Inescapable: Boy Meets Toonami
As a kid I never watched much television. Movies, yeah, but I’d never been into cartoons and there weren’t any other shows I really liked. So even as an eleven-year-old there was very little reason for me to turn on the tube; when I did it usually meant I was bored out of my mind. That all changed in a single ten-minute period of time. I can remember that fateful day like it was yesterday. Has it really been eight years now? Eight years?!!
March 21th, 2000: I was channel flipping on the television in our basement. All the windows were open and the fresh spring air was just cascading through the family room; life was good, and I was content. Things were about to get better, though, when I happened across channel 47…Cartoon Network on Mediacom Cable. On air was Gundam Wing, episode sixteen, “The Sorrowful Battle”. And there, right in front of me, were two effortlessly cool-looking dudes (Heero and Zechs), dueling it out in massive robot-thingies somewhere in the frozen middle of nowhere.
Who the heck were these guys? Why were they fighting, and where did they get those sweet machines? I had no idea, and it only got even more confusing when some girl (Relena) showed up, hanging out of a plane, telling them to stop it. I’d only been watching about five minutes and had no idea what was going on, but I remember thinking ‘no, come on – just let them fight!’. All I can say is that the show’s visual presentation and composition were so engrossing that it just had me – like that. Boom. Snap. I was gone. I’d tasted the sweet taste of action anime, and there was no going back.
Gundam Wing was my first love, so to speak, but I quickly discovered what else this mysterious programming block – Toonami – had to offer. There was a show with crazy buff guys knocking the living crap out of each other (DBZ), something about a single lucky jerk who had tons of gorgeous women after him (Tenchi), and the extremely mysterious samurai series (Ronin Warriors). Within a week I had a crush on Ayeka (looking back I think I must have been insane; Ryoko’s where it’s ALL at) and was sketching shoddy Gundams whenever I had a chance.
From that moment on, Toonami became a fixture of daily life. Mornings were dull and dreary affairs – tedious countdowns until 3:00 came and the Absolution took over. And unlike the current, emaciated two-hour run, back in those days Toonami was strong. It dominated the afternoon and came back with the Rising Sun for more. I watched it all.
It’s not too hard to explain just why Toonami and its lineup was able to grab me, mind and heart, in such a short time. I grew up on Star Wars, so I was already obsessed with everything starfighters and space. To this day I have an obsession with stylish presenation, and there’s no denying that anime is almost universally stylish. Money shots, insane camera angles, heroes who need only to stand around to show their coolness – it’s all there. Add on gorgeous women and explosions out the ears and what do you have? The point of no return.
But you know what else? It wasn’t just the anime. It was the alternate reality that Williams Street created. It was the concept that somewhere out there was a wise-cracking android with an awesome spaceship, cruising the universe and watching the best action cartoons on the planet. When I was doing my schoolwork, I would always think about how T.O.M. was watching new episodes of DBZ while I was stuck in the real world.
It was the escapism – reinforced by a dazzling array of promotionals and eyecatches, and it was the maturity – Toonami felt like a ‘big kid’ show. People died and fell in love, battles were lost, and demons were destroyed. All the while, Mad Rhetoric was reassuring you that Toonami was the place to be, and Dreams was inspiring you to set your sights on the stars. This will sound crazy to the people who didn’t experience it, but Toonami was a culture. It was a world that you didn’t want to leave, and I think it’s this quality more than anything else that drew me and thousands of other kids in.
In the future I’ll be writing more about the shows and my memories, but before any of that I want to first stress that it wasn’t just the anime.
The magic was Toonami itself.