I owe a great deal of credit to Cartoon Network for making me the anime fan I am today. Of course, I also owe Sci-Fi (SYFY, or whatever they're calling it this second) and Encore Action Channel as well, but let's put them aside. When I was still a burgeoning anime fan, with only Ronin Warriors and the first two seasons of the Dragon Ball Z dub under my belt, Cartoon Network entered my life, and so did a programming block called Toonami (like a tsunami of cartoons!). It didn't just affect me, but an entire generation of anime fans, and cartoon fans in general.
At first, it was an weekday afternoon block hosted by Space Ghost villain Moltar, and featured shows like Thundercats, The Herculoids, Birdman, and Voltron, the latter being the only Japanese animated thing on it. But later it would play episodes of Robotech, Sailor Moon, and Dragon Ball Z (just the same first two seasons for a while). And for a while, this was my dose of anime from Cartoon Network. But Toonami changed over time, Moltar being replaced by T.O.M. and his ship the Absolution. G-Force, Gundam Wing, Tenchi Muyo!, Ronin Warriors, Blue Submarine No. 6, The Big O, Outlaw Star, and other anime titles appeared. Dragon Ball Z's new "seasons" premiered. Little music-filled fillers appeared. Commercials narrated by famed VA Peter Cullen were a norm. I became a big Gundam fan thanks to watching Gundam 08th MS Team on the Toonami: Midnight Run block that aired at night.
For a while, things continued as they were, but Toonami was to undergo a radical change in 2004, when it moved from weekday afternoons to Saturday evenings. This began the decline of the program block. By this point, Dragon Ball Z, the most popular show of the block, had already completed its run on TV. The programs featured in this version of Toonami included One Piece, Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, Zatch Bell, IGPX, and Gundam SEED. Even T.O.M. changed, though still voiced by Steven Blum. It continued on this way for a few years, until Toonami finally ended in 2008. Many had seen the writing on the wall long before, with the advent of anime-friendly (at the time) Adult Swim, and the proliferation of downloadable fansubs. Many felt Toonami went out with a whimper, even if T.O.M. ended it with a "Bang."
On April 1, 2012, Toonami made a miraculous return, as an April Fool's Day joke pulled by the Adult Swim block on Saturday night (Sunday morning). A previous version of T.O.M., aboard the Absolution, appeared, and hosted some of the old lineup, including Dragon Ball Z, Gundam Wing, Tenchi Muyo!, Outlaw Star, and The Big O. Many Toonami faithful of the past were excited by this sudden revival, hoping it would become something permanent.
Even Adult Swim's people said:
Myself? Well, I have my doubts.
First of all, Toonami started airing anime when not a lot of it was available for purchase, and even less of it was airing on television. Many of the shows it aired were new to North America, they were the fresh shows that companies like Funimation, Pioneer, and Bandai Entertainment were looking to get attention for, in order to increase awareness, and thus possible sales of their product. Few people knew what Outlaw Star was until it aired on Toonami.
Things change. Tastes (hopefully) change, too. And certainly the landscape of the anime market in North America have changed. Is a possible full Toonami revival the same boon that it was to the anime licensors and anime fans in the past? I can't imagine it would be. In a world of easy fansubs and a growing streaming market, how could Toonami have the same affect today as it did in yesteryears? The cold answer is it couldn't. But should it try?
Anime licensors want to sell their new shows more than their old ones. Do you think there's going to be an influx of Gundam Wing sales? Well, it would be too little too late for Bandai Entertainment. Pioneer's gone. There are fewer and fewer anime dubs these days, with many anime licensors going the subtitle-only route. It seems like as far as new shows go, the block will be mostly dominated by Funimation. If we go the route of having brand new (to us) anime on a revived Toonami, the shows that tend to get dubbed might not even be appropriate for Toonami, which is largely an action-oriented block.
In my opinion, many of the shows of the past don't hold up particularly well. Certainly there are far better anime out there than Gundam Wing and Tenchi Muyo!. Even their English language versions don't seem to hold up, let alone the shows themselves. I can't imagine wanting to indoctrinate a new generation of anime fans with the horrible English dub of Dragon Ball Z, when Dragon Ball Kai is available on the Nicktoons channel. We certainly don't need a new crop of DBZ fans who think Goku spares Vegeta out of the goodness of his heart or that Vegeta is who he is because Freeza made him that way.
I guess what I'm asking is, what kind of new Toonami are we looking at? Is it one to bring back that feeling of excitement we had at younger ages through the power of nostalgia, or is it to bring forth a new generation of programming, with new shows? And is that even advisable for the companies that might be involved? What is, say, Funimation, getting out of having something of theirs aired when they can control it easier by streaming it? Or are we looking for the old Toonami entirely, with the same lineup?
Maybe Toonami is something that needs to stay a relic. But then again, maybe something can be made of a new Toonami generation. The question is, who is that generation? Haven't things changed enough that Toonami is an irrelevant concept to today's market?
It'll be interesting to see where this goes. Maybe it was, after all, just an April Fool's Day prank and nothing more. With the way Adult Swim looks at anime fans, I wouldn't at all be surprised. That's mostly what I've thought. To be honest, I'm hoping I'm wrong and that a new Toonami springs to life and delights the young and old alike. But let's not hold up Toonami too highly as some golden age that we need to return to. Let's instead hope for a new wave of anime fans to grow.