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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


Toonami
© 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.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 10 of 10
1 
RaithManan 9/28/2008 8:43:54 AM
As whacky as Cartoon Network's programming schedule is....should this surprise anybody. I never seen such a network so baffling much of the time because half the time they give you no heads up on what's happening from one week to the next. Talk about the "TWO LEFT FEET SYNDROME". Sheesh.
Dazzler 9/28/2008 9:04:17 AM
Wait a minute...no more Naurto and Geas? WTF? I was wondering why they were not on last night. Fuk....
nadiaoxford 9/28/2008 9:47:52 AM
Dazzler: Naruto maaay or may not be on Toonami Jetstream. I can't access the site 'cause I'm Canadian. :( Speaking of being Canadian, we don't get Cartoon Network in Canada so I never got Toonami. But I married my American husband in 2001 and we did a lot of travelling back and forth through the States during Toonami's heydey. It was really a block to be envious of, especially since back then it took YTV years to get the same programmes. Even though it went downhill, I'm going to miss those early years.
mckracken 9/28/2008 1:43:47 PM
damn, i had no idea that Toonami had bitten the proverbial dust on the 20th, quite frankly i havent watched TV since the invention of ON DEMAND which is where I've been watching Deathnote, BIG O, INUYASHA and more... of course on ON DEMAND theres the Anime Channel plus a few more that show anime by series. i'll definitly miss the 'nami, thats for sure and I hope that I can continue watching Deathnote on Demand as well (they are currently airing #13 "Confession") I started getting hooked on Toonami way back when a buddy of mine said "they're showing Gundam Wing in its entirity" I said, "ok, thats nice...but they still use kiddie pilots to pilot the damn things" To me, watching a 12 to 14 year old kid pilot a Gundam ment that the show was geared for 10 to 15 year olds... hell, I'm 38 (I think I was around 34 at the time ) but then (before On Demand) I got hooked on Outlaw Star and Cowboy Bebop, that to me were the shows that were for adults without being "adult in nature" and then I watched this show that was vastly different from Gundam Wing called Gundam 008th Squadron which didnt use kids to pilot their giant robots... no, this was a combat show... these guys fought and died in the harshest jungles and had to make repairs to their 'bots to keep them running because their on govermnents failed to provide any support. I loved the scenes where the repair guys sat on the giant arm of the Mecha with a little wrench and a tool set and make repairs to this giant Mecha while swatting mosquitos off their necks in the jungles of the congo, such magnificant scale put perfectly and massivly into perspective. currently though, I'm worried that the anime that i'm seeing now (aside from Deathnote) is starting a trend of "highschoolers in a private school wearing their school uniforms and dealing with everyday life, the dating scene, track and field, and of course one student in the school has some demon powers or is a witch or has to fight something or has dropped in from another demention"...straight up - fuck that. if you're into that, great... I'm not. i'm also not into buying these fucking series at a cost of $24.95 PER DVD for four episodes per disk like I did with with Berserk, Last Exile and parts of G.I.T.S. Stand Alone complex- again, screw that... if thats you're trip, great, I cant tell you how to spend your money. I know that its really bullshit to pay $24.95 for only 60 or 90 minutes worth of anime, no, money is valuable and I want A LOT of minutes per disk for these long running series like Deathnote and Cowboy Bebop. I want them in a box set by season and i want them priced affordably... I dont wish to spend $149.98 on a 6 disk set of anything... fuck that... its bullshit and yet the "fans" eat this shit up... sorry but buying anime on DVD is fucked up right now. I invest my money in anime "movies" that have a beginning, middle and end... unlike Dragonball Z that has 300 episodes and will cost you a second mortgage on your house and you're childrens college education fund to buy all those damn disks. fuck that... why do you think the "fans" turned to pirated downloads, bootlegs and other means of stuffing over 65 episodes on a 12 hour duel layer compressed data DVD disk? fuck buying the stuff... i cant afford that shit. anyway... good night Toonami, you will be missed... hopefully the On Demand programs will continue to be shown... thats where I get my stuff.
AMiSHPiRATE 9/28/2008 6:12:48 PM
Why does this site insist on saying that Toonami was an anime block? It was an Action Block. The majority of the shows on its initial run were American made. Toonami is an hybrid of carTOON tsunAMI. It should also be noted that Toonami launched in America about a year and a half before Pokemon was broadcast stateside. Pokemon hit popularity with the mainstream at a level that Toonami could never attain. Sadly, its success opened the flood gates. In the Before Pokemon era of anime, very few anime shows made their way dubbed or subbed to our shores. Most of these shows were on the higher quality end of things. More time & money were spent on the localization of these projects. After Pokemon, it seemed like every japanese series with a kid friendly plot was translated by babelfish and read by community college drama students. Having been translated separately in 1996 and then again in 1999, Dragon Ball Z conveys this pretty well. That said, yeah, some great shows have come over after, and likely because of, Pokemon.
mckracken 9/28/2008 9:44:50 PM
"Pokemon" - dear God if I never hear that word again, it will be too soon.<BR itxtvisited="1" />Saying that Pokemon opened the floodgates for dubbed and subbed anime really shows your age Amish, Pokemon started in 1997, when the flood gates actually opened in the early to mid 80's (perhaps even the latter part of the 70's).<BR itxtvisited="1" /><BR itxtvisited="1" />I knew some truely horrible shit was responsible for turning on americans to anime but I disagree that Pokemon was the first or even close to being one of the first.<BR itxtvisited="1" /><BR itxtvisited="1" />I would say that shows like Speed Racer ('67), Battle of the Planets ('78-'85), Robotech('85), Voltron ('84),and Star Blazers('74) and ('79) were actually responsible for "opening the flood gates" so that shows such as Dragon Ball could gain an American following....in 1986!<BR itxtvisited="1" /><BR itxtvisited="1" />Pokemon and Digimon were some truely horrible shit that somehow slipped through the cracks and became huge with the pre-teenie bopper crowd LONG AFTER Speed Racer and Robotech opened our eyes to what awaited us on the shores of Japan. This influx did NOT start in 1997.<BR itxtvisited="1" /><BR itxtvisited="1" />I'm just not going to dwell on Pokemon, because I hate it so damn much.
nightsider 9/28/2008 10:36:05 PM
I watched toonami when i was younger and it is responsible for me watching anime. May you rest in peace TOM4.
boxker 9/29/2008 6:46:41 AM
I can't claim to have deep knowledge about anime, I'm 35 and I did love Battle of the Planets, Voltron and Robotech and stuff. However; if the death of toonami means that my son won't fall in love with stupid shows like naruto or that guy that fights people with his nose hairs, then I am all forit. Plus, I blame this anime movement for ruininhg the teen titans and all the new versions of the transformers that have come out in the past decade or so. Especially the latest one, what's with that crap. Bring back generation one transformers and stop making everything so silly. I am not saying that everything has to be dark and grim. GOD knows, the people who desire for everything to be like the new Battlestar Galactica are idiots as well; That show should ligthen up as well. Just don't make it super silly. Nor do I think that everything should be geared towards teens and young adults, don't underestimate children, they can handle things that are not mind numbing silliness. Just make it fun.
AMiSHPiRATE 9/29/2008 6:49:40 AM
mckracken, I didn't say it was the first anime series to come over, the first popular anime series to come over, the first to raise general awareness of anime, or even the cause of turning anyone on to anime. Rather, it made the powers that be realize just how profitable the cheap localization of anime can be. Speed Racer, Voltron, and Robotech, popular as they may have been, never made the shear volume money that Pokemon continues to make. Within months of Pokemon's launch in the US, there was a sudden overwhelming influx of cheaply ported anime on US airwaves. Mainstream kids who would not consider themselves anime nerds watched it to a greater degree then kids from my generation watched Voltron and Robotech. Studios and Stations realized this and flooded the airwaves with a lot of low quality anime. I understand your frustration.
mckracken 9/29/2008 5:45:36 PM
Amish, I knew it wasnt the first, yes i would agree that it did cause a flood of cheap crap (Digimon) to come over, mainly because IMO, the adults of these kids only knew Disney for Family cartoons, their kids had Nictoons and Disney Channel since Saturday Morning Cartoons were outlawed by the Conservative Right Wingers (Bastards) and Pokemon was indeed proclaimed "harmless" for the kids...fortunatly for people like us that woke up to the MANY genre's of different styles of anime, and could separate the good from the bad from the ultra crap... Unfortunatly many adults still feel that there is only one type of cartoon, the family entertainment kiddie cartoon = Disney, and many have a low or negative perception of the quality of "anime" as inferior and sub-par (because of Pokemon and Digimon) compaired to the classic Disney stuff. (read: people are stupid)
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