GeekOut

Toonami returns – but can it succeed again?

When Cartoon Network's Adult Swim recently announced the return of Toonami, a long running programming block  dedicated mostly to Japanese animation, anime lovers took notice. With classic titles such as "Bleach," "Casshern Sins," "Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood," and "Ghost in the Shell," on the slate, fans of high quality anime knew a soothing balm was in store for them in those late hours of the night when sleep doesn't quite come. (Disclosure: Both Cartoon Network and CNN are owned by the TimeWarner company.)

But some anime fans are less than excited about the new programming block. They think the titles Toonami offers are stale, re-aired episodes of old shows – a notion Cartoon Network Vice President of Marketing Jason DeMarco passionately sought to clarify on his personal Twitter account.

"SPEAKING OF WHICH," he tweeted, "Something you should know about THIS Toonami: We have very,very little $. This experiment will need ratings success....to receive more funding for new shows, more Tom animation, etc. I'm thankful for the $ we've gotten, but it isn't a lot.

DeMarco also hinted that other popular series like "Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt" and "Fairy Tale" could be in the program's future if it performs well.

In its decade on television, Toonami brought anime into the spotlight, introducing millions of viewers to series like "Dragon Ball Z" and "Neon Genesis Evangelion."

Before Toonami was on the air, fans scraped the scant anime sections of their local Blockbusters and traded VHS tapes back and forth. Toonami made it possible for a whole new legion of fans to keep up with the shows they loved, as well as to discover new ones.

When Toonami debuted in 1997, the programming block was originally a weekday afternoon event. It found its true audience once it debuted Toonami Midnight Run, which ran from midnight on Saturday until 5 am. This run aired some of the classics that number among fan favorites, including "Sailor Moon," "Robotech," and several entries from the Gundam universe such as "Gundam Wing" and "G Gundam." Toonami would later pick up on the fan love for the robot theme, launching a five day special in 2003 called "Giant Robot Week" that focused entirely on shows featuring the oversized mechs (called "mecha" shows by anime fans).

Adult Swim ended Toonami in September of 2008, thanking fans for 11 years of dedication. This April, on Toonami's 15th anniversary, the network aired a series of Toonami shows and advertisements as an April Fools Day stunt.

The next day, Adult Swim announced on its Twitter page that fans who wanted more could simply let their voices be heard by using the hashtag "#bringbacktoonami." And it worked. After enthusiastic audience feedback, Adult Swim was ready to make the next move. With the advent of the Twitter hashtag called "#toonamiisbackbitches," Adult Swim aimed their guns at a very specific audience – those who had loved Toonami in the past and wanted to see what its future could look like.

"Adult Swim heard the huge response from Toonami fans across social media that resulted from our April Fools 'Return of Toonami' stunt and realized that fans genuinely wanted Toonami back," Demarco told CNN. "At the same time, the marketplace has changed. I think the network wants to grow Toonami slowly, much like it did 15 years ago when it originally aired."

And yet, some anime fans like blogger Brendan McLeod think that happy Toonami memories are best left in the past.

"I was delighted by Toonami's return to the screen for April Fools'. It was a throwback to those incredible days in the past when, as a kid, I'd plant myself in front of the TV and just enjoy everything that Toonami had to offer – great new shows accompanied by slick presentation," McLeod said.

But the reanimated Toonami lineup includes only one show that’s new to American audiences, he said, and that’s not enough: "Is this reboot hinging on the idea that people will really settle in to watch 'Cowboy Bebop' for the 25th time?"

McLeod also believes that watching a block of television at one time doesn't have the same impact it had during Toonami's first run. The viewing flexibility offered by Netflix, Redbox, and Hulu have killed the excitement.

Technology has changed the ways fans consume anime, but Toonami does have one thing on its side that not every new offering on television does, and it's a powerful ally. If there's one thing fans of nerd culture are powered by, it's nostalgia.

Teacher and longtime Toonami fan Andres Cerrato says that while nostalgia plays a role in Toonami's return, it may also have the strength to do what it did before, but for a whole new audience of enthusiastic anime fans.

"Just as old fans remember being introduced to shows like 'Tenchi Muyo,' 'Outlaw Star,' or 'Gundam Wing,' a new generation will grow to appreciate these shows," he said. "And for longtime Toonami fans, (its revival) is like the experience of meeting an old childhood friend once again."