Feature: Grading Toonami, Show By Show – The Triumphant Trifecta (#13)

Through the eyes of retrospect, it’s a bit hard to say whether 2016 was a strong year or not for Toonami. On one hand, the spring and summer of the year brought in some pretty big pickups, as we’ll get to in this piece, but on the other hand… Dimension W. Suppose you take the good with the bad, right? Okay, let’s get to it, we’ve got a trio of heavy hitters to discuss.

Hunter x Hunter (April 26, 2016 – Present)

Let me tell you about a man named Yoshihiro Togashi, the manga-ka of both Yu Yu Hakusho and Hunter x Hunter. He has chronic back pain and rehabs by playing copious amounts of Dragon Quest games, is married to the manga-ka of Sailor Moon, Naoko Takeuchi, and the anime adaptations of his two series are, generally speaking, fairly well-regarded. For this case, we have the second anime adaptation of HxH, coming from the fine folks at Madhouse with a whopping 148-episode run that ran on Japanese television from the fall of 2011 to the fall of 2014, adapting most of the manga – what’s been published, anyway – into a fine case of a modern shonen anime, and one that isn’t afraid to get extra bloody. So much so that it had a schedule hop to a late-night Tuesday slot from its original Sunday morning slot in Japan. Always fun, right?

The series, itself, is split into six arcs, and as of this writing, we’re deep into the Chimera Ant arc, the longest of the six at 61 episodes. The main plotline is pretty simple, at the base: a young lad named Gon is on a search for his father, and along the way, passes many tribunals to become a proper Hunter (get it?) and joins in with some interesting comrades, such as his best friend Killua, who is totally nuts beneath the surface, along with the wily – yet noble – Leorio and the stoic Kurapika, and through their travels, they get involved in quite a bit of intense adventures. While heralded by fans of the series as its best arc, the weekly reaction I’ve seen from viewers has proven to be a bit more down the middle, both for the arc and for the show, over 100 episodes in. Call it fatigue, call it diminishing returns, or call it whatever you’d like, but diminishing reception is, sadly, a case that has to be taken into consideration when airing a longer show such as Hunter x Hunter on a weekly basis, and only on a weekly basis.

Personally, I’d put HxH up in the higher tier of long-running shonen anime, but that’s just my own opinion on the matter. I know some who absolutely love this show to bits and others who are exhausted by it, so it’s all – as I’ve mentioned before in this series – a matter of personal perspective. It’s still a show that’s worth recommending by me, though, if you want a shonen adventure series that’s got some teeth to it. And credit to both Toonami and Viz for sticking with this show for this long, keeping it in a solid timeslot and pumping out home video releases of it on a regular (or semi-regular if you’re impatient) basis.

Grade: B-
One of the better shonen long-running shows to come out, Hunter x Hunter has a little bit of something for everyone, but those with lesser patience may not be as interested.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans (June 4 – December 10, 2016; October 7, 2017 – April 28, 2018)

When talking about Toonami, and creating a Toonami lineup that blends elements of both new and old, there was always one big property missing from the group: GUNDAM. There was always one question people would ask, “When is Toonami gonna get a Gundam series?” And to that, there’s a two-sided answer: one, up until late 2014, Gundam titles were in a bit of legal limbo, but thanks to a deal between Sunrise and Rightstuf, we’ve been getting Gundam series and movies released on home video on a very regular basis. And two, it was always a matter of trying to find the right Gundam series to air. This would leave just a few options, though, without rehashing an older show for a token nostalgia run (ahemWING), while other series such as Turn A never got a dub in the first place, which ruled them out as well. Thankfully, there was a pretty recent Gundam series that made some waves during its broadcast and simulcast run in the fall of 2015, complete with an English dub confirmed for all us Yanks in the west to take in, and that series was Iron Blooded Orphans, a more contemporary war tale set in the Gundam universe, spearheaded by… Mari Okada? As in, Anohana and Toradora Mari Okada? Interesting.

Yeah, I’ll just say this to keep it short, this is a weird series for Gundam standards. But coming off the unmitigated disaster that was Reconguista in G, this was a much-needed change of pace to the Gundam formula. Yes, you still have your space opera and mecha action elements, and the usual notion of “war is bad” with literal child soldiers in the middle of it all, but you get later on in the show and deeper into everything, and you find elements of… well, heavy-ness, at least for Gundam standards. Examples: a guy with a literal space harem, our lead character shooting a saboteur in point-blank range, muscly bishounens for the first time in a Gundam series in a LONG while, and of course, SEX. (Okay, that last one isn’t too out there if you’ve seen SEED, but in here, this turns into a case of procreation toward the end of the series.) But of course, there’s always death to be found all over, so don’t grow too attached to anyone in this show, lest you be in for a world of disappointment.

Suffice it to say, this isn’t your typical Gundam series. In fact, for this franchise, this is a very atypical entry, given the roots of the franchise over its prior 35-year history. But that also makes Iron Blooded Orphans an incredibly fascinating watch, just for its various twists and turns and elements of “wait whaaaaaaa” lurking in the background. I recall the reception for this show being a bit mixed, from both newcomers and Gundam fans, but it does serve as a double-edged reminder that when you ask for a Gundam series, you’re not gonna get a show that’s just giant robots fighting in space. (That’s what G Gundam is for.) You’re going to get a show that’s filled with politics and back-stabbing and drama, and in this case, you’re gonna get all of that amplified a few times over. The series is readily available from Funimation, on both home video and online streaming, so if you missed this when it was on, give it a shot and see if it’s up your alley.

Or, you know, just watch G Gundam. Everyone should watch G Gundam.

So, what was it about Gundam: IBO that resonated with everybody? Well, for me, it was Gundam taken to a different level. Namely that the crew is made of up nothing but kids…and embraces it while making the point of how horrible war is. The original Gundam made it clear that the people trying to win the war had no choice but to take kids on it’s mission, as all the adults were injured or dead, but IBO had these kids get into war with a purpose, that they would carve their own destiny and make a mark for themselves in the process, thus from the ashes of a Juvenal “Work/defend or die” program, a mercenary group known as Tekkaden was created.

At the same time, it also kept the other traditions, from politics screwing everybody over to not everybody being good or evil, just people. Granted, the lines were less shades of gray than other shows, but considering the hero characters included members of the Yakuza, it still counts. We watch these characters go from rag tag kids that society gave up on to one of the greatest forces in the universe, even if some of it was by accident, ala Tekkaden inadvertently becoming part of a revolution. When they took a personal hit, WE took a personal hit. When they wanted revenge for a friend’s death, WE wanted that revenge too. The series about war had also evolved, as it was no longer just about “War is bad, m’kay,” but it also took a page out of 08th MS Team as this was about the GROPOS, the Ground Pounders, the group not afraid to get things dirty in the name of war and peace, at least in the first season.

When the second season rolled around, the goal was much more clear: These nobodies were gonna be somebodies, they were gonna carve their own paths and we were rooting for it to happen every tragic step of the way. Season 2 was the darkest season, but it used that darkness in a good way as when those who survived came out the other side, we had their hope. Out of all the Gundams, this was one of the most satisfactory, and hopeful conclusions (Yes, I know what one of them does in the end). We saw the characters go from garbage that people gave up on to rookie mercenaries to carving their own destinies, and we grew along with them every step of the way.

@DigiRanma, caustic critic extraordinaire and Gundam fan

Grade: B-

As a more contemporary Gundam series, Iron Blooded Orphans shakes things up a bit while retaining its place within the larger Gundam canon.

One Punch Man (July 16, 2016 – January 28, 2017; August 11, 2018 – Present)

In another case of pretty quick turnaround for a hot show, how about this show? One Punch Man, in short, is AWESOME. If you’re tired of the usual shonen tropes and elements dragging along, this show is a fine remedy for those who don’t mind said tropes and elements getting made fun of, and it all starts with our main HERO, Saitama – a man who trained so much and so hard that he went completely bald, cares not for endless monologuing, and can defeat just about any monster of the week with, you guessed it, one punch. I won’t talk about the series in too much detail, as I’d like to do more of a full-length review of the series sometime later, so I’m gonna pull a Saitama and wrap this up really quick.

This show is wicked awesome, the characters are equal parts hilarious and intriguing, the animation (Madhouse) is excellent, Shingo Natsume is a fantastic director, GO WATCH IT. Trust me, it’s great, and it’s getting an encore run at 2:30 right now (as of this writing). This was a no-brainer for Toonami, from the get-go, and is a fantastic entry for the block.

Grade: A
It’s One Punch Man. It’s awesome, even two years later.

This wouldn’t be the only additions of 2016, there would still be one more big pickup before the year would come to an end, and in a way, this certain pickup would be a bit… bizarre, in a way. But we’ve only got a few more of these entries left to go, so we’ll save that for next time. We may even have a movie to talk about, as well. And is it just me, or does anyone else hear an acoustic guitar playing in the background?

To be continued…

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