When you think of Russia, what springs to mind? Perhaps your head floods with visions of rocket scientists, KGB badges, vodka, borsch, Putin, and so on. Even the culturally inclined are likely to think of ballet or literature before considering Russian Web animation, but it’s in this latter field that the Russian Internet has achieved something brilliant.
For more than a decade, Oleg Kuvaev has produced a Flash-animation cartoon called “Masyanya.” The Web series is named after its main character, a St. Petersburg woman in her early twenties. A punk and an anarchist in her youth, Masyanya is a mother of two by adulthood.
According to Kuvaev, the first installments of his cartoon were meant as a private joke between friends. Then, in September 2002, Leonid Parfenov, a popular television host, approached Kuvaev with the opportunity to broadcast episodes of Masyanya at the end of his TV show. The partnership lasted just one season, but the exposure created a fan base for Masyanya.
It’s difficult to explain Masyanya’s massive popularity in Russia. The cartoon is unique in many ways. It centers on Masyanya and her two friends, Hryundel and Lokhmaty, and provides an offbeat look at familiar, everyday situations. The language spoken on the show is witty and colloquial, and Kuvaev’s animation boasts some impressive graphics.
(Masyanya prepares the morning coffee.)
The show’s protagonist is undoubtedly its greatest appeal. Masyanya is an incurable optimist, prone to making philosophical observations in any situation. Oxana Pobereinaia, an author at Feminismandreligion.com, argues that Masyanya’s lifestyle is a cross between Buddhism and Feminism. Masyanya ignores various social conventions, instead following her own philosophy. She is unorthodox: Masyanya’s wedding is modest, but she celebrates her divorce like a marriage ceremony, bemusing her friends to no end. When money gets tight, Masyanya doesn’t sell her things or find a second job—she invests in a bookshop that has no cashier, where all the books are on sale at whatever price customers name.
(Oops! More misadventures from Masyanya.)
For a time, Masyanya had a whole production team, with several animators, though the show has returned to its roots, with Kuvaev writing, animating, and voicing everything by himself. New episodes appear on the program’s official website, where visitors can also find comic strips, games, and ringtones based on the Masyanya show.