And a Child Shall Lead Them: Axe Cop Exposes the big lie of the “Kids” Business.
Axe Cop is made by a (now eight year old) kid named Malachai Nicolle.
Its co-creator, his brother Ethan, is thirty.
And they have both exposed an eighty year old lie that still persist in the minds of many executives.
They have also exposed the edutainment industry for what it has become.
This is the third article in a series starting with “Thundercats: Retrospective” and “Long Road to Mediocrity”, and will end with the Toonami article. As for this article, we will look into what Axe Cop really means regardless of its talent or actual success. It is a watershed moment in animation for both the right and the wrong reasons.
Nevertheless, all stories must start at the beginning, but in order to set up why Axe Cop is very important to animations past and future, we must start with how the series came into existence.
The Imagination that may have changed the animation world:
It all started with a Christmas visit that Ethan had with the rest of his family. On that day, Malachai asked Ethan to play with the new toys that were given. Many adults – fathers, mothers, uncles and aunts – would rather talk about the good old days, kitchenware, NFL playoffs and College Bowl Games, but this was different: the five year old created a story, which turned out to be one concerning a certain Axe Cop and his friend the Flute Cop. Over the course of the week, Ethan created the first Axe Cop comic and over the next several weeks, he fleshed it out by quizzing Malachai over the story and more of the Characters.
The interesting thing was that sometime later, when Fox’s ADHD block was in the pipeline, the producer of the block had a discussion with Ethan and the ball started to roll. Each of the executives stated that they wanted to make sure the show stays “100% Malachai”, and that major TV stars will lend their voice for the show.
This is a five year old kid’s IDEA. He runs the show.
Is the show good? That depends on whether you respect talent, or invention. I have never seen executives go out of their way to hear out a 5-year-old kid’s idea. Usually, it’s the other way around…
The great lie: E/I, The Kids Industry and self-destructive behaviors.
But for decades on end, the animation industry has been driven by adults who rely far too much on focus groups, hoping to get what they consider as the best result. In the end, all it did was hurt North American Animation to a point where there are basically no action series outside of Korra, etc. The edutainment business, created years ago and now fully supported by The Government via the E/I edict which these shows are aimed towards, Malachai and his peers are nowhere near close to educating the youth and worse, their shows might be detrimental to development.
Let’s focus on the E/I issues and why Axe Cop changes everything, if not exposes the major hypocrisy in the business. In the 1960’s, the FCC and other government agencies were worried about the amount of advertising being sold to kids. Remember Linus the Lionhearted? It was one of the most popular TV animated series of its day. Sponsored fully by General Foods, the company created the character in 1963.
The Parents complained about the advertising. Even though the show was canned in 1966, and other “30 Minute” adverting shows came down (such as the 1969 Hot Wheels series), the FCC started the first ruling concerning kids and animation in 1969, in which no show meant for children would be a 30-minute advertisement promoting a product.
It wasn’t the end.
The FCC later tried in the mid 70’s. That sadly didn’t do much – except force a lot of smaller “studios” as it were to first run syndication.
Then in the 1980’s, and the next big issue – was that a majority of these syndicated and broadcast shows, was the addition of a Children’s Psychologist on these series.
Didn’t do much.
Therefore, by 1990, the Children’s TV Act was created – it states that 3 and half hours a week must be given to what the government considers “core” programing. It had to be regularly scheduled and weekly. They also limited the advertisements from 12 minutes on weekdays and 10.5 on weekends.
What happened was one of the greatest disasters to befall animation.
Because of the time restrictions – no longer there was the wake up animation show (the cartoon that aired between 6 and 7 am on the weekdays) which opened up spots for the news (which now airs on unusual hours of 4:00am and 4:30am)
All three of the networks wanted out of the Kids business by the mid 90’s. To prevent the “free market” from doing its work, in 1996 they effectively created the E/I watermark to show which shows were marketed to kids as part of the educational requirement.
It expanded in 2004 and again in 2009.
Nevertheless, what was achieved in the last 13 years?
Well, we had No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top.
Education has gotten worse. In fact, much of the US is still behind many Asian and European countries.
France doesn’t have this.
Finland and Sweden doesn’t (in fact, both countries have strict rules about Kids TV, in which a majority of the shows are banned until age 12.)
Japan, even with low population and birth rate, doesn’t.
All of these countries have Educational stations dedicated to the same things that the FCC wants every single broadcast station to air on a weekly basis.
Let’s look at how and why bad things have gotten: (Note, I set this up according to the years the E/I act was amended)
“The epochal achievements of American economic growth have gone hand in hand with rising educational attainment, as the economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz have shown. From 1891 to 2007, real economic output per person grew at an average rate of 2 percent per year — enough to double every 35 years. The average American was twice as well off in 2007 as in 1972, four times as well off as in 1937, and eight times as well off as in 1902. It’s no coincidence that for eight decades, from 1890 to 1970, educational attainment grew swiftly. But since 1990, that improvement has slowed to a crawl.”
“Canada spends around $65.4 billion on education a year (not even 10% of what the U.S. spends), but Canada’s 15-year-olds were found to be a year ahead of U.S. students in math, and more than a half a school year ahead in reading and science.” (Canada has no E/I law)
The United States ranks 19th in student scientific literacy and #24 in mathematical ability.
Of the high school seniors who in 2009 took the biennial National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, fully 74% scored below proficient in mathematics, 62% in reading, and 79% in science. (Go backwards, they would have been 5 years old at the least when the E/I law was passed)
This is all very sobering. What makes it worse however is that the edutainment shows that replaced the animated series of the past are no better:
“In the latest study on the effects of popular videos such as the “Baby Einstein” and “Brainy Baby” series, researchers find that these products may be doing more harm than good. And they may actually delay language development in toddlers…Three studies have shown that watching television, even if it includes educational programming such as Sesame Street, delays language development. “Babies require face-to-face interaction to learn,” says Dr. Vic Strasburger, professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “They don’t get that interaction from watching TV or videos.”
So the “cure” was worse than the “disease”. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that the whole kids industry is left off the hook:
Focus Testing Blood off a Stone: The Problem with distribution and how it affected the animation fanbase:
The problem becomes apparent when you look into how these shows were promoted and aired. In the 1990’s, three shows aired around the same time E/I was making a mess of things on the Networks. Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, and Pokemon became the biggest animated franchises the US had witnessed since the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Each were edited (Pokemon much, much less than Sailor Moon/Dragon Ball Z even though episodes were skipped) heavily, and despite very high audience numbers, both Sailor Moon and DBZ were canned by 1997 (Sailor Moon had a short stint in 2000, before it moved on to Toonami). Pokemon moved on to Kids WB in 1999, and from there exploded as the last international kids’ fad. This was followed by Yugi-Oh which was also edited strongly but became successful regardless. Not to be outdone, Fox Kids (when it existed) had Digimon and Escaflowne – the latter would lead to the downfall of Saban’s Fox Kids World Wide. Then we had One Piece, Shaman King and others on the Fox Box and later 4Kids TV.
What was the issue here? Each show had to go through the vetting process of the BSNP (Broadcasting Standards and Practices), and the BSNP tend to favor the American shows more (when it comes to editing) than the series from Japan or other places (Italy, when it comes to two RAI shows, Winx Club and Monster Allergy). The effect on the business has been immense. Once the issues with One Piece came along, the fanbases split. One side went one way (toward piracy and the “success” of Crunchyroll), the other side – left the whole business as fans all together (the Success of Thor’s last two movies, despite he being a second tier comic star).
This wouldn’t have happened if Saban, 4Kids and other companies actually got “children’s” shows from Japan, France, Italy etc. into the states. However, the same reasons why they didn’t take these shows? It wasn’t “dynamic” enough. “Cant capture” the attention of the audience. “Does not enough spice”. “Loses people”. “Needs some sort of Card Gimmick” “Too Droll.” “How can anybody understand this?”
Therefore, we have a situation. We have edutainment shows that don’t really educate… Shows edited to uselessness, and shows that the kids’ executives feel isn’t going to be the big hit that it could be if given a chance.
So, what does Axe Cop do? It exposes that kids can make their own product, and sell said product into the marketplace, and be successful.
It means that animation isn’t just for kids – and was never meant for kids since 1990 – but to satisfy a mandate based on a mishandled view of America – based on a lie from a study that had no connection to reality.
And as for advertisements – while they may be down for children – they have moved on to other forms of advertising (remember the issue with Jenna Jamison?) – and other shows… seems like the best laid plans have come for naught.
Axe Cop shows the way out, and towards a new era…
Is Axe Cop a good show?
That depends on what you think the show should be.
The show, if it isn’t good – is at least inventive in a time where there is no inventiveness.
The series some say fails to be coherent. Other say the series is “too weak” and “too stupid”.
The critics don’t understand that regardless of its weaknesses in animation or in concept – the truth remains. A kid created a show in a supposed kid favored and supported genre of entertainment. And none, and I mean none of the kids networks wanted to air, the series to his peers.
That makes this show a trailblazer in a world of animation, regardless of critic’s standards.
The business therefore has no legs to stand on and must reevaluate its business model permanently.
If it doesn’t – then the parents complaints about advertisements, to the way animation is promoted and shown in this country will become moot points, as the cost factor comes into play in animation – making any good series impossible to produce, and all there is left is shows that promote tropes that only makes sense in the concepts of John K’s mind, and the fanbase and creators that have been inspired by him. (Adventure Time with Princess Bubblegum and Marsine/ The Regular Show and the dudebros etc)
Axe Cop is one of the ways out.
Ever since I was 11 – 13 years old, I have always wondered why there are no kids producing animated shows if they really are meant for kids? Knowing how hard animation is to make; I believed it was a pipe dream.
It isn’t anymore.
It’s not only reality for the Nicolle brothers, it is the best education the now 8-year old Malachai has ever gotten. In fact – Malachai has learned more about life than anything the Children’s TV Act of 1990 has ever done since the act started (outside of the Peter Jennings specials on ABC when he was alive). In addition, Malachai is not alone. There are other kids, with their fathers, and their families – taking back little by little the kids’ “industry” that they thought they owned but never truly handled. They are not using placards, or lobbies to complain. Their using the power of the pen, and a bit of imagination. That all that was needed in the end.
And they did this, freely. With very little money.
It reminds me of another group of people, who some thought was a one shot but actually became something bigger. A lifeline for animation of all kinds. Bringing back the essence of building cartoon shows.
They are the men and women of Toonami.
Moreover, on the next article, you will learn why Toonami is the future, once denied – to become the cornerstone for the future of animation.