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All Adult Animation Is "South Park"

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"There's something that's called 'adult animation' and it usually means it appeals to adolescent, teenage boys and that's not really adult in my view."
George Griffin, independent animator

Good news! The mainstream American audience has finally accepted that not all animation is inherently meant to be consumed/enjoyed exclusively by kids! Some animation is meant for adults!

Bad news! The mainstream American audience also thinks that all animation that is meant for adults is inherently full of Black Comedy, graphic violence, copious amounts of swearing, Vulgar Humor, Toilet Humor, deliberately offensive stereotypes, and, to a lesser extent, surrealistic Mind Screws! If it doesn't have any of those things, then sorry, but everyone still thinks it's for kids only.

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In The Dark Age of Animation, when the Animation Age Ghetto was the norm, people like Ralph Bakshi made vulgar cartoons out of a desire to make animation that wasn't "just for kids" by making something that couldn't possibly be shown to kids. They thus avoided the statement "It can be enjoyed by the whole family" (with the implication that it's meant for children), and a Cult Classic or two emerged during that era.

During The Renaissance Age of Animation, thanks to the popularity of The Simpsons, Beavis and Butt-Head, and (to a milder degree) The Ren & Stimpy Show , the idea that animation could be expanded beyond the family market began to take off again. With the establishment of the TV ratings system, it also became easier to make it clear to audiences that a show wasn't for children. As the Renaissance Age began to shade into The Millennium Age of Animation, King of the Hill note  became a quiet success for FOX, and Cartoon Network — starting with the success of the spoof Space Ghost Coast to Coast — began to create its own adult-oriented shows, eventually launching the [adult swim] lineup. But the biggest shake-up to the ghetto came in 1997 when Comedy Central debuted the MA-rated South Park, a vulgar but often uproarious comedy that immediately became a smash hit.

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Unfortunately, because of this, most of the adult-oriented shows that followed in South Park's wake were similarly vulgar, envelope-pushing fare — the most successful being FOX's Family Guy. Thanks to creators following the example of these shows, people now believe that any western animation that isn't just kids' shows are either sitcoms and/or a raunchy cartoon, which is far from the truth. Thus, it's very hard for aspiring animators/creators to pitch animated shows without Vulgar Humour and Comedic Sociopathy in mind, which leads to people creating more South Park-esque shows; lather, rinse, repeat.note  Many such shows have animation that is extremely ugly, extremely cheap, or both, in order to resemble South Park's own animation-style.

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This mentality can also work in the opposite direction, where adult viewers understand that not all cartoons are for children but think that anything not in lockstep with South Park's particular brand of Crosses the Line Twice humor is kiddie garbage—ignoring the many critically acclaimed animated series and films that are suitable for all audiences (such as Spongebob Squarepants or Zootopia). Who cares how well-written it is if there's no blood or swearing?

Overall, this thinking is just an evolution of Animation Age Ghetto: animation may not be seen as exclusively for children anymore, but it is still seen as exclusively immature.

Compare with All Anime Is Naughty Tentacles and Rated M for Money. Contrast with All (Kid-Oriented) Animation is Disney.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

    Films — Animation 
  • Eight Crazy Nights is one of the few feature film examples of this trope played straight.
  • Averted completely by Isle of Dogs. Despite its PG-13 rating, it isn't a raunchy South Park-style comedy, and has been praised by many critics not just as an animated film but as a film overall.
  • Zig-zagged with Sausage Party. There's plenty of Character Development and a solid plot, but it still sold itself on being the first 3D computer-animated feature to get an R-rating. Viewers are divided on its quality, with some feeling that it tried too hard to shove crude humor into every available place it could find.
  • This trope might as well have originally been called "All Adult Animation Is Ralph Bakshi" for two reasons: one, when he was still making films, it was, as nobody was making animation for adults as noteworthy as him (relatively speaking). Two, the only others who were only aped the gratuitous sex and nudity, which Bakshi only included in his films as a form of rebellion. His gritty violence and themes of corruption and racism, however, all came from personal experience and are never played for laughs. To be fair, the only reason he got away with this is because he worked independently, a big part of the reason Cool World, produced by Paramount, plays this trope straight.
  • It'd be easier to count the examples that qualify in Western European animated films, since the overwhelming majority of adult-oriented animation, while sometimes having adult humor, never reaches the extent South Park does.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Although it's actually a puppet show, Mongrels was clearly trying to copy this. Word of God even stated that he wanted to "do for puppetry what American shows like The Simpsons have done for animation".

    Print Media 
  • In a review in Metro (free newspaper on public transport) of Goro Miyazaki's Tales from Earthsea, the reviewer made a remark along the lines of, "but its main problem is that it's not very funny; it's a cartoon, so what's the point if it's not funny?"

    Video Games 
  • Conker's Bad Fur Day is one of the few non-animation examples of this trope, with sex jokes and grossout gags galore. This was a deliberate choice in response to critics who felt that earlier builds were too similar to Rare's other cartoonish mascot platformers.

    Web Animation 

    Web Videos 
  • The later seasons of SuperMarioLogan resort to this kind of humor, being one of the few non-animated examples of this trope

    Western Animation 
  • South Park, the Trope Namer, is almost single-handedly responsible for creating the audacious, line-crossing brand of humor that has become so prevalent in adult animation. Hard as it is to imagine these days, in 1997 the sight of cartoon characters telling each other to "suck balls" was totally wild and crazy (the closest The Simpsons had ever come to that was, of course, "Eat my shorts!"), and the show drew huge viewership numbers purely from the novelty factor. Like all popular things, it was quickly aped and imitated, and soon it became standard practice for adult cartoons to take a page out of Parker and Stone's book.
  • Animals starts more or less with dudebro humor about drugs and wanting to get laid. As the show progresses, however, it becomes if anything South Park's Spiritual Antithesis, mocking society but generally having likable characters and happy endings, only very few toilet humor and abundant, positive LGBT representation.
  • Home Movies, one of the inaugural [adult swim] shows, largely averts this. It has some Toilet Humor and profanity, but by and large prioritizes strong, witty dialogue-based humor over shock comedy.
  • Despite the trope name, Family Guy may actually be just as responsible for encouraging this trope. Its particular style of pop culture-centric humor and cutaway gags proved a big hit with audiences (especially following its uncancellation), and made it arguably just as influential as its brethren, for better or worse.
  • Part of the reason for The Simpsons Seasonal Rot was pressure to become more "edgy" and "adult" in order to compete with South Park. This resulted in an increase in mean-spirited humor and gross-out gags that aren't particularly funny and don't fit the show's milder, more laid-back tone. It all culminated in the panda rape scene in "Homer vs. Dignity."
  • The DreamWorks Animation show Father of the Pride attempted to be the first adult All-CGI Cartoon. It flopped and was canned after one season due to its expensive feature film-quality animation, Hype Aversion, and a campaign against it by the Parents Television Council, who feared advertising it as "From the creators of Shrek" would lead kids to watch it.
  • Brickleberry can be best described as every single vulgar, offensive and tasteless adult cartoon times one hundred, crammed into 22 minutes.
  • One of the more notable examples of this trope played straight is Drawn Together, which is 90% Cringe Comedy. You can count the amount of jokes that are not shock value, bodily function-related or at the expense of any kind of social/racial minority on one hand.
  • While Aqua Teen Hunger Force definitely qualifies as this in its later seasons (earlier episodes were much tamer, while episodes from season 4 onwards are filled with Vulgar Humor and Gorn), the extremely short-lived Spin-Off Soul Quest Overdrive takes this Up to Eleven, featuring a non-stop barrage of crude sex jokes, random gratuitous violence, drug references, and Comedic Sociopathy crammed into every 5-minute episode.
  • The Netflix show Big Mouth, which is about kids going through puberty and features a lot of sexual bodily function humor as a result, garnered massive controversy after only one trailer was released. In addition to the overtly crude humor, including depictions of preteens masturbating, having their periods and talking to their genitalia, it also has crude designs reminiscent of cartoons from the 1990s and 2000s that screamed "we're trying to be as edgy and gross as possible", not to mention proudly advertising that the head writer used to work on Family Guy. It doesn't help that Netflix was toting this as their "edgy" cartoon alongside the critical darling Bojack Horseman, a show that deliberately avoids edginess for the sake of it, making Big Mouth feel like a giant step backwards in terms of furthering the medium. Thankfully, it died down a little once the show actually came out and got positive word-of-mouth.
  • This is why Ren & Stimpy "Adult Party Cartoon" was canceled after only six episodes. As it turns out, a show that already thrived on vulgar humor doesn't automatically become more "adult" when you make it even more vulgar. There's some debate over whether this was Spike TV trying to appeal to the post-South Park crowd or just what happens when you don't reign in John Kricfalusi.
  • The main reason Allen Gregory lasted as briefly as it did (aside from being a "filler" show inbetween seasons of Family Guy) was that it was so sophomoric and the characters were so needlessly cruel that nobody found it appealing.
  • Bill Plympton is a noteworthy subversion as, while his films DO feature completely unfiltered vulgarity and violence, they're strictly Author Appeal and not intended to appease some kind of demographic. At one point, he was dealing with criticism that he could only do over-the-top sex and violence with no emotional substance, and challenged those critics with the sombre, personal Cheatin.
  • Tripping the Rift is a rare CG example (the only other one being Father of the Pride) of this being played straight, with gross outs and sex jokes galore.
  • The short-lived British series Full English was roundly panned for being a very blatant Family Guy rip-off, right down to the cutaway gags. The series featured much more graphic content than Family Guy, however, with constant swearing, nudity, sex, and shock humor in every episode.
  • The MTV Short Runner Good Vibes, which was originally intended to air alongside Seth MacFarlane's series but ended up airing with the revival of Beavis and Butt-head, had some Hidden Depths but was otherwise this trope.
  • Hell and Back is another rare feature film example as well as one of the few stop-motion examples besides Robot Chicken.
  • Most of Animation Domination High-Definition, especially High School U.S.A., plays this straight.
  • The Boondocks averts this trope. While it's a comedy that does have a lot of sexual humor, swearing, and some bloody violence, it seldom resorts to Toilet Humor. It has been compared to the trope namer, but only in regards to its biting social commentary, not its style of humor.
  • The Filipino-American creators of The Nutshack say that their series is the very first Asian adult cartoon. Anime aside, most of the humor is crude, with sex, violence, and drug use throughout.
  • Legends of Chamberlain Heights is another example, not only having loads of stereotypes and sexual humor, but even using the same two-frame animation style as South Park. It doesn't help that Comedy Central is using South Park as a lead-in.
  • Final Space averts this trope via not resorting to shock humor and having the characters utter expletives every half-minute, instead defining itself as mature by its emotional, gripping story arcs and complex, multilayered characters, irrespective of the moderate language and (stylized) violence here and there, but thankfully none of the swear words are more vulgar than "crap."
  • One major complaint about Mr. Pickles is that the show tries to cram as many sex jokes and as much offensive, disgusting content as possible into 11 minutes. King Star King and Superjail! fall under this formula as well. That said, there are hints of a consistent plot, and notably for this type of show it rarely delves into politics. Season 3 tries other types of humor besides just gross-out, like genre parodies, though it still thrives in gore.
  • Archer contains loads of sex, violence and shocking subjects, particularly jokes involving Krieger, the Nightmare Fetishist. It does have a highly detailed and realistic art style, however, compared to the usual crude looks of shows of this type, and a more cohevise plotline whereas other shows would have what amount to excuse plots.
  • The WB's short-lived Baby Blues was a failure mainly due to this trope, taking what was a genial, family-friendly comic strip about the everyday hassles of parents raising two young children, and filling it full of dirty humor, innuendo, and adult-oriented plots, driving away fans of the comic strip while failing to bring in people who weren't.
  • Bojack Horseman both deconstructs and totally defies this trope. There are no designated heroes, no Snap Back, very little grossout humor and all of the socio-political messages are well-informed (if a little heavy-handed). Instead, the show analyzes why a crude, selfish, destructive person would be the way they would. The result is a story about how love is earned and that nobody is going to like you if they have a perfectly good reason not to.
  • Rick and Morty is often seen as an example of this trope "done right". A lot of the humor is extremely sophomoric, with phallic imagery, burp/fart jokes, pop culture references and violence galore. However, it's all built on a foundation of well-informed science and philosophy and, much like Bojack Horseman, plays the consequences of a lot of these jokes completely straight for the sake of furthering the story and developing the characters. The most notable of this is the writers' conscious decision to make the occasional verbal rape joke while playing every instance of the act itself completely for horror.
  • Deconstructed in the third season of Moral Orel. While the show is a biting criticism of Christianity and plays most of the tropes straight, when the Cerebus Syndrome hit, it starts exploring how psychologically damaging the violence and obscenity can turn out to be.
  • Bob's Burgers played this trope straight in Season 1 (the first episode alone cracked jokes about pedophilia, autism and cannibalism). As of Season 2, the show grew out of it and was made into a Denser and Wackier version of King of the Hill (which is perhaps the ultimate aversion of this trope).
  • Beavis and Butt-Head is an early (pre-South Park) example, deriving several jokes from Toilet Humor and the title characters love to point out innuendoes. Its spinoff, Daria, largely averts this trope. While it was controversial in its time, later shows such as South Park and Family Guy have taken their vulgar humor to much greater lengths, to the point that Beavis and Butt-Head can look tame in comparison. This may be one of the reasons why the 2011 revival was so short-lived.
  • Genndy Tartakovsky now gives us Primal (2019), which plays some aspects of this trope straight but averts others. On the one hand, it is gratuitously violent, with ludicrous amount of blood being shed in every episode. On the other hand, it is not a comedy, and even lacks dialogue, making it a surprisingly moody, serious work.

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