So most people know by now that season 2 of Bee and Puppycat was leaked out into the internet. As of writing this on 6/9/20, its production company Frederator Studios has had no public response to the issue. But rather than the business dynamics of the animation industry, I had thoughts about the narrative of the show itself.
I fucking love Bee and Puppycat; it might actually be my favorite animated Western cartoon, now that S2 has expanded the canon. Thinking hard about it, it’s in the good company of Gravity Falls, Wakfu and Hilda and the order might shuffle around a bit depending on what I’m hyperfocusing on at the time. And right now, it’s BAPC. The thing that finally clicked while considering why it appeals to me so much is how it’s a “castle” story, but looks like a “fireworks” story.
“Castle” and “fireworks” stories are shorthand terms for two types of narratives that I often categorize media into. Castle stories are ones that establish the world’s lore and then create meaning in the narrative by building upon that lore. Motifs, symbols and aesthetic design choices work together to draw the viewer deeper into the narrative without having to dump exposition on their heads. Fireworks stories are ones that use their visual and narrative elements to create engaging character interactions and scenes, but those elements don’t fit together to build an overarching narrative. You get a bunch of scenes that are cool to watch and interesting in the moment, but afterwards you realize that they didn’t really further the plot at all, or the plot failed to contextualize their importance after the fact.
Important to note here that while it might sound like I’m implying “castle good, fireworks bad”, that’s not what I want to say. I do have some bias towards castle stories, but I argue fervently that fireworks stories have their own merits and artistic style. But when fireworks stories are done poorly, it really shows and it bugs the shit out of me. A lot of fireworks stories are frustrating because the plot is narrated in a fashion where something happens, and the characters know more about the plot than the audience does, and they act on that knowledge, and you have to hope that somewhere down the line the context will be revealed that makes those earlier interactions make sense. This includes being intentionally obtuse during dialogue, saying things like “He won’t be pleased”, “we don’t have much time before it happens” or “In that case, we’ll have to use… that.” I suspect that in some cases, especially in media originally produced in Japanese, this language sounds more natural. But then it’s up to the translators to make it not sound hokey as hell.
With Bee and Puppycat, it’s clear that there’s a ton of plot happening in the background, but the show also gives no indication of what weird-ass thing is relevant to the plot or not. Anthropomorphized birds? Not relevant. Trees in weird shapes? Not relevant, just aesthetic. Spaceship at the bottom of the ocean? Relevant, but also fits with the aesthetic. And more importantly, there isn’t much that characters do during scenes that doesn’t have immediate payoff, even if knowing more context makes it more meaningful. There’s so much that happens in the plot that just doesn’t have a lot of meaning beyond its current moment, very intentionally so. But then later on there’s context added that makes you go back and see those moments in a different way for an extra hit of “wow”. In this way, the original moment isn’t subtracted from, it’s just added to.
Like, shit is always weird and funny. And sometimes later on that weird and funny shit makes more sense or feels extra meaningful because of some new weird or funny shit. But enjoying the former is not predicated on knowing the latter.
In a rant for another time, I’ll elaborate on how a lot of modern fiction, regardless of genre, has tried to incorporate tropes of the mystery genre into its plotlines, often to their detriment. In a way, BAPC manages to use the “mystery” genre effectively without falling into the pitholes that soooooo many other media franchises have, specifically because audience enjoyment and payoff doesn’t hinge on fully understanding those mysteries.
BAPC is a beautiful representation of “mundane weirdness”. Similar to Scott Pilgrim or Undertale or Paranatural or Hilda. Mundane Weirdness probably has some ties to Magical Realism, but is a very modern, 21st century form of the 20th century genre. Even classic stuff like Moomin has it. “Contemporary fantasy” might be another way to describe it on the surface-level. Whatever it is, I find it’s a big factor in what draws me to certain media, and inspires me when I’m doing my own creative stuff.