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Cat’s Cradle: Toonami shaped a generation

This past week marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of Toonami. Toonami was a television block on Cartoon Network with action-oriented content that introduced a whole generation of TV viewers to the Japanese media of anime.

Home video rentals of Ninja Scroll and Ghost in the Shell introduced a generation of creators to an alternative method of animation. Such adult-oriented anime lived on through the legacy of Golgo-13, a long-running manga about a hitman.

Golgo-13, created by the late Takao Saito, was a contemporary of children manga Astro Boy. Each property has gone on to form its own legacy globally, with anime being created for both adult and young audiences. Prior to 1997, most adult oriented anime was relegated to home media. 

This changed with the introduction of the Toonami block of Cartoon Network. The animation block was meant to fill a midday time slot and focused on action-oriented cartoons. The block was initially reruns of Thundercats and Voltran, with small, animated interstitials of Space Ghost villain Moltar as the host. 

This was quickly phased out the following year for a new host, the animated T.O.M. Meanwhile, the programming began to shift toward dubbed anime. Early shows were Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon and Mobile Suit Gundam. For most viewers, that was their first time watching these shows in English and as continuous narratives. 

To build up audience interest, the Toonami team created animated sizzle reels based around themes or anime arcs. As time progressed, Toonami moved to Saturdays as they aired unedited TV shows such as the popular Shōnen series Naruto.

Toonami returned to the air after a brief hiatus, filling the Saturday portion of late-night animation block, Adult Swim. The union of two blocks marked a new era in adult animation, with Genny Tarkovsky’s return to Samurai Jack and Primal. As well, Toonami has begun producing anime like Blade Runner Black Lotus, Uzumaki and Shenmue.

Anime at the time has become a popular form of media. From memes to music to style, anime has slowly seeped into American culture. This is in part to a generation of viewers growing up with to anime through a widely syndicated network. This has been reflected in our media. 

In television we have Avatar the Last Airbender, which draws heavily from FLCL; the recent Castlevania which draws imagery and tone from Berserk manga and anime respectively; Ok K.O.! being a send up of the Shonen hero journey and Saturday morning cartoons. The anime narrative structure and adherence to action has inspired a generation of creators to tell their own stories.

Live action films owe a lot to the role of anime in presenting new and creative ideas. Films like The Matrix, borrow heavily from Ghost in the Shell, while Inception pulls from the dream, entering the image of Paprika. Pacific Rim brought mecha-anime, like Tetsujin-28, to the blockbuster. 

This has been an ongoing inspiration, with the recent Star Wars Visions bringing new voices and visions to Star Wars. As well, the recent Pixar film Turning Red uses the styles and visual short-hand found throughout anime.

The role of Toonami on the popular culture has been apparent throughout our media. It has inspired many college age students to create anime clubs across college campuses like OU’s own. Anime film Belle premiers at our own independent cinema. Anime has become a cultural phenomenon for a generation of people, and it’s in part to a short animation block that asked us to tune in, and zone out. 

Benjamin Ervin is a senior studying English literature and writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him be425014@ohio.edu.

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