Book publishing appears to be moving in an upwards trend in relation to animated television. In selling merchandise, but doing so in a “sophisticated” way, book publishing seems to carry more of a favorable connotation than toy production.
Star Vs. the Forces of Evil has recently released the published title Star and Marco’s Guide to Mastering Every Dimension, and in being willing to turn away children’s merchandising in favor of published works implies that the creators are targeting a slightly older audience- in terms of both tangible and intangible material.
Lets discuss something important before moving on with this topic: Is producing merchandise for animated television series a thoughtless move?
As I mentioned in the post about the commodification of female empowerment in animation, this isn’t necessarily an issue:
In order to create content there has to be financial payoff for its production to be viable. However, based on my experience as a viewer, series with heavy branding tend to be very simplistic in narrative. The intent of these series is clearly to reach commercial ends, which is the basis of production companies and businesses in general; however when this fact is made painstakingly obvious in work meant to entertain, it prevents the viewer from being fully immersed in the content.
As a critical viewer of animation, heavy merchandising typically compromises the quality of any kind of media text. On the other hand, as a fan, surrounding myself with the merchandise of my favorite series fills me with genuine joy.
But this blog is based on a critical perspective, so although personal fan bias is inevitable (I did pre-order the guide book a couple months ago), I will try to keep this post analytical. Based on many comments and observations, mild merchandising seems to be requested by most fandoms, but not nearly to the point where it influences the story, just enough to give viewers a tangible object to hold onto for the intangible content that they’re passionate about. Paraphrasing what Stuff with Scout Fly mentioned in his video against the animated series Teen Titans GO!, merchandising should never lead a media text. Rather, the development of television series should be based solely on intricate storytelling, and spin-off products should only follow if their demand is present (in tasteful formats and numbers, of course).
There is definitely a market for merchandise targeted at passionate fans- just look at the amount of Steven Universe fanart and buttons being sold at nerd-culture conventions. And as a heavily-merchandised example, Miraculous Ladybug sold out of its dolls and actions figures at many Target stores throughout the United States during the first week that they were released for sale.
Star and Marco’s Guide to Mastering Every Dimension really is a treat. Series like Gravity Falls and Steven Universe have published insightful books as well that include small details that do plenty to expand the mythos of each of these animated worlds. The Star Vs. guide book is no different in providing many insights including:
- Profiles of each significant character
- Descriptions of each dimension that has been visited/discussed
- Tapestries of the Butterfly lineage (including some that we haven’t seen yet in the series)
- A translated section of the original spell book
- Marco’s infamous nacho recipe
- A small pull-out map of the dimensions
It’s obvious that plenty of care was placed in the creation of this book and that the authors had fun writing it. But in relation to this article’s topic, what stands out the most is that this is Star Vs. the Forces of Evil‘s first merchandising attempt (aside from a t-shirt sold at Hot Topic). What’s even more surprising is that the series, similar to Gravity Falls, is produced by Disney, which is notorious for its heavy branding (count how many times you run into The Ultimate Spiderman products during a single Wal-Mart trip). Yet both Star Vs. and Gravity Falls mainly focus on published works as forms of related products.
Since Gravity Falls was also critically acclaimed in the realm of Western animation, this tells us that even Disney is aware that intricate storytelling and heavy branding don’t mix. Which is probably why the series that are lower in narrative quality face constant promotion, whereas higher quality series do not. Overall, it’s nice to see that Disney understands its audience and is not willing to compromise the quality of it’s premier animated works for a side stream of product income.
I guess there’s hope for television executives and large media companies yet.
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