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Undone (2019) [Season One]

Western made adult animation is often criticised for following a certain formula. Much of it relies on shock value for humour, with crude jokes and "edgy" content. There also seems to be a tendency for the designs to be quite ugly, as if only children's animation can try and look good. None of this could be levelled at Undone, Amazon Studios first adult animated original series.

Twenty-something Alma (Rosa Salazar) is thrown into an existential crisis when her younger sister announces she's getting married. Feeling like she's stuck in a rut with her career and relationship, she's afraid she's going nowhere. But then, a near-fatal accident changes everything. After awakening from a coma, she starts getting visits from her long-dead father (played by Bob Odenkirk) and discovers she has developed a strange new power over time. Or is she just losing her grip on reality?

Undone is created and written by BoJack Horseman writers Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg, and directed by Dutch animator Hisko Hulsing (best known for the award-winning Junkyard). It's produced by Amazon Studios and Tornante Productions. The eight-episode first season began streaming on October 13, 2019.

Firstly. it has to be said that Undone looks like nothing else.  There's so little variation in mainstream western adult animation that it feels incredibly refreshing. Rotoscoping is not a new technique, of course, but it's never been used for a whole series, and never quite like this. The rotoscoping captures the movement and motion smoothly, but the use of outlines gives it a unique illustrated effect- and allows it to capture facial emotion more effectively. The use of shadows gives it a more cinematic look. The backgrounds- created through oil paints on canvas- are fantastic too.

The animation also lends the whole show a dreamy, other-worldly feel, even when events depicted are quite mundane or down-to-earth. So when the fantasy, supernatural elements start to come into play, it suits that style perfectly. There are times the action is so naturalistic, some might wonder why they didn't just make a live-action series. But when the trippy visuals and timey-wimey weirdness start kicking in, it truly takes advantage of the medium

And the show's innovation isn't just skin deep either. BoJack Horsman gradually turned into a comedy-drama by stealth, with its serious themes smuggled inside a silly talking animal cartoon. Undone has arrived sold as a comedy-drama from the start- something almost unheard of in western animation.

Which is not to say that its comedy element are unimportant. The series is extremely funny, with fantastically quotable dialogue. It draws you in with a very amusing opening episode, before the stranger stuff- and the more dramatic themes come into play.

Although dealing in effect with time travel, it doesn't at all follow the usual conventions of the story trope. In fact, it has to be the most original take on the idea I've seen for some time.

Although the series is not light on swearing, sexual references and naughty jokes, Undone is also 'adult' in the truest sense of the word. It explores serious themes such as loss, mental health and family dynamics, but with a lightness of touch so it never feels too grim.

A lot of what makes the series such a joy is the central character of Alma. She's a funny, flawed and fully rounded character. Her actions are occasionally wild, but the portrayal of the millennial-malaise will be extremely relatable for much of the audience. It's anchored by a revelatory performance from Salazar. The quality of the acting here is much more important than in traditionally animated series as they are required to give full-body performance instead of only using their voice. Luckily, the cast is more than up to the job, with special credit to Salazar, Angelique Cabral, Bob Odenkirk and Siddharth Dhananjay. The rotoscoping is able to capture the subtlest movements, that can be much harder to achieve in traditional animation. It really drives home the quality of the performances.

It's rare enough to have a US adult animated series centred on a female lead, but it also makes other strides for representation. The cast is extremely diverse with Alma and her family coming from a Latino background, her boyfriend Sam is Indian-American and in a subversion of most shows, Odenkirk is actually the only member of the major cast who is a white male.  The family's heritage turns out to be very crucial to the plot.

Alma is also revealed to have a disability- she lost her hearing as a child and has a cochlear implant. The way it's revealed is a perfect example of. how subtle the storytelling is here. Nothing ever feels overly by-the-numbers or simplistic. It's masterfully written.

You'll be thankful that the whole series was released as it's very tempting to watch the full series in one go. It's full of exciting twists and revelations and all leads up to an ending that could either be a cliffhanger or a very ambiguous ending. If it does turn out that these eight episodes are all we are getting, then it would be a shame. But it does work as a perfectly self-contained story.

Amazon deserves a lot of credit for having the confidence to allow the creators to deliver on their vision. It bodes well for the future of the medium on the platform. If you want to see animation progress as a medium- don't sleep on this series.

FORMAT: Streaming  FROM: Amazon Prime RATING:TV-14[US] 15 [UK] RUNNING TIME : 8 Episodes

IN A NUTSHELL: A visual and storytelling game changer. A giant step forward for western adult animation.