Saturday, July 12, 2014

Russian Animation - "Masyanya"


The animation industry is a growing worldwide phenomenon, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been around elsewhere for a long, long time. Russians have been doing competent animation for many decades, and they are quite good at it. Of course, their animation is in Russian and it is pretty parochial, attuned to Russian sensibilities, so you probably haven't seen much of it.

It's enlightening to see what amuses people elsewhere. It gives you a little insight into their culture that simply walking the streets and seeing the buildings and parks might miss. It's also kind of nice that there is some diversity in entertainment and not everything is manufactured according to the same formula in some basement in San Bernardino.

It's also just interesting to hear some Russian spoken the way Russians normally speak it, even if you don't understand a thing. That's who they are, that's how they speak, that's them. This is to them as "The Simpsons" is to the US.

"Masyanya," a Russian animation, is a case in point. It is about Masyanya and her two friends, Hryundel and Lokhmaty. Oleg Kuvaev has produced the Flash-animation cartoon since at least 2002 when it began appearing on tv. He does everything, the animation, the editing, the voices, with minimal help. The Web series is named after its main character, a St. Petersburg woman in her early twenties. A punk and an anarchist in her youth, Masyanya is a mother of two now and always battling against the forces of the universe that are conspiring against her to make her life difficult.

Here is a quick snippet, "Masyanya prepares the morning coffee," which sums up the ethos:

Kuvaev started doing the Masyanya animations for fun, but then somebody noticed them and they began appearing on a local tv show. While this only lasted a year, this gained the animation exposure, and things mushroomed after that. The series now has its own web site with all sorts of cottage-industry ancillary projects.

Masyanya herself is quite Russian. While everything is annoying, she remains an incurable optimist, prone to making philosophical observations when things go wrong, which is an inherently Russian trait. Russians have always had to put up with a lot of nonsense, but they are stoic and just get on with it. That's Masynaya. She is quirky and does things backward, in ways that nobody else would do them and that don't have any chance at all of the working - but, of course, in her world, everything works out just the way it needs to for her to go on to her next adventure. Sort of like Lucy in "I Love Lucy," but there's no Cuban bandleader around.

It's interesting that though the entire thing is in Russian, a little English creeps in here and there, kind of along the lines of what an average high school student might be able to enunciate. You usually have to listen very closely to catch it, because the accent is very thick, but it's there. It kind of surprises when it happens. It just shows how far English has permeated world culture.

Here is a full episode, "Masyanya travels to Budapest." Episode 121 on YouTube:

The temptation to read something deep into "Masyanya" is overwhelming, but that probably is a mistake. It's just something that arises from Russia and reflects its culture while being simply entertaining as it plays on all sorts of stereotypes and Russian traits in a vaguely sarcastic way.


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