The Cuphead Show! Inspiration is lost in translation

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The Cuphead ShowThe second season of has dropped on Netflix. Fans of the show may or may not know that Cuphead and Mugman didn’t start out as TV characters. Rather, they came from the 2017 video game, aptly called “Cuphead”. The Cuphead game was successful enough to spawn its own television series, and it achieved that success by bringing something interesting and fresh to the world of animation. Yet when translated into a TV series, the elements that made the Cuphead game new and engaging managed to do the exact opposite for a TV show. There is a very clear reason why The Cuphead ShowThe style of has worked so well for the game but falls flat when translated into another medium.

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Cuphead was inspired by the golden age of animation, which began in the 1920s and continued into the 70s. Whether you have a vast knowledge of animation from that period or are more of an animation novice, most of us recognize the common style, tropes, and details of animated works from this era. Cuphead aims to remind people of this vintage kind of children’s show and pay homage to the early days of animation. Whether an anime series seems to have a connection during this time period, all anime series have the golden age of animation to thank for the current state of the medium.

It’s clear that the creators of Cuphead were well aware of this and wanted to bring it to light for people who may not have been aware. Filled with little references that only a true animation fanatic would catch, as well as nods to the past that we’re all bound to notice, the Cuphead video game never wavered in what it was trying to say or to the inspiration he enjoyed. It created a unique interactive experience – like being inside Disney works of old and having the ability to exist in the space we’ve all seen but never entered. Translating a type of animation that we’re all at least somewhat familiar with, but don’t usually see in an up-to-date way, felt new and exciting, and was a particularly successful way to marry old technology with new capabilities. animation and a new way to consume animation. Making a game that looks like a retro cartoon was an unusual concept, and Cuphead was able to capture that perfectly.


RELATED: From Mickey Mouse to Popeye: The Cartoons That Inspired ‘The Cuphead Show!’

Of course, a game based on anime TV shows would itself make for a great anime TV show; right? The impulse to transform Cuphead in The Cuphead Show was understandable. Yet in translating a television genre into a video game and then into a series, something got lost in the translation. The second season of the show only reinforced this. Like its source material, The Cuphead Show has references from Disney and Popeye to Looney Tunes, among others. It uses old tropes like showing eyeballs floating on a black background as Cuphead and Mugman talk to each other in the dark, or title cards that state the episode’s name after a long theatrical theme song. Yet what Cuphead originally brought to the table wasn’t just about memories, and therefore a mere memory doesn’t carry as much of an impact as the source material. Instead, Cuphead was also about making the past feel new, bringing it to new generations, and letting players immerse themselves in a world they’d only ever looked at from afar before. The Cuphead Show loses that unique experience, and in doing so, he loses what makes Cuphead what it is. Season 2 introduced viewers to another perfectly fine cartoon, but fans of the Cuphead game are probably expecting more from this franchise.


For someone unfamiliar with the history of Cuphead, watch The Cuphead Show is certainly likely to take the viewer back to the earliest days of animation history, and it probably even does so in a heartwarming, wholesome, or even nostalgic way. Still, nods to the past aren’t enough to sustain the series for two seasons, let alone what will likely be, at least, an inevitable third. Likewise, for true fans of the game, The Cuphead Show most likely has some particularly funny moments and jokes for its loyal fan base. When the bosses that fans have beaten in the video game make cameos on the show or familiar music pops up on the soundtrack, there’s sure to be a level of satisfaction there and a certain joy in the recognizable.

However, what The Cuphead Show was able to have been able to go beyond. The initial niche that made Cuphead so welcome and unique was its willingness to play with the relationship between different forms of media. Therefore, this should also have been captured when switching to a new medium. The Cuphead Show had the ability to speak to video games beyond the nods that pay homage to the Cuphead game itself. Much like taking retro animation and turning it into a game designed for a uniquely fulfilling experience, allowing Cuphead’s interactive origins to influence and affect the series would have done The Cuphead Show a more appropriate part of this franchise, rather than this two-dimensional iteration (no pun intended).

At the end of the day, The Cuphead Show has very little to say about anything and is instead just a series of short, packed-to-the-brim standalone episodes. Surely, The Cuphead Show isn’t the only series without a big statement to make other than to entertain. However in this case, The Cuphead Showthe absence of a mission statement may seem strange to its audience, since it comes from source material that, in fact, did have an interesting perspective: bringing the past into the present. The Cuphead Showthe inability to follow in his own footsteps caused him to lose a lot of what made him special to begin with with. It’s fair to say that an anime series doesn’t need to have a particular message or even a strong goal. Yet, as The Cuphead ShowThe lack of understanding of what it is or why persists throughout the series, making it easier for fans to disconnect from Cuphead’s original noble mission.


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