Eye of the Toonami: Classic Sean Akins Interview
Originally published in ‘Wizard Anime Invasion’ #1, Winter 2002. By Robert Bricken.
Eye of the Toonami: “Inside the mind of Cartoon Network’s anime king.”
It’s a good time for anime fans. Sean Akins is making it a good time.
As creative director for Toonami, Cartoon Network’s action-packed, anime-laden afternoon programming block, Akins has spent the last five years turning Japanese animation from a cult obsession into mainstream pop phenomenon. But now that anime has hit so big, anime fans are going crazy to get their favorite anime series on the air in the U.S. – petition sites fill the Internet, demanding that Toonami present their beloved show. As Akins explains, it’s a delicate process. “There are standards we have to adhere to because there are 6 and 8-year-olds watching, and we can’t show them anything too crazy.” A huge anime fan himself, there’s no end to the shows Akins wants to show the world. But his desire is tempered by two things: FCC standards and his commitment to be as faithful to the original shows as possible.
“Our goal from the beginning was to preserve the integrity of the originals,” says Akins, passionately. “Some things we can’t show, but we want to do it in a way that preserves the story.” With the exception of Dragon Ball Z, Toonami does all its own editing. “This is what separates us from the others. No one else goes to lengths we go to. We ran Gundam Wing with the Japanese titles. No one could read it. It was totally awesome! Why do you want to have a show that’s got all this great stuff and dumb it down?” But what Akins loves, he also wants to put on the air. “We like Escaflowne and it’s still possible…the movie just blew me away. Kikkaider (sic) we’re looking at…Samurai X is great. Nadesico we think is a good show. Evangelion is incredible…it’s such a great show, but it’s just a little too much. Maybe someday we’ll do it at midnight.”
“I think giant robots are the coolest thing ever,” he continues. “Anything with giant robots has a good chance of getting on Toonami.” Clearly, we’re in good hands.
While the far future of Toonami has yet to be determined, the outlook looks good. Toonami is debuting two new anime shows this November – Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket, the next installment of the beloved Gundam series, and Zoids, the newest cartoon incarnation of the Japanese classic. Shown in Japan in 1999, Zoids uses state-of-the-art 3D computer graphics with 2D cel animation in a traditional tale of good, evil and giant robot/ships shaped like animals. Otaku will also have a reason to tune in to Cartoon Network on Saturdays, as Toonami will premiere both the Sailor Moon R and Sailor Moon Super S movies.
Good times indeed.
Back to the present…
What makes this article interesting is how it serves as a glimpse into what Toonami was attempting back in 2002. Look at the shows Akins lists – Kikaider, Nadesico, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Samurai X, Sailor Moon R, and Sailor Moon Super S. Of those shows, only Martian Successor Nadesico and Evangelion actually made it to the airwaves. Even then they were just token guests on the disastrous Giant Robot Week. The rest never got a chance, and that’s a shame. Also of interest is the mention of Samurai X, of all things. Personally I can only name a few other shows offhand that would be a worse match for Toonami than Samurai X. Thank God it never happened. Remember, he’s not referring to the Rurouni Kenshin television series that eventually hit Toonami (although Akins would later admit that it should have been on Adult Swim) – Samurai X is the English name for the sequel/prequel OVAs.
As in the ones were people get their faces cut in half and their throats spiked by katanas. The ones with hour upon hour of introspective dialogue. The ones with plot lines revolving around STDs. Yeah, those. We’re talking more gore than the censors would know what to do with – literal rivers of blood that make uncut Gundam Wing violence look like a pocket-knife nick. Also more broody chit-chat and voice-overs than any kid could handle, even at midnight. How in the world Akins thought Samurai X would ever fly with ‘6 to 8-year-olds’ is beyond me. If Kenshin, which is exponentially tamer in comparison, was by his own admission better suited for Adult Swim, how much more so the extremely mature Samurai X OVAs? Definitely a curious statement.
At any rate, to me this interview is like a taste of all the great action cartoons that might have hit Toonami. Akins clearly had big plans for the block even as it started its long decline in both ratings and time share. Is it sort of depressing? Yes, but on the other hand it tells me that Toonami is in the care of someone who is proactive, someone who is continually trying new things. In short, someone who gives a darn. Mr. Akins has given us a wonderful experience over the years, and although things are a little low right now there is hope for a bright future. There always is.
Just think of this old interview as a bit of a smack on the head for us fans – just to remind us that Toonami is on our side.