The past four months have been rough. Our lives have been affected by the recent coronavirus pandemic for most of the year. Toonami was bound to come upon some road-blocks due to the circumstances, considering how everything in the world came to a standstill. Early in the year, the programming department started culling the block into a leaner, more manageable three-hour space. The Toonami crew soon found themselves having trouble programming even three hours without including some material that had already aired on Adult Swim. Every time a premiere was replaced by rerun, frustration toward Toonami grew. I maintain a firm stance that whatever Toonami does when the whole world is facing a pandemic largely does not matter. While I sympathize with anyone who uses Toonami as a way to escape reality, we cannot expect the Toonami crew to provide as much fresh content as they usually do when their budget and supply chain have been impacted to a significant degree. I have rolled with the punches regarding most of Toonami’s recent setbacks. I welcomed both Paranoia Agent and Ballmastrz, and I did not sweat the My Hero Academia (MHA) reruns. I was fully prepared for Toonami to keep rerunning My Hero Academia season four at the start of the block once it finished, but I was hoping they would try out something different as the headliner. There was only one thing I did not want them to do, but Toonami went down that road. I did not want them to crawl back to Dragon Ball and continue to use a crutch that isn’t needed any longer.
I want to start by saying I do not hate Dragon Ball. I will always have a place in my heart for the franchise. However, I have developed a disdain for Toonami’s reliance on Dragon Ball Z Kai (DBZ Kai) and Dragon Ball Super (DBS), especially now as Toonami has grown to what it is. I assure you, I was not a fan of Toonami’s excessive use of Dragon Ball Z (DBZ) back in the Cartoon Network days as well. I am thankful that our current block does not consist of two to three hours of just Dragon Ball. I find it refreshing when Toonami stays away from the similar path they made before their revival on Adult Swim. It was a great relief when the Dragon Ball power hour came to an end after a year and a half, giving Toonami the chance to try something daring and new (not relying on Dragon Ball).
Since 2014, I have maintained a peaceful co-existence with Toonami’s over-reliance on Dragon Ball. The first run episodes always did well; only One-Punch Man could out-rate a few Dragon Ball episodes that aired directly before it. While it is my opinion that the weekly experience felt weighed down by a bloated hour of Goku and friends, I could not argue with the results. Those rerun marathons generally did well, so it is no surprise that they had a lot of them. Oddly enough, Adult Swim’s pairing of Family Guy and Dragon Ball seemed to work exceptionally well. You might not think a fast-paced animated sitcom would share an audience with a slow-paced serial action show that peppers in comedy, but many people who grew up in the early 2000s have a deep-rooted appreciation for both. Whatever the actual reason is, I can at least understand why a series like My Hero Academia which features a young protagonist learning to be a hero, does not have the same appeal to the viewers of Family Guy and Dragon Ball Super. I lament the fact that One-Punch Man was only the headliner of Toonami on its own marathon nights because I think it is the one other action anime that could have had a similar kind of crossover audience with Family Guy that Dragon Ball Super does. It goes without question that I would rather see reruns of One-Punch Man leading Toonami this July instead of DBS.
Is airing Dragon Ball Super reruns at the start of Toonami a terrible thing to do? Given the current circumstances, it’s debatable. Since the show is likely still under contract and therefore would not cost extra to re-air, it would arguably be a misuse of the broadcast rights not to show it again. However, Toonami is not the only place where Adult Swim can broadcast DBS, and the block is currently suffering a drought for fresh content. Airing DBS reruns on Toonami would be one thing, making those reruns the head-liner of the block is where I take issue. Historically, leading the block with reruns has had disastrous results. They tried this with Attack on Titan, Samurai Jack (just to name a few), and ended up cutting off their second runs due to poor performance. The bar is set relatively low right now, and the recent string of My Hero Academia reruns didn’t do that badly, but there is still a bar. Leading the block with a rerun for a few weeks does not always drag the rest of the line-up down, but this method is usually used to buy time for new episodes or another show.
The second broadcast of Attack on Titan season one is the best example of how difficult it is for the rest of the block to overcome a rerun leading Toonami. That said, reruns of Dragon Ball Super probably will do as well or better than the premieres of other shows, because of its popularity. Aside from that, the familiarity of Dragon Ball Super might bring comfort and normality to some viewers. While I rolled my eyes at the dialogue of Toonami’s recent DBS marathon promo, the declaration that “American runs on Dragon Ball Super” does ring true for many people. Some folks love a DBZ Kai or DBS marathon, and a great many people don’t feel like Toonami is whole unless the block leads with it. But Dragon Ball has had its time and then some, and I would prefer for Toonami to move on.
What frustrates me the most is it finally looked like they WERE going to stray away from Dragon Ball. When DBS ended, Toonami only kept it around for about a month before My Hero Academia took over. It took the better part of five years for Toonami to bid farewell to Goku, but I was looking forward to seeing what the block would do with its absence. My Hero Academia’s popularity made it the best choice to lead Toonami going forward, but its finite season lengths meant it would either have to share the position with other shows or rely on reruns for at least half of the year. The possibilities were exciting but also worrisome. Having MHA reruns lead Toonami made a statement that Adult Swim believed in that series the same way they believed in DBS for so long. But not only did MHA get booted off Toonami entirely, but it also lost its early morning weekday rerun slot out of the blue. Those two things may or may not be related, but the result is MHA not rerunning anywhere on the network while DBZ Kai gets an hour of Saturday nights, and DBS reclaims the first slot on Toonami. The preferential treatment Dragon Ball receives compared to other anime on Adult Swim is enough to make just about anyone dislike the franchise, at least a little bit.
My Hero Academia had several pit-stops on the way to completing season four on Toonami, so it should have finished a while ago. The question that remains is, what were they going to do if MHA’s dub had not had production delays due to COVID-19? While it is entirely possible that some other plans were thrown out due to the supply issues and the limited budget, it seems more like plan A was always to bring back DBS. While DBZ Kai has had the 8 p.m. hour on Saturday nights for a while now, DBS has been surprisingly absent since last fall. Adult Swim made good use of DBS reruns in the 8 p.m. hour on weeknights for a while, but the programming department did not bring DBS back to the weeknights after the show had finally finished. You would think that a show with about 130 episodes with a history of doing well on weeknights, would get some additional re-airings on weeknights. Adult Swim is continually struggling to keep PG-level programming in the 8 p.m. hour, and DBS is ideal for that. They may very well have been letting DBS rest with the intention to bring it back to Toonami when MHA’s season had concluded. I might be overthinking it but it seems reasonable enough to me.
I want to believe that co-productions like Uzumaki and Blade Runner: Black Lotus will start at the top of the block, but I could easily see every acquisition end up airing after DBS reruns if they do well enough. Which in part, is one of the main reasons why I was frustrated to see the return of Dragon Ball. I would like to see other anime get a shot in that coveted time slot. It might be the only time slot of Toonami that casual viewers will check out before flipping the channel. We will never know what other anime are capable of on their own merits if they are always hanging on Goku’s coattails.
I mentioned earlier that I cut Toonami a lot of slack this year. I accepted just about every cut-back and schedule shake-up since we are all dealing with a pandemic. I made no fuss over MHA reruns, shows having dub production delays, and the inclusion of some choice reruns. I respect the Toonami staff, and I believe they have been working against unforeseeable forces to provide fans a quality block of anime every week. They have honestly done an impeccable job and should be applauded for being able to continue without missing a weekend. Due to their limited budget, I have reasoned that it was best not to cycle in all their new content early in the year. It made sense to hold off on introducing more new content when there were still five premieres or four premieres, but I strongly feel that MHA should have been replaced by a series that hasn’t aired on the block before. It’s July now, half the year is over, and two network reruns and an additional season of Sword Art Online are the only new content that cycled into the block this year.
With DBS taking the only sure opening, July looks to be more of the same, but there will be at least a couple of opportunities in August. Having Fire Force and Mob Psycho 100 season two premiere would liven up the place, but it would still be a bit disappointing to see network premieres get stuck behind DBS reruns. I’d be a lot less concerned about DBS reruns leading the night if Toonami regained some or all of the 11 p.m. hour. Maybe they can at least get 11:30 p.m. back, so whatever fresh material they might get does not have to air at 1 a.m. or later.
I am honestly disappointed that Toonami did not try something else. I realize they have to meet the network’s expectations, but I’d like to think that there is something else they could have done. Now I wonder if Toonami will ever be ready to fully let Dragon Ball go. I can see why they would be hesitant to completely move on but they have to evolve to survive at some point. While I’m sure more Dragon Ball properties will be made, it won’t happen at a constant where Toonami could feel comfortable. It feels like they will inevitably undercut other shows and only ever attract Dragon Ball fans if they don’t branch out and find other shows that can hold the torch. Of course, other tent-pole franchises like Bleach and InuYasha will be making a comeback in the years to come, and one of them can probably take the reins in 2021 or 2022. In the meantime, Toonami will return to “old reliable” but hopefully not at the cost of the potential of other series. All that said, if you’re happy that Dragon Ball Super is returning to Toonami, then more power to you.
Andrew “Sketch” Hingson is the COO at Toonamifaithful.com. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @Sketch1984
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