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Maybe sometimes adult cartoons are okay. A look at “Crossing Swords”

I still don’t understand why all adult cartoons are the most likely to match the humor and interests of teenage boys. I want something more than dick jokes and edgy dark humor to be considered “mature.” Because at some point, they all just start being the same show – regardless of creators, setting, characters…They’re all entirely about sex and comments on society that were maybe edgy a decade and a half agow

You all know how much I loathe Disenchantment -well, one of Hulu’s newest originals shows Crossing Swords is a more tolerable, more generic version of that. And although Disenchanted is a low bar – I was surprised how much I liked Crossing Swords, even though basically nothing about it stands out.

The show takes place in some Middle Ages-esque kingdom, that of course isn’t historically accurate at all. The main character – Patrick – finally achieves his dream of being a squire, only to realize King Merriman and Queen Tulip are nowhere near the saints he believed they were and that the kingdom is screwed up.

Patrick, of course, is also the black sheep of his family. His parents think of him as a failure – though all his siblings are not-so-successful criminals. The series follows a bunch of misadventures that become a little more connected throughout the story.

What defines this show the most is its art style. As expected from the creators of Robot Chicken, Crossing Swords is entirely stop motion. And all the characters are reminiscent of bygone Fisher-Price figures – wooden, blocky, and without visible arms. The rest of the world is just as cartoony – with what appears to be strawberry jelly representing blood, painted on breasts and pubic hair and genitals constructed out of wood.

It’s just so fucking ridiculous. This is one of those shows where my feelings about it and the actual quality are very different – but unlike most shows where I feel like it’s good but I personally don’t find it entertaining – it does the opposite. Crossing Swords is fucking stupid, but I adore it anyway. So this review is going to explore these feelings.

Contrasting Animation

I adore it when a show’s animation contrasts with its themes and ideas. Like in Boy and the World. And honestly, Crossing Swords does it pretty well. Not only is the stop-motion movement fluid and everything moves well – the character models used are not the ones you normally encounter in this type of animation, and the simplistic characters allow the writers to add even more gore without making it appear crude or horrible.

The entire world is so ridiculous – that the fact that everyone looks like a child’s toy works. It’s hard to argue that a show displays male nudity – when the nudity in question is… two small flesh-colored pieces of wood in the genital area. It’s not graphic in the least bit.

Yes – there are breasts and women’s crotches shown as well, but they’re even less graphic since they simply look like doodles.

What I love- as I mentioned earlier- is how they deal with gore. While some shows, like Disenchantment up the gore when they can – but always stop shy of graphic gore to get a larger audience. The art in this show can show a lot more violence and a lot more of the consequences simply because it isn’t that graphic.

Which means the show can push limits, others can’t or at the very least not seem as vomit-inducing. Though, this of course is a matter of taste and preference. I don’t always like gore and nudity but I expect it in shows like this. And I went into it well aware that these were a staple of the genre and the main point.

However, unlike many of these other shows, at least the characters aren’t completely unlikable and haven’t devolved into me thinking of those eight deadly words: I don’t care what happens to these people.

Somewhat Sympathetic

Many adult cartoons make their characters fundamentally and naturally unlikeable, or they begin to be somewhat likable, but over time they become complete and complete assholes. There isn’t one likable or sympathetic character in the show – and it makes it tough to watch – because there’s nobody to root for.

So far, most of the supporting characters in Crossing Swords are entertaining and don’t show up enough to get on your nerves. Though there is a scene between one of Patrick’s brothers and another squire which also involves semen-filled peaches, that just seemed superfluous and didn’t make much sense for either of the characters.

And it left me with some questions about gay relationships in the world – but that’s probably a silly question.

The King and Queen of the land aren’t admirable people. But somehow they come off better than the ones in similar shows. And I believe it’s because they’re allowed to have moments of them being human.

They have moments of kindness: Tulip, though she has affairs with the squires, stops hitting on Patrick once he says he isn’t interested and genuinely cares about her daughter Blossom – when after the latter is fitted for a chastity belt…gives her a spare key, as is the tradition in the female line.

King Merriman is a little less sympathetic, but because he lacks any genuine malice most of the time – and does care about his wife, daughter, and even Patrick to an extent, he is still entertaining to watch.

Even Blossom – the bratty princess- has her moments of kindness. They aren’t assholes all the time. And they get their comeuppance, so it’s not like they’re getting away scot-free or their nefarious deeds go unacknowledged.

Patrick is sympathetic – naturally, as he is the protagonist – but most of the time he’s kind of boring. He’s the sensitive guy who wants to do good and is too naive for the world he lives in and constantly gets shit on by everyone for it.

It is pretty frustrating to have a guy who gets the short end of the stick constantly, for seemingly no compelling reason as the protagonist. But at least, it actually benefits him – and he doesn’t always get punished for acting ethically. Most of the time, people are surprised by it and reward him. The strongest example is when he must rescue Blossom from a labyrinth.

The king offers to give a reward in exchange for her safe return – and it quickly comes to light that everyone, except Patrick, is in it for the money. It’s also his ethics that save the entire royal family in the season finale.

So I hope rather than him becoming more of an asshole and giving in – he influences other people to be better.

But Broth, Patrick’s friend and local Himbo-adjacent? He can stay how he is. As long as they don’t overuse his stupidity.

A Stunning Lack of Sexism

Many adult shows are topical and very political. Politics in these shows are fine, but in so many shows – it’s basically handled with absolutely no finesse whatsoever. And most of them suck when it comes to gender issues.

That likely has a lot to do with these shows having primarily male creative teams – but that’s an issue for another time. When shows are set in the past, they attempt to use how women were treated back then as commentary for gender equality now.

The problem is the issues they comment on and how they say “Women can do anything men can,” has already been around for LITERAL DECADES. It’s a damn comedy show set in some anachronistic, theme-park style Medieval Europe…you don’t have to have the whole: women should stay barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen like some shows. You can deal with it in other ways.

Crossing Swords is better in this regard, since the biggest issue is how Blossom is forced to get a chastity belt, and she goes on an adventure to lose her virginity before she gets it -but the situation is mostly played for laughs and it’s shown obviously to be ridiculous with a whole Super Sweet Period Party.

And the tradition actually has some significance in the larger plot and the rightful heir of the land. Which is a start? And while the show could use more variety in female characters, personality, and more female characters in general — it seems like that may be fixed next season.

And at least both genders are equally horny and can be equally terrible. Also, – No jokes about rape or sexual assault. (I’m not sure where the joke where the queen is hitting on Patrick as he keeps coming up with ridiculous excuses not to have sex with her fails – but it’s better handled than it is in most shows.)

But that’s a fucking low bar to set. 

Sticking with a genre

I think one reason the show works is it never tries to be serious, and it doesn’t act as if it’s the definitive and authoritative voice on the issues it presents. Which doesn’t always happen in this genre.

The humor certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so I can understand why some people still might not find this show appealing. The show also seems to have an understanding of the first rule of satirical comedy.

Always punch up – never down. That means the victims and follies should be people in power in our own world. That means rulers, the law enforcement, the enforcers of tradition, and the wealthy… The latter comes in with the typical free-spirited animal rights group.

It works because…well, they’re only in it for a few episodes and it’s specifically making fun of the over-baring PETA types, who actually know very little of animals and place animals above humans.

But otherwise, the show doesn’t make fun of minority stereotypes, nor women for being women. It’s very careful to embody them as not their immutable characteristics but how they act and their position in a semi-capitalist society.

The rich waste money. And the nameless masses that appear do care about crops and education but are also there simply to show those who get distracted by bread and circuses…. You get the point.

The poor are never made fun of for being so. Their actions are made fun of.

The comedy is still low brow and mostly full of sex, gore, and some bodily functions, but at least it’s not reliant on sight gags or racist, sexist or anti-Semitic stereotypes or jokes, so I gotta give credit where credit is due.

The show doesn’t point out that these things exist – it’s making fun of ridiculous situations

Thank goodness they have no vore.

I’m still not over those vore scenes in Disenchantment‘s first season. I don’t know what they were going for, and while fetishes in cartoons are nothing new, but for whatever reason, this one really disturbed me to the core.

This show thankfully avoids the fetish scenes – which would just make the whole thing worse. 

I think the sole exception is one character’s macramé boyfriend…but all the characters are disturbed and the living partner isn’t exactly what you call sane.

So I guess…it’s fine. Because it’s supposed to be that way. Doesn’t mean I like it, but at least it isn’t the focus of an entire fucking episode.

The fact that the show is not very episodic works well, although some events are related and although there is a larger plot to explore – it is obviously ridiculous and exaggerated and does not seek to make the conflict a situation where everything comes to an end.

It’s very much supposed to make fun of how everyone is related and shit. But the show is delayed into the game, in making fun of the tropes popularized by Game of Thrones- as the series ended a year ago on an infamously low note, and now has been mostly forgotten about by society.

Which is damn impressive. So, this is far from a must-watch and far from anything on your must-watch list. It’s fine if you’re like me and want some excellent stop motion animation or you’re just looking for something inane to pass the time while waiting for the upcoming season of Infinity Train.

And that’s the scoop.

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 Score: 5/10

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Info

Year of release: 2020

Length: 10 episodes, 22 minutes each

Executive Producers: John Harvatine IV, Tom Root, Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, Eric Towner

Producer: Mario De Jesus

Creators: John Harvatine IV, Tom Root

Voice actors: Nicholas Hoult, Luke Evans, Alanna Ubach, Maya Erskine, Yvette Nicole Brown, Seth Green, Tony Hale, Adam Pall

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If you liked this review, check out: More “Disenchantment” from Groening with Season 2

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