Toonami – A History of Broadcast Anime


There’s always been one essential component in the way we consume entertainment and that’s curation. We look to curation with our music, our films, our television. A sort of culturally gatekeeper to oversee… …a library too large to sift through alone and for most of us who grew up in a pre-social media age, our gateway into the world of anime came from one place. We call it TOONAMI, an exclusive uniquely styled block of programming that was designed to bring an awareness and a respectability… …to an art form somewhat overlooked by American audiences. Toonami debuted March 17, 1997 after programming executive Mike Lazzo tapped Sean Aikens and Jason DeMarco to produce an action block that would showcase some of Cartoon Network’s newly-acquired teen-oriented IPs. Something the Network had been attempting since its inception with the Super Adventures block in ’92… …and then Power Zone in ’96. The original lineup being Cartoon Roulette, ThunderCats, Voltron and The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, and to give the block an atmosphere and a personality, they used CGI interstitials hosted by Space Ghost own… …Moltar, voiced by the late great C. Martin Croker, one of the principal animators of Coast to Coast. It wouldn’t be until the summer of ’99 during Toonami’s Midnight Run when a major design shift would… …introduce the Toonami Operations Module or TOM, as the new permanent host of Toonami, originally portrayed by the voice of Dragonball Z’s Krillin, Sonny Strait, before being replaced by Steve Blum in 2000, an auditory icon in the anime and gaming industry. And through TOM, they were able to express a reverence for anime… …that hadn’t been since on any other network. People think Toonami was the only place to get this content but anime was airing on American television long before 1997. The SciFi channel had a block in the mid-nineties called Saturday Anime, which would showcase more mature… …programming with things like Akira and Dominion Tank Police. Unfortunately it was buried in the ratings’ dead zone one night a week so it didn’t reach a very wide audience. Or even as far back as the 60s with Tetsuwan Atom or Mach GoGoGo. It’s just that most people weren’t aware of their foreign origins due to some pretty heavy westernizing practices They just knew them as Astro Boy and Speed Racer, but Toonami brought anime into the mainstream with its cultural identity intact. It wasn’t just the shows. It was the connective tissue, the curation and the aesthetic and the respectful treatment of the broadcast. The feeling that someone is introducing you to something they had a great deal of passion for and when that passion is relayed with care, it can become infectious but when it’s insincere the contempt for the material becomes very obvious. Just look at SABAN’s treatment of DragonBall Z when it aired on The WB: “And now it’s time for action, adventure and some real nasty characters. Here comes DragonBall Z!” and that’s a result of not understanding the material, not understanding the demographic… but Toonami understood its audience. And its goal was to speak to kids directly, rather than down to them. It also served as a great introduction to long-form, serialized programming with things like Gundam Wing… …as opposed to episodic content which was pretty common in animated shows at the time. And things like the month of Miyazaki, or Giant Robot Week, helped kids make the distinction… …between a style, and a genre. Anime is not a genre. And that was something important to articulate during the early years of Toonami. This was a form of entertainment the majority of American audiences were still four decades behind on. So, they had to make it clear that, even if you weren’t the biggest fan of Sailor Moon, that wasn’t representative of the entire block. The programming was fluid so there was always something for everyone. The phrase ‘Toonami Faithful’ was born out of this constant threat of failure by the network. Despite Toonami being a staple of nearly every kid’s afternoon television viewing experience, it was always teetering on the edge of cancellation. Then, in 2008, due to rising competition and a somewhat unpopular design alteration, Toonami had what seemed to be its final broadcast. TOM: “Well, this is the end, beautiful friends.” “After more than 11 years, this is Toonami’s final broadcast.” “It’s been a lot of fun, and we’d like to thank each and every one of you who made this journey with us.” “Toonami wouldn’t have been anything without you.” And TOM was right. Without the outpouring of support from Toonami’s dedicated fan base, the block would’ve stay dead. But on May 26th, 2012… …something no one saw coming happened. TOM: “Oh hi, Adult Swim! You got the results of the test back. I definitely have April Fools” What started off as just a clever April Fools joke, turned to a full fledged, internally and externally, driven campaign to get Toonami back on the air. [ ]: ‘The viewership that night went from the normal two hundred thousand viewers to about 1.4 million, something like that, so they were able to a get a loan for the programming, everybody worked for free after hours and we did it just for love, really, in the beginning to try it to get it back on the air for you guys!’ Toonami’s resurrection really demonstrated the power of the people and taught a lot of kids the value in… …supporting the things that you love. Being vocal and persistent and sharing your interests with others the way Toonami shared them with you. There is an art to curation, more than just an algorithm. It comes from a genuine love of the craft and a meaningful relationship with the audience. ♪♪ Tyler The Creator – Hey You (Prod. Toro y Moi) ♪♪

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