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‘Invincible’ Creators Learned to Do More with Less for Season 2

The hour-long animated superhero show proved to be a blessing and a challenge.

Hour-long animated shows are extremely rare. Though anime has done them in the past — mostly in straight-to-video OVAs free from the constraints of TV schedules — we’ve rarely seen them in Western animation. This makes series like Prime Video’s superhero animated series “Invincible” special, as it bridges the gap between all-ages superhero cartoons like “Justice League Unlimited” and live-action dramas like “The Boys” and “Doom Patrol.”

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“We write this as if it were a live-action superhero show,” comic creator and co-showrunner Robert Kirkman told IndieWire. “That’s how we think about it when we’re breaking down stories, and I think by doing that, we’re paying respect to the potential for animation to be literally anything.” Writing as a live-action means learning not to do certain things as they don’t work in the medium of animation — like lengthy conversation scenes. “One thing our supervising directors tell us to change every now and again is not to have walk-and-talks and things like that because they are kind of pointless in animation. And they are super difficult to do because walking cycles are absolute nightmares.”

“Invincible” follows a teenager named Mark, son of Earth’s greatest hero. When Mark gets powers of his own, he discovers superheroism involves more pain and violence than he possibly imagined. Oh, he also discovers his dad is actually a sadistic alien from a fascistic culture sent to enslave Earth. In Season 2, Mark is reeling from a big fight against his father, who left to go to space, and now fears becoming like him. Additionally, there are teenage issues Mark has to face like relationships and college.

Season 2, which arrived after a big delay in between seasons, pokes fun at the show’s production. The first trailer jokingly explained why it takes so long to produce animation. There’s an episode in the second part of Season 2 that pokes fun and explains what limited animation is and how productions save money while also just avoiding unnecessary repeated animation. “That is a very popular scene from the comic, and there was a lot of discussion on how to adapt it for animation and poke fun at the process of making animation,” Kirkman said.

Season 2 is more focused yet more expansive than the first, as we spend a lot of time in space and other planets while also doing more of the small-scale college drama. One of the big lessons from Season 1 going into these new episodes came down to streamlining production. “We’ve learned what is necessary in the process of making the show,” co-showrunner Simon Racioppa explained. “Season 1 was an uphill battle because we, in a lot of ways, thought of ‘Invincible’ as just doing two half-hour episodes in one each week. But we weren’t taking into consideration the number of locations, characters, and props. Looking at our asset count, it is a big production. It wasn’t really until we got into Season 3 that we got a handle on what it takes to make the show and streamline the factory that makes this happen.” One big, noticeable change in Season 2 of “Invincible” is a decrease in the use of CG imagery compared to the first. “At certain points in Season 1, the CG elements stand out,” Kirkman said. “We made a creative decision to use less CG in Season 2 and Season 3.”

Steven Yeun (Mark Grayson) on Prime Video animated series Invincible Season 2 Part 2
‘Invincible’Courtesy of Prime Video

Though Season 2 of “Invincible” reuses a lot of the assets from Season 1, the showrunners introduce more locations, characters, and elements. The threat of the Viltrumite Empire is at the forefront as we visit alien planets with vastly different designs and even explore the multiverse, giving us familiar yet different versions of places and characters we know from the first season.

“You’re going to see characters maturing and growing and changing from season to season,” Racioppa said. “We’re not building everything from scratch, but it is important to us that this is an expanding show with an escalation in intensity, scope, and drama.”

The problem with this constant escalation is that the show risks being cut off with a big cliffhanger should it be canceled, as there is no break in the story so far. Though Kirkman and Racioppa are confident the positive response to the show can give them the space to tell the full story of the comics, they are not interested in playing things safe just in case. “I’m gonna throw in as many subplots and hint as many things as possible,” Kirkman said with a huge grin on his face. (It helps that “Invincible” is already renewed for Season 3.)

“It was nice not having a gap between Seasons 2 and 3 and having the runway to build stories and do callbacks,” Racioppa said. “We know we can improve things and push things further in the next season.”

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