Welcome Back, Jack (Reprise)
In April of 2008, I wrote a piece celebrating the return of Samurai Jack to Toonami on what would be the the final year of Cartoon Network’s Toonami block. Samurai Jack was the last show to air on Toonami, and the programmers’ choice to play the show’s bumpers without voice-over from the hosts turned out to be a solemn precursor to the saddest moment in Toonami history: when TOM and the gang bid us farewell the for the first time.
Flash forward to April 2012. Toonami returned to television as an April 1st stunt, preempting most of the usual Saturday Adult Swim Action block for a one-time trip down memory lane. A trip that jump-started Toonami’s full-fledged return to US television as the Saturday action animation block on Adult Swim. TOM, Sara, Naruto, One Piece and even IGPX returned thanks to the diligence of both the Toonami staff and the dedicated Toonami viewers.
Soon they shall be joined by the wandering warrior Samurai Jack.
When Adult Swim re-branded their action block as Toonami and picked up a few shows, they had to start small. Half of the three-hour lineup was long-standing Adult Swim action staples: Fullmetal Alchemist, Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop. Debate over fresh shows vs. old favorites has been running rampant ever since that first schedule was announced.
When discussing the possibilities for this new Toonami block with other long-time fans, a handful of American action cartoons originally produced for Cartoon Network (which Adult Swim wouldn’t have to pay fees to air) seemed to have a broad enough scope to fit on Adult Swim’s Toonami. Among those shows were Genndy Tartakovsky’s Sym-Bionic Titan, the 2011 ThunderCats series, Megas XLR, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, various DC animated series, and – of course – Samurai Jack.
We were pretty much on the money when speculating which series Toonami would want to play. Sym-Bionic Titan and ThunderCats joined in October of 2012, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars followed in summer of 2013. Megas XLR is (tragically) stuck in rights limbo, and for whatever reason DC won’t play ball with Adult Swim. The only show in question was Samurai Jack, which Adult Swim had previously stated could not air because it belonged to Boomerang. Personally, I didn’t expect that obstacle to keep the show off-limits for long. It was only a matter of time and negotiation.
It was a delightful surprise to hear Jack is already set to return to Toonami in February.
You may be asking yourself if Samurai Jack is “adult enough” for Adult Swim. But if you are, you haven’t seen much of the seriess. If the Japanese cartoons that previously aired on CN’s Toonami (family entertainment on their native shores) are now adult Toonami’s bread and butter, then Samurai Jack fits right in. Samurai Jack mixes action, drama and comedy. There are some silly moments but they are never juvenile. The show never talked down to its viewers and was produced for prime time, with a broad audience in mind.
While it did fine with CN’s target demographic of 6-14, I recall its appeal to adults became slightly problematic for Cartoon Network. Some might say they even tried to quietly phase it out toward the end of its run, which is something it has in common with the other Cartoon Network series that have joined Adult Swim’s Toonami block. Part of me doesn’t want Toonami to become Cartoon Network’s action cartoon recycle bin, but the rest of me is thrilled to see those great shows join an action block that will treat them like the gems they are.
To those of you concerned about more shows getting recycled on Toonami, I think the trend stops with Samurai Jack. If there was one other show from the CN vault that Toonami probably would love to be able to play, it’s Megas XLR. That may happen someday, but it would seem that legal situation is even harder to tackle than IGPX’s.
We have to face the fact that half of Toonami is likely to always be shows that can air for free or close to it. Samurai Jack is a show that will take roughly a year to cycle and adds not only more American action but also a distinct flavor of visual storytelling. It’s the kind of easy-to-digest and unpretentious series that will always be able to attract new viewers. It’s also well-loved and capable of re-hooking viewers who aren’t interested in the newer shows Toonami has on hand.
2014 is going to be jam-packed with fresh content for Toonami, and a little classic flavor from Jack should compliment that nicely.
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