Feature: Grading Toonami, Show By Show – The Cutbacks Begin (#11)

Leading out of 2014, things weren’t quite as hot for Toonami as they were when the year first started. Sure, it was the strongest pound-for-pound year for acquisitions, and they had gotten a new anchor program in Dragonball Kai, but the way the year ended came off a little flat, and most people knew it. But things were going to look a bit brighter heading into 2015, with the news of a really hot show heading into the 11:30 slot: KILL la KILL. Cue the hype train… only for it to slow to a screeching halt thanks to some shifts in scheduling.

This is where things start to take a turn, folks. No longer would Toonami be on in the 11:30-6am slots, because as on January 24th of the new year the 5:30 slot was cut and Attack on Titan was pulled, moving everything up a half-hour. (Inuyasha at 12:30 again, I was excited!) Then, the following week, the 5am slot was pilled, as was Samurai Jack. And finally, that following week, Toonami got its biggest down-sizing yet, getting cut to a 12:00-3:30 block. (Now Inuyasha is down to 1:30. Ehh.) The reason for this cutback was pretty simple, the back half of catalogue shows, i.e. the reruns, weren’t performing up to par and Adult Swim brass made the decision to cut the block back and focus more on the premiering shows. This meant that the following shows were pulled for the foreseeable future, if not permanently:
Ghost in the Shell (returned in 2017)
Attack on Titan (returned on March 28th at 3:00)
Samurai Jack
IGPX (hasn’t been aired since)
Space Dandy (returned in 2018)
Bleach (hasn’t been aired since)
Cowboy Bebop (returned in 2017)
What’s annoying about that last one is that they had JUST re-acquired Bebop from Funimation and started airing it uncut (or less cut) and in high definition, and it was gone after just five weeks. However, if there was an upside to this, this would present a greater focus on the Adult Swim mobile app video-on-demand streams for their shows, Toonami shows included, where all of Bebop aired in HD in full for the first time. But back on track, this was, at the end of the day, a necessary cutback needed to keep things moving forward through the new year and beyond.

Obviously, this meant KILL la KILL didn’t air at 11:30, but instead at 12:30. Alas, it is what it is.

KILL la KILL (February 7 – August 1, 2015; October 3, 2015 – April 9, 2016)

What do you get when you combine some of the most talented ex-GAINAX employees to form a new studio, and their first show is a cartoonishly violent and overtly sexual romp the likes of which has never been duplicated since? Well, you get this show right here. It is unapologetic with how insane and ridiculous it is, all centering around a sentient uniform named Senketsu turning our lead hero, Ryuko Matoi, into a brawling fighter in search of who killed her father. And that’s just one level of this show’s crazy, there is much more to be unearth, such as our resident hyperactive deuteragonist Mako and her equally hyperactive family, the supreme fascist ruler of Honnoji Academy, Satsuki Kiryuin, her incredibly bad-touch mother Ragyo, NUUUUDIST BEEEEEEEACH, and then there’s Nui. And that’s a whole new level of insane.

In terms of animation, this show is in its own league, and it’s a fine leap out of the gate for the folks at TRIGGER, with this series serving as their first TV project. It’s incredibly fluid and polished, but doesn’t ever stray away from just how cartoonish it can look; the fourth episode, alone, is very reminiscent of a Bob Clampett-directed Looney Tunes cartoon. The music, as well, is incredibly produced, serving as one of the best projects Hiroyuki Sawano has ever been attached to, with a good blend of J-pop, rock, orchestral, and even a few bits of glitchy electronica; and then there’s “Blumenkranz.” Context matters. So, in short, it’s incredible as a production. But in terms of content? Boy oh boy, this show is oozing with endless sex appeal and nudity. And that can be a deal breaker for some, some just aren’t into the gratuitous amount of fanservice shots that are loaded all over this series, and to that point, I understand it. Some scenes did have to get cut a bit, though, in order to fit S&P, but given the context of some of those scenes, it was a worthwhile cut to make. Again, context matters. In all, KILL la KILL is definitely not something for all sensibilities or tastes, so chock this up to being a YMMV situation. It didn’t hinder the Toonami audience away, though, as it performed incredibly well in its 12:30 slot, only dipping below a million total viewers twice – both by only 3,000 and by 21,000. Impressive performance, I’d say.

And for the last time, this is NOT just a “rule 63” Gurren Lagann, people. This show has a GOOD ending that didn’t piss people off.

A story before I get to my point: I used to watch anime very early in the morning a lot when I had a job. Early job hours equate to waking up very early. So, cause of this, and cause Toonami went on a tiny bit longer than it did, I would usually stay up till 8 AM on Sundays enjoying whatever. One of the anime I happened to see catch one night in 2014, because I was bored, was something called Kill La Kill. My first thoughts watching this was “What the hell is all this?” There was craziness abound, a giant dude who jumps from buildings, a hyper girl named Mako, stuff involving sentient clothes and said clothes forcing themselves on, getting naked, you named it. With lots of fanservice to boot. It didn’t make sense. And yet, after all that, I was hooked. I watched every episode in the next week. It was a year later when the show made its dub debut on Toonami. The sub was great. The dub was even better. That way the VA’s carried themselves throughout it made it a damn delight that I enjoyed each time it showed.

Don’t get me wrong though. Kill La Kill is a very stupid show. The people at Trigger made a show that seems like it makes almost absolutely no sense story wise, and there’s a ton of plot throughout. But, if you know how to handle it, stupid stuff can turn into a work of art. And Trigger made this show into that. From the story, to Senketsu, to Ryuko and Satsuki’s rivalry, to the twists and turns involving the clothes, the schools, and moms, to Nui, to Best Girl Mako, Nudist …. BEEEEEEEEEACHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! and all the insane, but beautiful, fights that fill up each and every episode, along with having the beautiful music to accompanying it. Having Erica Mendez, Christine Marie Cabanos, David Vincent, Carrie Keranen and everyone else carry this wonderful array of madcap VA work helped make this Toonami experience even better. I know Kill La Kill is not for everyone, as it had its critics when it was talked about on Ani-Twitter during its run. For me though, it’s one of the most fun shows I have ever watch in any media, and in my top 5 favorite anime of all time. I say Kill La Kill is even a show that everyone should experience viewing once. Get naked, and glow those nipples people.

– Kadeem/@cedric_alpha, Surreal Resolution columnist

OCTOBER 3, 2013 – That was the day that Kill La Kill debuted on Japanese television screens along with being on Crunchyroll, Hulu and that one site that died a long time ago (RIP Daisuki). It was also a lot of things that day since it’s October 3rd (It’s my birthday, too.)

JANUARY 16, 2015 – Kill La Kill was announced to air on Toonami starting February at Otakon Vegas.

If you known me for the past 5 or so years on social media, you know that Kill La Kill immediately became one of my favorite anime and I was ecstatic when it was announced for Toonami, even though that followed the block being cut to 4 hours but if it meant new IPs coming, so be it.

Anyway, Kill La Kill was an amazing experience from start to finish and it sticks to its guns being this over-the-top and silly story that has a lot of twists and turns on things you never expected and also brings a lot of humor and heart when coming to these characters from Ryuko’s past with her father, Satsuki’s origins, the antics of one Mako Mankanshoku and her lovable yet chaotic family and that amazing climax. This is truly one of the shows that reminds me why I love anime so much and why I like these kind of chaotic, wild stories that also have genuine heart into it. I love everything about it from the animation, the music, the superb English dub with wonderful performances from Erica Mendez (Ryuko) and Christine Marie Cabanos (Mako) and it’s just something that brings a satisfying smile to my face. This show still remains as one of my favorite anime of all time.

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

Grade: A-
Despite some concerns over its more objectionable content, KILL la KILL was a big pickup for Toonami going into 2015, and performed incredibly well in its slot. Well recommended, catch it on Crunchyroll.

Well, that was fun. Now let’s pull this next damn band-aid right off because UGHHHHHHHHHHHH.

Sword Art Online II (March 28 – September 26, 2015)

Let me keep this short and sweet. I have NEVER seen a continuation of a series try so hard to undo what small amount of good will it had going for it, until THIS show decided to be a thing. I won’t sugarcoat it, SAO II is, in a word, repugnant. Repugnant in nature and in execution, deciding to bring in elements of PTSD, a scene of attempted sexual assault AND murder-suicide, and the disease known as AIDS as part of a throwaway character (yes, I said throwaway and I don’t care) just to avoid having to write a story that is actually, you know, GOOD. Because why try and write good characters when you can take a concept and write the character around that? Sinon, she’s just a girl with PTSD that gets written down into the almighty Kirito’s harem. With cat ears. Yuuki, she’s just a girl meant to die with the most overly dramatic tragic storyline ever, complete with Super AIDS – see the South Park clip for more. Asuna is even shoved in a fridge for the first arc, stuck watching the adventures of fem!Kirito and friends in Gun Gale Online while in Alfheim, which leads me to this – HOW can you watch what happens in one game while in ANOTHER game? That would be like me watching a game of PUBG while playing a round of Fortnite, IN Fortnite – short version, this crap don’t make a lick of sense.

Oh, and Kirito gets a rare effeminate avatar in the world of Gun Gale Online. Because there’s clearly a subsection of SAO fans with an otokonoko fetish.

I can’t really say much else without devolving into spewing “f**k this show” over and over again. Much like the first season, this has absolutely no consistent identity to it, and as I’ve said before, that’s a big problem when your big super-mega-hit anime of the season has no real identity to latch onto. And as I mentioned, because this season has more elements of crap material meant to be “mature” and comes with no lasting impact other than schlock value, this turns into a worse show as a result. This second season came in at the bottom, and yet somehow found a way to dig itself even deeper down into the realm of “mature” schlocky trash with no substance to it. No, I will not give it a fifth second-chance, it had its chance to hook me and it completely turned me off from it. And NO, I will not #PrayForYuuki – SHE’S A G*DDAMN CARTOON CHARACTER, YOU MARKS.

if you want this show done well, I have a suggestion to the producers: make a spin-off with Klein, Agil, and Lizbeth, in the form of Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place – look that up, kids. But since that won’t ever happen anytime soon, just forget this trash exists and go watch SAO: Alternative Gun Gale Online – it’s not only GOOD, but it comes from the writer of Kino’s Journey and it actually has an identity to it, as in it KNOWS what it wants to be and sticks with it. And it has GOOD characters with well-rounded development. Yes, it CAN be done, and if I like it, that’s a sign it’s definitely worthwhile. There is proof that this franchise can have good writing to it, but its second season is nowhere near that sign of proof.

That really wasn’t short or sweet, was it? Oh well. Here’s a palate cleanser from said better show, LLENN and Pitohui.

Oh boy, remember when I said I’ll be back for SAO II? Welp, here I am and guess what? SPOILER: I hated, hated, HATED THIS SEASON more than the first one. Kirito is still an overpowered hero that always swoops in to save the day and his fights are still as exciting as watching paint dry.

The new girl, Sinon, immediately got her character regressed from being a capable player and character with a frightening past to just another girl in Kirito’s growing harem that’s pushed in the background. Oh, and added more sexual assault because let’s make this try-hard edgy and yet… the Mother’s Rosario arc just got me pissed off. It could’ve been good but the way it happened, how it ended and with what happened to Yuuki just disgusted me. I know a lot of people loved that arc and you can enjoy it all you want, but for me, you can keep that. This is just bad story-writing and it aggravated me.

Actually, since watching SAO: Alternative Gun Gale Online last season and how good that was, it made me angrier that this franchise has potential to be good, but it just needed someone that’s not Reki Kawahara to pen the original works. Nope, still don’t like this show then and don’t like it now.

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

I’m going to shock the world with this statement: I don’t hate Sword Art Online II. Gasp! The former “leader” of those rough and tough Toonami United folks doesn’t naturally hate an animated show? What a twist! Now, in all seriousness, I certainly don’t like Sword Art Online II or the original series, however I don’t hate or despise it. I get the appeal, but the series never did anything for me. Some parts were enjoyable, but ignoring promising characters, such as Sinon, in favor of building Kirito’s harem always annoyed me. Quite frankly, there are plenty of other shows that have tackled virtual worlds and did the job better, before and after Sword Art Online hit the scene. I could dig deep into why I don’t like Sword Art Online, but I would like to spend my time here to discuss something more related to Toonami: the show’s impact on the community.

Sword Art Online II was and remains, without a doubt, the most controversial show the modern Toonami has ever aired. I’m not going to delve into everything that went down during the show’s run, because most of you reading already know, but I think it’s safe to say some individuals showed their immaturity during this time. Just because someone has an opposing opinion doesn’t mean that person should be attacked or alienated. Some fans, on both ends of the spectrum, did exactly this. In my eyes, that was the Toonami community’s lowest point in the modern era. It brought down my enjoyment of the entire block.

I never liked Sword Art Online and it doesn’t matter to me whether you like it or not, because in the end it’s just a show. It’s a piece of fiction that shouldn’t be taken so personally; a show shouldn’t be defended like it’s your child. Sword Art Online II is almost certainly not the last of the franchise on Toonami. I hope when the next season airs on the block that a more productive conversation can be had. Echo chambers are lame and people learn more when given different viewpoints. I know that’s wishful thinking, but I just want to enjoy and talk about shows on Toonami without having constant conflict.


– Tyler/@KokiriKid3, former EIC of Surreal Resolution

Grade: D+
Having some of the most poorly-written “mature” content of any show, SAO II does not hold up well enough for repeated viewings, in spite of its high viewership in 2015.

Michiko & Hatchin (June 20 – December 12, 2015)

And we’re back in the realm of seinen with this show, a show that fits right in with the “not your average anime” shelf. Michiko & Hatchin raised a good amount of eyeballs when it was announced this would be coming on, mostly because this isn’t your typical “action” show; instead, it’s a grueling journey drama, centered around an escaped convict named Michiko and a young orphan girl nicknamed Hatchin – our eponymous duo – as, by happenstance, they find themselves tied to one another while on the search for a man named Hiroshi, Hatchin’s father and Michiko’s past love. I’m sure those two are coincidental, as well. What unfolds is one of the harshest journey tales ever put to animation, filled with plenty of unfolding twists and turns, brutally uncomfortable truths about their grungy reality, and a good bit of gang violence for good measure. It’s quite the passion project for Sayo Yamamoto, the series director for this show, as well as her directorial debut, as this started back in 2008. Yes, it did take a while for it to come stateside, it wasn’t released on disc by Funimation until 2013.

Now, even though this series has been critically applauded and very well received, Michiko & Hatchin being on Toonami was met with a bit of pushback and resistance. Not because some of the episodes are a bit hard to watch in full (like the first one, for me), but because some said this was just on Toonami because this was just another Shinichiro Watanabe show. Which… uh, I just mentioned Sayo Yamamoto was this series’ director. But, to their small point, Watanabe is credited as a producer for this show – for MUSIC. But that name being on the credits was enough for some to resist it and write it off, even before it aired. People are weird. But that didn’t do much to harm how it performed on Toonami, as it performed rather well all throughout its run. I like to think it’s because most viewers were hooked in by Monica Rial’s excellent performance as Michiko, personally.

We all have been wanting to have some diversity into Toonami (although those people will probably still complain anyway), as in picking more shows that aren’t just the typical shonen show or bloody action show, and to everyone’s complete surprise, Michiko & Hatchin was picked to air on Toonami as it was announced during the Momocon panel in 2015.

This is definitely a breath of fresh air with this tale of this woman Michiko breaking out of jail and finding this young girl Hana, aka Hatchin, to find this man connected to them both, Hiroshi Morenos, and while this does have some action bits to it, the dramatic elements are the superior highlights in this journey while exploring anime South America and running into some people with their own stories in there as well (especially episode 4), much like another show we’ll get into later on. And speaking of that, I know you’re thinking. Does this sound like a Shinichiro Watanabe show?

Well, he produced the music of it and the director of this is actually one miss Sayo Yamamoto, known for other works such as Lupin III:The Woman Called Fujiko Mine (aka the show they wanted to get on Toonami but couldn’t) and the mega-successful Yuri!!! on ICE, and to me, this is definitely her best work here from the colorful and vibrant art style from the late studio Manglobe; its music is very captivating and, of course, the dub is excellent especially with Monica Rial as the voice of Michiko. And yes, this is one of her best performances in anime.

I’m glad that this show was able to find an audience on Toonami and with more non-action shows getting a chance to shine recently, let’s hope for more of the good stuff to come.

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

Grade: A-
A bit hard to sit through with how unrelenting real it can be, Michiko & Hatchin is something of a cult hit that is well worth picking up and watching.

2015 would end up becoming a bit of a “proving ground” year for Toonami, if things were going to grow later in the year, and beyond. With the cut schedule, this meant that the sole focus would be just on the premiering shows, and judging by how the numbers were for the first half of 2015, things were actually doing pretty alright. Maybe it was a heightened sense of awareness, but the cut-back schedule seemed to serve as a positive, in the end. Things may have seemed dire in the start of the year, but things do have a way of balancing out, in the end. But we’re just getting started with 2015, as we’ll have some surprising picks to go through in the next installment, leading out of the year and heading into what would come in 2016.

To be continued…

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