Feature: Grading Toonami, Show By Show – The Varying Mileage (#12)

Last we left off, 2015 saw some big cutbacks and changes for Toonami, with the elimination of three hours of programming and a tighter primary focus on premiering shows. Thankfully for them, and for the rest of us, 2015 saw a big rise in viewership throughout most of the year, thanks to the cut-down schedule and some pretty high-profile premieres. There were even some new things coming down the pipeline, such as the first “Total Immersion Event” since 2003, in the form of a sequel to The Intruder, later in November and December of 2015. Things seemed to be on the up and up in a great way, so much so that Toonami managed to get a few shows in from the one distributor that’s always been the odd one out of them all: Sentai Filmworks.

Your mileage will definitely vary on these two shows of theirs.

Akame Ga Kill! (August 8, 2015 – February 20, 2016)

Let me just say, upfront, that this is a VERY stupid, moronic, and – to use a cliché – edgy kind of show. But I can’t help but love this show and all of its stupid, moronic edge. It’s a show that is loaded with violence, violence, and more violence, to the point where it starts to become a running gag of how many people will die by the end of the series; my total tally, I believe, was around 300 or so. Anyway, this series centers around a traveling assassin group called Night Raid trying to overthrow and dethrone the corrupt Empire they find themselves at odds against. Pretty basic story, but you throw in a whole lot of bloodshed, a good bit of gratuitous fanservice, and the occasional bit of heart-tugging drama to it, and it gets a bit more meat to latch onto.

Again, REALLY dumb show, but I love it regardless. There’s just something about this show that, to me, comes across as charming, like it knows just how stupid it is, doesn’t try to hide it, and revels in its sheer ridiculousness. And if you’re asking, Leone is best girl, Mine is WORST girl, and Bulat is best boy – “finally, a gay man in an anime who isn’t totally femme,” I said to myself when I watched this series. And then cried like a baby when he was the next one to… well, you know. There were a good amount of people that got tired of how dumb and endlessly violent it got, and I won’t fault them for tuning out, but it must’ve done something right to bring in a strong audience on night one. Which, I should mention, on the night of its premiere, there was a preview for Resurrection ‘F’ during Dragonball Kai, which amassed a record-setting TWO MILLION viewers at midnight, followed by Akame Ga Kill! premiering with a whopping ONE-POINT-EIGHT MILLION viewers, the current record-holder for highest-viewed premiere episode for this incarnation of Toonami. Call it a fluke, call it right-place-right-time, call it whatever you want, but it’ll be there in the record books.

And now, for a viewpoint that’s… not as applauding as mine:

So Sentai Filmworks had finally jump on the Toonami train in the summer of 2015, as we got a premiere of Akame ga Kill! on Toonami, and I knew from the start watching this when it was on simulcast that it was going to be on there.

I just wish it was good. SPOILER: It sucks.

This is the type of anime that I have begun to despise a lot: the one that tries too damn hard to be mature and edgy and have a lot of deaths just to have them to show that nobody is safe in this show but then again, doing that over and over again gets repetitive, annoying and superfluous. Hell, most of the time it’s not even about the main titular character. It’s this bland dork named Tatsumi as the MC here, and he is one big ball of nothing with this “I GOTTA BE A HERO” bulls**t he spouts and it’s annoying as hell. Sure, we got some better characters like Leone, Bulat, and a few others (but f*** Mine, she’s terrible!) ,but most of the cast just came to fight, have some backstory, and then die horribly. Oh, and the main villain Esdeath really has a hard-on for the MC. She can be in nothing but panties and a bra with a sign that says “MAKE LOVE TO ME, TATSUMI!” and nothing will happen; and yes, Tatsumi never scored. AT ALL.

Now, I remember riffing on this back in the day on Twitter and that was the genuine good part of that experience. The show? It’s dark edgelord dumpster juice that makes most of the bad DCU movies look better in comparison.

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

Grade: C+
While not the smartest of shows, and being the kind of show that’s all spectacle and no substance, Akame Ga Kill! nevertheless found a strong audience throughout its run, and even had some folks revel in its ongoing stupidity.

Parasyte -the maxim- (October 3, 2015 – October 1, 2016)

The past few years have seen something pretty cool happen within the realm of anime, in the form of older manga properties get a new anime adaptation set for modern audiences. You have established properties such as Digimon and Sailor Moon receive new projects, and you also have older manga series, such as this one, Parasyte, receive a pretty well-regarded anime adaptation, 25 years after it originally began publication. It may have taken a little while for it to come around, but when you have Madhouse in charge, you’re bound to put out some good results. That being said, the end result for this anime is just a bit, uh… strange.

In short, it’s a tale of two series. The first half of Parasyte is brimming with plenty of night-horrors with our lead character Shinichi, and his righty monster companion Migi, going through their day-to-day routine of trying to not get caught with a dick-hand, and on occasion fight off a monster or two, filling out a perfect amount of broad appeal and a strong hook to bring viewers in. Then the second half of the series happens, and things get even crazier and more twisted and violent. And a bit off-focus, in some aspects. I won’t dive deep into spoilers, but trust me when I say this is a show that starts off nutty, and somehow gets nuttier at the midway point. But, on a more positive note, there’s an actual scene of romantic sex in episode #21. Which I do believe marks the first time there’s been a romantic consummation on Toonami, in some capacity.

With all of that said, this is another “your mileage may vary” case. Take it from someone who hates the opening theme song:

This may come off as deliberately contrarian to some, but I have to be completely honest: I think Parasyte may very well be the worst thing the current Toonami line-up has aired. Yes, that’s even included frequent punching bags SAO 1 + 2 and Tenchi Muyo GXP. While those shows are definitely riddled with all kinds of faults, at least they don’t really instill any false expectations of greatness from the start. SAO is the type of show that comes with a blazing sign that reads “Expect Nothing” from the outset, but Parasyte started off on such a strong foot that it was exponentially aggravating to watch it devolve in quality so hard, and for the record, I watched it twice: once subbed, and its airing on Toonami, so I know the show quite well.

I loved how the show started right away with no BS, diving straight into the gnarlier and grittier aspects of its premise. However, what starts as an interesting take on body possession sci-fi like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing quickly devolves into a perpetually infuriating mess of go-nowhere plot threads, repetitive and lazy creature designs, bland predictable characterization, and some of the most cliché and dated storytelling out there. I’m aware this was originally a manga from the late ‘80s, but why does everything have to be so completely dated apart from the upgrade to modern tech? And of course, the fatal flaw of Parasyte, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the music. Beyond the obnoxious opening by the incredibly overrated Fear, and Loathing In Las Vegas, Ken Arai’s obnoxious electronic score fails in two key ways: in addition to just being aesthetically unappealing, it’s also bad in terms of narrative function, often undercutting and often contradicting whatever mood an intended scene is going for. It’s the cherry on the garbage pile of this show, and I’m so glad I never have to think about it again.

– Rob/@RobBarracuda, EIC of Surreal Resolution and Decibel Boost host/producer

Grade: B-
Serving as an interesting take on an ’80s horror manga staple, Parasyte -the maxim- brings in plenty of wicked twists and turns with monsters galore, but may result in middling reception for some.

Samurai Champloo (January 2 – July 9, 2016)

To ring in 2016, Toonami had some good plans down the coming down the pipeline, starting with a fresh visual rebranding after the events of the T.I.E. at the end of the year, and some plans for some upcoming shows, and they were going to start things off with a pretty big show in the form of Lupin the 3rd: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, the second series from director Sayo Yamamoto (you know, from Michiko & Hatchin and the queer figure skater show), buuuuuuut there were some complications in getting it to air. Mostly due to content, as Fujiko Mine is a pretty dang sexual show, but unlike with KILL la KILL, there’s a good bit of naughty bits all over, including in the opening. Alas, it couldn’t work out, so they went with plan B: bring back an old friend in the form of Samurai Champloo, the hip-hop-meets-Edo amalgamation from director Shinichiro Watanabe.

This wasn’t the first time the series aired, as it first aired all the way back in 2005 when it was under the ownership of Geneon – and a fun little note about that, back when Adult Swim S&P had their set standards, they used record scratches as audio bleeps for the heavier expletives; unfortunately, I can’t find any footage of said audio edit, but an edit list forum from Toonzone from 2005 shows that it was the case. And for a show like this, something small like adding in scratches as bleeps only adds to the show’s atmosphere, aesthetic, and coolness. Especially its coolness.

From start to finish, Samurai Champloo is a cool show, blending Edo-period Japan with modern hip-hop elements all over, from the visual cues and eyecatches all the way up to its music. Especially its music, courtesy of some notable producers, the most notable being the late, great Nujabes. As someone who has a strong fascination with music, it’s always important to strike the right note to fit your setting, whether it’s trying to break free of a bandit blitz, come face to face with mortality, or just have a game of baseball with some pesky gaijins. Alas, I do recall that not everyone was so on board with this show coming on, 11 years after its first run, mostly due to it being… of all things, too old. Because, clearly, 2005 was an eternity ago in anime years. And did I mention we were halfway through Dragonball Kai at this point, a show mostly made up of footage from the early 1990s? Yeah, people are weird, but don’t let that get in the way of checking Samurai Champloo out, it’s well worth your time to catch and readily available from Funimation.

I… have a bit of a confession. Even though I’ve been watching Adult Swim with some regularity, pretty much since its formation, I had never actually seen a second of Samurai Champloo during its original run in the Adult Swim Action days. In fact, I never even knew what it was about until a couple of weeks before it ran on Toonami. I only knew that it was a samurai story with some hip hop elements to it. It was an interesting experience to be watching the show in full for the first time given that this was at least a full decade after its original release, and when I did, I immediately understood why it got its reputation. From the second I first heard the OP “Battlecry,” mixed with the incredibly stylish visuals, I was hooked right away. It was always endlessly engaging watching the story fork into every tangent possible, whether historically accurate or deliberately anachronistic. The tonal shifts were always unique to behold, as episodes veered from subjects/plot points like eating competitions, drug-fueled border crossings, near death experiences, Christian persecution, and… baseball, of course! And it all looked fantastic, with its uniquely stylish character designs and consistently stunning action choreography/direction.

But what always got to me when watching was, of course, the music. Unlike something like Parasyte, the music of Champloowas an anachronism that blended well with its setting. The combined efforts of Japanese hip-hop musicians like Nujabes, Fat Jon, and Force of Nature made the show just as much of a sonic treat as a visual one. Their slick and catchy beats always carried scenes perfectly, whether it be providing a solid sense of adrenaline for the action scenes or providing some intense emotional melancholy for the show’s more emotional beats. There are some stunning musical highlights outside of the hip-hop motifs, including the standout sequence of Mugen near death at around the halfway mark, and it all came together into one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had watching an anime: one that makes me regret not having seen it sooner. Thanks, Toonami!

– Rob/@RobBarracuda, EIC of Surreal Resolution and Decibel Boost host/producer

Grade: A
Drawing a strong audience throughout, despite its age, Samurai Champloo holds up as one of the strongest shows from the mid-2000s anime scene, fat beats and all.

Dimension W (February 27 – May 14, 2016)

By the start of 2016, the anime industry in the west was starting to undergo a pretty large rebound, so much so that we’re still in this state of rebound and influx to an extent. It was around this time that our western anime companies were starting to put a little bit of their own money into upcoming anime projects, for a bigger return and some sweet exclusivity, and it would only be a matter of time for Funimation to do that very thing, putting some cash upfront to be on the production committee for this new hot upcoming show called… uh… hold on, let me look through my notes…

Dimension W? A premiering show right out of the gate with almost no awareness outside of Japan? Well, that’s a bold strategy, Cotton, let’s see how it plays out for them.

Turns out it didn’t play out too well for them, being a one-and-done deal with almost no outlook for a second season in clear sight. Sure, it had a cozy slot at 12:30 and drew well enough, being a near-immediate fresh premiere, aka a “simuldub,” airing within a few weeks of its Japanese broadcast, but outside of that? Not much to it. I even asked around to see what other people remember about the show, and I didn’t get much outside of “it was a thing” responses, like the music and Mira the cute robot girl. Who tends to get captured and tortured in some moments. Yikes. There’s a bit of cruel irony in that, though, this being a high-profile acquisition at the time and for it to just be seen as “just another show” with nothing too spectacular about it. And if I’m being totally honest, I just didn’t bother with this show when it first aired. I read up on what the show was about, something about coils and the fourth dimension and this young robot girl and… yeah, I just didn’t feel particularly engaged enough with this show to watch it in full, sorry. So I’m phoning this one in and passing this off to Kadeem.

Dimension W was …. ummm, a show. It was a show about … wait, let me remember it for a second. It was about a gruff dude, a robot girl, something about coils? And dancing, I think. Okay, I know I’m being an ass, since I did review this show for Swim Squad. But even so, that’s what I believe most will remember about this show’s run on Toonami, they might remember the cool opening more so than whatever the hell the whole plot point was of Dimension W. I think I remember more about how cute Mira was and the random fanservice moments she had than anything else to boot.

That’s the problem with Dimension W. You may have forgotten this was a Toonami show. You may have forgotten that this show was suppose to be the next big thing among many big anime things, as Funimation was a part of this. You might have forgotten how much money Funimation put into Dimension W. Which you shouldn’t, because they may be still paying for this show. Mostly, Dimension W was just an okay show; it had a good dub, it had some cool moments, and even some edgy moments with a bloody murder or two. Sure, Kyoma was an ass at times to Mira, but he lightened up. However, as I said, you probably don’t remember much cause this show isn’t great. The characters, aside from the main two, are mediocre to bad. The main villain is pure crap, and appeared in the last three episodes or so for a very rushed appearance. The storyline took its time in the first six episodes, then rushed the hell out of it the rest of the way, but I still believe that if given 24 episodes – or two cours – or even just 4 or so more episodes to pace it out, this show would’ve been just above-average. Instead, we got a show that Funimation more than likely pushed on to here, and will be remembered being on Toonami for a few months. Or it may not be remembered at all. This might be your first time hearing this show in two years, aside from Funimation using it at cons to show that this appeared on TV, as they showcase nothing. At least it gave us cute Mira moments.

– Kadeem/@cedric_alpha, Surreal Resolution columnist

Grade: C-
While a strong and incredibly new pickup for the moment, there is ultimately very little to nothing that makes Dimension W all that notable, or memorable, a show.

One thing that was apparent from the cutbacks set at the start of 2015 was a renewed focus, with a pretty simple modus operandi in place: build things up with heavy hitters to keep them coming back for more. Granted, some hit harder than others, but it’s a good M.O. to go with, especially with fewer slots to switch up over time. And that mentality would keep going through 2016, because next time, we’re going to have a triple-shot of heavier hitters, including the return of a franchise that hasn’t graced Toonami in over a decade.

To be continued…

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