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Bring Back Toonami is an online movement dedicated to reviving the Toonami cartoon programming block on the [adult swim] cable network. The movement was inspired by an unexpected airing of the block on April Fools Day in 2012. It was a successful venture that resulted in the complete revival of Toonami and proved that the internet could strike a fateful blow against the animation age ghetto and corporate ignorance that so often betray the concept of good television.
Toonami was a programming block on the Cartoon Network, which showcased American and Japanese anime cartoons from March 17th, 1997, to September 20th, 2008. In its first incarnation, Toonami aired on weekdays hosted by the villain Moltar from the cartoon talk show Space Ghost. On July 10th, 1999, the block was relaunched with the new host T.O.M., a robot on the Ghost Planet Spaceship Absolution voiced by Steve Blum.
Toonami was also distinguished by a series of unique CGI animated bumpers that played during show breaks, which featured previews or descriptions of cartoons from T.O.M.’s control station. The Cartoon Network canceled the show in September of 2008. Though it became highly notable for helping to start the American following in anime, Toonami, like many unsupervised works before it in the television industry, fell into decline from a lack of quality control and a constant disruption of its initially stable programming block. Slowly, it was inundated with toyetic series and censored anime, and mishandled English dubs which did not do the original Japanese versions justice. The rise of YouTube and other independent online video hosting sites also caused a plunge in ratings. Many anime could be found in an uncut format and readily available in complete form, drawing away viewership.
April Fools on [adult swim]
On April 1st, 2012, several weeks after Toonami’s 15th anniversary, [adult swim] began its annual airing of The Room, which was suddenly interrupted by T.O.M. aboard the Absolution. T.O.M. revealed that he was an April Fools joke before introducing an episode of the show Bleach (shown left). Throughout the night, Toonami bumpers were played along with a variety of cartoon shows and T.O.M. reviewed the video game Mass Effect 3.
According to the Twitter analytics site Trendistic, tweets with the keyword “toonami” peaked at 1:00 AM on April 1st, 2012, one hour after Toonami appeared on [adult swim]. The same day, the voice actor Steve Blum updated his official Facebook with a link to the Cartoon Network feedback page, urging fans to contact the network about bringing back Toonami. On April 2nd, the official [adult swim] Twitter account published a tweet asking viewers to show their support of the block with the hashtag #BringBackToonami:
Want it back? Let us know. #BringBackToonami
— [adult swim] (@adultswim) April 3, 2012
On April 3rd, the /r/BringBackToonami subreddit was created for news related to the Toonami campaign. The following day, [adult swim] tweeted the #BringBackToonami hashtag with an announcement that the audience had been heard:
#BringBackToonami We’ve heard you. Thank you for your passion and interest – stay tuned.
— [adult swim] (@adultswim) April 4, 2012
Several YouTubers began making videos to support the cause, urging people to tweet the hashtag #BringBackToonami to [adult swim]. One of these people was none other than Steve Blum, demanding Toonami fans to begin a “Twitter storm.”
The Bring Back Toonami Song
When interest in the Toonami movement started to quiet, Richie Branson, an anime-inspired rap artist with the Twitter hashtag #OtakuTuesdays, dedicated his song-of-the-week release to the return of Toonami to help cement its revival. On May 8, 2012, he uploaded the song to YouTube. [adult swim] took notice remarkably quickly and aired a snippet of the song on one of their bumpers coaxing people into downloading it for free on his website, richiebranson.com, then once more when promoting several MP3 picks of the week.
On May 16th, 2012, [adult swim] announced via Twitter that Toonami would be returning to the network later that month on May 26th. The tweet linked to a page on the [adult swim] website, which included a Twitter feed of the hashtag #ToonamisBackBitches.
— [adult swim] (@adultswim) May 16, 2012
The same day, the blog [adult swim] Central published a post titled “Breaking: Toonami Returns May 26th”, which revealed that the programming block would air the anime cartoon shows Bleach, Cowboy Bebop and Full Metal Alchemist.
Also on May 16th, Redditor Satoshi_Tajiri submitted a post titled “Toonami is Back! 5/26/2012” to the /r/anime subreddit, in which several Redditors responded with animated reaction GIFs expressing elation and excitement.
On Saturday, May 26, 2012, after a broadcast of The Boondocks, Toonami legitimately returned to the airwaves. To the tune of yet another T.O.M. returned to his 3.0 body model aboard the Absolution once again (considered as T.O.M. 3.5). Toonami later received a very staggering reworking of its bumpers. This included a new version of T.O.M., the return of S.A.R.A. in a form similar to her original appearance, now voiced by Dana Swanson after Sally Timm became unavailable as her voice actor. Further changes saw a boost in the quality of the CGI animation, thanks to advancements in Cartoon Network’s CGI-render software during the absence of the block and a stronger use of the budget. Respective to its original “Midnight Run,” the relaunch commenced at the same time, composed of Bleach, Deadman Wonderland, Casshern Sins, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and Cowboy Bebop, repeating at 3:00 A.M and ending at 6:00 A.M. This schedule continued to be amended as series completed their run, licensing contracts for rebroadcast ran out, and other new series took their place. In particular, IGPX, an anime series once funded by Toonami, was written off as a financial failure during its former years on the original block. Through contract negotiations, the anime was reinstated for rebroadcasts.
Deadman Wonderland and Casshern Sins had the honor of being network premieres, generously provided by FUNimation, who struck a partnership with Toonami staff during their difficult search for new programming, which had crippled the block once before. FUNimation eagerly anticipated reception on their anime contributions, as evidenced by comments via Twitter on Casshern Sins:
As though to stave off naysayers who had witnessed the highly-detested 4Kids era of Toonami (a haggard attempt at dumbing down anime to little kids, infamous for turning off the older viewers), the anime shown was purely directed at the mature audience that respected it, if not the cultist otakus. Deadman Wonderland, a notoriously violent horror genre anime, made it especially obvious, due to the excess of body mutilation, profanity, and terror it sets within the first episode alone- an anime that proclaims a kid-unfriendly nature far beyond any shown on Toonami thus far. Previously, Toonami had aired the first two episodes of the dystopic Neon Genesis Evangelion as part of a Super Robot Mecha genre tribute, but under heavy censorship, then dropped the anime before it went into its darkest depths. In comparison, Deadman Wonderland was only censored for the saltier swear words generally prohibited from being spoken on television. The rest of the anime shown that night got by without any editing, dispelling fears of another “animation age ghetto” and proving to viewers Toonami was indeed back, just as good as it used to be, if not better.
Likewise with the April Fool’s Day broadcast, T.O.M. reviewed another game, the post-apocalytic I Am Alive, in the spirit of “rising up from the ashes.”
The Return of the Midnight Run & Bumping Struggling Shows
On September 30, 2012, Toonami gave fans a wondrous announcement right as Bleach went to commercial break. The schedule would no longer be repeating at 3:00 A.M. Instead, the programming would extend onward until 6:00 A.M. Fullmetal Alchemist and Ghost in the Shell: SAC would move from 2:00 and 2:30 A.M. to make room for Sym-Bionic Titan and the 2011 reboot of Thundercats. This effectively re-diversified the programming from pure anime back to anime and darker-toned cartoons more suited for the mature crowd that frequents Toonami. Moreover, both shows were notable for unfortunate luck on Cartoon Network, where the series were essentially square pegs in a round hole- hard to market to younger viewers, and heavily scrutinized for doing so. So were the expenses and devotion needed from the production staff to keep these shows alive, both of which were wobbly. Sym-Bionic Titan was often cited to have suffered for lack of a toyline to pay off its costs, and a fracturing of its production crew as their own interests fled to personal machinations. When the future of its production became questionable, it was abruptly cancelled. The sudden dropping of the series was handled cautiously by Cartoon Network, who pushed it to a quiet Saturday morning timeslot. When Sym-Bionic Titan was excised from the production blocks, CN director Genndy Tartakovsky moved on to Sony Pictures Animation to focus on new projects.
In a similar turn of events, the 2011 reboot of Thundercats was denied a second season and given its own bill of cancellation, along with the same ominous jump to the morning deathslot before finally sputtering out. Production costs were too high for it to carry on further. Cartoon Network also saw a lot of French-Canadian imported shows to alleviate their monetary problems, unable to produce a large quantity of new series. It had faced a popularity battle that fell out of its favor to rival networks Nickelodeon and Disney.
The new Toonami incorporated viewer input into its relaunched block as a sort of checks and balance system to ensure it did not make the same mistakes that led to its softening near its original cancellation. The staff honed attention to these dropped series at the request of its online following, as a means of promoting them.
To make room for the new shows, Toonami pushed back and extended Fullmetal Alchemist and Ghost in the Shell: SAC to one hour timeslots apiece at 3:00 A.M. and 4:00 A.M. respectively, and returned [adult swim] flagship anime Cowboy Bebop to the final available hour-long slot at 5:00 A.M., perceiving the discomfort longtime fans of AS saw in its disappearance- the anime was around since [adult swim] first premiered, which caused them to think their era was ending- not so!
Simply put, many a fan will now be either steeling themselves for Saturday all-nighters or warming up their DVRs if they have college studies keeping them from trucking through those six-hour grinds. Toonami restored its Midnight Run and reintroduced some of its original programming. It also began to focus on 26-episode anime to keep the rotation fairly fresh.
Future Status of the Block
In the early days of its return, Toonami had been repeatedly noted to be under close surveillance for ratings to test the waters of the block, limiting its options. The network executives held back funds toward pricier broadcasting rights contracts for the popular shōnen anime it once aired, such as Dragonball Z and Naruto in lieu of the possibility it would tank. Another implicit sign of a tight budget was although Toonami had new animations for T.O.M., the block recycled a great deal of stock footage (though this could be chalked up to the revival deadline being on short notice). With time, the restrictions were lifted. The block progressed to an upgraded T.O.M. model, a new Absolution and the return of S.A.R.A. Toonami resumed its inspiration speeches and became much more reliant on viewer input to keep its wheels spinning smoothly. Fans were not ready to give up their block without a fight, and knowing the protests made thus far, it wasn’t long before Toonami got funding for big-name anime and other cult favorites, some of them owing to FUNimation sponsorship, others because the fans lobbied for their incorporation on the block. Among them, to name several, were uncut versions of One Piece (Episode 207 onward after the transition to high definition), Naruto, Naruto Shippuden, Sword Art Online, Eureka Seven, Soul Eater, Black Lagoon Attack on TItan, Dragon Ball Z Kai and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Granted, some content still had to be censored because post-watershed protocol did not extend to the most explicit content. Toonami even gained the honor of introducing a world premiere- the anime Space☆Dandy.
Few fanbases have worked with such diligence to nurture a struggling block. If anything, it was a combined effort among all of those who cared for Toonami to breathe new life into it again. The fans were finally allowed to shed a manly tear and proclaim with certainty, “Toonami’s back, bitches!”