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This Week in Anime
Toonami Kids Strike Back

by Christopher Farris & Lucas DeRuyter,

Following the upcoming retro programming block Toonami Rewind, Chris and Lucas look back fondly on the afternoons spent watching Naruto and Sailor Moon.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

Dragon Ball Z, Gundam Wing, Yu Yu Hakusho, Lycoris Recoil, and Naruto are streaming on Crunchyroll, while Sailor Moon, Gundam Wing, Outlaw Star are streaming on Hulu. Made in Abyss, Urusei Yatsura 2022 are available on HiDive, while Ninja Kamui and My Adventures With Superman are available on Max, and IGPX is streaming on SlingTV

@Lossthief @BeeDubsProwl @LucasDeRuyter @vestenet


Chris
Ahem~

drum and bass soundtrack Peter Cullen voice

It is the year 2024. Modern anime seasons run rampant with overproduction of series and a glut of trend-chasing isekai shovelware. The critical sphere's only hope? Four snarky writers with an armory of screencaps and nothing better to do twice a week. Together, they just might sort through the chaff to figure out what's worth watching. So long as they can avoid incurring the wrath of their witchcraft-practicing editor.

This Week In Anime. Tuesdays and Thursdays on Anime News Network.

Punch in. Only Toonami.

Lucas
Damn, Chris; Warner Bros. Discovery has to get you on their payroll because that was a spot-on early 2010s Toonami opener! I wish I could match that intro, but I'm afraid all I can do to set the mood is break into the now-empty Cartoon Network building in Burbank, CA, and type out my half of the column from this increasingly haunted location.
That sort of immersion is the least we can do when talking about a piece of television history that famously sold itself on its vibes. Cartoon Network's Toonami block has been chugging along for decades, with just a little break in the middle. And with the recent announcement of a nostalgia-bait "Toonami Rewind" block, what better time is there to reminisce about some of that very historical context?
Wait a second, they're going with the Kai version of DBZ!!? That's not my childhood! If Goku and Piccolo don't drive cars, I don't want anything to do with this "revival"!
Look, they don't have the space to air twenty episodes of DBZ a week anymore, that would eat into valuable Teen Titans Go time. So they gotta go with the version that takes up less room.
Hey, they also have Total DramaRama, which I assume is like Muppet Babies for Zoomers!

On a more genuine note, it's so weird to me that Toonami exists simultaneously as a nostalgia brand that was many people's introduction to anime and an ongoing programming block that remains one of the best, if not the only, ways to watch current anime on cable TV today!

It's both a relic of a past time and a reminder of how far things have brought us, like an ouroboros of mildly censored imported cartoons and moody music video promos. And it's been around so long that the audience watching Demon Slayer on it might not even know how it hasn't always been a thing in its current form! Only real ones remember when Moltar from Space Ghost Coast to Coast was the host of the block.

So it might be worth rewinding a bit ourselves to remind everyone how we got here and why something as quaint as a television programming block could be considered foundational to modern anime fandom.
Who could forget Moltar!? His iconic cameo ROCKED everyone over 30 who watches Jellystone on HBO Max!

Though honestly, Toonami's early days were a little before my time. I remember that era of the institution as something I could only watch when my parents weren't paying attention. Do you have a better memory of the launch of the cornerstone of the Western anime fandom?
It seems that I can only continue to settle into my role as the team's Grandpa Simpson. Multiple essays, both traditional and video, discuss the ups and downs of Toonami's 27-year-and-counting run. The simple version is that it started in 1997 as wrapping for Cartoon Network's store of action cartoons, packaged in thematically connected bumpers, as was the style at the time.
Oh man, these screenshots are SENDING me! I forgot how much Cartoon Network leaned into the idea of everything on the channel being a part of a shared universe in their promos and how much of a sucker I am for that advertising!
Exactly, they knew how to sell this stuff. You had Moltar talking over intros and commercials for Thundercats, that Jonny Quest reboot virtually no one remembers, and some weird Japanese shows called Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, which had already been making the rounds in syndication for a bit.

A couple of years later, they rebooted the block with new, even more spacey theming, plus a robot host named TOM, and started favoring Japanese animation more heavily as part of the block's lineup. The result either rode the U.S. anime boom in the early 2000s or actually caused it, depending on who you ask.
Uh, hold on, I take offense at your assertion that nobody remembers that Johnny Quest reboot. I'm a big Venture Bros fan and am still heartbroken that it ended last summer!
Wrong splinter-off of adult swim, but you've got the spirit.
While grassroots community efforts laid the groundwork for anime's meteoric rise, the medium probably wouldn't be as mainstream in the U.S. as it is today without the Toonami programming block.
With the sheer number of factors contributing to the media's success, up to and including dumb luck, it's hard to say just how foundational Toonami was to Western anime fandom. But it was a component. Like I said, Dragon Ball Z had been on TV here before, but the way Toonami packaged and promoted it ("The greatest action cartoon of all time") was instrumental to the way Americans consumed it.

Their emphasis on presentation and packaging did this for all their shows. These guys famously convinced a generation that Gundam Wing was good and cool off the back of an amazingly cut promo.
"The greatest action cartoon of all time" is such a great tagline for DBZ! I also think this branding is integral to how I view anime today; it is just another part of my media diet alongside Western shows, movies, music, and games. I love how Toonami made it pretty clear that, while these were different cartoons than what most audiences expected for the time, that didn't make them impenetrable or fundamentally different than anything else on the channel.
I noted that the block got more anime-focused as the TOM era rolled on, but they were still airing the likes of Ronin Warriors alongside cartoons like Batman The Animated Series. The various promos they aired mixed and matched series as they pleased, and I can't overstate how much that style and theming tied it all together.

When you've got a sick bass playing while Optimus Prime himself tells me how cool all these cartoons are, I really have no choice but to believe it.
God, we never stood a chance. I think I speak for many 20-somethings when I say that Toonami fundamentally shaped my understanding and appreciation for this medium. This makes it all the weirder that the block was canceled in 2008 during the Great Anime Crash! Which, of course, was by far the worst market crisis of that year!
Look, there were a lot of factors around Cartoon Network, the entertainment market, and the economy in general that led to Toonami's demise, and who seriously would expect an afternoon programming block to last over a decade, anyway? But I have to level some blame on TOM's terrifying redesign from that final stretch of the classic era.

Not even Steve Blum's always-dulcet tones can convince me that this thing isn't silently pleading for death.
Jesus Christ! Give TOM his helmet and abs back!! GIVE HIM IS HELMET AND ABS BACK!!!
In retrospect, canceling this stretch right before they finished Naruto might have been a mercy killing.
Oh wow, I'm just now realizing that I don't think I've ever seen the last batch of filler episodes in the OG Naruto because of this cancellation!

Looking back, I also get the impression that the folks behind the block did everything they could to keep going in one form or another. Beating the streaming boom by about half a decade, Toonami Jetstream was an early streaming platform that mostly featured series a little too niche or off-kilter to fit the main brand, like Kiba, Eyeshield 21, and Prince of Tennis.

The block always felt a bit ahead of the curve, especially compared to cartoon contemporaries. That big-kid energy was probably a big contributor to how it sold anime to the impressionable youth of the era. It's cool, it's edgy! If you stay up late enough, you might even see a version of Gundam Wing with some of the swears left in!

I kid, but "uncut" anime on American TV was a trailblazing novelty then, and Toonami's "Midnight Run" block undoubtedly paved the way for an adult swim and its wave of anime years later.
I straight up would not be the man I am today if, as a child, I didn't occasionally sneak out of bed to watch Yu Yu Hakusho, and I'm not ashamed to admit that!
Cartoon Network always felt like a channel that genuinely loved cartoons (for the most part, let's not talk about CN Real here), but Toonami seemed out to prove how cool animation could be. In between anime with blood and potty mouth, they also used the Midnight Run to introduce a generation to Daft Punk and Gorillaz via their animated music videos.

So yeah, they had Leiji Matsumoto on here in some form as well. Between all that and even airing some Neon Genesis Evangelion one time, it's clear that Toonami had their fingers on the pulse of anime fandom up through that era.
Hey, if people want us to discuss all of the weird consequences of the 2007 writer's strike, I'm prepared to do that! But that probably falls outside of the focus of this Toonami chat.

Toonami's comeback was also iconic and very much in line with Adult Swim's irreverent tone. Originally a 2012 April Fool's joke, an outcry of fan support supposedly brought the block back to life, with a mix of classic and new anime filling out the Saturday evening hours.

"Do something that everyone really wants, but as a gag" is one of those classically annoying corporate April Fool's bits. But as we've covered, the team behind Toonami always seemed to give a bit more of a shit, so it makes sense that they'd take the fan response to heart and keep going with a genuine revival. Reportedly, Steve Blum even voiced TOM pro-bono initially just because of how much he loved the project.

No more Peter Cullen, but his asking prices probably got slightly higher after an ongoing series of monstrously monetarily successful Transformers movies.
If Neon White is any indication, Steve Blum will say yes to any project where he gets to play someone cool as hell!

Now that we're in the modern era of Toonami, a question inspired by my IRL anime friends (hi Georgia!) emerges: how does Toonami fit into the modern anime landscape when so much of the media is available earlier on streaming platforms like Crunchyroll, HIDIVE, Netflix, and even Hulu?
Streaming and its convenience have definitely shifted the tectonic plates of television. But any of us with IRL co-workers can tell you that there's still room in many people's entertainment schedules for tuning in to TV on a broadcast schedule. In that format, Toonami offers the same thing it did back in the day: its packaging and promotion style.

You're not just getting cool cartoons; you're getting interstitial video game reviews, slick music videos, and animated skits. That's arguably more of a novelty now in an era where "commercial bumpers" are an all-but-forgotten element of watching shows.
That sense of place is a big part of why I tune into Toonami whenever I visit my folks and have cable access again. Much like how the smaller market nature of anime and manga allows for more unique stories to crop up in those mediums, Toonami's now late-night timeslot allows it to do cool stuff like that, so long as it's on the cheap.
I appreciate that even as the block's continued existence is technically an exercise in nostalgia, it doesn't worship entirely at that altar. They're happily showing new anime that fit right in with their established vibe. It's cool to me that people watching TV could tune in and catch Lycoris Recoil. It is also only a little amusing that a channel that once acted like uncut Gundam Wing was some forbidden fruit has now run through all of Made in Abyss.

These are series that regular TV watchers probably would never be introduced to anywhere else.
I'm going to be a bit more cynical and say that I'm a bit bummed that big-time shonen fares like Dragon Ball, Naruto, and One Piece have been a bit of a crutch for Toonami for a while, but it more than makes up for that with emerging original programming like Ninja Kamui and even My Adventures with Superman, which is an adorable, anime-infused take on the world's most iconic superhero.
I was going to say, I do appreciate Toonami still sticking to its roots by including a WB superhero cartoon. My Adventures with Superman is my actual favorite currently airing series too, homaging everything from Evangelion to Ouran High School Host Club.

Ninja Kamui, for its part, is just one more of a running effort by Toonami at producing their own anime series. It's something the block always seemed to be genuinely trying to make work, but even in the classic days, it felt like a big hit eluded them. RIP IGPX, my beloved.
Ya' know, I was just about to bring up the robots in My Adventures with Superman looking a little rough, and then you brought up the original Toonami uncanny valley robots.

I think about IGPX a lot (which is to say at all in the year 2024), and I'm not quite sure what to make of that one. It was an original anime with a Western production element made in 2005, so no contemporaries jump to mind as points of comparison. Was it successful? It has two seasons, which is respectable for any original animation! Was it good? I thought so, but I was 11, so I'm probably not the best judge of this show's merits.
Toonami made a lot of moves in the 2000s. They're all going to land differently for different people, but you can also count me among those who got totally into IGPX during its airing. I even got the original DVD release in that ridiculous puffy box. I still have the T-shirt! Enough time has passed for it to be remembered fondly since Discotek trotted it out for a fancy remastered Blu-ray release.

That fond recollection would seem to apply to Toonami themselves since they premiered the remastered IGPX by airing it on the modern version of the block ahead of the disc release. Maybe all the likes of Ninja Kamui need is some time for people to get nostalgic.
An anime with Toonami vibes is real, even if the shows are wildly dissimilar. For instance, even if I have mixed opinions on all of them, Chainsaw Man, Dragon Quest: Adventures of Dai, and the Urusei Yatsura reboot all should have aired on Toonami, IMO. They're all so indicative of different kinds of anime in the medium today that I think the community would be better as a whole if the most casual anime fans, or folks getting into anime today, thanks to Toonami, were exposed to them.
Toonami does seem to be trying to use its established style and clout to push forward what can be done with anime airing on American television. They've even experimented with airing subbed Japanese-language anime a few times, which I'd previously thought would be unheard of. We'll also get that extremely ambitious adaptation of Junji Ito's Uzumaki through them. Eventually.

In that respect, it feels perhaps a bit earned that they aired the current adult swim revival incarnation of the block for a solid dozen years before trying for the whole-hog nostalgia-bait "Rewind" treatment.
I want to be optimistic, but with how long it's been since the initial announcement, I can't help but think that the Toonami Uzumaki production might be, well, spiraling (cue rimshot so loud that it blows out the reader's speakers).

I'm as excited about this new Toonami venture as anyone, but I desperately hope they expand this Rewind block to feature more series. It's awesome that they're airing the Viz dub of Sailor Moon, but I'm pretty sure a version of both Dragon Ball and Naruto is already a part of vanilla Toonami's programming. Through some older Gundam series in there! Or even some Samurai Jack or the American edit of the original Voltron!

Let's be real: You're just hoping they'll be able to keep this going long enough that you'll be able to watch that final batch of Naruto filler episodes on TV after all this time, aren't you?
Hey, as someone who regularly complained about the final arc of Naruto Shippuden, I'll gladly eat crow if a filler episode I missed in Naruto set up that 11th-hour "aliens are real and planned every major plot point in the series" twist at the end of the series!

Also, as I sense we're winding down, I'd be remiss if I didn't name Miguzi, the mid-thought after-school replacement block for Toonami. Their claim to fame was some second-string anime series like Rave Master, Yu-Gi-Oh GX, and Zatch Bell. They also ran a bunch of anime-influenced but still distinctly Western cartoons like Megas XLR, Code Lyoko, and Xiaolin Showdown. Does this bumper jostle any memories loose for anyone, or was Miguzi a childhood fever dream of mine?

The very fact that you had a bunch of also-rans like that one, Toonzai, Jetix, and others around the era really speaks volumes about the contrasting staying power of Toonami itself and the series it promoted. Would Dragon Ball Z still have become popular in the U.S. without Toonami? Absolutely, it did in a bunch of other places around the world. But something like Outlaw Star never would have lived on as a nostalgic favorite if it had aired on Miguzi uncoupled from any sick-ass in-house AMVs.

Without those vibes, you don't get the Midnight Run, so you don't get adult swim airing series like Cowboy Bebop and FLCL, and suddenly anime fandom in the West starts to look pretty different.
You make a strong argument, and even with my many gripes about the current state of the anime fandom, it could be a lot worse. Toonami gave the space a more overt tone to build on.
The foundation of my fond memories of Toonami is hard to uncouple from my continuous anime fandom. So even if I don't have time in my life to catch the current iteration on TV, to say nothing of this "Rewind" version, I'm still happy it's around for those who are watching it. It's nice to know I can glance over and know the team will keep looking ahead in their particular ways.
The media landscape feels more tumultuous than ever as it chases ever-shakier trends. If nothing else, it's nice to have what feels like a constant in Toonami, TOM, and SARA.
Sites and streams may come and go, but even in that uncertainty, Toonami left us with simple, wise words to leave off on: Stay gold.

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