Animation · Lists · Television

Toonami is back, but for how long?

Based on the success of the April Fool’s Night stunt pulled earlier this year, Cartoon Network officially brought back Toonami. What does that mean? Basically, the network has their Saturday night block anime hosted by their spokesman, a blue robot named Tom (English anime dub fans may recognize the voice), who gives brief reviews and commentary. More importantly, it also means that adult swim has unofficially surrendering its ties to anime, as it has found more success and better ratings with its original, live-action programs. Let’s go between the lines of the latest shakeup, and my wish-list for the Toonami lineup.

Even during the bubble era last decade, anime was not getting ratings for anyone. And the fine folks at Cartoon Network would mention the sad truth at every opportunity. What many fans fail to realize is that free anime isn’t free. It costs a lot of money for a network to acquire an anime series. Television is a business, and like all business, the bottom line is profitability. And ratings=money. CN learned fairly early that anime shows were not pulling the same ratings as American animated shows like “Family Guy,” “The Boondocks,” or “Aqua Teen Hunger Force.”In other words, there was a distinction between fans of “Family Guy,” and fans of “InuYasha,” and not only is there very little overlap, the former greatly outnumber the latter.

The new Toonami has not been given a big budget to start with. Therefore, the lineup that debuted on May 26, 2012, featured two new shows that very little were clamoring for: “Deadman Wonderland”, and “Casshern Sins“. These two shows have taken the place of “Durarara!!” and “Kekkaishi.” I am afraid that a “Moneyball” approach will not work in the short-term, i.e.: deliver a large flock of new fans. Perhaps there is a long-term plan in place for Toonami, but if ratings do not spike, I fail to see how these two new shows fit in.

That being said, I have my own wish list for Cartoon Network and Toonami. Now besides the list of hot, and/or new shows that every other blogger has mentioned, I will list slightly older, and slightly more obscure hidden gems that I want to see on the air. I’m not sure if these shows will cost less to acquire that say “Tiger and Bunny,” “Fairy Tail”, or “Steins;Gate” (yes the semicolon is part of the title), but dammit – it’s my list, and these shows are underrated and deserve the exposure. This is not my full list. Perhaps, I will dedicate another post for that. I will not include shows that already aired in the U.S. on another cable network. Nor will I list shows that many other bloggers have listed, but rest assured, I too would love to see those shows on the air. Also note, that these shows are the shows that I believe have potential to get ratings, so some of my obscure, niche titles will not be listed here.

In alphabetical order:

  • Angel Beats! – the newest show on my list. A fan and critical favorite of 2011 seems to have been be already forgotten. Typical of the “here today, gone tomorrow” philosophy of modern Japanese pop culture. Similar to “Deadman Wonderland,” but with more likeable characters.
  • Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad – terrible title, great show. A story of a young boy with a dream to play the guitar, be in a rock band, and make it big in America. The English translated songs are not half-bad, unlike other anime heavily laden with music. (*cough* Bubblegum Crisis *cough*)
  • Berserk – yes, it was too violent for Sci-Fi (now Syfy) network. But I’m holding out hope, especially with the series being remade as 3 films.
  • Black Lagoon – How has this show not aired in the U.S. yet?! Three quarters of the main cast are Americans, and in a rare example, they are presented in a (mostly) favorable light. The OP theme alone is worth your time. This is #1 on my list.
  • Dai-Guard – It’s “Voltron” meets “The Office.” Perhaps the bureaucracy based mecha will fail to connect to the younger audience, but those that grew up on “Gundam Wing” are now entering the work force, and can appreciate the Dilbert-esque humor.
  • Flag – Half of this series is presented as digital video footage. It is a visual masterpiece. Contrast with many series from the late 90’s which tried and failed to implement CGI with the traditional, hand-drawn animation (yes, even Cowboy Bebop has these cringe worthy moments). Perhaps it’s too closely similar to the war in Afghanistan for American sensibilities, but it’s a better anti-war story than the Gundam franchise.
  • Gilgamesh – Honestly, it’s my least favorite series on this list by a long shot. But its aesthetic and character design is unlike any other series out there. It looks more like a manga than an anime. It had a decent following amongst casual fans back when it was released in 2003, so I have a gut feeling that this has the most potential to gain mainstream appeal.
  • Kaze no Yojimbo – a modern-day version of Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo.” (You know, the one that was remade in the West as “A Fistful of Dollars.”) The animation is not as good as the other Kurosawa remake, “Samurai 7,” but it’s a more faithful adaptation. Admittedly, it is the longest of long shots, based on the poor quality of animation.
  • Key the Metal Idol – I will continue to promote this series until someone airs it. It was ahead of its time. I am positive that American Idol fans will see similarities between Simon Cowell, and Key’s main antagonist, Jinsaku Ajo. At which point, these people will get an epiphany regarding how the music industry works.
  • L/R: Licensed by Royalty – Perhaps its self-proclaimed “kiss-kiss, bang-bang” sub-genre is not the demographic CN wants. However, since it is set in a tiny European nation, it is one of the few animes in which the English dub outshines the original Japanese. Compare our two protagonists to Roger Smith of “Big O.” This show is a natural fit for Toonami; this show flows naturally with its core series of “Cowboy Bebop,” “Ghost in the Shell,” and “Big O.”
  • Master Keaton – This is a tough sell since this show has a middle-aged protagonist, vis-a-vis an angst ridden teenager. And if shows like Berserk are too violent for TV, this show might be not violent enough for Americans’ sensibilities. If marketed properly, (think “MacGyver”), and promoted during other adult swim shows like “NTSD:SD:SUV,” “Eagleheart,” and “Childrens Hospital,”  perhaps it has a shot amongst the casual fans.
  • Mushishi – Even though American audiences are now getting used to show with story arcs, thanks to “Lost” and “24,” stand-alone episodic story telling still continues to be the norm. That is why I suppose it has a chance. The problem is that this show may be too esoteric for the crowd.
  • Starship Operators – With its young cast of characters, and a realty TV story angle, this show is mostly catered to the fanboys, than for the mainstream audience. But the show is very cerebral in its depictions of politics, and military strategy. So this show could be popular amongst fans of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Babylon 5.”
  • When They Cry – Good news for CN, if folks love “Deadman Wonderland” and “Casshern Sins,” then they’ll love this series. The downside is that the “Groundhog Day” style of storytelling may drive the audience away by the third or fourth arc. Plus, the second season, which answers all the questions brought up in the first season, was never brought across the Pacific. This show genuinely scared the crap out of me the first time I watched it, which was late at night, in the dark. For those keeping score, this is the fifth show on the list that was originally licensed by the now defunct Geneon (nee Pioneer USA). Which means I do not know if CN could acquire these shows if they wanted to.

In conclusion, I want to believe in the new Toonami. I understand just how difficult it is to air anime in North America. But the task becomes infinitely harder when your marketing strategy is poor or non-existent. And I just don’t trust their Marketing Department. Undoubtedly, there is little to no chance that these shows will be broadcast on a U.S. cable network, but based on CN’s track record, they have done worse. (S-CRY-ed, anyone?)

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