Feature: Grading Toonami, Show By Show – The Highs and Low (#3)

When reviving a block like Toonami, many things have to be taken into consideration for its audience. And, for both the benefit and detraction of its own sake, this means trying to blend both elements of old and new to please said audience. What this means, really, is trying to take elements from the olden days and bring them into the current timeframe and context, which is very tricky to pull off successfully. But, seeing how this is always considered a “work in progress” with plenty of room for improvement, the realm of experimentation is as vast as can be. After all, some shows will be winners and others – as we will see later on in this series – not so much. And, alas… we have to start on a non-winner, because there was always one TV series from the Tenchi Muyo! franchise that never made its way onto Turner airwaves.

But WHY did it have to be the worst series of them all?

Tenchi Muyo! GXP (November 10, 2012 – May 11, 2013)

Let it be known, I am a big Tenchi fan, so much so that I can be called an apologist. But THIS? Yeah, no, I can’t defend this one bit, this is a series that faceplants so hard that it burrows itself deep into the ground and is set on staying there throughout. And I sat through EVERY episode of this trainwreck, even when it was bumped down to 3:00am, because I was very, very stupid. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me at least try and explain what this show is about.

So, this is a spin-off series that focuses on the Galaxy Police… only without Mihoshi and Kiyone… and without Tenchi. Instead, we get some guy named Seina who, while cursed to be unlucky forever – think a reverse Domino from Deadpool 2 – happens to come across a crashed spaceship, fills out a form without reading it, and finds himself enrolled in the Galaxy Police. But you see, they were actually looking for Tenchi to begin with, and they just got this guy because they kinda look similar, because comedy. Oh, the hijinks. Or lack thereof. And that’s your story – Seina is a hapless harem lead that the women around him would like to stay beside for some dumb reason, and they do stuff in space. For 26 episodes.

And trust me when I say that this show is…

PAINFUL.

It’s the kind of comedy series that both doesn’t adapt very well into English and has such a lack of comedic material present that it’s a miracle that the too-good-for-this-schock dub cast (including Tony Oliver, Dorothy Fahn, Wendee Lee, Barbara Goodson, and Kari Wahlgren to name a few) managed to make this show, at the very least, somewhat watchable. But not for this TV audience, it was known for having one of the biggest drops between shows EVER: a drop of 38% in its third week at 12:30, followed by a drop of 32% after one week at 1am. Two weeks later, it was bumped all the way down to 3:00 AM. And miraculously, it managed to do fairly well in that back-half timeslot, so… by the slimmest of margins, this show wasn’t a total waste, but in terms of quality?

Yeah, failure to launch, no question.

Grade: D
Despite being an unfunny endurance of cringe and pain, Tenchi Muyo! GXP managed to maintain a steady viewership all the way down at 3:00 in the morning. Leave it on the shelf of “never again,” right beside Pilot Candidate and Wulin Warriors.

Naruto (December 1, 2012 – November 30, 2013; January 4 – September 6, 2014)

Well, when one show just isn’t cutting it, that’s when it’s time to call in a favor and pull out the big guns. Yes, the big orange doofus known as Naruto made his grand return to the block, after some time away with his older incarnation having a cup at the CoffeeHouse of Mouse, and this time, the original series aired uncut for the first time. Which… um, cool? I guess? So yeah, you don’t need me to go about the story of Naruto here, most of you out there should know the main premise already. Instead, I’ll let Tyler jump in and handle this show.

I knew Naruto would become a staple again on Toonami, I just didn’t expect his story to start, well, from the beginning. I think many Toonami fans can relate to that feeling.

Toonami fans had a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving 2012. Not only was the recently rebooted block doing incredibly well and expanding, it was also about to welcome the return of a fan-favorite ninja. While many of us were eating dinner on that Thanksgiving, the Toonami staff announced the return of the original Naruto series, which would air uncut for the first time on U.S. television. The acquisition of Naruto was just as significant in 2012 as it was in 2005. The return of Naruto and the gang proved to fans that Toonami on Adult Swim was becoming stronger, and that the network was willing to let the crew acquire bigger properties. On the other hand, it was also the first major instance where fans questioned the block’s reliance on older shows that previously aired on Cartoon Network.

It was never Adult Swim’s initial intention to start Naruto from the beginning. While renewing Bleach for more episodes, the Toonami staff also attempted to acquire Naruto: Shippuden. However, Disney still held television rights to the series, despite not actively airing the series. At the time of original Naruto’s return, this wasn’t known to most fans. Airing the first 52 episodes was simply the only choice for Naruto on Toonami, and personally, I’m incredibly happy those episodes received another run on Toonami. The first season of Naruto is full of classic, nostalgic stories that are still highly enjoyable. In fact, the first episode of Naruto remains one of my favorite episodes of shonen anime ever. It was great fun to see those original episodes again.

Tyler/@KokiriKid3, former EIC of Surreal Resolution

Grade: B+
While the revived run of Naruto was cut short due to some business deals, it did offer a good bit of the better episodes of the series and served INCREDIBLY well as a 12:30 timeslot anchor during that time.

Soul Eater (February 16, 2013 – March 15, 2014)

What do you get when you combine sentient weapons, the incarnate of Death, some sprinklings of fanservice, crazed action and nutty slapstick, a setting ripped from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the walking meme that is Excalibur? You get one of the most “anime-iest” shonen shows around in Soul Eater. Now, shonen anime has always been the bread & butter of the block, so for a shonen show to come around in a bit of a contemporary coat of paint, it serves for a fine addition… even if the latter half of the series had some stumblings.

The plot is pretty simple: a meister and their weapon/partner need to collect 99 human souls and one witch soul to turn said weapon into a “death scythe” for their headmaster, the literal Grim Reaper in the form of a shinigami named Death. Told you it was literal. The pairs serve as a fun dichotomy toward one another: Maka is very type-A while her partner, Soul, is more laid back; Black Star is a brash and arrogant ninja, while Tsubaki is very patient and kind-hearted in nature; and while Death the Kid (yes, great name, I know) is incredibly obsessive-compulsive and uptight, his partners Patty and Liz are resourceful and powerful when needed to be clutch, coming from the mean streets of Brooklyn. This makes for some pretty interesting character growth all around, as well as some fine comedic moments with how they interact with one another, and as the series pushes onward, it honestly does take a bit of a tumble in the second half, culminating with a bit of an open-ended “power of friendship” ending. Personally, I’m not too bothered by that, but I can get why some would be; agree to disagree, I guess.

And yes, Soul Eater is excellent and managed to serve well as a 1am lead-in and lead-out. Like you needed me to say that.

Grade: B+
Soul Eater blends both impressive action and well-crafted characters into an incredibly solid addition that stands out within the wide shonen catalogue. Well recommended.

Evangelion 1.11: You are (not) alone. (March 16, 2013)

Have you seen the first six episodes of the Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series? Then you’ve seen this movie. If you haven’t, watch this film because it is, arguably, the best entry point I can recommend for anyone curious about the insanity that is Evangelion. But, to be fair to any young ones who may not have ever seen this series, I’ll explain the basic introductory plot of the series here: Shinji Ikari is a manic-depressive teen with anxiety and abandonment issues, his mother is dead and his father is insane, and he’s been summoned to NERV by his soon-to-be mother-figure in Misato Katsuragi to pilot a giant mech called an EVA (in this case, EVA Unit-01), in order to fight back against powerful monsters called Angels. Got it? Good, that’s the bulk of the introductory info you need to get into the franchise, because anything else would be going deep into spoiler territory.

Now, the series actually did have a one-day butchered-to-shreds stint on Toonami, back in 2003, and would later air (mostly) unedited on Adult Swim a few years later. This was also a series first produced back in 1995, and it really does look it. But, since its head man in charge, Hideaki Anno, is an insane perfectionist – I can relate – he decided to give the series a restart in the form of the Rebuild of Evangelion film series tetralogy. The first film was released in 2007 in Japan, with the second in 2009 and the third in 2012, while the fourth, as of this writing, is STILL in production. Like I said, Anno is an insane perfectionist. Who was also busy with making a Godzilla movie for Toho. But anyway, as for this first movie, like I said, it’s a great introduction into the franchise as, as I said, it’s the first six episodes condensed into a 100-minute film with cleaner animation production and, with all due respect to the ADV Films dub cast and writers, a better English dub performance from the two returning VAs in Spike Spencer (Shinji) and Allison Keith (Misato). And for this airing as a special birthday night presentation for Toonami, it was pretty welcomed to get a special movie presentation and change things up a bit.

This won’t be the last time we touch on this film series here, so stay tuned for more.

Grade: A
Evangelion 1.11 is arguably the best entry point for anyone for the series, you can start with this film and branch out to the TV series or the rest of the films, or even both. A fine birthday special for Toonami, turning 16 at the time.

Well, we took a big leap up from where we started with this installment, didn’t we? Started out with a terribly un-funny “comedy” and ended up on a high note. Let’s keep that ball rolling next time, as we’ll be looking at two returning shows that were once deemed impossible to get back, a continuation of the Evangelion film series with a little bonus added in, and… well, Sword Art Online.

You should know what to expect from me with that.

To be continued…

Leave a Reply