The year was Nineteen Ninety Seven. After the creation of Cartoon Network and the successful rise of new animation following the “What-A-Cartoon” project, Cartoon Network launched a block of programming that would become “Toonami” a block dedicated to Japanese anime and related programming. For eleven years, anime fans have been able to watch an assortment of anime that they’d never seen before, a medium they’d never encounter before, and spark a movement that swept an entire culture with it for the next decade. It died a noble death in 2008, after over a decade of service, as the industry crumbled around it, to remain in the vault of time forever.
Then some stupid fucks brought it back. For fucks sake.
Don’t get me wrong, Toonami was responsible for bringing me, like many others, into the anime fold. I’m not hipster enough to admit that I knew of anime before that time. I’d seen some things here and there, but I lived in the midwest, and contrary to today, it was very simple back then. I didn’t even know another person in school who liked anime, and why would they? Japanese culture wasn’t prolific around there, or much of anywhere outside of more densely populated Asian communities. But when Toonami first aired, shows like Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, Tenchi-Muyo, these were new to me. Now, cartoons aren’t new to me. While I cannot be hipster about anime, I can be hipster about cartoons on TV, I watched most of Saturday Morning Cartoons lineups on all channels since I could remember. Nickelodeon was the king then, and the idea of Cartoon Network existing was exciting, but hastened the demise of programming by the larger networks. Saturday Morning Cartoons today are non-existent. As their audience expanded, more shows came to air. Reboot, Ronin Warriors, Gundam Wing, what got me into anime wasn’t simply the fact they were cartoons, or that other people liked it, it was a new medium, a new way of expressing a story in animation I hadn’t seen before. Just as Star Trek played with the strings of my imagination for space travel and starships, anime played with the strings of my imagination for giant robots, super powers, and cute girls doing cute things.
A friend of mine from high school once noticed a notebook I had in my sophomore year. It was a collage I had photoshopped of some anime characters from some of the shows I watched. I used to carry around this notebook for school stuff and artwork I did at the time. He remarked to me, possibly for the first time we ever spoke, that there were other shows out there besides what Toonami had. I knew there was more to anime than what was on TV, but I did not know how to go about obtaining it, or where to even start. It was from him and several other upperclassman he and I knew that I officially entered this scene, starting with titles like Martian Successor Nadesico, Evangelion, Bakaretsu Hunters, and Ranma 1/2. Everything from VHS tapes to CDs with RM files on it. It wouldn’t be much longer before the digital fansubbing scene would start, and I would obtain more titles like Mahoromatic, Angelic Layer, NOIR, and more. I drove a 1990 Chevy S-10 truck my junior year with a broken iMac mouse and a Hoshino Ruri plush hanging off my rear-view mirror, and I gave no fucks. I was already a social outcast, why not just enjoy it?
So when I heard of Toonami’s revival starting tonight, I unfortunately wasn’t particularly thrilled with it, for many reasons. The chief reason is, over the past five years or so, ever since the advent of Adult Swim, it’s been pretty clear that the network doesn’t care for anime. Why should it? It gets barely any ratings, and is only popular with a small segment of the target demographic Cartoon Network is after. Compare this to the usual fare that airs on Adult Swim, like Family Guy, Tim & Eric, and Aqua Teen. They do well because the target demographic enjoys senseless humor. I’m not implying it is bad, though I’m no fan of most of their programming, and I’m attempting to avoid labeling all of these people “pot-heads”, but those are the sorts of people who watch those shows. But even above that, why does anime need to be on TV now? A decade plus ago, anime on TV was a big fucking deal, because the distribution pf anime state-side was in its infancy. Digital fansubbing was barely operational. Toonami was king for anime, and anime was king for Toonami. We all watched those shows maybe not because they were quality, but because they were there. Dragonball Z is a laughable 300+ episode show about sweaty men grunting and fighting each other with super powers. Sailor Moon is a show about girls fighting supernatural beings with supernatural powers. Tenchi-Muyo is about space babes living under one roof. I’m not implying these shows are terrible, but if I were to go back and review these shows like I review today’s current airings, if I do so without Nostalgia Goggles, what am I going to find? It’s like playing old video games, they were fun the first time, but decades later, they aren’t as impressive as you remembered.
Anime is everywhere now, you can download it, buy it, borrow it, even watch it on Netflix. There is no place for Toonami anymore on television, especially for shows that are long past their prime. We’ve all seen Cowboy Bebop. A hundred times. Even put up with hordes of their cosplayers. The point is, why is Cartoon Network even bothering to taunt 20-30-somethings who watched this stuff back in the day with this kind of bullshit, especially when they make statements like “Oh, please watch this so we have money to get new shows, or we’ll have to cancel!” No, fuck you Cartoon Network, Williams Street, and everyone in that pretentious network who thinks we are supposed to give a damn about an old programming block past its prime. You could have easily re-launched Toonami with much more than what you offered, with shows that people might actually want to watch. Not enough money? Please. You seem to have enough money to hire all sorts of animators for your shitty Adult Swim programming, even if it fails. I don’t think it’s about money anymore than it is about dangling a piece of history in front of a bunch of starving anime nerds clamoring for a taste of “the good ol’ days” like a bunch of lunatics. Suppose you get some new shows in the lineup in three months, then what? Are they going to be edited? Censored? Dubbed? I’m surprised Funimation doesn’t just skip out on their streaming plans and just ship Guilty Crown straight to Cartoon Network. Except they would have to edit many parts, and that would pretty much take a subpar show and make it worse. No, the simple fact is, Toonami was supposed to die four years ago for good, to remind us of what we had to look forward to every afternoon after school, like any other time in our lives. No one pines for the Disney Afternoon, SNICK, TGIF, or any other live or animated programming block. They served their purpose then and remain a part of our memory and history.
I’m not telling anyone to boycott Toonami or Cartoon Network. In fact, if you sincerely think they will turn a new leaf and get some quality shows into that block down the road, please support their effort. But when this block collapses again from ratings failure, because anime fans remember they could simply watch everything on Netflix or download new shows from Nyaa, Toonami will die a second and more vain death because you kids don’t know when to let go of a good thing that once was.
Signed, a bitter old hipster.