Feature: Grading Toonami, Show By Show – The Big Boys Are Back (#9)

One of the things that made 2014 an incredibly strong year for Toonami was the diverse lineup of shows that came throughout the year. Sure, you have your shonen anchors doing the heavy lifting, but there were a good bit of shorter shows that went away from that usual flavor, both newer and older. To be in, all you had to do was just one thing: kick ass. Which brings us to a rather interesting pickup that came in the fall of 2014…

Hellsing Ultimate (I-VIII) (September 13 – November 8, 2014)

This is arguably the hardest Hard-R show Adult Swim has ever aired, Toonami or otherwise, and it’s not even technically a TV anime, it’s an OVA series. Hellsing Ultimate is a more faithful telling of the Hellsing manga, compared to the 2003 TV anime, and it’s several times more intense than most “mature” shows you’d find around. And I’m talking some really really messed up Hard-R content, so much so that it would put episode 2 of BANANA FISH to shame – plug plug for my ongoing reviews of that show – so this is definitely not for the faint of heart. Though I suppose it does help that this started out at the ever-so-perfect timeslot of 3:00 in the damn AM which, given this show is full of vampire warfare, blood and gore, and other repugnant and grotesque acts I cannot mention on here, makes it a perfect late-night post-watershed program. The story isn’t all that important in the grand scheme, honestly, this show is by and large more about the brutal spectacle than anything else. Special mention goes to Seras Victoria, everyone’s favorite psychotic police girl, for putting up with Alucard’s crap on an endless basis, that cannot be easy work.

As an added bit of interesting information, this show has had a hell of a release cycle to it; the first four episodes were released as stand-alone DVDs by Geneon between December 2006 and September 2008, and then Geneon went under with Funimation picking up the rights to the show a while later. Then the next four episodes were released in November of 2012, four years later. Now, you might be wondering why I’ve brought up the episode numbers both here and in the title; well, along with the last two episodes of the series finally coming out around this time, someone was asleep at the wheel when getting the rights to broadcast Hellsing Ultimate and that ended up causing all but the last two episodes to air per the deal. I don’t quite know how you mess that up, but that gives me enough reason to talk about those last two episodes next time. (And also because I need padding.) As for this first run, even though it aired super late and the episodes were an hour long – with the third episode running 90 minutes – it drew solid numbers throughout, and its first two episodes broke 800k, at THREE AM. Not bad for an OVA series about vampires killing and excessive blood and guts, I’d say.

Also, its bumper music was frigging MASTODON. That’s all kinds of awesome.

Grade: B
Definitely not for the faint of heart, Hellsing Ultimate is a thrill ride of a show, chock full of carnage and debauchery for those a bit thirstier for blood.

And now for a brief prelude for what’s to come. The night is November 1, 2014, and it’s the night of the 366th – and final – episode of Bleach. Having aired for eight years on Adult Swim, this staple of the network has finally come to an end. Alas, it ended not with a bang, but with a f***ing whimper, much like the rest of that final arc was. This was still a big deal, though, Bleach earned its spot as one of the biggest anime series to ever air on Adult Swim, right up there with Cowboy Bebop and Inuyasha in terms of legacy.

But let’s be real. Bleach started to stink up the place for a while. And so, out it went, it had a good run but it was time to move on. And when you need a big anchor to fill a giant hole in the schedule, you call in the heavy artillery.

Dragonball Kai (November 8, 2014 – December 31, 2016*)

You don’t need me to explain what this show is about. You don’t need me to explain what Dragonball is about, period. So I’ll keep it short and sweet: Dragonball has been, and will likely always be, the evergreen title of shonen manga and anime, the benchmark in which all shonen titles will be judged by, unfair as it may be. And this incarnation of Z, a fluff-less modern re-cut of the iconic series, was always an inevitability for this revival of Toonami; it was always just a matter of when, not if. So where has this been all this time? Well, locked away on Nicktoons for a few years, as well as on local TV through the CW’s Toonzai and Vortexx blocks, in even more of an edited format than on Nicktoons – hi there, blue Popo. Now, they had actually started experimenting with bringing back this shonen staple in the form of a re-airing of its fifth film, Cooler’s Revenge, on Memorial Day weekend of 2014, and while it’s not the best film of the series to air – I’m a World’s Strongest man, myself – it did well enough to consider the waters tested for later on with the inclusion of Kai.

And so, come November, Kai premiered, serving as both revisiting days of childhood and a new telling of an older story, given that this is a re-cut version of Z with less episodes and a MUCH better dub to go along with it. I won’t be nice, trying to go back to the original dubs (as in, both Canada dubs and the old Funimation dub) of Z is pretty jarring, as in it hasn’t aged all that well. And I don’t care about feelings of nostalgia, so please save your retorts for someone who does. If anyone is going to check out this series, they should do so with Kai, as it and its Blu-ray releases are, arguably, the best way to discover the series, and while it’s not a perfect 1:1 adaptation, it’s a great entry point for its first arc, all the way up to the Cell Games. But do be careful with some of the redrawn scenes, they look like what redrawn scenes made by Toei in 2009 would look like – not all that great. And as a midnight anchor, Kai more than did its job to lead people into the block, but there was always one bugging question everyone had with it:

Why start it from the beginning? Well, if that asterisk up there is any indication, we’ll be coming back to Kai in a later installment to talk all about that.

Grade: A
“All action, no filler” – that was the tagline for Dragonball Kai, and it did its job very well by bringing older fans and even introducing some newer ones into the powerful world of Akira Toriyama’s biggest series.

Inuyasha: The Final Act (November 15, 2014 – June 13, 2015)

FINALLY I get to talk about this! Now, I won’t sugarcoat it, Inuyasha is my favorite ever anime series, faults and all; it’s what I like and what I enjoy, and I won’t take offense if anyone tells me that so-and-so is bad in it. And like other fans who grew up reading the manga and watching the series on Adult Swim, I was waiting for some kind of continuation to the series, and lo and behold, in the fall of 2009, it came to be, entitled Inuyasha: The Final Act. That’s the good news of this situation; the bad news? Well, this series came back with about 200 chapters left of the manga to adapt into animated form, and this series was only given a run of 26 episodes. That meant that a lot of the manga material had to get either cut out or rushed through in order to get the bulk of the story into animated form, however the final battle and arc did get a solid six-episode stretch to cap off the series proper. As for the rest? BOY the amount of complaints I saw throughout this show’s run, let me tell you, I can write a book about it. But, again, I won’t take offense to any of that, even if some complaints were redirected right to my mentions; even with its rushed nature and its faults (of which there are plenty, trust me), I’m still a giant Inuyasha fan and will probably always be one. And much like Kai, this was always a when-not-if situation, given how long the first series aired on Adult Swim (over 11 years but who’s counting?), so it was great to see the conclusion of the story finally air and bring closure to one of the juggernauts of the early days of Adult Swim Action.

And let’s be real. THIS is all that matters, anyway.

Grade: B
While not the most ideal situation for a sequel series, Inuyasha: The Final Act concludes the epic feudal fairy tale in an adequate way, with special mention to its final six-episode arc delivering a brilliant conclusion for both longterm and new fans.

And that’s just about it for the big pickups of 2014. We’ve got one last trip to this packed year left to go, and it’ll be with some movies; don’t get your hopes up too high, though. Things are about to get slippy.

To be continued…

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