Sym-Bionic Titan (2010-2011)
As a result of not being categorized as “children’s television”, many anime contain ample violence and bloodshed—to the point where certain titles hold a “mature” rating (Chambers, 2012; McKevitt, 2010). Because these features were unconventional in traditional cartoons during the American “anime boom” in the late 90s, violent scenes of imported content were edited out in order to deem them more child-friendly (Daliot-Bul, 2014, p. 76). However, as the integration of anime onto American television increased, open-mindedness over animation’s capability to capture older audiences followed. As a result, adult-oriented animation such as Family Guy and Futurama materialized and have experienced excellent viewership ratings to justify the production of multiple seasons (Chambers, 2012).
Sym-Bionic Titan, similar to Avatar: The Last Airbender, takes plenty of inspiration from Japanese anime; however it presents more of a fusion between American and Japanese elements (Thill, 2010). The series centers Princess Ilana and her two guardians, Lance and Octus, who collectively witness the hostile takeover of their home planet, Galaluna. In order to keep Ilana safe, the three protagonists decide to flee to Earth and pose as students at a local secondary school. What drives the series is that these characters have the ability to summon high-tech and self-aware battle suits to defend themselves against various interplanetary species—and after fighting as individual units, they quickly realize that these suits can combine to form one large self-aware robot known as “Sym-Bionic Titan” (Tartakovsky, 2010). Throughout the 1970s Japanese science-fiction anime adopted the space-based concept of “giant-piloted robots” (Daliot-Bul, 2014, p. 81). As a storytelling element that launched a trend in Japanese animation, it formed a genre known as “mecha” (81). Science-fiction and fantasy drove anime’s success in the US during the 1980s, which introduced the mecha titles of Gundam Seed, Voltron, and Mighty Orbots (Daliot-Bul, 2014). The series Sym-Bionic Titan takes heavy inspiration from the mecha genre, as a giant robot composed of alien technology is the premise of the entire series (Thill, 2010).
A notable feature of the series is that it aired on Toonami before it was pulled from American broadcast schedules. Toonami was a television segment part of Cartoon Network and was responsible for introducing many Americans to widely-popular anime such as Pokemon, Sailor Moon, Cowboy Bebop, and Death Note (Daliot-Bul, 2014; De Jesus, 2014). The segment was a contributing factor to the late 90’s anime boom, as it launched in 1997—known by Daliot-Bul (2014) as a “tipping point in the history of anime on US television” (p. 83). As the cultural conception of animation altered in its “for kids” mentality, Cartoon Network launched its Adult Swim block, broadcasting series targeted at older audiences (Chambers, 2012). Sym-Bionic Titan fell into the spectrum of series that aired on the segment—those that target teenager and adult viewers (Daliot-Bul, 2014). Many of these series are known to contain crude humour and/or fall under the spectrum of dark, violent, and complex (Otmazgin, 2013).
Throughout its first and only season, Sym-Bionic Titan has replicated an anime-inspired format in its character-driven plots (De Jesus, 2014). It closely follows the dynamic of three very different personalities, as they begin to get to know each other. Pivotal components are gradually revealed of their past that have shaped who they are as individuals (Tartakovsky, 2010). Lance, for example, is presented as cold and heartless at first, but throughout the series his backstory is revealed to vindicate his personality: his father disappeared when he was a child, resulting in his forced enrollment into a strict training ground for future military personnel, by order of the King. Within this institution, Lance was harshly bullied, treated as an inferior by the institution’s figureheads, and was eventually wrongly expelled for defending himself against a destructive classmate. Lance discovered plans of the Galaluna invasion before it had occurred, but after attempting to warn the royal family he was turned away due to his damaged reputation by no fault of his own (Tartakovsky, 2010). By adding depth to the protagonists of the series, Sym-Bionic Titan contains intellectual complexity in its characterization inherent in many anime titles (Otmazgin, 2013, p. 70).
Contrast to Avatar: The Last Airbender, aside from containing anime-related components Sym-Bionic Titan also incorporates traditional American stories and tropes. Primarily, the three protagonists of the series attend an American high school, with American-based grading systems, marking schematics, and class projects. Stereotyped American-school politics are mirrored in the series as well, materializing through heavily segregated character traits—most notably the senseless jocks, malicious cheerleaders, and socially-awkward nerds (Tartakovsky, 2010). These character tropes are portrayed relentlessly throughout American entertainment. Additionally, culturally-Western events such, as football games and school dances, are also used as vehicles to drive various secondary plots. The character and background designs are also traditionally American, specifically in their use of thick lines and stiffly-animated movements (Daliot-Bul, 2014).
By assessing the series’ elements, Sym-Bionic Titan represents a fusion of cultural content: it contains American-based characters, settings, and art styles, but Japan-based characterization, storytelling, and premise. Overall, the series validates the idea that “the diffusion of American culture, especially at the popular level, has not generated cultural homogenization, but rather the revitalization and generation of new cultural forms in different localities” (Daliot-Bul, 2014, p. 80).