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2002 - Anime on TV in Review

by George Phillips,
Beginning in 2001, anime exploded onto North American in volumes never seen before... and of course, this trend continued into 2002, with no fewer than 25 different anime series airing across the various TV stations and networks. Never before has anime been so easy to find in America. The days of watching Dragon Ball Z at 5 AM Sunday mornings are gone, and anime is now an integral part of most, if not all major networks' broadcasts.

Much like television itself, anime on TV can be easily divided into two parts: Network and Cable. Network broadcast stations reach significantly larger numbers of viewers; Cable "narrowcast" stations are free to specialize on certain types of video entertainment.

Networks, such as FOX and WB, continue to carry the most popular series with the "average" TV viewer. WB carries Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, while FOX airs Kinnikuman, Kirby, and Fighting Foodons.

Pokémon's decline in merchandise sales indicates a loss in interest with the series. However, the show itself continues to garner millions of viewers every Saturday. The Pokémon Trading Card Game and the Nintendo video games continue to be strong sellers in the retail market. With a new Pokémon season due to air this fall, as well as new Pokémon video games for the Gameboy Advance coming out this year, we may even see a revival of interest in Pokémon. However, it is doubtful that Pokémon will ever return to the stature it had in 1999 and early 2000.

Yu-Gi-Oh!, the other major WB show, also shares video games as well as a card game, providing multiple ways for fans to become involved in the show. While hardcore anime fans might hate to admit it, when Pokémon's youthful fandom grew up, they fell right into the target demographics of Yu-Gi-Oh! and Dragon Ball Z. In the meantime, a new TV generation is rapidly growing up with Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, and will almost certainly progress to other series, much like their predecessors did.

4Kids Entertainment, owners of Pokémon, bid on and won rights to the out-going FOX KIDS block, and replaced it with the "Fox Box", a collection of other, equally bizarre series. Kinnikuman, Kirby, and Fighting Foodons all grace FOX's Saturday morning line-up. None of these shows truly stand out as unique or interesting for most anime fans, children recognize that they, much like Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, are other anime. These shows begin to reveal the wide range of anime genres, from slapstick comedy to high-paced action and beyond.

The Cable channels are the other side of anime on TV, and there are plenty of series that are noteworthy. The most noteworthy of all channels is certainly Cartoon Network and its two anime-showing blocks: Toonami and Adult Swim.

Some of the new anime shows that Toonami broadcast this year included Hamtaro, Zoids, and G Gundam. Although the popularity of these three shows doesn't match the popularity of Toonami's flagship show, Dragon Ball Z, each contributed to the increasing diversity of anime on Cartoon Network. Hamtaro is a cute show about hamsters that have a secret clubhouse and go on adventures all around their town. Although billed as the successor to Pokémon (based on its success in Japan), the series produced an enormous burst of hype when it first aired. In fact, two Zoids series aired; one highlighting a war between two factions, and one about a battle tournament involving the giant mechanized Zoids.

The other major anime block on Cartoon Network was Adult Swim. Due to the Terrorist Attacks in 2001, several episodes of Cowboy Bebop were removed from the original broadcast lineup due to questionable content. A few months after the attacks, Cartoon Network granted permission for these “missing” broadcasts to air, with no significant cuts.

Beginning February 23rd, 2002, Cartoon Network expanded Adult Swim by adding Yū Yū Hakusho to their Adult Swim lineup, as well as spinning off Adult Swim into two distinct segments; a Saturday Action block, and a Sunday comedy block. Pilot Candidate, Gundam 0083, Outlaw Star, and Tenchi Muyo! joined Cowboy Bebop and Yū Yū Hakusho to kick off the start of the new block. Six months later, on August 30, the Saturday Adult Swim block changed again, adding Mobile Suit Gundam and the long-awaited Inu-Yasha to the lineup. Once again, Cartoon Network moved Adult Swim from weekends to weekdays; a move intended to help the lineup focus on its intended audience: Adults.

Cartoon Network, however, wasn't the only channel to pick up anime. The International Channel, which carries programming in many different languages, picked up Slayers and the Irresponsible Captain Tyler for its audiences. ABC Family aired Medabots and Shinzo over the summer, and now regularly run episodes of Beyblade and Tokyo Pig on weekends. Nickelodeon picked up the 1997 Speed Racer anime. The new Speed Racer is Nickelodeon's first anime since Littl' Bits left the network in 1995.

Of course, the two biggest names in televised anime only appeared late in the year. The biggest announcement was the fact that North American fans would finally have a dedicated all-Anime cable channel. Other outfits had frequently talked about it, but finally someone was doing it, and not just anybody, but one of the biggest North American Anime companies: ADV Films. At the time of its announcement, this was perhaps the biggest news of 2002. However, when full details finally arrived, fans were somewhat disappointed. Most fans, who had been anxiously awaiting the channel, learned that it would not immediately be available in their area. In fact, The Anime Network was only available in one North American city, Philadelphia. However, despite the less than grand launch, most fans remain hopeful that The Anime Network will grow and eventually be available to them. Therefore, despite its small beginnings, the potential remains.

Shortly after ADV Films announced The Anime Network, Tech TV announced Anime Unleashed. Although hiding in the shadow of the (then) recent announcement of The Anime Network, TechTV's block is now common knowledge to many anime fans. Much like The Anime Network, however, distribution appears to be a main concern: Only the US TechTV broadcast carries anime; TechTV Canada does not hold the proper licenses to broadcast animation. Additionally, many lesser-populated areas do not get TechTV yet, so many fans are aware of but simply cannot get Anime Unleashed.

One other interesting development in television occurred on the "other side of the pond". In Japan, several television stations now include a scrolling warning at the start of anime, asking viewers not to copy the program to the Internet. Obviously, digisubs are continuing to thrive despite the warnings. It remains to be seen if similar warnings will appear on any American networks.

Overall, it was a good year for anime on television. Many of the shows that aired in America were new, never before seen on TV. In fact, some aired on TV before being released to DVD, such as Inu-Yasha. This year, Cartoon Network has already confirmed Pioneer's hit Sci-Fi/Western series Trigun will air, and Peter Chung's Reign as well. The Anime Network will certainly roll out in additional cities this year, and depending on the success of TechTV's block, they may seek additional titles. The wildcards this year appear to be WB and FOX. WB has Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, but may seek new anime titles to support Pokémon as it ages. While FOX has Kirby, the series is only 26 episodes.

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