Updated: Jun 5
Time travel is very popular in episodic television animation. There are many different ways that time travel has been used, from exploring the past to creating alternate realities. This blog post will explore some instances where time travel in animation was crucial to telling the story.
You can’t episodic television animation without acknowledging the veteran in the room The Simpsons.
They have been on the air for 34 years and often used time travel as a values teaching tool. Some of my favorite examples: https://simpsons.fandom.com/wiki/Simpsons_Wiki
Bart to the Future (Season 11, Episode 17) Bart gets a glimpse of the future while the family is on vacation at an Indian casino. He sees that Lisa has become the President of the United States, while Homer is a lazy, overweight slob. Bart must then find a way to change the future and prevent this from happening.
Treehouse of Horror V - Time and Punishment (Season 6, Episode 6) Homer's attempt to repair a toaster results in inadvertent time travel to the Mesozoic, where he messes up the present by his actions there.
Future-Drama (Season 16, Episode 15) Bart and Lisa see into the future where their lives have changed. Bart is a successful writer and Lisa is a drug addict. They must then find a way to change the future and prevent this from happening.
which began airing in December 2000, about a trio of fast-food items working to solve mysteries in an edgy adult cartoon. Creators have shown that they are not afraid to experiment with different concepts, and time travel is one of the many ways that they have kept the show fresh and unpredictable.
Time Machine (Season 6, Episode 6) Frylock makes a time machine that he and Shake use to compete for the ruler of dimension boob.
The Granite Family (Season 9, Episode 5) A time-traveling television executive named Time Warner warns the Aqua Teens that they cannot go back in time to stop Master Shake from starting a nuclear war, as time travel has already been depicted in multiple movies he owns the rights to.
Which brings me to my new favorite Unicorn: Warriors Eternal, which began airing this year!
Time travel is a major plot device for Unicorn Warriors Eternal in the form of reincarnation. When creators use reincarnation as a tool it usually means spending a large amount of time inside several different time eras for the overall story. Think as in Avatar: The Last Airbender series except the reincarnation arc has 3X the power. First, it explains the existence of the Unicorn Warriors themselves. The Unicorn Warriors are all reincarnations of ancient warriors who were tasked with protecting the Unicorn magic from evil. Second, reincarnation provides a sense of continuity for the arc of the show - by the time we meet the Warriors Eternal awakened in their current forms their ability to have access to those former lives becomes a central plot point. The Unicorn Warriors are all connected to each other by their past lives, and having access to this connection helps them to work together. Third, and finally reincarnation allows the show to explore the themes of life, death, and the meaning of existence. All of The Unicorn Warriors are trying to find their place in the world, and they are all trying to understand their purpose in life and these incarnations. time travel provides a framework for exploring these themes, and it helps the show to explore the concept of destiny.
Reincarnation is a complex and fascinating concept, and it is used to great effect in Unicorn Warriors Eternal in a show that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. Watch it on Adult Swim Toonami and MAX