Feature: Grading Toonami, Show By Show – The Big Power Play (#8)

As I mentioned last time, 2014 would end up being, arguably, the strongest year for Toonami in terms of acquisitions. That would, in turn, bring some of the strongest lineups of the revival to date, with both high-profile premieres and a wide variety of late-hour reruns; they even brought in Samurai Jack to fill some of the later slots, and that show is always welcomed. (Hint hint for later.) And as we saw with the premiere of Space Dandy, it showed that the way to go for premiering shows would be sooner rather than later. Alas, with the times changing and productions taking less time over time, this wouldn’t mean everything would come out instantly, some shows still needed some time to be brought out fully cooked, and such was the case with one show in particular; a rather titanic show, if you catch my drift.

 Attack on Titan (S1) (May 3, 2014 – January 17, 2015; March 28 – September 26, 2015)

Let me start by saying that, in 2013, the anime streaming market was still incredibly niche. Granted, it still is to this day, but five years ago, services like Crunchyroll weren’t as hot of destination platforms as they are now. And if you ask me when the moment happened where Crunchyroll went from small niche platform into big industry player, it was when they started airing Attack on Titan in the spring of 2013; don’t undersell it, the FOMO (fear of missing out) was very real with this show, it was a phenomenon and instantly shot up to the heights of popularity, having that hook and pull to bring in both diehard anime watchers as well as more casual folk.

But for as popular and as strong-hooking as this show can be, I will be damned if Attack on Titan isn’t one of the most infuriating shows I’ve ever seen. Now, I won’t dive too deep into the show as a whole, both because most folks probably already know how the first season of AoT goes down, and because I already did a 7500-plus word review of the show years ago, in the pre-SR days. And since I have no intention of retreading that in any way, so allow me to sum up the first season of AoT in the most succinct manner possible:

“The Titans are gonna kill us!”
“Don’t worry, our walls will protect us from-BREACH!!!”
[Brock Lesnar Titan destroys the big wall]
“I’m Eren Yeager. I’m gonna kill every last Titan.”
“I’m Mikasa Ackerman. Look at me funny and I’ll snap you in two.”
[Sasha dreams about potatoes]
“We can’t trust you, Eren, you’re a hothead.”
“We can’t trust you, Eren, you’re a Titan.”
[Levi beats the crap out of Eren for 10 minutes]

“We can’t trust you, Eren, you’re a hothead Titan. You may kill us.”
“Leave it all to us-[death noises]”
“My name’s Annie. I look like Ronda Rousey and I’m a Titan too.”
“We got you!”
“Back in the cell you go, Eren.”

And there you go. Now, all jokes aside, this was a big acquisition for Toonami in 2014, being both a fresh show and a super-popular show right off the bat. And at its 11:30 slot, it pulled some strong numbers, even during its brief rerun stint toward the end of the year. However, the contents of said show, and said moments of it being infuriating with it constantly cutting itself off for the sake of superfluous tension and drama, does cause it to drop a few points with a lessened rewatch value. It’s still a fine show and season, but it’s not something I’d recommend watching too frequently. This won’t be the last time we talk Titan, though; there will be more to come later in this series.

Grade: B+
Despite some missteps in its plot progression, Attack on Titan was a major pickup for Toonami, coming in at just the right time of its height of popularity.

Beware the Batman (May 10 – September 27, 2014)

Well, this was an interesting choice, wasn’t it? From the remnants of DC Nation, a short-lived block on Cartoon Network, comes Beware the Batman, a CGI-produced take on the adventures of Bruce Wayne during his early years as Gotham City’s caped crusader. Now, the connection between Batman and Toonami is one that goes back well into the peak of the block; both Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond were long-standing fixtures of the lineup in the early 2000s, so the precedent was already there and has been for a long while. Granted, that didn’t stop a few folks from scratching their heads at this show’s inclusion, being both a western-produced show and a CGI show at that, but once you get a few episodes into it… I mean, it’s not a bad show, by any stance, even if the CG is a bit on the wonky side, but I wouldn’t rank it to be on par with Batman:TAS. It holds up perfectly fine in its own right, so consider it more of an acquired taste, if anything.

Alas, this show had a very, very short stint in the overnight hours, due to – you guessed it – it being written off by Cartoon Network. But once the folks at Williams Street heard the news, they scheduled accordingly and put together a last-minute marathon for the remainder of BtB to air the remaining episodes… even if it did cause their newest premiering show to be pre-empted for a week, but we’ll get there when we get there. For those who are curious, Beware the Batman has been released on Blu-ray via Warner Archive, so be ready to put in 20 bucks a pop for a glance at this show. I’d probably just wait for that Blu-ray release of Batman:TAS, though.

Grade: C
An adequate entry in the Batman franchise, Beware the Batman came and went far too soon, but managed to pull a respectable number for 2:30am.

Gurren Lagann (August 16, 2014 – March 21, 2015)

As the saying goes, “better late than never.” Such is the case with Gurren Lagann, one of the biggest – if not THE biggest – anime series of the late 2000s, and a show that had been around for six long years prior to its airing on Adult Swim and Toonami, which included the following have happen during that interim:

  • getting licensed by ADV Films with a planned dub
  • ADV Films going under and the series getting re-acquired by Bandai Entertainment
  • a sub-only DVD release before getting a dubbed release
  • the series airing on SyFy’s Ani-Monday block
  • Bandai Entertainment going under
  • the series getting re-licensed by Aniplex of America
  • a $150 DVD set getting released by AoA
  • a $600 Blu-ray box getting released by AoA
  • the series airing on Neon Alley

And all of that happened before this series ever aired on a Turner network. Crazy times we live in.

So anyway, Gurren Lagann, it’s another show I probably don’t need to explain a whole lot about. You got drills, believing in the me that believes in you, Yoko’s comically oversized breasts, and a whole lot of “sakuga porn;” in short, it’s a mecha anime on steroids, and quite literally at that – the mechs in this show get to be enormous. And having learned their errors from the production of Evangelion, the folks at Gainax decided to save their money early on so that they can go all-out with the finale – or, at least, that’s how the story goes – so with that said, if anyone out there hasn’t seen the bombastic space war finale that this show has to offer, go and watch it right now and gaze at the last stand of Gainax’s greatness.

Sure, it’s not a perfect series (hello, episode 4) and yes, it’s very, very dumb, but if we’re talking pound-for-pound performance, it’s easy to see why Gurren Lagann is still cherished and praised, even a decade later. With beautiful mecha animation, great action sequences, and quite the unique band of characters, you put it all together and you come out with one of the strongest series of the 2000s. And even though this show was considered “old” by the time of its Toonami airing, it still performed well enough and was viewed quite favorably by those watching it for the fifth time and for the first time. Isn’t that right, Tyler?

I need to be honest, I wasn’t too thrilled when Gurren Lagann was announced as the replacement for Blue Exorcist. When I first got back into anime, I watched a few episodes of Gurren Lagann and decided I didn’t like it. I can’t tell you why I didn’t enjoy it at the time, but I couldn’t have been more wrong about a show. Like a lot of Toonami’s devoted fanbase during this time, I was hoping to see the dub premiere of Kill la Kill appear on the block [editor’s note: just wait a few months, mid-2014 Tyler], so having Gurren Lagann instead was a disappointment. However, I’m now thankful for Toonami’s dedication to airing great shows, because it changed my mind on this beloved mecha anime.

By the end of its run on Toonami, Gurren Lagann had successfully captured my heart. Simon is a protagonist that I think most viewers can relate to. He breaks away from a mundane life to reach for the stars, but he also realizes that fulfilling a life of exploring the unknown comes with its costs. Over the course of the series, Simon grows from a naïve child to a powerful man, which is especially apparent in how he copes with his troubles. Honestly, when I think of Gurren Lagann, I don’t think of the giant robots, I think about the characters that are inside them. Truly, that’s a sign of something special. Gurren Lagann is one of the few series that completely deserves another run on Toonami. It’s a timeless classic that could air forever, in my opinion. So, thanks again, Toonami, for showing me the light on another fantastic show.

– Tyler/@KokiriKid3, former EIC of Surreal Resolution

Grade: A-
Considered by many to be a modern classic, Gurren Lagann transcends universal boundaries by exceeding the limits of what a mecha anime can truly be. Highly recommended.

And if a modern hit like Attack on Titan and a modern classic like Gurren Lagann weren’t big enough gets for Toonami, just wait until next time. Because as we get closer to the end of 2014, that means the end of Bleach, so what would be the fortunate program to come in and fill the giant hole in the slot, in the wake of its departure? Well, I’m sure you all know, but we’ll be talking about it anyway, along with an OVA series that pushed the limits of Turner S&P and, to my delight…

MORE INUYASHA!!! (You all should have seen that glee coming.)

To be continued…

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