Feature: Grading Toonami, Show By Show – Winding Down ’13 (#5)

Well, seeing how last week’s piece ran a big long with some contributions, this time around we’ll be shortening things up a bit, with a series, a pilot, and a film. Sound good? Let’s get into it.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (August 17, 2013 – September 20, 2014)

There’s always been an interesting relationship between Cartoon Network and Star Wars. For my money, I always look to the excellent Genndy Tartakovski-directed Star Wars: Clone Wars micro-series as the best part of that relationship, but it didn’t end with just that, because in 2008, following the “success” of the 3D/CGI-animated feature film of the same name, a half-hour series following the adventures of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, and his new Padawan apprentice Ahsoka Tano began airing on Cartoon Network, where it would run for five full seasons. And I remember the promotion for this show being pretty in your face, they even ran episodes of the series on both Adult Swim AND on TNT in 2009, if only for a short while to promote the show’s main run on Cartoon Network. And when there came time for a slot to fill on Toonami in 2013, here was a prime piece of programming for that super-late half-hour slot of 3am, and later 5am in 2014. I do recall, though, some folks scratching their heads at this show’s inclusion, given it wasn’t an anime nor was it a 2D animated western cartoon; again, it’s completely produced with 3D CGI animation.

But, at the very least, it looked a LOT better than Reboot ever did.

If I’m being totally honest, though? Even though I pride myself on being a big fan of the Star Wars films, I wasn’t really a big fan of this series. Maybe it was just my post-teen naivety at work, but I could just not get into the series proper. It’s not a bad series by any means, though, some episodes have been critically lauded as fine examples of the expanded Star Wars universe. Maybe I’ll give it another shot sometime down the line and I might come back and speak some more about this show, but as it pertains to how it did on Toonami during this time? Well, I mean, it’s a show at 3am and 5am, it did just fine for itself. The only reason why it never finished its run, though, was because of Star Wars: Rebels premiering on Disney XD, so there couldn’t be any kind of broadcasting conflicts. Or, at least, that’s the most likely scenario since I can’t find anything else online.

And for those curious, yes, the entirety of The Clone Wars is on Netflix. Check it out if you’d like.

Grade: B-
Serving its late-end timeslots well, Star Wars: The Clone Wars did its job by giving the night owls something a bit different from the “norm” on the block.

King Star King (November 2, 2013)

When the end for Daylight Savings Time came in 2013, there was an extra hour to fill for the block, and so, the folks at Williams Street decided to do something a bit different. Along with a reairing of Kick-Heart and a dusting off of, in my personal opinion, the greatest Adult Swim pilot to never be made into a series in Korgoth of Barbaria – seriously, check it out, it’s awesome – we humble viewers were given a look at something a bit newer right after FLCL: a pilot from Tommy Blacha and JJ Villard entitled King Star King, an ultra-violent, hyper-sexual, and aesthetically ugly dose of cocaine-fueled insanity, set to 11 minutes of wildly fluid animation.

Surprise, it was met with near-universal revulsion from the viewing audience.

I, however, am not one of those folks. Having grown up with the weird and wacky world of crazy Adult Swim shows, and especially the dark and super-violent period from the late-2000s (hello there Morel Orel, Metalocalypse, and Xavier: Renegade Angel), I know what to expect from a show of this calibre. And I got just about what I expected from it. Alas, the remaining 97-99% of the Toonami audience felt differently, and they shunned this show to the “Never Again” pile. But that one moment of infamy wouldn’t be in vain, as King Star King would get a fuller six-episode run as an online exclusive for Adult Swim’s website, as well as be sold on iTunes – which I did buy, thank you very much. With that said, I can’t really recommend this wild series to most people, given how reviled it was during its original surprise broadcast. All I’ll say is, if you’re curious, watch it with the door shut and with headphones. You’ve been warned.

Grade: N/A (no Nielsen data, one-time airing)
King Star King: an infamous cult hit, or too vile for airwaves? You make the call.

Akira (December 7, 2013 & December 20, 2014)

For the month of December, the Toonami crowd was given quite an early Christmas present: a movie a week, all month long. And what better way to start it out than with, arguably, one of the most influential animated films of all-time in Katsuhiro Otomo’s animated epic Akira? Now, this wasn’t the first time the film aired on TV, it once aired a few times in the mid-90s on the original Sci-Fi Channel, with the old Streamline Pictures dub, but as far as I can gather, the restored version of Akira with the re-done Pioneer dub never aired on American television before its Toonami airing. Now, I won’t go too deep into the film, save for a point at the end, as I’ll more than likely be giving this film a deeper look on the site sometime very soon for its 30th anniversary, so in that place, I’ll be talking a bit more about my own experience with this film, as well as some lasting thoughts.

I first discovered Akira many years ago, in high school, having read part of the first volume of the manga from my school library and later on discovering the film with the original Pioneer DVD at my city library. And I’ll be honest, seeing the movie in full left me feeling a bit confused, the first time around; it was one of those movies that requires a subsequent viewing to really grasp. And I’ll be honest again, I’ve seen the film in full about six times and I still have a bit of trouble deciphering the plot of the film. But I suppose that’ll happen when you pen the film in conjunction with the manga; in short, to borrow from Super Eyepatch Wolf’s video about Akira, the film is a retelling of the first half of the first volume of the Akira manga, the last half of the last volume of the manga, and an abridged middle section of the rest of the manga, which leaves the plot feeling a trifle bit confusing toward the second act. Granted, the context of the production needs to be brought in place with this, as well; the film began production in 1987, just over four years into the manga’s run in Young Magazine, where there was no real ending in place and there wouldn’t be until the summer of 1990. So trying to encapsulate a manga series of this magnitude into a 2-hour feature film had to have been nothing but a daunting task, but for it to come out the way it did? It truly was a miracle.

Yes, Akira as a film is flawed with a second act that raises more questions than answers them, but despite that, the film would still go on to be one of the most influential films – not just animated films, not just sci-fi films, not just Japanese films, but films period – of the 20th century, so much so that you can still find influences in media to this day, and I’m not just talking about the Kaneda bike scene; influences from Akira have been found all over, from animated series such as South Park and Steven Universe, to films such as The Matrix and Looper, for the sole reason that the film really is just that much of a milestone piece of cinema, as well as a true technological milestone for animation, full stop. In short, albeit flawed in execution, it still excels with its production.

It was great to see Akira on Toonami, as well as have it get one of the best promo spots the crew has ever put together, and I’ll admit that seeing some folks experience this film for the first time gave me a bit of a warm feeling, knowing this film is now off their anime checklists. And yes, I know that was cheesy, but I’ve been into this stuff for 20 years and I’m sure that classifies me as an “old-taku.”

Grade: B+
Even though Akira suffers from a muddy second act, the film still holds up incredibly well as one of the finest pieces of 20th century cinema, animated or otherwise.

We’re not quite out of 2013 yet, because we have three more movies to get to, two of which are pretty awesome and one… well, I’m gonna need a refresher course on one of these films, to say the least. But I’m not looking forward to Nazi Maes Hughes.

To be continued…

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