Amid budget cuts and mergers, streaming services like Netflix and HBO Max have canceled a huge number of animation projects. If you have work in, or have ambitions of working in, animation, the past few months have likely been painful.
In May, as Netflix’s subscriber count flagged, the platform canceled some of its announced animation projects, including Antiracist Baby, Wings of Fire, and Pearl, an animation project from Meghan Markle. In the world of adult animation, Netflix also scrapped a planned adaptation of the acclaimed adult comic Bone, as well as original series Boons and Curses from animator Jaydeep Hasrajani.
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According to animators reacting at the time, Netflix was once seen as a place where their animation projects could flourish, and these cancellations made their livelihoods more precarious. Hasrajani, for instance, told The Hollywood Reporter that they had planned to ship their first episode on the same day that they learned that their show had been canceled. Chris Nee, who was the showrunner on another canceled animation project, Dino Daycare, tweeted that Netflix was on a “killing spree.”
“As soon as the ink is dry on one, they've moved on to the next. Intense environment to be in,” she said on Twitter.
The same fate seems to have befallen animation projects at HBO Max. After Warner Brothers’ merger with Discovery, the streaming platform has been cutting projects left and right. In the past week, animation projects have been hit especially hard. This is further exacerbated by HBO Max not only canceling projects, but removing them from the platform entirely, including animation projects that are original to the service.
According to Cartoon Brew, 37 titles were removed from HBO Max, including original projects like Infinity Train and Cartoon Network show Uncle Grandpa. It also canceled the upcoming animated movie Driftwood and a Matt Reeves- and Bruce Timm-produced Batman show, Batman: Caped Crusader.
It’s difficult not to catastrophize about the state of American animation in the wake of this news. While Cartoon Network has saved one of the canceled HBO Max shows, Summer Camp Island, the fate of everything else is up in the air. Some projects, like Driftwood, were greenlit just a few months before their cancellations. If Netflix was on a killing spree, then HBO Max has gone scorched earth.
Making this more—or less, depending on your perspective—puzzling is the popularity of Japanese animation with U.S. audiences. We now live in the age where Goku from Dragon Ball Z is in Fortnite; where the Jujutsu Kaisen movie premiered at the number two spot on the box office; where Megan Thee Stallion performed in a Sailor Moon-inspired outfit at Tokyo’s Summer Sonic festival; and where rival corporation Sony has already acquired two American anime streaming services, Crunchyroll and Funimation. (HBO Max used to have Crunchyroll branding on the streaming service before Crunchyroll was acquired by Sony.) More recently, HBO Max has acquired the acclaimed anime movie Belle, and it already has extremely popular series like the aforementioned Jujutsu Kaisen, Mob Psycho 100, and Tokyo Revengers. It’s probably easier and cheaper to license an animated project than to make a new one—good news for bottom lines, less so for anything else.