Invincible makes a mark with its graphic depiction of animated violence
Animation is such a freeing medium where live-action requires you to fit the narrow constraints of physical limitation, impossible camera movements, and safety. In animation, you are only restricted by your artistic abilities.
Despite this, up until the last few years, animation has been seen as something directed predominantly at children.
This isn’t wrong; I mean who’s childhoods weren’t influenced by Disney and Pixar movies.
There are dozens of children’s animated movies that have trailblazed and have become so much more than just a light children’s flick. There has been, however, always a darker intriguing side to animation, a side that appeals to adults.
With the freedom of animation comes the freedom to tell any kind of story you want. So while you could go for a gentle family-friendly tale, you could also go for something much more gritty, serious, and grounded. In these stories, there is a place for brutal and grotesque violence.
This violence can be found in the Amazon Prime original ‘Invincible’ and while the series isn’t the first animation to have this kind of violence, it is the magnum opus that violent animation has been building towards for years.
Violence has been a part of animation for nearly as long as animation itself, however, the type of violence has typically been (perhaps appropriately) cartoonish. Popeye hits Bluto harder after he’s eaten his spinach, Daffy Duck shoots himself in the face causing his bill to flip around his head. Realistic or gory violence however has been scant.
An early example is the 1978 film ‘Watership Down’. An English animation based on a book of the same name, the film follows a group of bunny rabbits in search of safe refuge. It is animated similarly to other animated features at the time but with the realism associated with being a rabbit in the wild. Rabbits scratch, scream, foam from the mouth, and die exposing to filmgoers the potential animation had in showing darker subject matter.
Anime has long been an appealing alternative to western animation when it comes to wanting to experience animated stories with more R-rated content.
One of the trendsetters was ‘Akira’ (1988), a sci-fi dystopian film with superpowers, motorcycle gangs, and grotesque bodily carnage. Akira would inspire many other Anime shows and movies. Its influence is still felt today with Invincible making a clear reference to the classic film during the first season’s finale.
There are other examples too, Waltz with Bashir (2008), Batman: The Killing Joke (2016), a couple of scenes in the original Robocop (1987) if I’m being generous.
Few have used graphic animated violence and even fewer have used it as effectively as Invincible has. The Violence in Invincible is its defining trait.
The plot of the series isn’t too unique; the show exists in a world where superheroes are simply a reality of existence and are looked on favourably by the public as they are there to stop supervillains. This black and white, good vs. evil setup is why the gore works so well.
As the season progresses the audience learns that the show cares little for animated norms or for what may be visually appealing to the viewer. In Invincible people die constantly and usually not in heroic ways.
They are maimed, gutted, and destroyed with few exceptions.
Most importantly, the violence isn’t just a part of the show for the sake of appealing to fans of that kind of thing. The violence enhances the plot.
Without spoiling too much, betrayals are made more impactful, characters dealing with certain realities become easier for the audience to identify with as we see the cruelty the characters must endure firsthand. It raises the stakes because the consequences of actions are felt so much harder when you know the visual lengths the show is willing to go through.
The animation style while again not particularly innovative, similar to the setup, makes the eventual violence much more impactful. The exterior is black and white until, through the use of character decisions, motivations, and (as if I haven’t already mentioned it) violence the story turns into a picturesque shade of grey.
Invincible is not a show for everyone, but if you’re a fan of superheroes and you want a completely different perspective into that genre, Invincible is a lethal slam dunk.