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Mumbling Kitsune: Seeing Off Toonami
Toonami's end is the start of a transition for anime in America
By Nadia Oxford
September 28, 2008
© Cartoon Network
On September 20th, 2008, Cartoon Network's “Toonami,” a programming block dedicated primarily to anime, aired its last broadcast. Toonami's mascot, TOM4, literally signed off with a bang. The last bit of audio to waft from the block was a reference to Cowboy Bebop, a bit of pop culture made familiar to millions through Toonami's efforts to bring Japan's best cartoons to America.
Toonami began its ran in 1997. Pokemon can be credited for sparking the anime explosion that seized America at the end of the millennium, but Toonami gets the credit for shepherding the medium along and introducing the mainstream to grown-up versions of their little brother's favourite cartoons. Kids had Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh while teens had Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Outlaw Star, Cowboy Bebop, Tenchi Muyo and others. At the height of Toonami's popularity there sprang exceptional home-brewed shows like Samurai Jack; not anime by strict definition,but certainly inspired by Japan's stories of wandering ronin.
Growing Up With Anime
No matter your view on the quality of today's anime, the death of Toonami doubtlessly moves you in some small way. True, the block was sputtering out by the end of its run with sporadic airings of a few limp shonen series. But if you were born in the mid '80s, or even earlier, Toonami was a rite of passage, a graduation to adulthood. Gone were children's shows and toilet humour; in were stories about war, love, and the finality of death. You never knew cartoons dared to scratch at the darker corners of life, topics that seemed unsettlingly close in the unsteady years following the 9/11 attacks.
End of a “Fad?”
Some anime fans worry that the end of Toonami and last spring's massive restructuring of manga publisher Tokyopop means that the medium is finally sputtering out in America and the once-vibrant fandom will end up cold and lifeless. This isn't quite the case. If anything, the recent changes signal that anime and manga are going through an experience that, though painful, is vital and very positive: maturation.
If anime was destined to fizzle out as a fad, it would have done so ages ago. Fads have short, hot lives that grow bloated and die suddenly, like June bugs, with no legacy left behind. Anime, on the other hand, has ingrained itself into our culture. Its influence can be seen in any classroom, where kids still hang up drawings of heroes with large eyes and spiked hair.
However, the days when anything slapped with an anime label would sell out in seconds are indeed over. This is good. The history of American cartoons has always been about prying the few gems embedded in a huge expanse of nondescript bedrock. When considering Japanese cartoons, a much larger industry, there are more gems to be found—but there's a far more dull grey bedrock to scour. American anime and manga distributors are learning to look harder, which benefits us all.
Old Shows, New Technology
The death of Toonami can't entirely be blamed on the quality of its product, which, at least during the block's heydey, was good and featured excellent presentation. Television stations in general are struggling to hang onto a dwindling viewer base that's happy to abandon cable for high-speed Internet streaming.
In fact, Toonami will be continuing “Jetsteam,” streamed anime episodes that can be accessed through the Toonami Jetstream website. It's a shame to think that our kids won't have the same anime experience as us—but it's comforting to know that it'll still be there for them, albeit in a different format.
So long, Toonami. Thanks for growing up with us.