Three years after an amazing movie called Black Dynamite hit the scene, top shelf animation director LeSean Thomas (Legend of Korra) has teamed up with writers Carl Jones and Brian Ash to deliver an Adult Swim animated series that sees the titular hero butt heads with pop culture in crass, violent ways. Despite seeing the return of much of the original movie’s stable of actors, the transition into television animation sees a very different approach than the movie’s.
Rather than use Super 16 cameras and archival footage to create the look and feel of a low-budget seventies film, this cartoon, nowhere near as obliquely as shows like The Boondocks or Legend of Korra, nevertheless channels some of the style of contemporary Japanese anime. More specifically, the style of Takeshi Koike (REDLINE). Not only has the animation studio homaged REDLINE in the past, but LeSean Thomas has blatantly said on Twitter:
We love Redline. Takeshi Koike in general. He was one of our biggest inspirations visually for this show. See you Sunday!
— LeSean Thomas (@LeSeanThomas) July 29, 2012
So the two major differences between the Black Dynamite animated series and the original movie are the visual look, and the fact that rather than patterning itself off of blaxploitation movies, the animated series lampoons more general seventies culture, from The Jackson Five to pornography.
How does it all come together?
It’s always entertaining to watch, but the Black Dynamite animated series really earned my adoration by episode three, which traces the (fictitious) events leading up to Richard Pryor’s (very real) transformative Live on the Sunset Strip, hailed by many as one of the most influential stand-up comedy performances of all time. Some of what happens in this episode may fly over your head if you aren’t already a Richard Pryor fan or stand-up comedy nerd, but the episode goes deeper than simple parody.
Black Dynamite doesn’t skewer vapid celebrities with unflinching maliciousness, which is the trend in topical cartoons of the last 10+ years. It mythologizes black heroes and black culture in an affectionate way. The satire never cuts cruelly; it cuts incisively.
The result is tasty amounts of fun, with a creamy cultural acuity at its center. Not everyone is going to appreciate the Black Dynamite cartoon on that level, but the depth is there for the taking, much like the movie it’s based upon, and the under-appreciated magnificence of the blaxploitation genre itself.