An animated series based on MDHR Games’ popular indie darling Cuphead just makes sense. The entire premise of the game is that it’s inspired by classic Max Fleischer animation as the titular Cuphead and his brother Mugman accidentally owe the devil their soul and need to find a way to save themselves from damnation. So, it was such a no-brainer that someone would end up bringing it to life in its very own show and Netflix happened to be the one to do it. The only question is if they can create a compelling show based on a simple narrative that stays true to its iconic visual style? Luckily, The Cuphead Show! manages to do that and offer a golly good time.
Yes, the core narrative remains with Cuphead and Mugman going on hijinks, especially with the Devil playing a recurring role throughout. Yet, the biggest difference is that the series isn’t focusing primarily on an overarching narrative, but rather focusing on small vignettes that continue to build up the challenges our unlikely duo have to face. The first episode pretty much gets the essentials out of the way in a fun and entertaining way to unshackle itself from the games it adapting. The second episode seems specifically made to catch you off-guard if you’re expecting a one-to-one adaptation.
The one thing it remains mostly true to the original lies in its animation style, especially the show’s character designs. As you’d expect, they translated perfectly to an animated format and they give them quite a bit of personality. I will complain that it doesn’t fully commit to the rubber hose style – ironically the opening seems to embrace it more with a catchy theme song – but it definitely feels like a modern take on it. Yet, the animators did add some small animation flourishes that call back to that era to meld it with the modern elements. There is some great use of 3D in this series that feels like a call-back to some great 3D models used in the game.
I was surprised by how restraint the show is as an adaptation. Normally, there’s this bizarre need for any adaptation to shove every possible iconography from the franchise into a short amount of time, but the series doesn’t really focus on that. Hell, they even twist and turn some iconic characters like King Dice to better fit a straightforward narrative rather than strictly sticking to what we saw in the game. They even include some new characters to add diversity and catch you off guard, or even give characters like Elder Kettle a personality besides a walking-talking tutorial.
The show wouldn’t work without our two main protagonists, and the dynamic is a simple but effective one. Mugman is the cowardly but level-headed brother while Cuphead is quite the oblivious rascal. I enjoyed that these characters are flawed but well-meaning, which made you enjoy the events that started to uncover. Tru Valentino and Frank T. Todaro definitely are having fun with these roles, and the time-fitting accents just add to its charm. My other personal favorites were Grey Griffin‘s Miss Chalice and Luke Millington Drake‘s Devil, especially the latter just seemingly had a blast with the role.
Each episode offers something a little fun and special, but I will say the show doesn’t reinvent the wheel or truly blow your mind in any way. In a way, it never really has to and still manages to be among the best adaptations of a video game. I am looking forward to more and definitely would give it a rewatch if I feel in the mood to just have some fun. My biggest complaint may be that the ending of the series seems a little out of nowhere. The prior two episodes actually build upon each other only for the finale to have a completely new storyline and character. It may be the only time I was scratching my head on why they suddenly went this direction throughout the show.
Sometimes a show doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel and just offers a good time mixed with some great animation. The series pays tribute in clever ways and knows exactly what it is going for. Running gags, great performances and a lot of heart carry this show that doesn’t restrict itself to a specific storyline outside of continuity. Anyone who loves animation will have a blast and fans of the game will surely enjoy seeing these iconic characters brought to life. The Cuphead Show! is exactly what is advertised and you won’t regret your time with it.