A Retrospective look at TOONAMI: The Animation Block That Inspired a Generation
Throughout the 1990's Cartoon Network, the first 24 hour cartoon channel, experienced rapid growth. Its original slogan; "The Best Place for Cartoons" was truly a testament to the network's dedication to providing quality children's entertainment to the network. Its line up of Warner Bros/MGM Classics like The Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry, reruns of cartoons ranging from the 50's through the 80's like The Flintstones and The Smurfs, and of course its strong lineup of original 'Cartoon Cartoons' like Dexter's Lab and The Powerpuff Girls helped draw multiple generations to this animation powerhouse in the 1990's & early 2000's. However, Cartoon Network took a major gamble on March 17th, 1997, and it definitely paid off. It launched arguably one of its most well known and definitive animation blocks, TOONAMI.
For almost 20 years TOONAMI has provided a diverse lineup of primarily action oriented content hailing from 'the land of the rising sun' and in the U.S.A.
Airing typically on the weekdays, the block was originally hosted by Moltar, the villain from Space Ghost.
Shows that began airing this era included reruns of classic action cartoons such as Voltron, The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest, & ThunderCats. The block even began airing anime such as Sailor Moon & most notably Dragon Ball Z.
This block was an initial success and it helped draw in new fans to animation from Japan. Its important to note due to the relatively obscure presence of Anime (known as Japanamation in the mid 90's and before) in the West, many shows that were popular at the time like DBZ and Pokemon faced a lot of scrutiny from various western viewers. This was around when the TV rating system (which took effect in 1997) was starting to become a viable way to understand the suggested content for children for various ages.
Eventually in 1999 Moltar was dropped and the smooth talking robot, TOM was introduced. Now retrospectively known as TOM 1, the TOM 1 Era continued the success of shows like DBZ and Sailor Moon, and saw the debut of shows like Ronin Warriors, Batman TAS, ReeBoot, and Gundam Wing to name a few.
This era was when TOONAMI began to soar into popularity due to the larger library of shows on the block and new innovative ideas of enticing audiences. Most notably; having a progressing storyline that follows the character TOM over the years. While I'd like to go into the details I'd suggest you check this link (http://toonami.wikia.com/wiki/TOM) out to see the whole story!
Eventually what dawned was the TOM 2 Era, which began in 2000 and ended in 2003.
This era saw the debut of TOM 2, a taller, slimmer, and more mature version of TOM, after TOM 1's unfortunate untimely demise. This was the first version of TOM to be voiced by the legendary Steve Blum.
Shows that became Mammoth during this era included Outlaw Star, Batman Beyond, Mobile Suit Gundam, Dragon Ball, He Man: Masters of the Universe, and Transformers Armada, to name a few.
This was for most fans, the golden age for TOONAMI, providing great quality action cartoons & anime on a kick ass time slot. Due to TOONAMI's growing success the block eventually expanded to Saturday Mornings with TOONAMI: Rising Sun. This originally ran from April 2000 to October 2000 and was a run time of typically 3 hours. It featured shows like DBZ, Batman TAS, Tenchi Muyo!, & ThunderCats to name a few.
Popular demand led to the rebirth of the block in February 2002, but this time it was on Sunday mornings for only an hour. Still this brought more variety to the TOONAMI brand and Cartoon Network as a whole. This version of the block ended in 2003.
Another iteration of the popular TOONAMI block was The Midnight Run. Ran from July 1999 to January 2003, this block initially aired on Saturday Midnights from 12AM to 5AM, but it was shortened to 1 hour in 2000 and from on every midnight during the weekends.
Because of the late night time slot, this gave TOONAMI the green light to show more darker and mature themes in their shows. This saw the debut of classics like Robotech, The Uncut Version of Gundam Wing, The Big O, & more!
The final iteration of the TOONAMI block was actually aired in congruency with the popular Kids WB Saturday Morning block in the early 00's.
Kids WB! TOONAMI launched in July 2001 and ended in June 2002.
This block unfortunately was not received well by fans due to occasionally showing Kids WB branded shows like Scooby Doo & Pokemon on the block. Pretty much it was TOONAMI, just in name.
However, that minor blunder didn't stop TOONAMI's overall success in the late 90's & early 2000's. As TOONAMI's popularity soared and reached new heights, the variety and of the block continued to get better.
In March of 2003 the TOM 2 era and ended and what dawned was (and my personal favorite era) the TOM 3 era.
This era continued the success of shows like Gundam, Dragon Ball/Z, & Transformers Armada, along with expanding its library to include Yu Yu Hakusho, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ruroni Kenshin, Justice League TAS, & Megas XLR to name a few.
This weekday afternoon block was arguably TOONAMI's best, and unfortunately short lived. On April 17, 2004, TOONAMI officially moved from its weekday timeslot to a Saturday evening time slot. This was likely to make room for the new weekday afternoon block Miguzi.
While many of the fans hearts (including mine) were broken, we were quickly reimbursed with the continuation of popular shows like Yu Yu Hakusho & Justice League, along with the inclusion of shows like Naruto, Zatch Bell, One Piece, & IGPX to name a few.
In other words, TOONAMI was stil GOAT in the mid 2000's, despite a few bumps along the way. The block continued to excite both old and young, rich and poor, ying and yang.
TOONAMI from March 2006 to April 2006 dedicated a month to the brilliant Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, officially known as The Month of Miyazaki.
They played some of his most iconic feature animated films including, Spirited Away, Princes Mononoke, Castle In The Sky, and Nausica of the Valley of the Wind.
During the early-mid 2000's if you wanted to watch some of the best action cartoons and anime at a reasonable time slot, TOONAMI was the place to be. The amount of focus and energy the executives, producers, animators, & others exerted onto the block to this day remains extraordinary. Great variety of shows, epic bumpers, a badass storyline about TOM & his crew, great musical tracks ranging from techno to smooth jazz that were incorporated into their bumpers, heck even game reviews! This block had no boundaries for what it could achieve, and to the countless children and teens who grew up during this time period, I'm sure that you all have your own personal experiences with block (if you do, please share in the comments below!). And like all great things, it unfortunately started to go downhill...
You see as stated before, but the replacement of TOONAMI's iconic weekday evening block by Miguzi really was just a snowball effect into a downward spiral. TOONAMI was still good in the mid 2000's, but things started to take a massive turn to the worst in 2007. In 2007, despite TOONAMI's 10th anniversary and in retrospect seemed to be a decent year for the block, turned into a disaster. To start off, you had the biggest redesign to TOM this year at the dawn of the TOM 4 era. This abomination;
On top of that, due to the lack of a weekday block, ratings for the block started to take a massive dip. So when shows like Zatch Bell for instance ended their original U.S runs, because of a decline of ratings meant less shows being broadcasted on the network, and thus less variety. This was when the infamous 'Naruto filler' started to become the backbone of the entire block. Another thing to note was by this time many other networks saw the massive success Toonami had in the late 90's & early 00's and started to replicate it with their own shows or blocks. Nickelodeon during this time had their critically acclaimed anime inspired American cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender, which was a massive success to the network.
Various Disney affiliated stations had the block Jetix, a mixture of older FOX Kids Programming and newer action shows.
You even had the launch of Funimation Network during this time, an entire channel dedicated to showing Funimation licensed anime 24 hours a day!
The rising competition from other networks, let alone the standardization of the internet by this point and the rise of streaming sites for anime fans, and of course 2007 being a tumultuous year for Cartoon Network as a whole (Boston bombing scare, Stuart Snyder taking over, decline in quality for new CN toons, etc.) led to TOONAMI's massive decline in the late 2000's.
And On September 20th, 2008, it was officially over...
Or was it...?
On April 1st, 2012, what seemed to be a showing of the infamous classic (if you want to call it that) The Room on Adult Swim's annual April Fools Day prank, was really the return of TOONAMI which was originally only being shown for that one night. However, the next day on Adult Swim's Twitter page they asked, "Want it back? Let us know. #BringBackToonami". And the rest is history. On May 16th, 2012, Adult Swim announced the return of TOONAMI for May 26th. The reintroduced block was to feature new shows like Deadman Wonderland, Casshern Sins, Tenchi Muyo! GXP, Cowboy Bebop, InuYasha, among others.
As of December 2016, the block still continues 4 years later. While it only aires on Saturday nights on a VERY late time schedule, the block still airs a wide array of great shows. Shows like Dragon Ball Z Kai, One Punch Man, Hunter X Hunter, Dimension W, among others and of course the recent announcement for the inclusion of the english dub of Dragon Ball Super and other shows like Dragon Ball Z Kai: The Final Chapters, & the revival of Samurai Jack it seems to be that TOONAMI is back on the map!
As the years go by it is important for all of us to remember what brought us up to this point. One thing I'm thankful for witnessing during my childhood was TOONAMI because its the TV block that introduced me to anime like DBZ & Sailor Moon, New (at the time) Action cartoons like Justice League & Batman Beyond, reruns of GI Joe & Batman Beyond, and overall filling me with wonderful childhood memories and igniting the passion I have for anime, American animation, and other similar variances of pop culture I have today! So thanks TOONAMI, and all of the staff that has helped keep the block afloat all of these years. In another 3 months, I cannot wait to celebrate your 20th birthday, and a toast to another 20 years to come!