Last Saturday night was the much anticipated return of Toonami, the action anime block that introduced a whole generation to some of the greatest cartoons ever. While I hadn't watched Adult Swim in years, I made sure to return for its revival of my favorite television block of all time. I'm a little lat reporting on my impression of the relaunch (I had to catch up on my sleep on Sunday) but I'm here now to post my thoughts on Toonami's rise from the ashes.
What made Toonami so great over the years wasn't just the shows it aired but the way it presented them. After all, anime could be aired in any format and it wouldn't be Toonami without its unique packaging. Toonami's robotic host T.O.M is just as memorable as the shows he announced and the Sci-fi setting of the Absolution created a sleek atmosphere for viewing great tv.
Both T.O.M and the Absolution have been given an HD makeover for the relaunch. The artstyle follows the look of the T.O.M 3 era of the programming block with the major difference being the use of darker shades of color. Steve Blum returns to lend T.O.M his iconic voice, which sounds just as I remembered it, though his new performance definitely has more edge to it. It's weird hearing T.O.M use the b-word, for instance. I understand that Adult Swim is aiming for a more mature (or immature, depending on your view) audience but it just doesn't fit my image of T.O.M.
Toonami's new opening, while featuring a cool rap accompaniment, was too short and lacked the buildup of the old T.O.M 3 opening used for the April 1st 2012 airing. Besides that, many of the programming bumps were recycled from Toonami's backlog, giving a jarring contrast between the new HD footage and the old blurry standard definition material. Toonami co host, SARA was also noticeably absent and T.O.M's appearances were infrequent. At least there was a classy Toonami review of Xbox Live game I Am Alive.
Of course, as great as seeing T.O.M again is, the most important part of any television block is its programming. Toonami has a legendary reputation for being unmatched in this regard; having been the home to countless classic action cartoon series. So the question is: Can the new Toonami lineup live up?
12:00 a.m. – Bleach
The new Toonami timetable starts off with Bleach, a long running Shonen Jump anime series known for oversized swords and its supernatural setting. Bleach has been a part of Adult Swim since 2006, and 2006 was probably the last time I saw any of it. Now on its 250-something episode, I naturally didn't have a clue what was going on plotwise. I can't really judge the show as a whole fairly, but from what I saw it had a good level of action and had the feel of a traditional Toonami program. However, the animation wasn't great (I bet the studio had to churn new episodes out like cheap burgers) and a lot of the dialogue and plot had a melodramatic tone to it.
Quality Rating: 7.5/10
Suitability for Toonami: 8.5/10
12:30 a.m. – Deadman Wonderland
Deadman Wonderland is one of two new series appearing on Toonami (the others being leftovers from Adult Swim's old Saturday lineup. The show is about a boy named Ginta, who witnesses his middle school class get massacred by a mysterious figure. Ginta is blamed for the murders and is sent away to a privately run prison that doubles as an amusement park (only in Japan folks!) There he meets a friend, a girl named Shiro whose attire is a skin-tight white leotard (those crazy Japanese!)
The show definitely look's interesting, if a bit overdone on how dark and disturbing its trying to be. The animation is of an exceptional quality and the first episode certainly set up an interesting plot with a messed-up (in a good way) caste of characters. I watched a few subbed episodes (Japanese audio, english subtitles for those unfamiliar with anime lingo) online before the Toonami airing and I can say that Deadman's Funimation english dub is of an exceptionally high quality. Overall, Deadman Wonderland is a lot more adult-oriented than anything Toonami aired in the past, featuring a lot of blood and brain bleach material.
Quality Rating: 8.75/10
Suitability for Toonami: 7/10
1:00 a.m. – Casshern Sins
If I could describe Casshern Sins (a reboot of the classic anime series, Casshern) in one word I'd use "vague." The first episode doesn't go a long way towards explaining what the heck's going on besides that the main character Casshern is supposedly responsible for the end of the world. He has amnesia (of course) and the first episode leaves a lot of questions to be answered.
The artstyle the series has going is amazing, mixing colorful characters with a dark depressed background. Most of the episode was devoted to Casshern kicking some serious robot ass, which showcased stylish action animation. I can't say for sure but my first impression is that Casshern Sins will be a good fit for the block. Toonami aired plenty of robot-centric anime in the past (Gundam, Cyborg 009) and seems to be continuing that trend.
Quality Rating: 8.75/10
Suitability for Toonami: 8.75/10
1:30 a.m. – Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
I don't feel like I need to say a lot about Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the second anime of the popular Fullmetal Alchemist franchise. It's an awesome series filled with both action and strong messages of loss, sacrifice, and determination. It fits Toonami perfectly, more so than any other show in the new lineup.
Quality Rating: 9.5/10
Suitability for Toonami: 10/10
2:00 a.m. – Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG
I've seen a modest amount of Ghost in the Shell over the years (it's a long running Adult Swim staple) and I can't say I like the show much. I'm sure it has plenty of fans, but it's too melodramatic for my tastes and uses mature content for shock value and little else. More importantly, it just doesn't have the Toonami feel. More than anything else it feels like a relic of Adult Swim's Action block. Also, who in the heck came up with such a ludicrous subtitle? It's pure gibberish!
Quality Rating: 7.5/10
Suitability for Toonami: 6/10
2:30 a.m. – Cowboy Bebop
Cowboy Bebop is a classic from one of Toonami's old lineup. Starring a badass bounty hunter in a badass sci-fi setting, it's a cool show and an ideal classic series for Toonami to air until it has the funds for more popular ones like Dragon Ball Z or Yu Yu Hakusho.
Quality Rating: 8/10
Suitability for Toonami: 9/10
Overall, I'd say the schedule is certainly differant from the Toonami of old. Adult Swim is clearly trying to save money by licensing old series and obscure shows that wouldn't normally find a place to air. Most of them are also a lot darker thant he shonen anime Toonami is traditionally known for. Back when Toonami and Adult swim aired back-to-back, Adult Swim would air the mature anime that Toonami couldn't get away with airing. It seems like the return of Toonami is more along the lines of the Adult Swim content with a Toonami coat of paint. While Toonami's fan base has aged since the block's heyday, that doesn't mean they wouldn't still appreciate lighter series. In the end, I really hope future shows on the block won't be as excessively serious as the current offerings.
However I also understand that the people behind Toonami's rebirth have limited funds to work with. As Steve Blum put it himself "We are building a better cartoon show from the ground up." It's going to take them time to get Toonami back on top and I'm willing to stick with it until it's there.