Halftime Leisure

Hazbin Hotel delivers the vibrance adult animation has-been missing

April 2, 2024

Courtesy of Prime Video

For a show set in Hell, Hazbin Hotel is Tumblr-esque animation heaven. The show premiered on Prime Video on January 18th and instantly took it by storm, breaking the platform’s debut streaming record and surpassing the likes of Invincible and The Boys. And if that wasn’t enough indication of the series’ success, the second season of Hazbin Hotel has already been confirmed to be in the works.

Hazbin Hotel tells the story of Charlie Morningstar (Erika Henningsen), the daughter of Lucifer Morningstar (Jeremy Jordan), as she embarks on a quest to save the sinners who have been damned to Hell from yearly extermination by heaven. The Hazbin Hotel is the alternative Charlie presents to the souls, but she and her girlfriend Vaggie (Stephanie Beatriz) are shocked to find that despite their efforts to help the sinners redeem themselves, no one is interested. Charlie then enlists the help of Alastor (Amir Talai), a radio demon who is also an overlord of Hell, and the motley crew of characters comes together in typical cartoon fashion, equal parts bizarre and humorous. Though the redemption plot isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, the story’s charm lies in how it manages to send its audience on an emotional rollercoaster while never taking itself too seriously.

Hazbin Hotel started as a passion project by Vivienne Medrano, better known by her online alias “Vivziepop”. Vivziepop rose to fame with her Youtube channel of the same name, where she posted animation memes and videos that cemented her platform as an artist. However, she had always wanted to create an animated musical, and set out to do just that with Hazbin Hotel. Created in collaboration with other freelance animators and financed entirely through Patreon, the show’s original 30-minute pilot first aired on YouTube on October 28, 2019. The pilot became an instant hit, gathering 32 million views in its first 6 months and catching the attention of A24, who picked up the show in August 2020.  

In retrospect, it’s no surprise that a studio like A24, known for its simultaneously dark and humorous productions, signed on to the film: Hazbin Hotel strikes the perfect balance between the two while also developing complex characters and an easy-to-follow storyline.  Characters like Vaggie—Charlie’s faithful partner and “bad cop” counterpart—have a clear role in the series from the get-go, but as more of their background is revealed, and our understanding of who they are expands, so does the impact they have on the story as a whole. Hazbin Hotel draws you in with distinct and intriguing characters and their hilarious interactions, before hitting you with a backstory that only makes you love them more. Every character in the story gets the perfect amount of time on screen, allowing us to get to know the whole cast enough to love them without derailing the main plot. 

Alongside developing their backstories, the intricate, masterful character design of Hazbin Hotel also reflects the attention to detail that Vivziepop put into the show. Animation, unlike other video mediums, allows for unlimited creativity in character design, and Hazbin Hotel demonstrates this brilliantly. Each character’s design feels completely original and has a truly unique art style: there is a whole genre of online content dedicated to analyzing specific design choices made for each character, even delving deep into side characters who have yet to play any major role in the plot. 

The voice acting for the show is equally incredible, not only does the entire cast switch effortlessly between the series’ light-hearted and darker scenes, they are also musically talented. Filled to the brim with Broadway talent, the group lends itself perfectly to Hazbin Hotel’s pseudo-musical nature. Each episode features two original songs and the show uses these quirky musical numbers to do everything from crescendoing perfect climax to make a backstory just that more heart wrenching, demonstrating the care and effort that the team put into creating the music.  

The various musical numbers are woven seamlessly throughout the story, adding greater depth to the characters and making full use of the breadth of talent working on the show. Sam Haft, the writer behind nearly all the tracks, also rose to fame on YouTube via his channel “The Living Tombstone.” Each song is like a musical manifestation of the characters, from the hopeful swing of Charlie’s songs to the desperate and fast-living songs of Angel Dust (Blake Roman). Haft weaves in emotional motifs throughout the soundtrack, with moments such as Vaggie reassuring Charlie after a brief falling out lyrically calling back to Charlie’s own reconciliation with Lucifer. The musical numbers allow characters to express their inner thoughts without forcefully weaving monologues into action or conversation, which can often derail an episode’s tone. Hazbin Hotel takes full advantage of these numbers, packing every line with insight into the character in a way that’s not only easy to digest, but also a buffet for the ears. 

Beyond its artistic mastery and musical craft, Hazbin Hotel serves as a beacon of hope for the video entertainment industry, which has in recent years been increasingly criticized for its stagnation and overcommercialization. Adult animation in particular remains dominated by shows that started nearly or over a decade ago, and the landscape is virtually unchanged from the 2010s. Bringing new, rising talent from social media into the mainstream entertainment industry is nothing new, with many artists of different mediums establishing their presence on TikTok or Instagram. However, animation is a notoriously time and money-consuming endeavor, making it quite rare to see any serious, multi-episode animated series by an independent creator come to fruition on any platform. Thus, the success of Hazbin Hotel could set a precedent for other large production companies to give independent creators the funding needed to catapult their production to full scale. Animation is an underutilized a medium in TV, with many productions overlooking the genre’s unparalleled freedom for genuinely interesting character design: instead of embracing the freedom to design literally an entire species, many productions try instead to make characters seem as much like “normal people” as possible. 

In an era of stagnation among adult animation titles, Hazbin Hotel provides hope. Much like how the show centers a redemption story, Hazbin Hotel’s success paves the way for more talented, inspired, independent creators to try their hand at producing shows, which might just be the catalyst needed to reinject creativity and ingenuity into the genre.

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