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Toonami Is Sort Of Back, Or At Least The Word “Toonami” Is

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"Letters from the New York Otaku"

By David Cabrera


#46 - Toonami Is Sort Of Back, Or At Least The Word “Toonami” Is

We have talked previously about the old Cartoon Network anime block Toonami, how it introduced millions of American kids to Japanese animation, and how fondly remembered it has been for years since it was taken off the air. Starting from April Fool's Day of this year (http://bit.ly/JqBl2M), Cartoon Network has been formally asking fans if they want to see the block return. Response was positive.. and now Cartoon Network has made it official. Toonami will be coming back. We don't know a lot about the project... except for a single, major catch: The new Toonami will air on Saturday night from midnight to 6 AM.

The old Toonami was a weekday afternoon block. Kids grew up with it. That's why it was such a big deal. Right at the same time as Disney and Warner Bros.' animated efforts were airing on TV, many 90s kids were seeing a kind of cartoon that was completely new to them. A lot of those kids wanted more, and a lot of those kids became serious, lifelong fans. But a Toonami block so late in the night has no chance whatsoever of reaching a young audience and doing what the original Toonami did.

Furthermore, Cartoon Network has been running anime on Saturday nights from midnight to 6 for years already in their late-night, teen-targeted (despite the name) Adult Swim block. Bleach and Full Metal Alchemist have been running in this position for some time. So it's not really about bringing back Toonami, so much as it's about trying to rekindle interest in Cartoon Network's existing anime lineup by touching on the nostalgia of kids who grew up in the 1990s. Perhaps they are the real target here?

We do know, however, that there will be “new, original anime programming.” We don't yet know what that entails. Maybe, despite the word “original”, they mean broadcasts of brand-new shows from Japan? The most recent anime to run on Adult Swim was probably DRRR. The more exciting possibility is that Cartoon Network is again in talks with Japanese studios to make original content specifically for the channel: recall, for example, that a second season of The Big O was funded by Cartoon Network after the show became a major cult favorite on Toonami.

The new Toonami raises all kinds of questions: is there really an audience for late-night anime on TV in America the way there is for Japan? Hasn't much of the audience the new Toonami is aiming for already long ago escaped to the internet, where the anime flows freely by both legal and illegal means? Is there a Japanese anime that's run in the last ten years that have the pull on American geeks that Bebop, The Big O, or FLCL did? What works with Japanese otaku, as we know, doesn't necessarily work on their brethren in the west. The choice of shows Cartoon Network makes could be vital.

(Could a real new Toonami-- anime in the afternoon on weekdays-- on American TV have become popular? Is Japanese animation still a fascinating novelty for a generation of kids who've already grown up with Japanese toy-franchise anime like Yu-Gi-Oh, Bakugan and their descendants?)

I could ask questions like these for days... in fact, I've actually spent a couple of days that way. Next time I'm going to offer not just my speculations, but my suggestions.
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