Feature: Grading Toonami, Show By Show – The Revival (#1)

Memorial Day weekend, 2012. After four years away from television, and after weeks of a grassroots social media campaign, Toonami reemerges for the Adult Swim audience, taking over the block-slash-channel on Saturday nights, and in that time, there have been quite a good number of shows, and even films, gracing the television screen every weekend for, on average, a million or so people. Maybe a little less nowadays, but the goal has been the same ever since: bringing you a better cartoon show, one episode at a time. However, it is very clear that some shows carry higher weight than others, and after six years, this leaves plenty of programs to look at, judge, and ultimately grade.

Yes, grade. In celebration of the sixth anniversary of Toonami’s revival, in something akin to our “older days,” I will be going on an odyssey of sorts by taking a look at the shows, and even films, that have come onto the airwaves since that time in small little chunks, serving as miniature reviews as well as offering anecdotal pieces about said programs. And this is all to ultimately determine what grade each program will be given, based on its general reception, overall performance on the air, guest anecdotes, as well as my own personal opinion. But mostly personal opinion.

Of course, there has to be at least one prerequisite in play here, and for this series of pieces, it’s fairly simple: any shows airing in rerun mode prior to May 26, 2012 are ineligible for entry. However, any shows that aired in the past, but were reacquired for the purpose of broadcast during the block, will be eligible for entry. Simple, right? Simple, yes. So cue the intro and let’s get on with the journey.

Bleach (May 26, 2012 – January 31, 2015)

Of course, there was one show prior to that date that was still in premieres, so what better place to start than with the initial anchor of both Adult Swim Action and the 2012 Toonami revival, Bleach.

Ohh, Bleach. You had all the promise in the world, when you started in 2006, but by this time, you were just floundering all over with endless filler arcs, pointless meandering about nonsense storylines, and serving up unpleasant climaxes to an arc that was better left abandoned than fully realized. Alas, when new episodes of Bleach made their way onto Toonami on its first weekend, it was stuck in the middle of the “Zanpakuto: The Alternate Tale” arc, a filler arc best left unremembered by most, if not all. Mostly because this was right in the middle of the endless… endless… ENDLESS… Arrancar arc, an arc that was divided up into SIX parts between episodes 110 and 310. With anime-only storyarcs cutting in every so often. Can you wonder why this show tanked in the end?

In all likelihood, anyone reading this should know the basis of Bleach‘s storyline, so there’s no need to retread it here. So anyway, by the time that things got back to the Arrancar storyline a few months later, aka the second half of the “Fake Karakura Town” arc, things were going pretty well for its run, all things considered. With its lowered standards, it was an alright arc and made for some fun riff material online… and then the “final battle” happened, the final fight between Ichigo and Aizen, with the big buildup being that Ichigo would have to use the FINAL – extra emphasis on that word – Getsuga Tensho, becoming one with his attack and defeating Aizen once and for all. Except that didn’t happen. Aizen no-sold it, and then Urahara came over to do some seal magic or whatever, and just like THAT, Aizen is defeated, locked away for 10,000 years. What a wet fart of a final battle, no decisive winner and Ichigo looks like a GEEK because of it.

And sadly, everything after that was just the same kind of meandering all around that the show became known for at this time. Gotei 13 and Fullbring were pretty “meh” arcs, really, and the series didn’t last too long in the rerun section during the end of its run – though that was more for external circumstances more than anything else, but still. In the end, the excitement felt in the first couple dozen episodes of Bleach were a long forgotten, and even hollow – pun intended – memory, replaced by a show with no purpose to it anymore, just a show meandering around doing stuff. What a pity. That being said, judging how it performed, it managed to serve as a strong midnight anchor for its whole two year run, even in a few rerun spurts here and there. And credit to its fanbase for sticking through it all, even in its most dire of times, which would’ve made up most of its 2012-2014 run.

But no, it’s never coming back in anime form. It ended badly in the manga, too. Let it stay dead.

Grade: C-
Bleach started out well, but fell off a cliff and stayed falling for far too long; despite the drop in quality, it did manage to pull a large audience weekly as an anchor program, even up until its final episode in late 2014.

Deadman Wonderland (May 26 – August 12, 2012; January 3 – March 21, 2015)

A show is really only as good as its first impression. So when a show starts out with a classroom full of teens getting brutally murdered by an unseen omnipresent force, that’s one heck of a first impression. Enter Deadman Wonderland, a cheery little show about a young man named Ganta who was framed for the murder of his classmates and sent to the eponymous prison-slash-amusement park to take part in some murderous shenanigans that Battle Royale only wishes it could get away with. Of course, he has a power of his own, he can use his own blood as a weapon, in a way, which comes to great use for when he has to fight in the usual routine of spectator-filled deathmatches with his fellow convicts. Metal as hell, eh? It certainly earned its TV-MA content rating with that, and with the cluster bleep-bomb just a few episodes in. And an additional point goes toward its favor for its grungy/metal OP, clunky engrish aside. It’s a killer track with a great hook of “I will be your deadman…” in the chorus.

So, with an immediate hook, plenty of violence for any late-night television quota, bleeps up the wazoo in spots, and enough intrigue to keep people tuning in, this was sure to be a big runaway success, right? Well… okay, over here, it was a solid draw throughout its run and, in a way, was a case of “right show, right time” for the Adult Swim relaunch of Toonami, that much is true. It was a fresh show ready for a new audience to discover it, only one year after its run in Japan, and it found its audience in stride. But outside of that? Kind of a bomb, especially on TV in Japan. It ended on a cliffhanger with its final episode, and that was it; no second season for this show, go and read the manga if you want more. At least we had those hashtag campaigns, though, right? Alas, at least for this viewer, the violence and carnage just isn’t quite enough, knowing it just ends on a really flat note at episode 12. However, for what it’s worth, it’s a fine ride throughout its twelve episode run, if only ending things off a bit too short at the end. It was also very neat to see it make a return in 2015, if only for a little while, and it’s a shame that the series, in all likelihood, won’t be coming back to animated form any time soon.

RIP Manglobe.

In my mind, Deadman Wonderland was the perfect show to kick off the next era of Toonami, as it set a standard for the future shows on the block. With its revival on Adult Swim, the Toonami staff was given almost free rein to air programming containing hyper violence and adult themes. Deadman Wonderland not only attempts to tackle these ideas, but it also has fun with its setting and characters. Despite the grim nature of a carnival-prison, the wacky antics of Deadman Wonderland’s characters always keep the ride entertaining and humorous. I believe that’s why Deadman Wonderland agreed so well with Toonami’s audience. The combination of violence, grim themes, and humor made the perfect blend for a show airing on a Toonami aimed at young adults. There is a very good reason why Adult Swim licensed the show for another run in 2015. I mean, who could forget the lovely Hummingbird and her bottle of formaldehyde?

Deadman Wonderland also set the standard for dub premieres on Toonami. Airing on U.S. television just a few months after its conclusion in Japan, Deadman Wonderland was an unusual and rare case of a quick dub turnaround. Toonami later premiered numerous English dubs in the following years, including world premieres. I would argue that Toonami greatly influenced distributors to risk doing simuldubs, and it all started with Deadman Wonderland. No matter what one thinks of Deadman Wonderland, the show’s influence on Toonami was extraordinary, and that fact cannot be understated.

– Tyler/@KokiriKid3, former EIC of Surreal Resolution

Grade: B-
Deadman Wonderland did well enough to get some buzz, and it does offer some solid enjoyment throughout, but it ends so flat with no continuation and no prospect of a continuation that it feels a bit too hollow as a one-off kind of show.

Casshern Sins (May 26 – November 3, 2012)

Now, THIS is something more my style. A gritty retelling of Tatsunoko’s Casshan franchise, filled with equal parts robot fights, exploration, insightful existentialist commentary, and gorgeous animation from Madhouse? Sign me up, Casshern Sins. But now I’m left to try and sell this show without going into episodic spoiler recaps of the show; perhaps I’ll go back and give this show a longer review at another time, but for now, I’ll try and sum up this show as such: Casshern is an amnesiac android who destroyed the world as we know it, but doesn’t remember a thing and wants to instead try to save whoever he can from “ruination,” while trying to discover who, and what, he really is. While also trying to avoid destruction by angry mobs of robots all over. Insert a supporting cast of a good dog named Friender, an old wise man named Ohji, a cute young robot girl named Ringo, and a cautious deuteragonist named Lyuze, along with a mystery about who this Luna person is, and with a good sprinkling of action and drama all over, and you have a pretty fine show.

The first half of Casshern Sins is, for the most part, the rising action that sets the stage by introducing the cast, piece by piece, to give the audience some time to feel them out before the second half kicks in, with the meat of the plotline shifting into the main focus. Now, granted, this show can be a bit, er… verbose, at times, with more of an emphasis on the characters and their complexities rather than the action, which will admittedly turn some people off, especially at 1:00 in the morning. But pairing this with Deadman Wonderland to kick things off at the start made for a pretty strong dichotomy as to what Toonami could get with this relaunch, even if it was joked about being from the Funimation “bargain bin.” But back to my main point, you can have the crazy action with Deadman while having a more serious and dramatic series with Casshern, and it makes for a more diverse slate of programming as a result. If anyone slept on this show, I strongly recommend checking it out because this show will certainly surprise you. Sure, it’s a bit slower than one would expect from a Toonami alumnus, but it’s worth going through the slower ride by the end.

And yes, Friender is a very, very good boy.

Grade: B+
Casshern Sins is
not quite a show for all audiences, with its more methodical pacing and emphasis on character drama over fight scenes, but there are some fine surprises in store for those invested throughout its run.

The first few months set the stage for a fine return, as would the remainder of 2012 with a few other interesting pick-ups, and we’ll be taking a look at those pickups next time, involving a robot samurai, a robot on a surfboard, a robot with an alien royalty and soldier, and… well, the Thundercats reboot. No, the first one, not the recent one; great timing for that, isn’t it?

To be continued…

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