19:37
  • The Simpsons is an animated prime time sitcom and is targeted not at adults specifically but at families. In this respect it's just like The Flintstones, another US animated prime time sitcom that originally aired in 60's. It's not really all that hard to find animated TV series in Japan, that are very popular, comedies and targeted at a broad family audience just like The Simpsons. Crayon Shin-Chan for example, is often compared to The Simpsons, because of the similarities between its titular character and Bart Simpson. Another example is the show that airs before it, Doraemon. – Ross Ridge Jun 24 '17 at 23:07
  • Perhaps the only long running anime that's similar to Simpsons that I can think of is Sazae-san. I don't know if it's comedic enough since I don't watch it though, but I believe both are family-oriented as Ross mentioned (compared to Doraemon, which I believe is more children-oriented anime). On the other hand, I think I can safely say that long-running, family-oriented anime/cartoon tends to be comedic.. otherwise, there's no plot and no entertainment value. – Aki Tanaka Jun 25 '17 at 3:22

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