That was quite an April Fools stunt Toonami pulled this year. I dare say it rivals the stunt that brought Toonami back on the air back in 2012. They put so much effort into that night and you could just feel the love. I had considered FLCL airing in some capacity but was quite surprised by the subtitled airing. However, I never would have guessed Toonami would air a subtitled movie as a prank. Airing Mind Game on this rare opportunity made for a tremendous treat. You would not expect to see that air on American television, much less basic cable. It is a spectacle like only animation director Masaaki Yuasa can give you. The broadcast of film from Yuasa was timely, considering the recent hype surrounding his Devilman series on Netflix. Airing that was really going the extra mile to make the night special on top of the sneak peek at FLCL Alternative. Those two things would have been more than enough fun but they went a mile further still by airing subtitled episodes of most of their usual line-up. If you told me that one day I’d see Japanese JoJo, Hunter x Hunter, Naruto Shippuden, Space Dandy, Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell on Toonami, I’d say you were off your rocker, and yet it happened. Hearing Joseph Joestar’s marvelous Engrish on Toonami was some superb icing on this already wonderful cake. Even TOM and Sara were speaking Japanese. Toonami went full-on weeb and it was a sight to behold. That night proves without a shadow of a doubt that the Toonami crew are capable of brilliant nights of television still. So I have to ask myself, why does the rest of Toonami lately feel so uninspired?
It has been a rough couple of months for Toonami apologetics. The block ended 2017 with the shocking addition of the broadcast dub of Black Clover and an even earlier start time. It wasn’t good news for everyone but it indicated that the network had no intention of pulling support from Toonami. Spirits were lifted, at least for those of us who were not buying into the fear mongering about Toonami’s performance in 2017 but appreciated some assurance. The future seemed full of promise with this newly expanded Toonami block as January began but I guess we should have curbed our expectations sooner. The first half of the year was not going to go like any of us thought it would.
As I’m sure you know by now, every time a show is nearing its conclusion, fan speculation runs wild. When Lupin was about to sneak away the speculation machine was on full blast as Toonami seemed to be waiting until the last minute to announce something. Then they finally did announce something, that something was a “victory lap” for Space Dandy. Considering Dandy is a series I have wanted Toonami to rerun since 2015, I was pretty content with that move. They’ve only aired the second season once after all. It did immediately raise some red flags but for most faithful those flags were lowered once Jason said they had another show to replace Lupin but couldn’t get it on the air in time. That’s not terribly unusual for Toonami. I was immediately reminded of early 2016 when they grabbed Samurai Champloo because they couldn’t get The Woman Called Fujiko Mine on the air, though in that case, it was a content issue, that show has way too much nudity to air on basic cable. Not long after announcing Dandy’s return Jason and Gill had another Q&A where they mentioned they were actually looking into anime from other genres for Toonami but there was nothing said of the show that was supposed to replace Lupin and fans were left to ponder just how far out of their comfort zone they were willing to go. Detractors balked at the lack of announcements and apologetics started to sweat just a little bit.
With the promise of another show coming eventually, thoughts turned to what will happen once Outlaw Star finished. Fans like myself who pay a little too much attention to schedules realized that Outlaw Star would finish two weeks before the last day of March. Adult Swim’s history with the last day of March was more than enough evidence to believe they were going to preempt most of Toonami to do something out of the ordinary once the clock struck midnight. Doubling up Cowboy Bebop the week before that made a lot of sense so that is what speculators gravitated toward. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. They doubled up Bebop and the following weekend they pulled an April Fools stunt that is gonna be hard to top. During the stunt, there were no English promos for anything Toonami related so we were left wondering just what the heck they were planning to air the following Saturday. With no word on Facebook and future schedules blocked out, we were totally in the dark. All we had to go off of was some speculation regarding shows that will have dubs soon and more talk from Jason about broadening the scope of the block in the coming year. They did make a show announcement but it was a finalized air-date and time of FLCL Progressive for June 2nd at 11:30 PM and the promise of FLCL Alternative airing in September. That is much bigger news than whatever would replace Outlaw Star was but it was also something we knew was coming in this year. It did, however, give us something to plug into the speculated schedule and the 11:30 PM premiere created more questions than answers. It was also convenient that new FLCL would air slightly more than six weeks after March 31s but even with a highly probable marathon for Memorial Day weekend they would finish the original FLCL one week before that if it showed up on the schedule on April 7th. It was certainly do-able even if they ended up keeping double Bebop another week before scaling it back down to one episode for a second full run. I certainly hoped it was not just a rerun of FLCL and another run of Bebop starting up but I did not have expectations of both Bebop slots going to premieres either. Detractors assumed the lack of any announcements was a sign that nothing new was coming before Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans wraps up but I tried to keep an open mind and not assume that Toonami had “nothing” to replace Outlaw Star and Cowboy Bebop with.
It was not until earlier this evening that a promo aired on Adult Swim giving us a hint of what was to come. They announced that the 11:30 PM slot would contain a rebroadcast of the entire Toonami event Countdown followed by another airing of Scavengers. The promo had some fun banter in it making a nice nod to their April Fools broadcast. That’s got to be one of the most bizarre one-off airings of anything on Toonami thus far. They’ve streamed the full cut of an event on Toonami Pre-Flight before but they’ve never run the full cut of one on air. Once again fans were left with more questions than answers but speculation turned toward either a broadcast dub of a new Spring season anime from Japan or a timely rerun of the original FLCL. Given it dealt with the dilemma of having seven weeks instead of six to rerun FLCL, that’s where I planted my flag. It made the most sense even if it was far from the most exciting prospect. While premiering FLCL sequels after the Dragon Ball hour seems like a bit of a disservice to an original co-production, re-airing the original series that early in the block seems too generous even if it arguably is more important to the performance of the block this year than most of what Toonami is airing right now. The fact that Progressive was set for 11:30 PM got me thinking they might actually rerun the original right after Dragon Ball Z Kai, they do love to keep that schedule consistent after all. I couldn’t shake the thought that they were actually going to do it for better or worse. Sometimes I hate it when I’m right. Hours later, another promo aired announcing the original FLCL would return to Toonami on April 14th at 11:30 PM. And with that we now know what they’ve been hiding and like I said before, it’s not the most exciting prospect. Part of me feels this is just fine and FLCL should air that early in the block this one time but another part of me can’t help but feel like Toonami was in need of something fresh in that slot. At the very least I expect a tsunami of salt from the skeptics and the detractors.
I can think of quite a few personalities who will eat this news up and exclaim that Toonami is continuing its downward spiral into a meaningless existence. What I hate the most is that I am starting to agree with some of those opinions. I’m having a bit of a crisis of faith as it were, though not to extend others are because I feel I keep my expectations realistic. Extra reruns and I.O.U.’s in of themselves aren’t really a problem but it’s the sheer number of them this year that have me questioning just what Toonami and the Adult Swim programming department are thinking right now. Hopefully, they’re saving the big guns for later this year to play along-side new FLCL but the way I see it the best time of the year to launch shows on Toonami is in the first quarter of the year before Holiday weekends are plentiful. I don’t subscribe to the belief that marathon breaks have killed Toonami’s momentum in any significant way but I definitely do not think they help maintain momentum for new shows as they are airing. As a viewer, I too get frustrated when I have to wait an extra week for the next episode. I do not always feel that way but plenty of Toonami’s shows end episodes of cliffhangers and waiting for those can make a guy want to hop over to Crunchyroll, Hulu or FUNimation’s app to see what happens next even if it isn’t dubbed. That is an option we never had back in the day. We really are spoiled now but Toonami has to at least try to keep up with the convenience of watching anime on streaming services or they’re sure to lose viewers. A more robust on-demand streaming library could help but that’s an opinion for another editorial.
When Holiday weekends interrupt a broadcast dub that is mere weeks behind Japan, it is rather irksome that Toonami is holding the show up. People do not take kindly to that and I can at least somewhat agree with them. I am at the point where I don’t think distributors should have to hold off on uploading episodes if Toonami is going to delay those premieres because of a Holiday weekend. Adult Swim could stand to be more willing to adapt if they want to run simuldubs like Space Dandy and Attack on Titan season 2. The solution may be to just stay three or four weeks behind Japan so no additional delays occur but we all know plenty of people will watch shows subbed now instead of waiting even a week for a dub. That’s how our microwave popcorn society lives and there is no changing those expectations.
Maybe it is largely fruitless to go after the flavors of the month in this day and age. Toonami cannot beat simulcasts or piracy more often than not and because of that they either get a show too late or miss the boat entirely. More and more Toonami worthy action anime are not getting dubs or not airing on TV because Amazon or Netflix has them lock stock and barrel. That’s one of the main reasons why they’re looking toward anime that are outside their comfort zone. They know they’ve got nearly all the big name action shows they can get already so they have to think outside the box to keep things fresh. I welcome the new way of thinking but I challenge the notion that there’s not enough action shows to provide a good variety.
Maybe they are having a harder time getting those shows then we think but it is just as likely that they are not able to identify more viable action candidates because their inboxes are flooded with the same tired shounen anime and OG Toonami suggestions that drown out the less noticeable options. When people are still asking for them to pick up Dragon Ball Super, which has been airing for over a year now, you know you’re not dealing with observant fans. Fans did request Outlaw Star but did they show up for it? I found it disturbing how many viewers dropped off from Naruto before Outlaw Star aired. The fact that Outlaw Star even lost to the umpteenth rerun of Cowboy Bebop some weeks paints the picture that people requested Outlaw Star but they did not actually show up for to watch it. Say what you will about how many times they’ve aired Cowboy Bebop over the years but people still show up for that.
There are very vocal fans who felt Toonami screwed over Outlaw Star and they should have aired it earlier in the block. I disagree on both accounts but then I see them roll out of red carpet for the original FLCL and question if maybe an earlier slot for Outlaw Star might have worked alright. Even so, I don’t think it would have helped enough and I also don’t think old Gundam series or Yu Yu Hakusho would actually do much better. Maybe the nostalgia didn’t hold up well enough for Gene and the crew and if that is the case, then I seriously doubt even Gundam Wing would do particularly well on this Toonami. Maybe Sailor Moon could if they could wrestle it away from Hulu but they’d just air Crystal I’m sure. Needless to say the comment section on Toonami’s Facebook page is not a great place to gauge the actual interest level for various shows that could air on Toonami.
Everybody has a different idea of what will “save the block”, myself included but purely from a personal interest point. I cannot say I know exactly what Toonami should do but I don’t think it would hurt to air some action shows that are underexposed. There are plenty of those to look into before they need to try other genres to escape their self-imposed Shonen Jump prison. That’s another thing that I can finally agree on, they have way too many long-running shounen right now and it feels so monotonous. All of those shows have fans and everyone tends to have a favorite among them but they really did not need to have them all airing at the same time. I never really liked the idea of a Dragon Ball hour but I accepted it because I figured it would be good for the block as a whole. It remains to be seen if it was or was not because there is really no way to prove anything else would have done better directly after Dragon Ball Super but there have been plenty of shows that did not hold DBZ Kai well.
What I still do not agree with is the notion that the Dragon Ball hour has hurt other shows. I might be willing to believe that if those other shows were airing after 1:00 AM but when those shows are at 11:30 PM and Midnight I have to heavily question the validity of those complaints. Toonami used to start in that hour and any show is lucky to end up there. Why should it matter what airs directly before them when they’re on that early? I suppose you could argue that they’re too far away from the Family Guy to be noticed by the rest of the audience but for people who like those shows its simple enough to skip the Dragon Ball hour and start watching after that. I know plenty of people who do exactly that. If those shows are struggling it is not because they are behind DBZ Kai and further away from Dragon Ball Super or Family Guy, it’s because they just aren’t grabbing as much of an audience as Dragon Ball does. That’s fine and nothing to get worked up over because most anime cannot compete with Dragon Ball. As long as the shows are still airing what does it matter? Cable is way down from prior years and it can be seen in the ratings of pretty much everything except Cable News. Jason and Gill keep saying the block has become a greater priority for the network and the performance has been more than acceptable. I still do not think that’s just damage control because if Toonami was doing badly then it would be losing slots by now and not be running seven premieres at a time. So Toonami’s probably doing just fine.
I stress that they could still bring in a lot of content later this year but things have become quite dry lately. The April Fools stunt has been the only thrilling thing they have aired in four months and I really hope they did not blow the value of a show on that one night, but they very well may have. Was it enough spice for four months? Debatable but it was truly special. Toonami has gone from having nine premieres down to seven and while I still think seven is a lot and eight would be quite generous, the fact that six of them are battle shounen does make that number seem like less than it really is. I do not think Toonami owes us more premieres and I don’t think they need to premiere shows at 2:30 AM anymore but the lack of variety before the reruns really compounds the how monotonous the schedule has become. Even if you love shounen it’s way too much of a good thing. The block lacks balance and it makes some fans long for line-ups like we had in 2015 or 2014 or even 2013 and 2012 before they had much of a budget. Everyone who requested a long-running shounen is to blame for the current state of the block. I am guilty of it as well but in my defense, I always said I was willing to trade One Piece for JoJo or Hunter x Hunter as not to increase the number. I was thrilled when they got both and still had One Piece but was somewhat relieved when One Piece left until Black Clover showed up negating that move for at least a year. But I digress, these shows have reason to air but I honestly feel they got too many of them at the same time. They wanted block stability and they got it in spades. I figure that’s the trade-off for getting original co-productions and maybe some short shows rotating in later this year but it is none the less monotonous. I’m sure by now hearing me say monotonous has also become monotonous.
I like to talk about Toonami with skeptics and diehard fans alike. I like to see where they’re coming from when the block no longer interests them. People ask me why I do this but its honestly part of my enjoyment of the block aside from watching the shows themselves. Despite the toxicity that’s apparent in every fan base I enjoy the debates even when I feel like I’m talking to a brick wall. I try to see Toonami’s decisions from their perspective and a business perspective and build my own perspective somewhere in between. However, at this point, it has finally gotten old. I’m tired of the constant whining. I should probably stay away from social media and Toonami fandom for a while especially with the latest announcements underwhelming even an apologetic like myself. I wanted to barf out all my thoughts on the matter first though.
I trust that the Toonami crew knows what they are doing and they have their reasons for the lack of activity in recent months but I do not have high expectations for any fresh content coming in before May. It’s just another a month away but it takes us nearly halfway through the year. You can only justify the I.O.U.’s for so long and I can’t help but feel like they squandered an opportunity to bring in something fresh when Outlaw Star ended and even when Lupin did. We have no idea how difficult it actually has become to get more shows for Toonami but there are also companies that regularly profess how their desire to have their anime on Toonami, so it is hard to believe they had no options for replacing Lupin much less Outlaw Star. It makes sense to push FLCL now but since that’s a rerun they could have at least gotten something else to air instead of Cowboy Bebop again. Maybe that’s not fair to them with everything that we know they’re working on but it’s how I feel. They do not owe us anything but that does not mean they are not capable of building a better cartoon show. All that said, I still look forward to seeing what Toonami does this year and hope for the best but for now, I’m thoroughly non-plus. Thanks for reading.
Andrew “Sketch” Hingson
Editor in Chief of ToonamiFaithful.com