Cartoon Friday Watercooler: Æon Flux
It’s Cartoon Friday, again!
Tonight’s selection is the original installment of Æon Flux, sometimes also referred to as the Pilot or the first “season.” It originally aired chopped into short segments in the first season of MTV’s experimental animation show Liquid Television. This show was fertile ground for innovative and even just strange animation. We previously discussed on Liquid Television on Cartoon Friday, but I also selected a cartoon that aired on the show once before: Yoshiaki Kawajiri’s The Running Man.
This video includes the entire opening episode, uninterrupted. The story unfolds without words, and in its original form a viewer might easily miss a segment or end up seeing them out of order. The story deliberately engages with the tropes of action movies and anime in unexpected and disturbing ways. The iconic opening, in which Flux captures a fly in her eyelashes reminds me of the deliberately disorienting opening to Un Chien Andalou. The ending … well, I still don’t know what to make of all that. Some kind of fetish heaven?
After this first episode, Flux’s creator followed up with a series of shorts as a second season, also airing as part of the Liquid anthology show. Each short was self-contained, and included the death of the protagonist (or perhaps her clone?). For its third season, the show spun-off into a series of 10 half hour episodes. In these, the characters began to talk, with Flux paired up in a series of conflicts with Trevor Goodchild, Flux’s nameless adversary in the original, but now sometimes ally or even lover. The series developed its own mythology, and with the addition of words sometimes traveled to strange philosophical territory.
Here’s how Geoffrey Miller, writing for DVD Verdict, describes this first episode — but keep in mind some of this context only exists due to three seasons of hindsight:
The pilot, stitched into a cohesive 12-minute whole from its original segments, follows Æon on an assignment to assassinate a Breen higher-up. At the same time, a deadly virus has infected the complex she’s infiltrated. Even though she doesn’t speak a word, her personality comes across loud and clear: She’s clever, dangerous, and sexy—a dominatrix clad in leather. She mows down hundreds of Breen guards in seconds, until they pile up in a foot-deep pool of blood. She’s also accident-prone, carelessly stepping on a nail that ultimately does her in.
Miller praises the show’s unique animation:
The animation and art direction is an utterly original mix of the darker side of anime with American underground comics. Every frame, drawn by hand, is filled to the brim with attention to detail and cinematic panache. The characters are tall, almost impossibly lanky, with hyper-realistic facial features. Although the world is a bleak one, there’s plenty of color. The architecture of Bregna, where most of the series takes place, is bathed in bright hues of orange and yellow, mixing classic European and Asian styles with a sleek modern sheen. When it was first aired, nothing like the show had ever seen before (and nothing similar has been seen since, besides Chung’s other work), yet it’s immediately cohesive and fully formed.
The AV Club interviewed Peter Chung to coincide with the 2003 release of Reign: The Conquerer, an anime he helped design. But interviewer Tasha Robinson asked him about Flux, his best known work:
AVClub: You tend to broadly exaggerate your characters’ physical characteristics, especially their height and their musculature–is there any particular symbolic or aesthetic reason?
Peter Chung: That’s a hard thing for an artist to try to analyze. I could kind of try to pick it apart, but the simple truth is, that’s the way I draw. I mean, I can tell you about my influences–my favorite artist is Egon Schiele, the German Expressionist. If you look at his drawings, they’re very economical, very expressive. The first time I saw them, I thought they were perfect for animation. So I did make a conscious effort to try and adapt that approach to drawing. The other thing is… I was going for a style, when I was doing Aeon Flux, that was much more dependent on expressive drawing as opposed to lots of surface detail. […]
AVClub: Your characters, both in Aeon Flux and in Reign, tend to dress in a way that’s half formalized costume, half fetish gear. They often don’t wear much, and what they wear is elaborate and stylized. What are your fashion influences?
PC: Well, I struggled a lot, when I was doing Aeon Flux, with how far to push the costumes, and how realistic to make them. I think a lot of illustrators realize–and you see this a lot in American comics as well–that if you draw costumes realistically, it’s very difficult. You end up spending all your time trying to create believable drapery. So the tendency is to draw skin-tight costumes that mold around the body. This allows you to use the body more. You see this with classical sculpture, and dancers. […]
O: Your visual style was influenced in part by German Expressionism, and in part by Japanese animation, but what about your storytelling style? Aeon Flux told stories in a very unusual staccato way.
PC: That’s a very complicated question, because there’s been so many things that have influenced me in that area, including graphic novels, particularly the work of Moebius. I like very visual storytelling, storytelling that doesn’t rely on dialogue. When I was initially doing Aeon Flux, the episodes had no dialogue at all. That may have been influenced by spending a lot of time watching Japanese animation that wasn’t translated, trying to understand the stories purely through the visuals.
As a bonus, here’s one of the second season Flux shorts, called War.
Seen any good cartoons lately? What are you watching on TV these days?
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