Feature: Grading Toonami, Show By Show – The Bizarre Anchor Shifts (#14)

Without going into too deep of detail, the fall of 2016 was a bit of a concerning time for a lot of people. Thankfully for all of us, we have a form of escapism in the form of television, and more specifically, Toonami was there to bring out a pretty strong heavy hitter to serve as an anchor for the next few years, and going into the end of 2016, the end of Dragonball Kai was looming. There would be an equally heavy anchor show waiting in the background, but before we get there, we need to get a little “bizarre” with the first show in this entry.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (October 15, 2016 – April 15, 2017)

Back in 1987, a man named Hirohiko Araki, with a fascination for western music unlike most at the time, began a manga series that would, over time, become one of the most acclaimed – and in some aspects, memed – manga series of all time, in the form of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, a series with more muscles than a bodybuilder’s gym and better vampires than anything from the mind of Stephanie Meyer. And after an OVA series in 1993 – and again, in 2000 – and a film in 2006 that was, by all accounts, best left unseen, the world of JoJo got a third chance at an animated adaptation in 2012 by, at the time, a rather low-key animation studio known simply as David Production. The rest, as they say, is history.

This first 26-episode series takes the first two parts of the story, Phantom Blood and Battle Tendencies, into a wild ride of some of the most insane action you’ll see from an anime. And that’s just the start of it, too. In the first arc, we see the first main “JoJo,” Jonathan Joestar, and a rapscallion named Dio, begin their generation-long blood feud in the ways you would expect: a crazed mask, a dead dog, and a stolen first kiss from Jonathan’s love, Erica, courtesy of Dio. What follows is an insane progressive rock opus of vampirism, Hamon, and brutal fight sequences. VERY brutal fight sequences. There’s a reason this show gets a blanket TV-MA rating. The first part, while very good at setting the stage for what would come later, is rather short, only lasting the first nine episodes, but then the second part comes in right after, which adds to the fun with the next Joestar descendant, Joseph. Things get crazier from there, trust me. And a little Oedipal in parts.


Then comes the story of how this show was handled, and how long it took to come stateside. I mentioned that JoJo aired in Japan starting in 2012, but it wasn’t licensed for streaming on Crunchyroll until the spring of 2014, tying in with the premiere of the second season – again, later – and as for home video? OH BOY. Warner Home Video got first dibs on the series, as WHV Japan handles the series in, obviously, Japan, and they released the series in the fall of 2015 on… DVD. With a caption track for English subtitles. But, thankfully, Viz Media came to save the day by licensing the show in full, which lead the way for the series to air on Toonami in 2016. And yes, there’s a great Blu-ray release that came out in the summer of 2017. This show is highly recommended, it’s a great starting point for anyone curious about the wonderment that is JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and a great series in its own right. But be careful in the second part, Bryce Papenbrook putting on a faux-Italian accent as Caesar is pretty, uh… bad.

At least Ben Diskin as Joseph is awesome, so it’s about an even trade.

Grade: A-
Bizarre as all hell and filled with wacky and insane violent goodness, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a fine pick for those looking for some heavier shonen goodness.

Addendum: Children Who Chase Lost Voices (November 5, 2016)

For the first time since 2014, Toonami gave the viewers a special bonus for the night of the Daylight Savings Time changeover. After the 1:00am transition hour, at 2:00am, the viewers were greeted with a special movie presentation, Children Who Chase Lost Voices, from acclaimed director Makoto Shinkai. Yes, that Makoto Shinkai. As in, the director of Your name., THAT Makoto Shinkai. Consider it a fine little treat for those willing to stay up a bit later. I won’t go too deep into the film itself, as this is being considered an “addendum” section given its one-time-only presentation brought in part by the DST changeover, and because I intend on talking about this film in greater detail at a later date, but I will say that it is an excellent film, as is the case with Shinkai and his filmography. The man has a strong motif to his works, and this film fits that mold incredibly well.

Addendum: Scavengers

For the Christmas Eve/Day and New Year’s Eve/Day marathons, to close out the year, the opportunity came about to air a few extras. First, there was an interesting pilot short entitled Scavengers, which may or may not be in the works to become a full series for Adult Swim; the 8-minute short sports a rather minimalist atmosphere and aesthetic, in terms of visuals and direction, complete with no voiceover work and a grander focus on letting the visuals tell the story at hand. What it is, I’m still trying to figure out, but there are themes of life and exploration abound; the short can be seen in full on Adult Swim’s website and on Vimeo, officially, so check it out, it’s well worth eight minutes of your day.

Addendum: Shelter

As for the second, this was a music video for the Porter Robinson song “Shelter,” and an interesting one at that, as the video was co-produced by both A-1 Pictures and Crunchyroll. The video is a short-form story in its own right, and along with being a catchy song, the video is visually mesmerizing; unfortunately, when it aired, it was not only cut for time but aired without subtitles in it. This was said to have been an error on the network’s fault, but since then, the video has not re-aired in full. Still, it was a neat little bonus to add on to the holiday marathons, as was Scavengers, and it’s always neat to see Toonami add a few extra goodies along the way, be it a music video or an added short film.

That sentiment may go away as we head deeper into 2017, though.

Dragonball Super (January 7, 2017 – Present)

So this was kinda inevitable, wasn’t it? Announced to start in the summer of 2015, and because Toei Animation LOVES money, Dragonball Super is the continuing adventures of everyone’s not-so-favorite brain-damaged doofus, Goku, and his friends and family as they engage in intergalactic battles and fights. With a few history-eraser button presses along the way, as well. Yes, this is the fourth TV project for the franchise, and the first since 1996, and with that comes a great amount of expectations and hype. Consider both grounded with the first 30 episodes serving as television re-tellings of the past two films, Battle of Gods and Resurrection ‘F’. Not quite starting with your best foot forward, I know, but this is where some context comes into play.

Yes, the first batch of Dragonball Super episodes aren’t that great, in terms of story or animation production. This was due, in no small part, to the number of new animators working at Toei and working on this project. And yes, there’s been a big difference in quality over 20 years; no longer are film cels and traditional (analogue) key animation at play, it’s all digital animation, as is the case with most animation in 2015. And not the best-looking digital animation, either. But once you get past that hump, and you go into the meat of this series, there’s actually some solid stuff to be found. Admittedly, a lot of it is filled with callbacks, retreads, and what I will politely call “character re-skins,” but there’s fine stuff to be found, especially when the first original arc, the Future Trunks/Zamasu arc, kicks off. And even past that, there are some fine one-offs that are centered more on a domestically comedic aspect of the series, be it the”mirror” Vegeta (voiced by Brian Drummond), Goku giving Satan a rub in front of an alien overlord (“AHHHHH-Iforgotmytractor-WAHHHH”), some dang fine baseball between the lifeform races, and even a full-on crossover with Dr. Slump – ARALE IS GOD.

Unfortunately, those of us outside of Japan had to wait until October 2016 for the series to start being shown on Crunchyroll on a weekly basis. Because Toei is very antiquated. Of course, it was always a matter of when Funimation would get the series and air it on Toonami, and not if, and to kick off 2017, in came Dragonball Super at 11:30, with an additional airing at 8pm. Why? Again, Toei is antiquated. Worth noting that this has also aired on Toonami blocks all over the world, notably in southeast Asia – with a different dub entirely, albeit cancelled – and in Africa, with an edited version of the Funimation dub. As of this posting, we’re now in the final major arc of the series, the Universe Survival arc, and if I’m being honest, it’s going to take about 20 episodes or so for things to go into high gear. And I mean REALLY high gear. What will be more interesting is what will happen after it’s over; the series ended earlier this year in Japan after 131 episodes, and by this time next year, the series will wrap up on Toonami, with no clear indication if Fuji TV and Toei will restart the series. But that’s then and this is now – to those still watching, just tough it out for a little while and I promise it will be worth your time, the last batch of episodes are truly something to behold.

Trust me, Ultra Instinct Goku is AMAZING. Or maybe it’s just me.

Grade: B-

Albeit with a very rocky start, Dragonball Super serves as a fine continuation to one of the biggest anime series in history, if at times coming off as a bit too much of a rehash.

Dragonball Kai: The Final Chapters (January 7, 2017 – June 23, 2018)

Alongside the premiering Super came the continuation of Dragonball Kai, officially subtitled “The Final Chapters” (giving it the nickname of KFC), but more referred to as “Buu Kai,” as it’s a more condensed version of the post-Cell Games arcs of the series; and interestingly enough, this series was made exclusively for international markets, yet still managed to air in Japan on Fuji TV starting in 2014. The reason for that is, well, bluntly simple: Toriko didn’t put enough asses in the seats. But that was 2014, and we didn’t see this series until 2017, with off-and-on reports of voice actors working on the series?

So what took so long? Again, Toei is antiquated. The long-standing rumor – which, for full disclosure, has never been officially confirmed by any parties – was that Funimation couldn’t release “Buu Kai” on home video without first airing it on TV, but they couldn’t do that until all 98 original episodes of Kai first aired… even though they all aired in full on Nicktoons long before finishing up on Adult Swim. Odd. And another long-standing rumor was that the whole show has been fully dubbed into English for a long time, or as people in the “biz” would say, was completely in the can. So we have an additional 69 episodes sitting around, just waiting for airtime, so it can be released on home video, but they certainly held up to that deal, as the whole lot of episodes were released within three calendar months in the spring of 2017.

Unfortunately, the episodes don’t look that good, compared to the original run of Kai. For one, all of the episodes are cropped to a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio, and two, all of the episodes are coated with a green tint, due in part to Toei handling their own restoration process for this batch of episodes. So here’s an idea for someone with a few months to spare and who wants a better version of Buu Kai: take the audio from the Kai episodes, sync them to episode footage from the Dragon Box video masters, leave the aspect ratio to 4:3, and there you go. Just an idea.

Now we get into my thoughts on this whole thing: I’ll be honest and say that the Buu saga kinda… sucks. It’s where I dropped out of watching the series the first time around, and the same thing happened here. But since I’ve been writing enough for one post, I’ll give the highlights: I would’ve liked more domestic teenage Gohan stuff, Videl is eternally best girl, Mark Satan is still an awful character, Evil Buu is just such an annoying OP godmod, some awesome cameos had to get scrubbed out because some annoying-ass fanboys tattled to Toei and, as we all know, Toei HATES FUN, and to quote TeamFourStar, “Gohan is the strongest in the universe but still doesn’t do CRAP,” because it’s SO great to have Goku come back in, get his rub, and save the day again – BROTHER.

Yes, I’m equating Goku with Hulk Hogan. Only without the racism and sex tape. Short version, Buu Kai isn’t all that great. Could’ve done without it, really, but it’s here, so whatevs.

Grade: C+

A big mangled from the getgo, Dragonball “Buu” Kai finishes out the “Z” saga to give all of Kai a complete story, if a bit on the green-ish side in terms of visuals.

Well, we’re getting close to the end of this series, with just a few entries left. And as we get into 2017, we’ll be taking an additional look at how the Toonami crew would commemorate the block’s 20th anniversary. There was some fun to be found and some dust blown off, but not all of the anniversary celebrations were completely welcomed to some.

To be continued…

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