'Yasuke' and 'Justice Society: World War II' add muscle to the boom in adult animation

It’s been true for a long time that animation isn’t just for kids, but the growth of streaming services has upped the ante on appetite for adult-oriented animated content — not just in terms of edgy comedy, but also providing a relatively cost-efficient way to explore superhero and fantasy stories.

This week brings additional examples, with plenty more on the way. Netflix’s “Yasuke” focuses on a Black Samurai (voiced by LaKeith Stanfield), grudgingly brought out of retirement to protect a child with mysterious powers, who is being hunted by a strange and dangerous assortment of villains, among them a killer robot. The anime series was created by LeSean Thomas (“Cannon Busters”), and certainly doesn’t skimp on the sword-wielding gore.
Elsewhere, DC and Warner Bros. add to their library of direct-to-DVD movies with “Justice Society: World War II,” a time-traveling story that sees the Flash (Matt Bomer) travel back in time to help the original team of Golden Age heroes (among them Wonder Woman, Hawkman and the original Flash) battle the Nazis, who, much like “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” are in pursuit of artifacts that will help them win the war.
    While not as bloody as some recent DC films — a few have carried R ratings — the themes cater to hard-core comic-book fans fluent in DC history.
      As those projects arrive, another, “Invincible,” closes its first season on Amazon on April 30. Adapted from comics created by “The Walking Dead’s” Robert Kirkman, the exceedingly violent superhero tale focuses on a teenage hero (Steven Yeun) whose Superman-like father, Omni-Man, has been hiding a dark secret.
        When “Invincible” premiered, Kirkman told Variety that he “wanted this to feel like an hour-long cable drama that just happens to be animated.”
        Hawkman and Wonder Woman battle Nazis in the DC movie "Justice Society: World War II."

        The latitude provided by animation allows producers to present such stories in a way that isn’t as pricey as, say, Marvel blockbusters or director Zack Snyder’s contributions to the DC universe, while exploring material likely to resonate with the kind of fans passionate enough to support subscription-oriented content — primarily young men, but also those who grew up on considerably more restrained TV animation in decades past. CinemaBlend’s Mick Joest called “Invincible” “the perfect show for ’90s kids who love heroes.”
          As they say, wait, there’s more. Next month, Disney’s Hulu will launch “Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.,” a darkly comic stop-motion-animation series featuring Patton Oswalt (who also co-created it) as the voice of one of the comics’ more obscure and bizarre-looking villains.
          DC and CNN parent WarnerMedia also announced that it is uniting the management of Adult Swim, the 20-year-old late-night Cartoon Network brand, and the production of adult animation for its streaming service, HBO Max. The service has ordered three upcoming series under that umbrella, including the Scooby-Doo spinoff “Velma” and a reboot of MTV’s “Clone High.” They join such titles as “Harley Quinn” and “Rick and Morty,” whose fifth season is scheduled for June.
          In announcing the realignment, Sarah Aubrey, HBO Max’s head of original content, said in a statement, “The adult animation boom is just starting.”
          It’s certainly not an exaggeration to call the latest wave a boom. But it’s also a reminder not to assume just because the images are animated that they’ve been made with kids in mind.
            “Yasuke” premieres April 29 on Netflix.
            “Justice League: World War II” will be distributed on digital by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on April 27 on Blu-ray on May 11.

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