Toonami and action cartoons have had a symbiotic relationship since its inception back in 1997. Action cartoons were always a fan favorite among Toonami’s demographic, especially with how popular superheroes have been, including shonen heroes from anime titles. Does that mean Toonami should always have action-centric titles on the block? As the fans mature, their taste in titles might change to more thought-provoking fare than your typical smash and fight series. Would it be in Toonami’s best interest to then quietly add a drama-centric series?
I think the biggest thing for Toonami if they decide to venture away from action to more drama-centric shows, is that they have to find a particular show that is well produced with excellent execution that will resonate with fans. Shows where the highlights of the series are the overall plot points or mystery of the world, rather than the high-octane action sequences. For example, rather than the excitement of watching Luffy in One Piece battle against his main adversaries, the intrigue of what the Treasure One Piece is, would be the driving force that makes fans come back week after week. But finding a drama like that is a lot harder than you might think.
A lot of drama-centric shows could still have action scenes in them, but they would be few and far between. In fact, even comedy series has some spectacular action sequences, such as Love Chunibiyo and other Delusions (which I don’t suggest for the block at all, so don’t go crazy with me). That’s just an example of a genre being a slice of life, yet it has some magical fights that are beautifully animated. The same can be said for Food Wars (I will get into detail later), which does not have the typical action that fans of Toonami are used to. In fact, their “battles” are just cooking contests. Some of these scenes are beautifully animated, like a major fight scene. So if Toonami wanted to stretch the definition of an action cartoon series and expand their reach/brand, they could have more titles at their disposal down the road.
It’s tough for casual fans to know what else is available when Toonami is their only gateway into anime. When I was younger, during the block’s Cartoon Network days, I had no idea about anime other than what was in the lineup. So for me, I only knew about the action-packed series rather than drama, which made my overall tastes lacking variety. Now I doubt many fans who are currently watching Toonami are unable to see other types of series that Crunchyroll, Hulu, and Netflix own (as well as other streaming websites). But adding this new dynamic to Toonami could help bridge the gap between hardcore anime fans and casual fans alike.
With that said, are there any shows that could fit that mold, putting fans on the edge of their seats? Of course! Whether it be due to incredible humor or a gripping plot, there are a ton of series that with a little action sprinkled in would be perfect for the staff at Toonami to look into airing.
One show that seems to be a favorite among the Toonami Faithful staff is the Sentai Filmworks hit series No Game No Life. This is a show where a simple game decides everything. The stakes are as small as who can go first to an event, or something as dangerous as putting their lives on the line. Viewers watch Team Blank (Sora and Shiro) take on all kinds of challenges in many different games as they try to take control of the entire world (and challenge God Tet again). What could make watching adversaries play elementary children’s’ games work on Toonami?
It’s the drama of every game that pulls me in when I’m watching. Even a simple poker game looked intense during the very first episode. Each of the other games were exciting, especially when Sora and Shiro had to find a way to cheat or outsmart their adversary to figure out how their opponent was cheating. In fact, some of my favorite games being played by Team Blank had very little action in it at all (Poker match, Word Association, Memory Game). The drama involved in creating a cunning plan or cheating is certainly exciting and fun for the audience. Plus it made the “battles” in No Game No Life feel extra important.
The opponents were equally smart and challenging throughout the series. While viewers expect the main characters to win more often than not, the ability of the opponents were not diminished. It reminded me of how One-Punch Man’s universe was built. We all know Saitama can defeat anyone with a single punch (or, at least, win any fight he’s in). The author was able to build up the other S-Class and A-Class heroes and not make them look weak or like decorations. Heroes like Atomic Samurai, Silver Fang, and Sweet Mask are not weak by any stretch of the imagination and were deliberately portrayed as competent. Similarly, in No Game No Life opponents are as intelligent and conniving as the heroes when they deal with games, and put Sora and Shiro on the ropes many times. So fans shouldn’t think about Team Blank as too overpowering, even if they are probably the smartest team in the world. No Game No Life isn’t typical of a lot of shows currently on Toonami. Most of the time the adversaries are looked at as merely a hurdle for the main characters (One Piece). However, I never had that vibe with No Game No Life, which makes it a refreshing choice if Toonami decides to pick up the series.
The art is hit or miss with fans, (I found it impressive) but the soundtrack is one of the better ones in anime. I think it could be a very satisfying show for Toonami viewers as Toonami Faithful Podcast host Sketch talked about in last week’s podcast. There are also a ton of humorous moments to go with it, and mixing in the drama of each game being virtually life or death would indeed keep the viewers’ interest.
Now there have been some who would love to see a sports anime show join Toonami in the future. However, Jason DeMarco has repeatedly stated that sports anime does not necessarily bring in lots of viewers, no matter how loyal fans are (like Haikyuu!!). But there is a Shonen Jump title that could do just that, and that show is Food Wars. While its official genre is comedy, it does have the same type of production values as a sports anime, making ordinary tasks extra dramatic. And when putting food/“foodgasms” into the equation, there’s a lot of potential with this title
While I think viewers would watch it due to the fan service, there is plenty of drama and “action” in this series. In Food Wars, fans watch Soma Yukihira attempt to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a world-class chef. Soma enrolls in the elite Tōtsuki Culinary Academy, where only 10 percent of students make it to graduation. So, as you can imagine, there is a ton of stress on the student body, and a lot of students try to get ahead by using underhanded tactics. It’s almost as if there’s a level of espionage in this series to go along with the humor, due to the level that students go to prepare for classes and battles.
There are many competitions called “Shokugeki” which you could also think of as the “fights” of the franchise. The main cast tries to prepare for these Shokugeki’s and develop cooking strategies to reach a level of flavor that is unrivaled. These battles are simply amazing to watch and create the kind of drama similar to what people enjoy in action series (at least it did for me).
These challenges are fun to watch, especially the drama when it appears that Soma will lose. But just like in No Game No Life and One-Punch Man, Soma doesn’t only destroy everyone and cause viewers to take his adversaries less seriously. These competitions feel like they are going down to the wire, and that either side could end up on top.
What probably gives Food Wars’ its biggest strength are the stare downs before a Shokugeki. The details of the eyes and faces in the manga and anime truly blow me away, especially in my favorite arc during the Autumn Elections. Those stare downs had me grinning from ear to ear, and eagerly awaited the next installment. I found them compelling since everyone thinks that Soma is outclassed by every other student. It’s like Ryuko Matoi in Kill la Kill; she has to beat every single person to prove she deserves a shot at fighting Student Body President Satsuki Kiryuin. Ryuko is an outsider and breaks the mold from the typical students at Honnoji Academy. She continues time and time again to go against the flow to prove how strong and powerful she is (and to figure out who murdered her father). The same is true for Soma in Food Wars. He needs to defeat everyone in his class as well as the upperclassmen to show that he was justified in talking smack during matriculation and that he is worthy of graduating from his elite cooking school.
There has been a lot of talk about how Psycho-Pass could make a surprise entrance to the Toonami lineup later this year. To me, Psycho-Pass is an excellent drama/cyberpunk series that grabs viewers’ attention with its combination of gruesome deaths and intellect. It’s much slower paced than the typical action shows on Toonami, which would make it an interesting choice. While I think this show would do very well, I think there’s a better science fiction show that would blow the minds of viewers. That series is the well-received Steins;Gate, which has won over the hearts of many anime fans.
What drew me to Steins;Gate was IGN’s Top 100 Anime Series to Watch Before You Die article. This series was ranked the 11th best show on that list, and I had never seen it. So I decided to check it out, and I still haven’t seen a show that was as compelling and gripping as this series. The direction the series travels toward is unpredictable and well written. Not only did it have the mystery that would keep viewers involved week after week, but it had hilarious humor (which shocked me due to the content of the series).
However, it’s not like Adult Swim hasn’t tried a mystery-centric show before. Detective Conan (better known in the U.S. as Cased Closed) bombed horribly when it aired on Adult Swim. I’m not trying to compare the two because Steins;Gate is in an entirely different ballpark than Cased Closed in many aspects. Steins;Gate is a series where you need to pay attention to every detail to see how everything fits together. And the time-travel/time machine aspect makes the story all the more interesting. Yes, timelines are mentioned a lot, which makes this a science fiction series (which Toonami fans are fond of).
Viewers are taken on a journey with Rintaro Okabe as he tries to create a time machine to thwart the “evil organization” he calls SERN. He builds a team to help reach his goal which seems to be productive. There doesn’t appear to be any consequences for what they are trying to do; that is until things go to hell in the later part of the series. It’s a show that will emotionally involve the audience, even more than Yuuki’s death did in Sword Art Online II. Just think, it only took one episode to bring out the emotion and waterworks, due to the death of ALO’s greatest player. Steins;Gate is an emotional roller coaster for multiple episodes, which might prove too much for some (I was going insane while watching this series). We learn what it means to be a tragic hero, thanks to Okabe, and it makes for great television. (Plus you honestly feel for Okabe as his character develops throughout the series).
There is some action in this series as well, which means that there will also be some fast-paced scenes to pick up the tempo. It’s the type of action that felt much more realistic than usual. Usually, there are guns involved in this show, making the action seem more important than a boss battle in a series like Naruto Shippuden. There are more consequences if a situation escalates to violence, which is more in line with how the real world works. So when stakes are high, the series can create a lot of suspense for viewers, wondering what will happen next.
These are just three shows that aren’t considered typical action shows that I think could make its way to the block. There are a ton of others that could become an asset for Toonami (Assassination Classroom being another show that comes to mind). I do believe that since the audience of the action block has grown, that the lineup should represent that as well. Yes, fans are given more grisly shows or mature anime when looking at a series such as Hellsing Ultimate, or an overly fanservice show such as Kill la Kill. But I believe that if Toonami added in other genres that highlight execution, compelling plot, and intellect, it would benefit them in the long run. I still enjoy simple series where characters beat each other up. However, there are days when I’d be more interested in a series along the lines of Terror in Resonance or Night Raid 1931. Balance is needed, so why not stretch the definition of what an action cartoon series is? If it has a couple of scenes with action, why not look into it, especially if it’s popular? It certainly couldn’t hurt, and it would be fun to see how the lineup would look if any of these shows were picked up.
Can you think of another drama-centric series that you think would perform well on Toonami? Leave your suggestion in the comment section or tweet C.J @SeaJayMaffris