Toonami is primarily known for bringing in new fans to anime. Thanks to the action block, my love for anime strengthened, and I have enjoyed nearly every one of their shows. While many equate Toonami strictly to anime, that was never Toonami’s ultimate goal. This block was mainly used to showcase action cartoons, whether it be anime or Western cartoons. Toonami has been able to pick up some of the best original action cartoons from Cartoon Network (Megas XLR, Samurai Jack, etc.). What is impressive, however, is how Toonami has never really let that mission statement go to waste, even if Toonami is only showing anime right now. Samurai Jack will be returning, and hopefully other Western cartoon shows will follow suit.
It feels like other shows either could have or would have done very well if they premiered on the action block. And when I say “done well”, I mean both for Toonami and the series. Back during their Cartoon Network days, action shows would have loved to premiere on the block when it was airing Monday–Friday. The popularity of the action block was at its peak during that time. So if Toonami could have stayed with that format, I could think of a few shows that would have been awesome to see. Even when it was eventually moved to Saturdays exclusively, there was still tremendous value being broadcast on Toonami. But several shows would have benefited from the Toonami faithful if they had aired on the block.
One of the first Western cartoons that could have benefited from Toonami is Young Justice. Young Justice was a show featuring young superheroes/sidekicks who wanted to gain more notoriety. Not only were fans able to observe the cast grow into adults, but it also delved into mature and compelling topics. It wasn’t just a superhero show, with everyone punching each other to stop the bad guy of the week (it had that, but that wasn’t the focal point). There were also backstories, love interests, and dangerous situations. Due to the excellent writing and production, many fans still miss this show. It would likely enjoy an enormous boost in popularity if it were placed in the action block lineup.
The biggest issue for Young Justice was that Toonami wasn’t around when this series was created. Young Justice had a one-hour debut back in 2010 and lasted just one season after that. I was surprised the show didn’t join the lineup when Toonami returned to Adult Swim in 2012. Young Justice was a relatively popular show, and many fans would have watched it on Toonami, considering that Batman Beyond, Beware the Batman, and Justice League Unlimited had been on before. Sadly, the show ended after just two seasons in 2013 (46 total episodes). I’m curious if that abrupt ending could have been avoided if it had been broadcast on Toonami, even if it was on as late as some of those other shows were (like 4 a.m.). I still see “fan theories” about the show returning, and if it does, I think it would be smart for Toonami to air it themselves (the interest is there, especially with a new Justice League series confirmed). The show has a fan following, and it could bring in new fans to the action block who aren’t necessarily fans of anime.
Another series I’m curious about is the Ben 10 franchise. The show is already popular and doesn’t need more notoriety from Toonami like other series might when airing on the action block. But I do think that if this franchise had been added to the rotation (as a premiere show), a younger audience would have frequented the block more (back in its Cartoon Network days). Not to mention that Ben 10’s fanbase would grow into the most mature shows Toonami airs (thus having a larger Toonami fanbase). The series first premiered in 2005, and the first series ran until 2008. It’s about a boy who finds a device called the “Omnitrix” that is considered the most valuable one in the universe. Ten-year-old Ben Tennyson uses this device to become Earth’s defender from aliens who are trying to steal the device. The show itself had some exciting fights and had deeper content than your average kid show (growing pains, betrayal by a friend, etc.). Plus, a lot of the alien character designs looked cool. This franchise became hugely popular, gained traction, and was able to generate four series, with a total of 200 episodes between them.
Before Toonami was off the air, Ben 10 Alien Force (second season) did air from May until its eventual shutdown. So Toonami at one point thought that the show would benefit the block. However, they were reruns of episodes already shown on Cartoon Network. It was not a premiere like Toonami is usually interested in. It took a much darker tone than the first series so that this particular show would have fit the current Toonami mold. Toonami isn’t necessarily looking for young viewers (especially with the content they are showing now). However, after Alien Force, I haven’t kept up with the Ben 10 franchise. I’m not sure if these later series continue to fit the darker tones and deep stories. If the series continues to grow (in content) and in popularity then it would fit on Toonami, considering that the block has grown with their fans as well.
(Also Ben 10 is being revived just like Samurai Jack, so if it’s content becomes more mature then maybe it could be a Toonami premiere. However, if it is just the same stuff (just rehashed) there’s no way that Toonami would want it.)
But what about a series that had reruns air during Toonami’s Adult Swim run? Just like Ben 10 Alien Force, other Cartoon Network shows have made it to Toonami during their revival on Adult Swim. Look no further than Sym-Bionic Titan. This series originally aired on Cartoon Network (it premiered in 2010 and ended in 2011), well before Toonami’s revival. In fact, this was the first Western cartoon to be aired on the “new” Toonami. Created by Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack’s creator), Sym-Bionic Titan was about an alien princess (Ilana), a soldier (Lance), and an android (Octus) who land on Earth and try to blend in with Earthlings to avoid being captured by their enemies. Throw in some humor, and high school drama and you have a solid show, especially for Cartoon Network. Sym-Bionic Titan was a lot darker than some would have assumed, which made it a great series for Toonami. However, due to a few issues (like no merchandise deals in place), the series was only given 20 episodes. I bet if this show were solely made with Toonami in mind it would have had at least a couple more seasons.
There have been other Western cartoons that had reruns play on Toonami, like Star Wars: the Clone Wars and Beware the Batman. Both were taken off the block (Beware the Batman in an odd way), which might lead others to believe that Western cartoons won’t ever perform well on the action block. That stigma should be erased, especially with Samurai Jack reviving. And there are a couple of other Western cartoons that could make its way to Toonami that would balance out the hold anime has on the action block. The cast for the Toonami Faithful Podcast have mentioned Cannon Busters for a while, and I certainly think that it would be a fun show to have on the block. Founder of Toonamifaithful.com Paul Pescrillo also gave fans a huge update on SWAT Kats Revolution, and how it could find its way to Toonami if the fans call for it. So there are grittier and darker shows that fit Toonami’s style that isn’t an anime series and could come into the fold at a later date.
There were quite a few opportunities that series missed due to Toonami not being available. I whole-heartedly believe that if Toonami hadn’t shut down back in 2008 that some of these shows would have garnered more fans and more episodes. Plus another demographic that Toonami hasn’t had for a while would come back in droves. Adding the anime fans and Western cartoon fans could make Toonami a real powerhouse when it comes to ratings and fandom (even more than it is now). So with the action block back in full force, I believe that newer action cartoons made in the U.S. are a viable option for the block, and something that many fans of Toonami would be happy to see.
C.J Maffris is an editorial writer for Toonamifaithful.com. One of his favorite Western cartoons is Static Shock and Teen Titans. He also wishes Teen Titans did not turn into Teen Titans Go! Feel free to talk about your favorite Western cartoons on Toonami with him on Twitter @SeaJayMaffris