Toonami has changed a great deal since it returned to TV but were all the changes to the programming for the better? What has been gained and what has been lost? These are the things I intend to examine in this discussion. Let me know what you think in the comment section below and feel free to e-mail me comments and suggestions at AndrewHingson@ToonamiFaithful.com -Andew “Sketch” Hingson
Back in Spring of 2012 when Toonami was announced to return there were hundreds of fans asking for the most popular Japanese cartoons and shows Toonami played in prior years. Many of those fans were in turn rather underwhelmed when the initial line-up contained four shows that were already airing on Adult Swim along with the dub premiere of Deadman Wonderland and the basic cable premiere of Casshern Sins, two shows detractors claimed nobody asked for. They also claimed the block was just the same action block with a new wrapper and none of the shows airing were “Toonami shows”, they were too dark and moody. The new wrapper opinion was justified but I felt the other opinion was misguided.
Adult Swim Action from inception was an extension of Toonami at heart, packaged by the same creative individuals. Toonami eventually pawned off its more mature side to ASA taking The Big O, Outlaw Star and Tenchi with it because it was easier to keep those shows around on Adult Swim than daytime Cartoon Network and they did better with adults anyway. However even with ASA around, Toonami still got Kenshin, Cyborg 009, Naruto, Gundam and took Yu Yu Hakusho from ASA. Each very dark when they wanted to be. So while Toonami would never air Paranoia Agent or Death Note, most of the shows on ASA were “Toonami material”, thus when ASA was rebranded it was no less Toonami to me than Toonami circa 2000 and 2001. The only difference was the broadcast timeframe and the lack of censorship. Eureka 7 and Samurai 7 only added to that in my opinion while ThunderCats and Sym-Bionic fully cemented the idea that the block was just as much Toonami as prior Toonami blocks on CN were.
I believe the detractors did not agree because their concept of Toonami was more or less limited to the kinds of shows that were on the block when they liked it. The latest mainstream targeted imports mixed with American action cartoons is all some of them felt Toonami should ever air despite the variety of shows that graced the block that did not fit that criteria. They preferred the years when what was on Toonami was largely out of Atkins’ and DeMarco’s hands, As opposed to the years where they picked up the shows they most wanted to air. They built a powerhouse and then were benched besides making the package. The success of Dragon Ball Z drew the attention of other distributors hoping to get their shows onto Toonami. Don’t get me wrong, that era had some great shows and getting the latest imports was neat but eventually it was not attracting enough of the core demographic so they scrapped it. Neither era is inherently better, both had good points and bad ones.
Once Toonami proved worth investing in by making the most of a small budget in 2012 they seemed to immediately shift focus toward claiming the biggest players available granting the requests of many fans asking for the most popular shows and old favorites. Now I feel Toonami is less uncensored circa 2001 and more uncensored circa 2006 with a little 2001 in the mix late at night. Naruto, One Piece, IGPX and Big O have all been on Toonami before in some manner, the first three in 2006. That’s kind of neat but even I have to admit this isn’t what I thought I was signing up for. Cowboy Bebop and allegedly Sword Art Online are the only shows on the block that were made for mature audiences regardless of the content present in the other shows. They are finally delivering on airing a brand new show but Sword Art Online is somewhat infamous. Now the detractors are complaining that Toonami is only playing popular shows and not giving any exposure to neglected titles. I can see where they are coming from but I find it ironic that getting much of what they asked for instead of spotlighting underdogs like Deadman and Casshern is now a problem to them. I kind of always assumed giving into their demands for the latest and greatest was not going to satisfy them but I’m sure the reason Toonami got those popular shows besides just liking them, is because they are trying to get good ratings and sure enough it worked. It is a compromise for longevity sake but we’ve reached the point when I question if they compromised a bit too much trying to air the most mainstream shows found in a niche industry and are rarely thinking outside of the box anymore.
While I can say that One Piece is really all I need to be content and I’m eternally grateful for it airing, Toonami has all but filed off any sharp edges it had in 2012 in its’ peculiar gamble to run the most mainstream niche imports. While they keep playing Cowboy Bebop like it is going out of style, they are not adding anything else for the Bebop crowd and I’m starting to find that frustrating. Where is Michiko & Hatchin, Darker than Black, Trigun, Samurai Champloo, Tiger & Bunny, Baccano and Black Lagoon? Why are none of these kinds of shows airing except Cowboy Bebop? Where’s the shows like Deadman Wonderland or Samurai 7? Future Diary and Sengoku Basara could use a good home. I realize some shows are too crass or too violent but this is Adult Swim so that should not be as much of a problem anymore. It is great to have uncensored Naruto and One Piece but uncensored kids shows should not be all Toonami is about. Put the “adult” back into Adult Swim.
I see Toonami as the last bastion of action animation for viewers older than fourteen on basic cable and as such I’d like to see it act like it. Ideally the block would have shows made for it with young adult audiences in mind but if the best we can do for now is borrow adult targeted cartoons from Japan then at least do more of that. Toonami won’t get any more mainstream with Japanese kids’ cartoons than it already is. Bleach, Naruto and One Piece are more than enough and have built a strong platform for greater risks, now all they need to do is capitalize on that to draw attention to lesser know more adult shows. What we have now is much more like the Toonami people wanted back but I feel their attempts to appease everyone have weakened their creative spark and that is not an equivalent exchange my television alchemists.