While The Cuphead Show may emulate older cartoons in terms of art style, it’s anything but old. Between the art style, a wide cast of interesting characters, and chronological episodes that build off each other, The Cuphead Show creates a cartoon that is entertaining for both younger and older audiences.
The Cuphead Show is a new cartoon series first released on Netflix in mid-February 2022 and is based on the 2017 critically-acclaimed game Cuphead, available on all major gaming platforms. The original video game is a level-based run-and-gun, with music and visuals that make players feel like they’ve been transported straight to a roaring 20s party in the middle of the prohibition era. From brightly-colored bosses to zany jazz beats and twirling trumpets, this game is one hell of a party. For example, you might be fighting a three-headed dragon, bouncing between clouds as you dodge its pattern of fireballs you’ve spent the last three hours learning, all while head-banging to some fast-paced jazz that seems to both set the mood and keep you glued to your screen.
The Cuphead Show emulates the vibrancy and vigor the game brought through the soundtrack and the requirement of precise character control—better than most other video game adaptation shows, particularly through its animation style. The show may not get the viewer invested quite like the video game does, with the loss of complete user control of either Cuphead or Mugman, the show’s and game’s main protagonists. The Cuphead Show, however, forces you to root for them by the end of the first season, fleshing out their personalities and moral struggles. While Cuphead may be a stereotypically-overbearing brother and Mugman a meek tagalong, their relationship with the world and the other characters they meet makes them feel anything but stale. By the end of the twelfth episode, I couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for both Mugman and Cuphead given their…current situation a certain character left them in.
And then there’s the animation style. Most cartoons are known for anatomical incorrectness when it comes to movement, and The Cuphead Show uses this to their advantage. Even in mundane scenes where Cuphead and Mugman are walking, say, through a forest, the way they were animated makes them feel alive and keeps them from falling flat. My favorite use of animation in this show was whenever the Devil would be on screen. The way his body moved and the many nods to the different phases of his boss fight in the Cuphead game really impressed me.
What I loved most about The Cuphead Show was its chronological continuity and constant character development. Most western animation cartoons, especially those made for younger audiences, seem to have one-and-done episodes where something crazy happens and then experience no repercussions later on in the show. Anime is a perfect example of creating continuity. When a character makes a breakthrough or learns something in an anime, they then show that a) this event happened and b) they grew as a person from experiencing this event by having a noticeable change in their beliefs or actions as a result. The Cuphead Show blends both genres of animated entertainment by having those goofy and wacky events, while also allowing their characters to grow from them.
In conclusion, I think The Cuphead Show had a great first season. Whether you’re looking for something to entertain a younger sibling for a few hours that won’t make you wanna rip your hair out, or are a long-time fan of the game and have been craving more while waiting for the DLC, The Cuphead Show is sure to please. I can’t wait to see how the game and the show continue to build off one another, especially since the last episode starts to introduce the charismatic DLC character Miss Challace.