Feature: Grading Toonami, Show By Show – The Controversial Popularity (#4)

Maybe it’s just because I, and many others, grew up in a different time and in a different era, but the defining traits of a “popular” anime certainly did change in just one short decade. This will be coming up in this piece, as we go through three shows, all at one time having high aspirations and expectations and all finding their individual niches within the broader community. And I’m saying this right now, in regards to one show in particular, I am not going to be nice about it. There’s your fair warning.

IGPX (April 27, 2013 – April 26, 2014; January 3-24, 2015)

When talking about IGPX, the first-ever Toonami original program, it’s very important to talk about the context of when this was first made. Premiering in the fall of 2005 as a joint production between Toonami and Williams Street, Cartoon Network, Bandai Visual, and Production I.G., this is a series that combines mech action with a sports anime setting, telling the rags-to-riches story of a racing team taking part in the eponymous Immortal Grand Prix, having been promoted to the “big leagues” of the IG-1 with plenty to prove and even more to claw through. With some great animation and mecha work from I.G. and an all-star voice cast to boot (featuring notable talents of Haley Joel Osment, Michelle Rodriguez, Mark Hamill, and Lance Henriksen), this is a very unique show in both concept and execution, even if some of its elements border on the line of cliché.

And that information is important because, for the 2006 audience, this show was not a draw. So much so not a draw that it was booted from its Saturday @ 10:30 slot to a Friday night @ midnight burnoff slot and later made a victim of a network write-off. However, only because of the complex production committee and deal involving this show, they were able to bring this show back for a go-around on Adult Swim. This was something I greatly appreciated, as I did not have cable during its first run in ’05/’06, so I was able to experience this show for the first time in 2013 because of said return. And what I got out of this show is something very… well, unusual for anime; a show like this, from its production committee to its plotline and execution to even its Hollywood voice cast, fascinated me and still does fascinate me. I’m all about strange and “outside” kind of shows that don’t really fit “the norm,” especially with how today’s anime industry operates, so this is a show I can completely get behind. Granted, not every bit of IGPX lands on its feet, especially in its second half, but pound for pound, it’s still a very solid show that, at the very least, is worth checking out if only to see what on Earth they pulled off in 2005. And thankfully for it, its 2am and 2:30 slots pulled fairly well, minus a few brief slips. Shoutout to the folks at Discotek Media, and the folks who helped Discotek Media, for making that awesome DVD set happen.

Also, why did the rating box in the promo for the show say it was TV-14 DSV? That was just factually false, but whatever.

Grade: B-
IGPX isn’t quite a strong sell for everyone, but it’s a very unique piece of anime history, being a big co-production between Cartoon Network and Bandai with Production I.G. in tow.

One Piece (May 18, 2013 – March 18, 2017)

I don’t need to talk about One Piece. You all know about One Piece. It is an excellent series that has served as the standard of shonen adventure, in both manga and anime form, for nearly twenty years. But over here in the States, it had a bit of a rougher path. Allow me to explain: in 2003, Funimation reportedly were going after the rights to this series, but said rights were swooped out from under them in 2004 by the flounderizer extraordinaire known as 4Kids Entertainment, for broadcast on the FOX network’s weekend kids’ block. However, April 2005 marked the start of One Piece’s first run on Toonami, using that same bad edit, before the project was cancelled by 4Kids in the end of 2006, giving Funimation the opportunity to pick up the show and handle it the way they intended to, starting in August 2007. Alas, the show would only air until March of the following year, and wouldn’t be seen again for five years, with this second go-around in a more uncut form.

Now, I can tell you, following both the Long Ring Long Land and Water 7/Enies Lobby sagas in their entirety – which lasted over two years, for the record – this is a show that you WILL get burned out on if you’re not careful with it. Following One Piece is like following professional wrestling, you either stick with it for years on end or you finally reach that point of burnout and just cut it altogether. And that’s what happened to me, I enjoyed the trip I took but I reached that point where I couldn’t keep following it weekly. And that, in my view, was a big point as to why the series was pulled in 2017; it had a few timeslot moves, going from its original 1am slot down a half-hour, and later down to 2:30, and combined with the downward shift in live viewing habits over the past five years, it ended up turning into a “no choice” decision but to pull it.

And even though I won’t name names, there are some who have some ill will toward the people running Toonami because of it being pulled. Something I’ve learned early on is that, in the television industry, nothing is permanent. Series will come and go, in the end, and yeah, it sucks when your favorite series is on one week and gone the next, but in my own personal opinion, it’s just not healthy to dwell on such a move or hold a grudge over a television decision. Things happen, shows come and go, and it’s better to enjoy the time spent with it on than dwell on it being off.

Ya hear me?

One Piece’s descent on Toonami is there wasn’t one but rather a combination of circumstances that went against it. The first issue was them skipping straight to Davy Back Fight arc, comedic breather between the long Skypeia arc & the massive CP9 saga. Toonami threw casual audiences who might’ve heard about One Piece but never watched right into the deep end without any prep besides “buy the DVDs!” Was it really that hard to do some vignettes to explain just who the Straw Hats and what their world is like? Viewership for 2013-2014 was well, even breaking one million, it wasn’t until 2015 when it slowly started to lose more & more viewers from whatever was on before it.

Ultimately, One Piece’s failure, in my opinion, was due to bad timing on all parties involved. They tried to give it a primetime rerun slot, only to do so when it was doing an AU comedy filler. They gave it a marathon, only for it be comprised of wrap-up for Enies Lobby & filler. In retrospect, what truly sent the series into the ratings spiral was a recap that lasted FIVE EPISODES and aired right as Toonami took the normal schedule off for December. In a just world, One Piece would be able to be an anchor for the end of the Toonami block, but I guess some really are just born to sing the blues.

(Also, as proof it’s me: Nico Robin is best waifu)

– Don East/@TheRealDonEast, One Piece fan

One Piece has had its share of history on TV, from the 4Kids days (UGGGGHHHHH) to the pre-Toonami cancellation, and being on the new Toonami proper. From nearly being ruined, to getting back on US television, One Piece is something that has gotten many chances. When it came back on Toonami in May of 2014, instead of starting at the beginning like Naruto did, it started at ep. 207. There was nothing wrong with that, although it did start with one of the most annoying characters the franchise has seen in “Silver Fox” Foxy (“FEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE FE FE FE FE!!!!”). It led us into one of the best story arcs that the series has given us, the Water 7 arc, followed by the Enies Lobby arc. There we met Franky, showed how Usopp left the crew for the Merry and his apology, saw Robin’s past life and how she left the crew, got taken back by the crew as they faced the World Government, Luffy’s two new forms in 2nd and 3rd Gears. Or “Gear Secondou” and “Gear Thirdou.” I love the sub version, what can I say? And it gave us the best character of all time in Sniper King, and it also gave us an emotional goodbye with the Going Merry; only One Piece can make you cry for a ship. Then it moved on to the Thriller Bark arc, where we meant up with Brook, our gentlemanly skeleton who wants to see panties, and his history with Laboon, a big whale the crew knows. Or, if you grew with the 4Kids version, a f***ing iceberg. Because 4Kids. Anyway, there are zombies, a giant zombie, a Warlord who’s laugh is awful, a woman who wants to marry you, Nightmare Luffy, and then another Warlord who blows everyone away. It’s not the best arc of this series, but it has some good moments.

Overall, One Piece did do pretty well on the block. It started out great, had a decent air time, and was far and away better being shown with the Funi uncut version than the garbage that was 4Kids. However, after a mini-filler that basically showcased the first 200+ episodes, the ratings went downhill from there. While it did better than most of the new stuff you see now (Blame it on cable dying, not Toonami dying), still got a ton of advertisement by the crew, and had a very good fanbase following it, it stuck in your head. The constant time-shifts in place, and the fact it just doesn’t have as many casual fans as DBZ and Naruto does, you could see that One Piece didn’t have long for the block. And so, after 177 episodes and 3 years worth of airtime, it got cut from Toonami in 2017 right before one of the biggest storyarcs were to happen. While I have come to terms with One Piece leaving the block, and know there’s little chance of it returning, I’m still not over how it was cut. The show was only given one-week’s notice before getting the axe, which still irks me. They could’ve at least gave it a month’s notice to say it was leaving, but instead, it felt like it was given a quick pink-slip and it had to remove all the stuff from its office immediately. And it was what replaced it that also still gets me mad. But that’s for a future piece. For now, I’ll look at One Piece’s time on the renewed Toonami as mostly a good thing. As Jason and co. gave the show one more chance, gave us episodes never before seen on US TV, and quite frankly, it did pretty well for itself for all the time it had.

– Kadeem/@cedric_alpha, Surreal Resolution columnist

Grade: A-
A landmark staple of anime, One Piece served as a once-impossible score for the revival of Toonami with a run of four years, only suffering diminishing performance much later on.

Sword Art Online (July 27, 2013 – February 15, 2014)

To quote one Anthony Fantano, Sword Art Online is, uh… NOT GOOD. I realize that I may be in the minority when it comes to this show, and I understand and respect the opinion of those who really like, or even love, SAO. I get the appeal and I can see the zeitgeist that this show has to offer, but for me? Putting window dressing on a show with such terrible and inconsistent writing, in both character and plot, doesn’t salvage this steaming pile. I gave this show an honest chance when it premiered, knowing full well of the pitfalls laying across the horizon, and I still dropped this show early on because it was, of all things, boring to me. Note, this was BEFORE the introduction of the main couple playing house, the big bad forgetting why he wanted to play God in the first place, the female lead being shoved into a fridge, the incest-laden subplot, and the sexual assault and rape attempt and intent. Lazy writing won’t lure me back in, is what I’m trying to say.

But here’s the thing: this show DIDN’T have to be a simpering pile of disappointment and wasted potential. There IS a good idea to be found within Sword Art Online, it’s just that the people in charge found it better to go down the easy and cheap route by giving the main character f***boy of Kirito the power of plot convenience, a harem of one-note girls (including his cousin-sister because of course there’s an incestuous romance subplot here), and more than enough reason to make him the anime equivalent of WWE’s Roman Reigns: beloved by the more casual fan, reviled by the diehard “smart” fans. That doesn’t mean the whole show is a waste, however; there are good elements to be found, be it in the music and art direction, the better-for-this-schlock dub cast,  the perfect bro character in Klein, and heck, just look at the GGO Alternative anime for proof that there is good stuff to be crafted from this show’s base. But like I said, window dressing doesn’t fix bigger problems, and this show has PROBLEMS up the wazoo with its poor characterization, lazy writing, and downright offensive plot elements – adding in sexual assault does NOT make your villain that much more of a bad guy, it just makes the writers look like lazy hacks.

Yes, I know Sword Art Online is a popular series, and yes, I know it did well at 2am, so please don’t try and tell me that. I do give credit where credit is due, but I’m also not going to hold back when there needs to be criticism given. Much like how not every really well-written series is super popular, not every super popular series is well-written, and in the case of this show? You can dress it up all you want, it’ll still be a poorly-written mess. ESPECIALLY its second season… but that’s for another week.


Sword Art Online does have an interesting concept on its hands with virtual reality gaming and the thought of being trapped in a game world and if you die in the game, you die for real. The premise is indeed intriguing…. too bad this show failed to live up to its concept with its awful writing and dialogue, a bland and over-powered MC that’s more wish-fulfillment wanking than development along with his own harem, and a waifu whose character regressed hard during the Alfheim arc with very creepy results, super edge-lord and gross moments that thinks its daring but, in actuality, it’s try-hard and superfluous, along with the unearned emotional moments that tries to tug your heartstrings but crashes and burns all the way.

I will give kudos to the art style of the show, as it is gorgeous to glaze at, and the English dub does give good performances from Bryce Papenbrook and Cherami Leigh as the leads. Oh, and Klein and Agil happened to be the few characters I actually like on the show but other than that, Sword Art Online is a good example of how a popular title =/= quality anime and yet I’m not done with this franchise yet.

Oh, I’m definitely not finished with this yet.

– Mark/@MAK2HybridMedia, Surreal Resolution columnist and Decibel Boost co-host

Grade: C-
While a strong draw at 2am, the poor level of writing on display leaves Sword Art Online feeling less like a perfect choice and more like a choice of “popular, but very messy.”

Evangelion 2.22: You can (not) advance. (August 31, 2013 and December 27, 2014)

It’s the end of Evangelion 1.11 and the end of the sixth episode of the TV series. You see a fork in the road, one side goes to the rest of the TV anime and all of that baggage, and this newer side leads down a path of inevitability and unawareness for what the future holds. But at least there’s a new cute girl named Mari with glasses down this road. Lo and behold, this film is where the Rebuild series veers off toward its own path, with some pretty interesting changes to it. Normally, I wouldn’t go too deep into spoilers, but with this one, I kinda can’t avoid it, so just scroll down to the bold text if you don’t want to know. Otherwise, here we go.

SHINJI NUTS UP IN THIS MOVIE. Rei ends up being held captive and consumed by an Angel, and knowing this, Shinji decides to “get in the damn robot” and fight it off, going full HAM on that sucker to get Rei out of there. And that, in and of itself, triggers the Third Impact and brings forth the apocalypse as we know it. (Until the post-credit scene happens, anyway, but shhhhh.)

As a film, it takes a pretty good turn down the right path, with both new elements and refreshers of moments from the TV anime – THE elevator scene, for instance, plays out a bit differently – and it all culminates with a very strong ending to lead into the third film… which plays out WAY differently than planned, but that’s a situation for another time. The film still has the usual amounts of mental anguish, Shinji freak-out moments, EVA-on-Angel brutality, and bits of fanservice – of both varieties – to be expected from this franchise, and in all, this was a fine film to bring out on Labor Day weekend, even if one or two SAO fans were crying about it taking up air time.

And not that it would have mattered much anyway, but part of me wished they didn’t edit Mari’s F-bomb out. Trina Nishimura cursing is always welcomed by me.

Grade: A-
A fine holiday treat, Evangelion 2.22 crafts its own path, only being brought down by its subsequent movie, but despite that, this film is arguably the strongest of the tetralogy… so far?

Kick-Heart (August 31 and November 2, 2013)

As an added bonus after Evangelion 2.22, we got a pretty unique little thing, a short OVA from acclaimed director Masaaki Yuasa, Kick-Heart. What’s it about? Well, it’s about a businessman named Romeo who moonlights as a masked wrestler when not running an orphanage. Both he and a nun, Sister Juliet (get it?), want to fix up their orphanage and bring it back from disrepair – because it’s a mission from God, you see – and when he hears that there’s $50,000 on the line in a match against an opponent named Lady S, he sees an opening to try and win it for the kids. Take a guess who Lady S is.

Now, for me, a hyper-sexual wrestling anime short is right up my alley, combined with the fluid aesthetic of Yuasa all over it. Others, however? I seem to recall some angry “what the crap is this crap???” tweets from a few folks. I mean, Heaven forbid Toonami go out of their comfort zone and try something a bit different; next you’ll tell me they’re gonna air Pop Team Epic-oh wait, they actually are. Heh.

Tyler, take it away.

Masaaki Yuasa’s short film Kick-Heart might just be the weirdest take on Romeo and Juliet ever created. Kick-Heart doesn’t have poison drinks or family drama, but it does have plenty of love. Kick-Heart is typical Yuasa fare, which is anything but typical; Yuasa’s animation direction captures so many emotions in one setting, which in this case is found within the wrestling ring. When Romeo jumps into the ring, the audience is provided with more than just a wrestling match; we see Romeo’s love for the ring while fighting, but we also witness his greatest nightmares. Romeo doesn’t wrestle just because he loves the thrill of a fight, he wrestles because he never wants another child to experience the fears he did. Romeo fights for the children that live in the orphanage that he once called home, to improve their lives. He also finds love in the wrestling ring through a kick in the heart from Lady S, who is Sister Juliet from the orphanage. All of this is revealed to the audience in the wrestling ring through Yuasa’s psychedelic visuals. So much can be said about how Yuasa tells meaningful, personal stories through his insane animation style.

Kick-Heart was the first anime to be successfully crowdfunded, which has been used to fund many more anime projects since. For the Toonami audience, Kick-Heart was the first short film to be broadcast on the block’s Adult Swim incarnation. It was also the first Masaaki Yuasa piece to be shown on the block, which was followed by Yuasa directed episodes of Space Dandy and the feature film Mind Game. Kick-Heart was controversial with Toonami’s audience, but I found my love for Yuasa’s work because of the short film’s broadcast on Toonami. Toonami never fails to introduce amazing talent to a new audience, and Kick-Heart was no different.

– Tyler/@KokiriKid3, former EIC of Surreal Resolution

Grade: B+
It’s something definitely weird enough for 2:30am (and again at 3:45am), but Kick-Heart is a fine condensed piece of the wonderment of Masaaki Yuasa. Just watch it with the volume down, kids.

If 2012 was the year to prove its worth, 2013 was definitely trucking along with the notion of “yeah, we’re here to say, we can handle the big guns,” especially with the tech-savvy rebranding they went through in 2013. They would be set with shows both new and old for a while during the rest of the year, and next time, we’ll have a much lighter affair that ranges to a bizarre Adult Swim pilot, an entry of a beloved sci-fi franchise, and one of the greatest technical achievements of film – animated or otherwise – ever crafted.

To be continued…

Leave a Reply