It is hard to think that there was a time when the internet, and computers, were seen as a confusing impenetrable wilderness, filled with unsavoury characters, and reacquiring great amounts of deal and effort to navigate. Sustaining a lot of uncertainty, which fuelled mistrust, and in turn, drew a certain kind of person to the burgeoning technology like a moth to the flame. In 1997, during an era that was more recently coming to terms with the arriving digital age, whether it wanted to or not. Also got to experience this wave with the rise of the mature side of the world of Animation in Spicy City.
Six unrelated tales of love and lies in an age of computers gone wild, each episode narrated by hostess Raven, a proprietor of the nightclub (and ever reminiscent of Holly of Cool World). Spicy City features tales that evolve the likes of clones, murderous bongo-playing hands, and corruption deep at the heart of the city itself. Raven even gets an episode for herself too, as well as generally introducing the show for the night, and cameoing throughout. With episodes brought to life by the vocal talents of Tuesday Knight, Michelle Phillips, and Dan Castellaneta, among others, and the father-and-son team, Ralph and Preston Bakshi working behind the camera.
Watching through the six short episodes of Spicy City, you’ll get a show that is, understandably, very cyberpunk, but one that is also tinged with a 90s Noir style, in more ways than just Raven’s hair and dress. Sultry saxophones, and enough technobabble to envy Johnny Mnemonic. The result is certainly a lot more mature, but not in an overtly crass way that has become the implication when the phrase adult-animation is uttered. However, there’s still a devilish wit, that can be found in a couple of other famous anthologies, and other examples of Ralph Bakshi animations.
What can I say about Ralph Bakshi that hasn’t been said before? As his distinctive hallmarks could be seen in Cool World, American Pop and other controversial yet visually interesting animations. A lot of that remains in the pioneering cartoon here. Of course, the mystic world of online chatrooms and computer hacking is wonderfully archaic, compared to the internet-embedded world of today. With the tales following familiar themes in Bakshi’s work of love and corruption, evocative seems to be the byword for this animated anthology. Trying to capture a growing adult market, In the similar vein of Aeon Flux, definitely trying to keep the mantra going that animation isn’t solely for kids.
Spicy City might seem tame to modern society’s ever-connected ever-personal lives being broadcast almost 24/7, and the online world feeling more familiar than our neighbourhood. Yet, the multitudes of animated imagination in the face of an ever-evolving landscape is one of the reasons to seek it out. The show feels like a prime example of a groundbreaking idea that could walk, for more well-known examples like South Park or the acclaimed adaption of Spawn, to run. Ultimately ended by creative refusal and not commercial pressure, Spicy City corroborates that there are endless stories to be told among the back alleys of the information superhighway.
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