Toonami returns to a new market, with new challenges. Can it succeed?

As many know already, Toonami is back. Earlier today, Adult Swim announced that the block will return on May 27, beginning at midnight. The announcement comes nearly two months after Adult Swim’s April Fool’s Day prank, in which Toonami returned for an evening with its classic lineup and new bumpers of mascot character T.O.M. The press release. states that the network will develop “new original anime programming” (whatever that means), as well as previous titles that appeared on the block.

Currently, Anime News Network lists the following preliminary schedule:

  • 12:00 AM: Bleach
  • 12:30 AM: Fullmetal Alchemist
  • 1:00 AM: Durarara!!
  • 1:30 AM: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
  • 2:00 AM: FLCL
  • 2:30 AM: Cowboy Bebop
  • 3:00 AM: Bleach
  • 3:30 AM: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG
  • 4:00 AM: Bleach
  • 4:30 AM: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
  • 5:00 AM: Durarara!!
  • 5:30 AM: Cowboy Bebop

The inevitable has finally come to fruition, and Toonami will kick off Adult Swim’s summer broadcasting season. The announcement comes precisely forty-five days after April Fool’s Day, in the wake of thousands of tweets, Facebook posts, and forum posts. For the past six and a half weeks, we’ve seen calls to “#BringBackToonami” and pleas to the network to return the block to some place on the airwaves, as Twitter accounts and Facebook walls remained silent. During that time, the narrative became the advertisement, in a way: the viewers became evangelists as they exposed countless to the brand, and generated excitement or the possibility that, just maybe, they would make an impact on the network’s decision.

At this point, with an initial (presumed temporary) lineup slated, the reactions from the market seem mixed. While the general feeling is that of excitement across the board, there seems to be a tinge of disappointment from the tentative lineup presented by ANN. After all, there are few changes from the established norms at this point, and many were certainly expecting a grand revelation of sweeping changes. And, if nothing really changes aside from T.O.M bumps, excitement for Toonami will fizzle in short order.

At this point, the network has many difficult decisions to make. What drew people to Toonami originally was the promise of exciting content. Shows like Outlaw Star, Gundam Wing, and Big O ignited passions within the audience for a number of years. And, as one would expect, the audience wants to see a return of some of these titles to the airwaves. At the same time, the block was always regarded as a hotbed of new content. In Toonami’s heydey, the block was regarded as a hotbed of content. Anime epics like .hack and Dragon Ball would line up with American fare with a similar flair, like Batman: The Animated Series and Transformers. No matter the show’s origins, though, it was important that whatever was shown would be engaging enough to keep people talking and, most important, keep people watching.

Adult Swim has many choices ahead of it, in regards to Toonami’s future. They could turn the block into a six-hour anime-fest, which would make anime fans happy. However, it would also alienate a number of people expecting to see the mix of east and west that made the block so intriguing in its early days. At the same time, they could give the token nod to the old, with spotty reruns of their older properties mixed with the traditional Adult Swim fare like Boondocks. This would go over well with some crowds, but it would certainly upset those who were responsible for the initial word of mouth marketing.

At the outset, though, the network appears to be following the strategy that brought the Toonami its early success. With the promise of new programming in the works, a confirmation of the return of money-makers Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and Bleach, and a promise of rotating reruns of classic shows, Adult Swims seems eager to capture a combination of American and Japanese material for the block. It is unknown whether they will acquire new anime material, but such a relaunch seems like it would be the most ideal time to pursue such agreements. Companies like FUNimation, Section23 and Viz are seeking publicity and the funding gained from air-time on a prime network. They control libraries of content both old and new that can captivate the masses, and ignite the imagination.

Needless to say, this is all speculation at this point. However, the decisions made by Adult Swim going forward will be incredibly important to Toonami, the titles that air on it, and the anime industry as a whole. I will be keeping an eye on the story as it develops further.