[Interview Exclusive] Brian Wysol on Doing the Hot Cross Buns Brand Justice, Pushing Limits, and Turning to Anime For Inspiration

The animation industry remains one of the most exciting environments to find fresh talent and creative storytellers. Brian Wysol has worked on Adult Swim series like Rick and Morty and he created the two-season gem, Hot Streets, but he also has an extensive reputation as a creator of independent insanity on YouTube. Wysol has a distinct style to his humor and animation and many view his Hot Cross Buns short from 2011 as some of his best work. Now, more than a decade later, Wysol has delivered the highly anticipated sequel, Hot Cross Buns 2: Suraido, a whopping pilot-length surreal experience that’s a must-watch for any Hot Streets fans. 

To celebrate Suraido’s release, Brian Wysol gets candid on the importance of independent animation and why networks need to take risks and break the mold when it comes to their animated material, the possible future of the “Bunsiverse” and a feature-length Hot Cross Buns 3, as well as why it’s time for audiences to stop underestimating anime.

Daniel Kurland: The first Hot Cross Buns is from over a decade ago. Did you ever think that you would create a sequel?

Brian Wysol: I think that Hot Cross Buns is probably the best thing that I’d made. I was always proud of that short, but when I first went to make Hot Cross Buns 2 it wasn’t called that. It was just Suraido because I’m so proud of that first short that I didn’t want something called Hot Cross Buns 2 because it would be inherently disappointing on some level to have a sequel. As I was making it I felt progressively justified to make it Hot Cross Buns 2. I’m pretty proud of how this second turned out and ultimately decided to  go with the sequel name.

DK: What brought this sequel on in the first place? Was it a pandemic project that just kept growing and getting away from itself, or was it always meant to be this grandiose? 

BW: It was more just born out of creative frustration from what people want of you. There were a couple different reasons that I made it. First of all, it had been a while since I had made something on my own and I wanted to just make something that was free from any corporate interests where I could just have fun and go wild. But also, to prove to myself that I’m still funny! You want to test and make sure that you’ve still got it!

DK: Hot Cross Buns 2 is considerably bigger than the first installment and at a full 22 minutes, it’s one of the longer stories you’ve told and actually longer than Hot Streets episodes. Did that length organically come together or was there a pointed effort to make it “acceptable TV series” length?

BW: It kept growing! At first it was going to be a six-minute thing, but then as the ideas kept coming it only got longer. And I could have made it way longer too, but at a certain point I was like, “I’ve got to just finish this!”

DK:  Two years is a massive undertaking for something of this nature–did returning to your roots through these independent animations help you remember what you love about the medium in the first place? Was it a cathartic experience to help you reconnect to animation?

BW: Yes, but I also think that it’s important for anyone who works in the creative field to experiment because if you just stick to the same things then what you work on begins to feel tired. So I wanted to visually experiment and see if I could become a better director. There are things that I learned how to do in this that I feel like I could utilize in the future for more mainstream projects.  

DK: Well on that note, there’s such diverse and unique camera angles and uses of motion and color throughout this project that go far beyond what’s present in Part 1. What was the most challenging aspect of the production and the sequence that you’re most proud of in this?

BW: I’m proud of the fight sequence because—I had sold a property to Adult Swim right after Hot Streets that was a cross between JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Lupin the Third.

DK: Oh, fantastic.

BW: The problem with it was that nobody knows what JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure or Lupin the Third is. So they’d come back to me and ask, “What is this like?” “It’s like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Lupin the Third.” “Well, what else?” Both JoJo and Lupin are shows that are really hard to compare to anything else. You could say Lupin is a bit of a Robin Hood heist type of show, but even that doesn’t do it justice.

DK: That’s so funny though because Adult Swim has aired both JoJo and Lupin on their Toonami line-up. You could have sandwiched your show between both of them and shown that it’s really not difficult to understand. 

BW: I was really hoping to do this adventure-action show. I was really excited about it and I think that it’s one of the best scripts that I’ve ever had, but ultimately Adult Swim has gone in a completely different direction. So that just had me wondering if I’m still able to make truly crazy stuff and get paid for it—probably not—so I just wanted to have fun and make something crazy like Hot Cross Buns 2 because I didn’t know if I’d get the chance to again.

DK: Off of that, I did want to bring up how creators were really able to find some kind of kinship at Adult Swim for a long time. As those venues begin to disappear, do you find yourself at all more appreciative for having had that window at Adult Swim to do something while it still existed?

BW: Absolutely. I feel so lucky that I could make a show like that there. I don’t know what the future will bring—and I want to clarify that I still think that Adult Swim is putting out great stuff and continuing to make really cool shows, but it’s just a different world now. You can’t just put a bunch of crazy stuff on the air anymore. There would be this grab bag of insanity quality whenever you turned on Adult Swim on Sunday night. 

DK: Well connected to all of that is everything that’s been going on with Warner Bros. Discovery in terms of animated series being removed from services without warning. It’s a very interesting time to be working in animation and how do you feel about the current landscape of what’s going on right now?

BW: You just have to latch onto the bright spots of positivity, you know? Smiling Friends is great. You just hope for these shows to be popular. I predict a bit of a dark period for animation. I think all of these corporate mergers are going to lead to a lot less risk-taking. So you’re going to see a lot of shows—five years ago I thought it was awesome that there was stuff like BoJack Horseman, Rick and Morty, Archer, and that there was a place for all of these different styles. I don’t think that’s possible in our current climate. I think that everything is going to start to look the same. I don’t think that you’re going to get the variety that used to exist—and I hope that I’m wrong about that and that people take risks on projects that are different. You can see fans get excited about shows like this and so it’d be nice if that could ultimately win. In the future, I feel like we’re going to first see a lot of similar sitcom-style shows. 

DK: It’s frustrating, especially when you can see the direction that the industry is heading. To spin this to the opposite extreme, you’re involved with Justin Roiland’s animated Paloni Show Halloween anthology, which is super exciting and seems like it could be a showcase for independent animation. Can you tease anything about your segment, “The Dreston?”

BW: I wish I could tell you anything because there are some aspects about it that are really exciting to me. I can’t say much, but you’ll see that what I was experimenting with in Hot Cross Buns 2 kind of gets paid off and the fruition of that idea occurs in it. It’s a new type of short for me that’s crazy, funny, and has a special bit of casting involved that’s important to me, too. I wish I could tell you more, but I’m super proud of it. The great thing about working with Justin is that you can be crazy. You can take those risks and he’s not looking for stuff that’s just the same as everything else. Working with him is always great and he has such a commitment to helping new talent. That’s always been his motto, even before I knew him. I’m honored to be amongst the group of animators.

DK: Have you been able to see anyone else’s segments? Do you know what they have in store?

BW: I haven’t seen anything.

DK: That’s exciting for you too, then! And maybe if any of those shorts really pop then they get spun off into their own shows. Who knows!

BW: That’s what I want! 

DK: At this point, do you see a likelihood behind a Hot Cross Buns 3 and further fleshing out of the “Bunsiverse” by returning to other shorts from the same realm like Zurtrun?

BW: It’s possible. Hot Cross Buns 3—there’s something in the works. I guess it’s kind of like a movie treatment that I wrote. That’s a possibility to make a really long one—even longer than the 22-minute one. In terms of doing other stuff from that world—the thing that’s great about Hot Cross Buns is that even though it’s called Hot Cross Buns I can look at new characters and tell new stories. But if I make new Zurtrun, or something else, it’s a little depressing to return to those old ideas. Unless I’m doing something completely different with the idea then I want to just leave it alone. I’m doing a possible Choose Your Own Adventure-type show that’s exciting to me. I just want to do new stuff!

DK: Was there anything from Hot Streets that you couldn’t quite get to that ended up finding its way into Hot Cross Buns 2?

BW: Yes! When I finished Hot Streets I felt more creative than I had ever been. I had all of these ideas and a lot of what you’re seeing in Hot Cross Buns 2 are ideas that I had for Hot Streets. For example, I was going to turn Hot Streets into a shonen adventure show with a middle-aged Mark Bransky as a karate hero. I had some big plans and I wanted to really shake things up. 

DK: I had no idea that you were such an anime fan. This is great to hear.

BW: I think that anime is always weirdly underrated by everybody. This is always just bubbling under the surface. Like you can have a Dragon Ball movie that opens up to $20 million at the box office and just nobody knows what to do with this. Nobody understands it. I also think that something that’s being completely ignored is the storytelling in anime. I think people like these stories and that there’s something from these stories that we’re not properly capturing in Western animation. A lot of what we’re getting are visual references to anime, but there’s a lot more to it than that. I think we could be taking a lot more from anime’s storytelling.

DK: Well off of that I was going to address how a lot of your humor and storytelling has connections to horror and the occult, which is another area that often seems to get neglected in animation.

BW: I think you could have an American art style, but with an anime storytelling sensibility—this new show Scavengers Reign looks so incredible, for instance. I’m just talking for myself here, but I want to see shows with different art styles that are mature, epic adventures. That show looks incredible and I want to see more stuff like that. The dream would be to see more stuff like that and to gather enough support so that I can continue to keep making things like Hot Cross Buns 2!

Support Brian Wysol’s growing ‘Bunsiverse’