Around this time last year, I wrote an article on the rise of Saturday night cartoon blocks, focusing on FOX’s ADHD and Adult Swim’s Toonami. A year later, ADHD’s TV block has turned out a failed experiment, but Toonami is far from it. I was critical of a lot of their programming choices in my article last year, their current line-up is far better balanced and more compelling. Where the block previously struggled to find fresh premieres, it’s now premiering episodes of the hilarious and wonderful Space Dandy before the show airs anywhere else in the world. Dandy’s premiere came with a half-hour expansion of the block, which isn’t a lot but it does wonders for allowing worthy shows to reach a wider audience at more accessible times. The Shonen Jump Big Three (Bleach, Naruto, and One Piece) are still in the middle of the block, but the variety of programming has improved. The “adult” part of Adult Swim has been more emphasized with shows clearly targeted at adult audiences like Dandy and Black Lagoon, as well as the megahit Attack on Titan which while a “shonen” series skews to the more mature end of the teen/YA demographic and definitely couldn’t have aired on the older daytime/primetime Toonami block. They’ve continued their trend of giving struggling series second chances, airing episodes of Beware the Batman that didn’t get to premiere during its unsuccessful run on daytime CN. Tonight at 2 they start running Gurren Lagann, which already had a successful run on SyFy a few years ago but it’s a great show so it’s a smart acquisition for the block.
Now the people at Toonami are asking for feedback on where they want the block to go in the future, to help “manipulate the manual”, so here’s what I have to say to them:
-You’re doing great. Keep getting shows of the same high caliber.
-Don’t fall back on nostalgia. The thing that gives me biggest pause about the future of Toonami is the announcement of Dragonball Z Kai airing in the near future. Yes, DBZ is associated with Toonami, but it’s associated with Toonami when it was aimed at kids. Now other shows from the old Toonami are already airing on the block, like Samurai Jack and Naruto, but Jack is airing at 5:30 AM (as well as having long seemed to be more popular with adults than with its supposed target demographic) and Naruto, while it was a huge hit with younger audiences, at least has the excuse that now on Adult Swim Toonami it’s uncut where it had to be edited before. With DBZ Kai, you can’t make that excuse because the first couple seasons of DBZ already aired uncut on regular CN and uncut Kai is actually tamer than the original series. Kai has been shown very recently on kids targeted blocks on Nicktoons and Vortexx on The CW (admittedly censored, but those networks have much stricter standards than CN does). If the franchise is still viable with kids, which it clearly is, it seems wrong to air it on an adult-targeted block. If you think the franchise’s value is mainly nostalgia, then something that’s been aired so many times should at least air after 3 during the reruns portion of the block since that’s what it is: reruns.
-Dark isn’t necessary but still get stuff for an older audience. Dandy‘s not “dark” but it’s perfect for Toonami. Similarly fun series like Kill la Kill, Tiger and Bunny, and once licensing is worked out Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure would be good picks. Of course on the darker side of things, shows like Psycho-Pass, Terror in Resonance, and Madoka Magica would also be awesome (I’m also still pulling for Michiko to Hatchin, which like Bebop sits on the border between “light” and “dark”).
-Don’t go shorter. 11:30’s a good start time, though going earlier would be great as unlikely as that is. Between Dandy, Titan, BtB, and the soon-ending Bleach you now have more series that’d make sense for reruns, plus there’s still GitS, Big O, FLCL, and Titan when you need them, so if having slightly less premieres at a certain time than the current 8 means the block would have slightly more reruns at some points, so be it. 8’s an awful lot of premieres, far more than I ever expected, so I don’t mind if you have slightly less premieres at some point but please keep the block the same length.
-Between Dandy and BtB providing Toonami with premieres, look for more opportunities like that. Work with FUNimation and your partners in Japan to do more simul-dubs. Push WB Animation to make some adult-oriented DC series (what I’d do for a Bruce Timm Sandman…). Keep giving us the unexpected.