A story about a digital trap in the style of a children’s show
October 2023 gave the Internet an unexpected viral show called “The Amazing Digital Circus”.
In four weeks, the pilot episode of the cartoon by independent animators gained 100 million views on YouTube and was shared with memes and artwork. Bloggers are now pokadrava dismantling the series, studying references and hidden meanings, as well as guessing what the next episodes will be about.
Such popularity and level of discussion is a rarity for indie animation. Especially for such a conceptual project: “Amazing Digital Circus” looks like a cut-scene from an old video game, and the colorful and seemingly childish style is juxtaposed with very dark themes and horror episodes.
We tell you what the phenomenon of The Amazing Digital Circus is and whether it’s worth watching.
What is The Amazing Digital Circus and what is the first episode about
“The Amazing Digital Circus” – is a joint animated series by Australian animation studio Glitch and animator Gooseworx. The creators make independent cartoons and release them directly to YouTube. Digital Circus has only a pilot episode out so far. Judging by the audience response, it will surely get a sequel. But when – no one knows. In past Glitch projects, the difference between a pilot and a full season could be up to a year.
The pilot episode begins as an innocuous opener for a children’s show. Entertainer Caine, who looks like a false jaw with eyes, introduces viewers to the brightly colored world of the Digital Circus and promises a bunch of fun adventures. It also introduces us to the main characters: among them, for example, there is an anthropomorphic rabbit and a melancholy chess king.
In the centre of the opening, a girl in a harlequin clown costume appears among the characters. She doesn’t understand how she got into the “Digital Circus” and what’s even going on. The last thing the heroine remembers is putting on a virtual reality helmet.
We don’t know who the heroine was before she got to the circus, because she doesn’t remember herself.
Other characters explain to the newcomer that there is no way out of the digital world. And that they all got there in a similar way. No one here remembers their name, so the girl is given a new one: Pomni. And the compere suggests having an “adventure” for the new girl. Strange creatures appear all over the digital circus, stealing random things and taking them somewhere. The heroes need to catch them.
Pomni, however, is not much interested in adventure. She is trying to figure out how to get out of the digital trap. In the course of the action, the heroine learns what happens to people who finally despair in this virtual world. Poor people become aggressive shapeless dark creatures. If they touch other heroes, those begin to sort of “glitch”, like a broken digital file.
Also, Pomni falls into an endless series of office rooms and learns that beyond the circus lies the Abyss, a bottomless digital void.
Why The Amazing Digital Circus has become so popular on the internet
A fandom has formed around The Amazing Digital Circus since the first episode was released. First, they were longtime fans of the independent animation studio Glitch: its projects like “Murder Drones” and “Meta Runner” have gotten several million views on YouTube before.
Gooseworx, who was creating animation for her channel, also had viral projects. This was the beginning of the collaboration between the creators of “Circus”: Glitch founders Kevin and Luke Lerdwichagul came to the girl and offered her to direct a new cartoon. Gooseworx proposed three ideas, and the authors liked one the most: a crazy show in the style of the era of old computers of the 1990s and the PlayStation 1 console. Back then, games and animation were just beginning to move to 3D, but it was very primitive. That’s the feeling that the youtubers wanted to transfer.
Stylistics is also a bit of a reference to the era of crazy flash animation: so called the period of the early 2000s, when enthusiasts and indie studios made cartoons with Macromedia Flash. A typical example is the animated series Happy Tree Friends, where cute forest characters became victims of bloody ultra-violence.
Then it also became fashionable to make at first glance childish animation with “dark” plots, humor and scenes. Now this fashion has not gone anywhere: horror games like Poppy Playtime or Five Nights at Freddy, which are incredibly popular among children’s audience, also use this technique. So in 2021, children have a favorite character – Huggy Wuggy.
“The Amazing Digital Circus” also combines a slightly childlike aesthetic with the creepy and adult. Only without blood and brutalism: the horror is the responsibility of the themes raised. Complementing all the colorful characters: AI-confessor Caine, clowness Pomni, humanoid rabbit Jax and the rest were immediately loved by users of social networks. And became the heroes of art.
Particular popularity was gained by harlequin Pomni, a 25-year-old heroine who, according to the plot of the pilot, just happens to be in “The Circus”.
The insane popularity of the cartoon led to the fact that he began to grow other types of fan content. Edits, stylizations, and more. On TikTok, videos with the hashtag #TheAmazingDigitalCircus have racked up more than a billion views.
“The Amazing Digital Circus has been a gift for essayists and reviewers. There are so many little details and references that can be tied into full-blown theories. Not surprisingly, YouTube has been flooded with such videos.
YouTube’s new feature probably had an impact on audience growth as well. Previously, videos supported only one audio track, such as English. And for localization it was necessary to reupload the videos to different channels – or the views were lost to pirates. “Amazing Digital Circus” supports 12 tracks in the most popular languages of the world.
Not without memes, of course. Often you don’t even need to watch the cartoon to understand them – it’s enough to have a general idea of the characters.
Is it worth watching The Amazing Digital Circus?
The series is amusingly misleading in its expectations. The Amazing Digital Circus looks like a typical children’s show. It’s eccentric, there’s something going on in it every second, and the surroundings are very bright and colorful. But all this is just a clever trick: there is not much childish in “Circus”.
The authors tell a rather creepy story of people who are trapped in an absurd world. They show in detail how Pomni gradually loses his mind from what is happening around him.
The slapdash aesthetics are needed to make the story seem even more frightening in contrast. Pretty soon the colorful interiors of the circus and the hyperactive entertainer Caine begin to depress. It’s clear that behind the colorful shell here lies something inexplicable and terrifying.
This is an inventive surreal thriller. At one point, Pomni decides to investigate the circus’s structure in order to find a way out of there. But instead she discovers that behind every door there are strange rooms lurking. Somewhere she sees a mannequin sitting in a bathtub, and somewhere she sees a black abyss with a huge merry-go-round. The digital world here exists according to its own laws, which no one plans to explain to the viewer. At least in the pilot episode.
Besides, the authors use the features of the “digital” style to create disturbing images in an interesting way. Various glitches and other image artifacts are used here to show the chaotic nature of the circus. And in some scenes the creators do not draw details on purpose: for example, at the end the characters sit at the table in front of low-polygonal food. So the artificiality of the environment is emphasized. After all, the heroes do not even need to eat in the digital world. The dishes are an illusion from a strange artificial intelligence that tries to guess what people need.
“Digital Circus” is a great metaphor for social media and the internet. Part of the show’s effectiveness can be explained by the fact that it talks about quite understandable things with the help of surreal concepts. Heroes here find themselves in a world where they are promised joy and carefree, where every day something exciting and fun should happen. But where you gradually lose all individuality, and from the meaninglessness of existence it is easy to fall into despondency.
“The Amazing Digital Circus” is a pretty direct allusion to the internet in general. A place where everything is available, everywhere and at once. And at the same time, nothing matters. Through the adventures of Pomni, the authors show the story of information oversaturation and futile attempts to find oneself in a world where everything is aimed at depersonalizing people and turning them into mask avatars.
Gooseworx, which created animations for its channel, also had viral projects. This is where the collaboration between the creators of Circus began: Glitch founders Kevin and Luke Lerdwichagul came to the girl and offered to direct a new cartoon. Gooseworx proposed three ideas, and the authors liked one the most: a crazy show in the style of the era of old computers of the 1990s and the PlayStation 1 console. Back then, games and animation were just beginning to move to 3D, but it was very primitive. That’s the feeling that the youtubers wanted to transfer.