Feature: Grading Toonami, Show By Show – The 20th Anniversary (#15)

2017 marked a momentous occasion for Toonami – its 20th anniversary, and with it came a good bit of celebration, as well as a little bit of… well, the opposite of celebration, to some. And that’s been the bread and butter of these pieces, the added contributions, because while we all may be into Toonami, we may not like everything that comes onto the schedule. As is the case with these entries, as they will all be exclusively guest contributions. And what better way than to commemorate 20 years of Toonami than with some Gundam, some Samurai Jack, something new, and something weird?

But before we get to that, let’s go to that magical four-week period in March 2017 where we saw a nice throwback look to Toonami, with the TOM 2.0 “pipes” look that many of us remember from way back when. The promos, the bumpers, the intros all had this look, and speaking personally? I dig it. So much so that I wouldn’t have complained if this were a longer-lasting thing. And along with that, we had some classic spots get a re-air, including an AWESOME Robotech promo, circa 1999, and the classic review of Metal Gear Solid, also circa 1999 – and yes, they did review an M-rated game on a children’s network. They did it a few more times, actually, with Metal Gear VR Missions and a segment in a Dreamcast review about The House of the Dead 2. Check out this Toonzone forum thread for all the awesome goodies that aired, along with a few extras included for good measure.

Gundam Unicorn RE:0096 (January 7 – June 10, 2017)

For me, watching Gundam Unicorn was a unique experience. For most of the Toonami faithful, they’re more familiar with the Fighting Century of G Gundam, or the After Colony of Gundam Wing, thus nobody was prepared for everything that came with the world that started it all: The Universal Century. The original U.C. era of Gundam didn’t pull any punches when it came to war. We had everything from politics to pride to simple human greed, for both power and money, be the driving force of the various wars that plagued the timeline, most infamously the One Year War (OYW). The OYW is as it says, a war that lasted one year between the Earth and the space colonies farthest from it, Side 3. It lasted from U.C. 0079 to U.C. 0080 and it all started when, in response to Earth refusing to accept Side 3’s independent state of The Principality of Zeon, dropped a colony on Australia, wiping most of it and all of New Zealand off the map.

But what if there was something else behind that? Namely none of it had to happen… and it only did because Earth was afraid of what was to come? That’s the idea behind this side story, that everything that started it all was a lie, and at the same time it also tries to answer the question that everybody has been asking for a long time: The final fates of Char and Amuro. The thing is though, it didn’t exactly answer the “what if,” I don’t suspect anything will due to how long ago everything was, it did set up how the world would be by later UC entries very well.

Politics and war have always gone hand and hand with Gundam, be it arguing if the Gundam fights are an ideal alternative to war, or the Peacecraft way of pacifism. Thing is, while they are at the core of their respective shows, they didn’t drive them and were done in a way that average viewers who aren’t fans of that stuff or flat out don’t want it didn’t have to worry about it. The U.C. era was another story, as the answer to “What if” was revolved around THREE parties with different politics driving each, so unless you were already a hardcore fan of the timeline, it got real bogged down real quick.

But, politics aside, Unicorn was a great attempt to return to the original era of Gundam. It not only changed the history of what we knew, it set the seeds for just how the series would get by Victory Gundam and showed how the world of Gundam F91 possibly came to pass. Politics bogged it down for some viewers, and some knowledge of the original show would help understand it better for new comers, but for fans of the original like me, it was a nice side story to a timeline that can never run out of them.

@DigiRanma, caustic critic extraordinaire and Gundam fan

Grade: B-
Despite suffering from some re-editing woes from its original seven OVAs into a 22-episode TV anime, Gundam Unicorn manages to deliver a more “traditional” Gundam series with a modern coat of paint to it.

Samurai Jack (Season 5) (March 11 – June 24, 2017)

It was really surreal to be minding my own business one day and then immediately learning that Adult Swim had greenlit a new season of Samurai Jack. One of the most important and seminal fixtures of my childhood was finally getting another run, one that would hopefully finally bring Jack’s never-ending journey of defeating Aku to a fantastic end. Much of the season felt firmly grounded in familiar territory, with incredibly stylish and striking character designs, dynamic cinematography/editing, and a healthy dose of comedy here and there. However, it was clear that the Adult Swim block afforded the staff opportunities to do things that they wouldn’t be able to back in the mid-2000s. While everything saw a noticeably upgrade in terms of visuals and direction, the tone was significantly more bleak and dark, given that Jack was feeling incredibly more nihilistic about his odds of completing his quest.

What worked so well about this last season is that, despite the upgrade to a more gritty tone, the season never felt immature in that DC Extended Universe sense. The storytelling was still incredibly nuanced, allowing for the visuals to carry the bulk of the narrative progression, and the characterization felt perfectly natural for all the heroes and villains: Jack’s defeatist attitude, Ashi’s relentlessly passionate warrior spirit, etc. Admittedly, the season wasn’t perfect. The pacing got a little off-kilter in the middle episodes, Aku’s characterization felt a little flat compared to the rest of the cast, the final battle could have been stretched out a bit more to create a grander scale to things, and while Tyler Bates’ musical score was solid enough, it did tend to get a bit overblown and needlessly suffocation in some scenes. Despite those nagging flaws, Tartakovsky and co. crafted an amazing final season for one of the most groundbreaking animated shows of the past couple of decades, delivering a powerful sense of satisfying closure to something I spent so much of my life being into. And I still get lumps in my throat thinking about those final few shots, if I’m being perfectly honest.

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

Grade: B-
While a longer episode run would have helped with the overall story, the 10-episode fifth season of Samurai Jack still packs a strong punch and delivers a strong closing point to a very well-revered series.

Sand Whale & Me (March 18 – April 15, 2017)

There was a lot to be excited about during the 20th anniversary of Toonami’s foundation, especially when the block shifted to more classic iconography/logos, along with some nostalgic bumps here and there. Perhaps biggest of all was the announcement of Sand Whale & Me, a new original microseries from directorial juggernaut Mamoru Oshii based on bumps that had aired on Adult Swim prior to the anniversary. When the end result finally premiered, it was certainly a very head-scratching sort of affair: multiple non-sequitur gags, shifts in filming/animation styles, and no real coherent narrative at all. Some liked it, and most were just wondering “What is this, I don’t even.”

For what it’s worth, I had fun watching these shorts as they aired. From my perspective, it was a bit like experiencing the original Aeon Flux shorts back in the ‘90s: brief vignettes that primarily existed as a way to experiment with numerous techniques and ideas in a manner that didn’t require heavy amounts of narrative justification. In a way, it was very much a tsunami of creative out-there set pieces and gags, and after all, isn’t “tsunami” part of the naming of the block? It feels almost too perfect when looked at in that sense. Now let’s just hope this stays as a series of shorts and never gets expanded into half-hour episodes… ya know… like Aeon Flux. Yikes.

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

Grade: weird/10
Sand Whale & Me is one of the most bizarre things to ever air on Toonami. What else can I possibly say?

Tokyo Ghoul (March 25 – September 30, 2017)

Let’s get this part out of the way first. I said in my One Piece piece how the show got almost no time at all to be announced that it was being taken off the air. I was mad at that, as most were. Now, the second part I didn’t say on there is what got me the most mad was what replaced it. It was this show, Tokyo Ghoul. Now, I get it. Tokyo Ghoul is actually a pretty popular series. So popular, its manga volumes are actually some of the top selling in Japan, and usually in the top 10 categories. Sometimes, they are up there with One Piece for the top spot. It has a huge fanbase among Ani-Twtter, is sometimes known among casuals, and can be recognized among memes, quotes from the series, and popular cosplay. So it seems like a good thing to replace One Piece with, right?

There’s one problem. The anime for it is… not very good.

I’ll start with the good. The main character, Kaneki, is actually in college, a rarity in shonen anime, as most of the characters are in the legal age limit here (Some have a problem with underage characters, even if that’s 95% of anime.) The dub is fantastic, as the actors do a great job giving the characters life. We got one of the most J. Michael Tatum performances from a character that suits his acting style very well. And “Unravel” became one of my favorite Openings in any anime. Of course, you take the good with the bad. And well, Tokyo Ghoul is… pretty boring, to be honest. Even though the animation is pretty okay, especially by Studio Pierrot standards, all the fights on here are nothing more than blood-splattered snooze fests. The characters don’t have much to offer, from either being scared cowards to psychopathic nutjobs.

All the edginess and killing throughout didn’t really do anything to me, but just showed that it’s just ghouls and humans killing each other in horrific ways with no fun at all. I haven’t even gotten to how Studio Pierrot made its second season, Root A, into a full-on filler dump that not only feels like an out-of-place slice-of-life show 50% of the time, but it kills off a main character at the end of it.

That’s the problem with Tokyo Ghoul: it’s a bad adaption of a popular manga. Many TG fans I seen have said to stay away from the anime because of how bad it is, and it doesn’t help that its follow up series, Tokyo Ghoul:RE, is getting the same Pierrot treatment like its predecessor. In my opinion, this was a bad pick-up by the Toonami crew, only to have more gasoline thrown on the fire by it quickly replacing one of the better and beloved shows. I’ll say it like others do: Stick with the manga for Ghoul.

– Kadeem/@cedric_alpha, Surreal Resolution columnist

Grade: D+
Popularity aside, the anime adaptation of Tokyo Ghoul suffers from numerous problems, both with the pacing in the first season and the shift in, and lack of, focus in the second season.

So, while the 20th anniversary of Toonami may have had both some good and bad to those looking to celebrate, it was still a pretty big period for Toonami in terms of programming. And that sentiment would carry on throughout the rest of 2017, with some pretty notable shows coming down the line, as well as some interesting changes along the way. Get ready for an earlier start time, the return of an old friend, and… well, Black Clover. You’ve been warned.

To be continued…

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