Toonami, an influential programming block consisting primarily of a mix of Western action-adventure cartoons and anime, aired on weekday afternoons (and, later, Saturdays) on Cartoon Network starting in 1997. The block featured incredibly high production values for its commercial bumpers, advertisements, and ARG campaigns, which included high-end 3D graphics, a soundtrack consisting of then-uncharacteristic (for a children's block) drum-and-bass and ambient music, and a consistent setting and narrative. Toonami had a hand in uncancelling several syndicated series (Dragon Ball Z, ReBoot, and Sailor Moon), and it premiered several series on its own, both anime (Gundam Wing, Outlaw Star, all three of the original Tenchi Muyo series) and Western animation (the 2002 He-Man and the Masters of the Universe). In regards to anime, fans and historians both credit Toonami for single-handedly ushering in the mainstream Japanophilia boom of the early-to-mid 2000s.
Toonami began life as a spinoff of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, with Moltar broadcasting action cartoons from the Ghost Planet. Cartoon Network later Retooled the block with an original host character, TOM (standing for Toonami Operations Module), broadcasting from the Cool Starship Absolution (with Spaceship Girl SARA joining the cast later). The network also created story-based events and online games associated with TOM and the Absolution (the first of those events, The Intruder, resulted in the upgrade of TOM to TOM II). The tenth anniversary of the block brought yet another Retool, relocating the Framing Device to a jungle planet with a new incarnation of TOM and several other new Robot Buddies; fans widely think of this version's cast as Replacement Scrappies.
Cartoon Network exported Toonami to other nations' versions of the network; it even became an entire network thanks to a revamp of the spinoff channel CNX (before degrading into "CN Too"). The Kids WB weekday afternoon block also tried to adopt Toonami's brand for about a year from 2001-2002, but the programming didn't fit the block's image, and the Toonami branding soon went away.
Fans of Toonami recognize the block -- or, more accurately, Toonami's "Midnight Run" -- as the Spiritual Ancestor of Adult Swim. Several anime series that aired on Toonami ended up airing on [as] during the latter block's first year.
Cartoon Network eventually cancelled Toonami due to flagging ratings (a direct result of moving the block to Saturdays only and filling it with reruns), then-flagship show Naruto working through the now-infamous pre-Shippuuden Filler Arc, and the higher-ups' need to retool the network itself. The final edition of Toonami aired on 20 September 2008 (surprising fans who had no knowledge the network had cancelled Toonami), and the "Toonami Jetstream" streaming video site subsequently went offline in January 2009.
Toonami...was shut down.
On April Fools' Day 2012, Adult Swim "revived" Toonami for one night; while it mainly reused clips from the past -- and showed episodes of classic Toonami shows -- it also featured new lines recorded for a special Bleach bumper and an all-new review of Mass Effect 3. Needless to say, fans pretty much ate it up like candy. A massive frenzy surged through the internet as fans tweeted, posted, and rallied together to support the idea of bringing Toonami back, with Steve Blum (the voice of TOM) leading the charge. At its 2012 upfront on May 16, [as] officially announced the return of Toonami after the resounding success of the April Fools special; the block would rise again on May 26, and it would receive a mix of old and new programming.
Currently, the new is set to run on a shoestring budget until ratings go up, but with new animated segments featuring a slightly revamped TOM 3 and airing several [as] anime favorites as well as two new shows. There are also currently talks to pick up licenses to several other shows.
The original Toonami featured the following programs, among others:
- Batman the Animated Series
- Batman Beyond
- The Batman
- Beast Wars
- Ben 10
- Chris Colorado
- Fantastic Four Worlds Greatest Heroes
- Superman Theatrical Cartoons
- G.I. Joe
- He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002)
- Jackie Chan Adventures
- Jonny Quest the Real Adventures
- Justice League
- Justice League Unlimited
- Megas XLR
- The Powerpuff Girls
- Samurai Jack
- Scooby Doo, Where Are You? (Kids WB)
- Space Ghost, Birdman, The Galaxy Trio ("Cartoon Roulette")
- Star Wars Clone Wars
- Storm Hawks
- Superman the Animated Series
- Teen Titans
- Early Gorillaz music videos
- Astro Boy (2003)
- The Big O (first season only; it would later move to Adult Swim to premiere the second season)
- Blue Dragon (14 episodes aired on Toonami, while most of the series aired online.)
- Blue Submarine No. 6
- Bobobo-Bo Bo-bobo
- Cyborg 009
- Dai-Guard Giant Robot Week
- .hack//Sign [only the first four episodes before switching to SVES; .hack//Legend of the Twilight Bracelet was initially planned to air on Saturday Toonami but when Adult Swim took the 11 hour on Saturday it ended up premiering Friday nights/Saturday mornings at 1]
- Dragon Ball
- Dragon Ball Z
- Dragon Ball GT
- Duel Masters
- Eyeshield 21 [online-only]
- Gigantor Giant Robot Week
- G Gundam
- Gundam 0080
- Gundam SEED
- Gundam Wing
- Hamtaro (yes, really)
- Hikaru no Go [online-only]
- Interstella 5555 [the first 4 videos in the project, including the premiere of "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger"]
- MAR [a very popular Jetstream show that briefly made it to the Toonami lineup]
- Martian Successor Nadesico Giant Robot Week
- Mega Man Star Force
- Mobile Suit Gundam
- Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team
- Neon Genesis Evangelion [only the first two episodes, heavily censored, and only during the "Giant Robot Week" event]
- The Prince of Tennis [a popular Jetstream show that also briefly made it to the Toonami lineup]
- One Piece [All of the 4Kids! Entertainment version with a Channel Hop to Toonami after Fox Box went belly up. Eventually premiered the FUNimation dub in 2007.]
- Outlaw Star
- Rave Master
- Ronin Warriors
- Rurouni Kenshin
- Sailor Moon
- Saint Seiya [as Knights of the Zodiac]
- Tenchi Muyo [the original OVAs, Tenchi Universe and Tenchi in Tokyo]
- Transformers Armada
- Yu-Gi-Oh GX
- Yu Yu Hakusho
- Zatch Bell
- Zoids: New Century Zero
- Zoids: Chaotic Century
The [adult swim] version of Toonami has featured the following programs
2012 April Fools' Block
- Astro Boy (1963)
- The Big O
- Blue Submarine No. 6
- Dragon Ball Z
- Gundam Wing
- Outlaw Star
- Tenchi Muyo (The third OVA)
- Yu Yu Hakusho
Shows shown starting on the May 26th Revival
- Casshern Sins
- Cowboy Bebop
- Deadman Wonderland
- FullmetalAlchemist: Brotherhood
- Ghost in The Shell Stand Alone Complex: 2nd Gig
- Actor Allusion: TOM 4.0's final line closing out Toonami's initial run echoes that of another character voiced by Steven Jay Blum.
- April Fools' Day: As stated, the block was dusted off for a one night stand on April 1st 2012 on Adult Swim, And the Fandom Rejoiced!
- Ascended Fanboy: Richie Branson, whose raps celebrating Toonami's return played on Adult Swim's bumpers and became the official theme for the return of Toonami.
- The Asteroid Thicket: One of these was seen in 2003.
- Back From the Dead: Tom went through four bodies. The first one bit it when he was eaten by an unidentifiable red liquid, and the second one was crushed by a spaceship hijacker as his head was unceremoniously thrown in the garbage. Whatever led to the fourth one is never really explained.
- Bowdlerization: A good number of the anime series Toonami got its hands on suffered through this to get to air. A few shows got a reprieve from the censorship thanks to the Midnight Run (Gundam Wing, most notably). Yu Yu Hakusho made an interesting jump from Adult Swim for some 26 episodes before being transported to Toonami for the remainder of it's run, and as such fans got to see the unedited version first.
- Brother Chuck: Toonami was pretty good at averting this, and seeing as most blocks don't bother with continuity at all, that's fairly impressive. However, the 2007 season dropped all pretenses of keeping the plot straight - TOM v.4 replaced v.3, and SARA and the Absolution both disappeared entirely for no apparent reason.
- SARA's absence was due to her VA Sally Timms being unavailable. She also won't appear on the new Toonami soon, this time because they can't afford to rehire her as well as the cost of animating her far more realistic and detailed body.
- Broke the Rating Scale / Hilarity Ensues: When TOM did video game reviews (usually during commercial breaks) one game received a "?" rating, Dropship: United Peace Force for the PlayStation 2, as TOM had no idea how to rate the game since he could never get past the sixth level. This was accompanied by repeated footage of TOM losing on that level. The synopsis on Toonami Digital Arsenal reads "A robot loses his mind over a video game. Hilarity ensues." And you know what's even more hilarious? To this date, they still didn't beat Dropship.
- Call Back: The new Toonami's "Building a Better Cartoon Show" promo is a direct update of several Moltar- and TOM 1.0/2.0-era promos. It even uses the same audio clip every similar promo shared, a line from the Superman Theatrical Cartoons: "We won't be intimidated by criminal threats!"
- Cool Ship: Both Absolutions.
- Deadpan Snarker: TOM and SARA were both very prone to snark during the story arcs.
- End of an Age: The block's cancellation is definitely considered this by fans, as well as a major sign of Cartoon Network's rapidly worsening Network Decay.
- Fan Sequel: Several fan-run streaming sites exist or are in the works, some even doing original bumps. Not exactly legal, though, so no links for you.
- Fan Art: During the TOM 2.0 and TOM 3.0 years, there was a period during which you could mail it into Cartoon Network and it'd be showcased on-air.
- Fan Vid: Toonami created several Fan Vid-styled montages of scenes from their shows, often revolving around dramatic monologues either from the shows themselves or written especially for the video (and read by Peter Cullen). For example, "Advanced Robotics".
- Four-Fingered Hands: Tom's 2 and 4 both had four fingers on each hand. Tom 1 had only 3 fingers, while Tom 3 was the only one to have all five.
- Four Point Scale: Out of all the video game reviews done on the show, it was rare for anything to get a score below 7 out of 10. No games ever received a 5 or lower on that scale either.
- Hey, It's That Voice!: Optimus Prime was the voice for many a Toonami promo whenever TOM or SARA weren't speaking. That alone made you not want to skip the commercials.
- History Repeats: Toonami began its earliest days with a limited budget and lineup strictly limited to shows whose licenses were cheap to pick up. Over ten years later, in 2012 during the re-launch? Well....
- In Name Only: Toonami on KidsWB.
- Killer App: Dragon Ball Z was this during the block's golden age. Sure, it was rerun to hell and back, but it still got some of the best ratings Cartoon Network has ever seen.
- Gundam Wing was also this during Toonami's heyday. It was one of the first "serious" anime to premiere largely uncut on a mainstream western network. Gundam Wing was so popular, its airing of the OVA special "Endless Waltz" is, to this day, the second highest rated program ever in the history of Cartoon Network.
- And then in 2005, a year after the block became Saturday-only, it was Naruto. Unfortunately, Naruto is considered by some to be the show that killed Toonami -- it is something of a Creator's Pet to the old, pre-2004 fanbase, what with the constant airing of the show in the significantly shorter block.
- Marathon Running: One in 2000 called Full Cycle, and the second in 2006 called the Naruto Hundo.
- Never Say "Die": Much of its programs thankfully averted this, which contributed to its edgy factor. Gundam Wing received this for its daytime airings, but was fortunately allowed to say "kill" and "die" during Toonami's Midnight Run block.
- One of the rare and unfortunate examples of this trope played straight, however, was Gundam Seed. Granted, it was Bandai Entertainment, NOT Cartoon Network, who requested this to sell more toys. However, this forced American fans to wait for the Gundam Seed DVDs to hear the words "kill" and "die", since Adult Swim (which replaced the Midnight Run) had no interest in showing the uncut version of Gundam Seed.
- Noodle Incident: When Moltar hosted the show, he mentioned that he used to date Sailor Jupiter, but something happened that caused them to break up.
- As mentioned above, there's also no explanation for why TOM v3 was replaced with v4, or went back to v3 for the April 1st airing and subsequent relaunch (though Canon Discontinuity is probably responsible for the latter).
- Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be: If you grew up in the late 1990s/early 2000s, this is probably how you feel about most of kids show programs today.
- The Nth Doctor: The Clydes are the most prevalent example--the 49 was a single statillite unit during Moltar's reign. Once TOM stepped in, Clyde 49 became Clyde 50s (floating security cameras around the Absolution). The DOKs, unoffically Clyde 51s, added limbs to the design (amongst other things). The Clyde 52s were basically floating, solar-powered emoticons. The Clyde 53s were complex beetle-like structures with elements from each of their predecessors. The singular Clyde 54 vaguely resembled the Clyde 50s, but with a humanoid face (much like TOM v.4).
- TOM was destroyed and rebuilt twice. The presence of the fourth version was never explained.
- SARA also changed from a face on a screen to a full-on hologram (to better defend the Absolution), and even the Absolution was replaced once.
- One of Us: In-universe wise, TOM is a huge fan of Mario games, LEGO's, and Star Wars. His other game reviews also shed some light on everything he's a fan of.
- The Other Darrin: TOM was first voiced by Sonny Strait (Krillin in Dragon Ball Z, among others), then by Steven Jay Blum from the Intruder event onwards.
- This Is for Emphasis, Bitch: TOM seems to have picked this up since the revival. It's part of the marketing campaign too, with the official hashtag being #ToonamiIsBackBitches.
- Precision F-Strike: TOM begins the full revival on 5/26/2012:
"Toonami's back, bitches."
- The Renaissance Age of Animation
- Retraux: The 2012 April Fool's run recreated the TOM 3 era visually.
- Robot Buddy: The CLYDEs, TOM, and Flash & D.
- TOM is our robot buddy.
- Screwed by the Network: Toonami aired every weekday for years before being moved to Saturdays only, and the block's time slot was cut in half; its schedule eventually consisted of reruns, filler, and Naruto; it was replaced by the network's new darling Miguzi the week following its move to Saturdays-only...the list goes on and on. Long story short, it was canceled by Cartoon Network, which was supposedly due to bad ratings, despite the fact they were the ones causing them.
- Shout-Out: During the final intro, TOM psychs himself up by chanting "Pagua Sanpha, Pagua Sanpha!", the chant used by the Kei Pirates in Outlaw Star, which TOM repeatedly mentioned was his favorite showcased series.
- The "Bang" quote above is also the last line uttered by TOM during the final broadcast.
- Oh hi, Adult Swim! Got the test results back, and you definitely have April Fools.
- Spaceship Girl: SARA.
- Story Arc: Had three of them, a first for a what was essentially framing devices for the shows. These were usually consider special events and allowed audience participation.
- The Intruder: The first and considered a Wham! Episode by many fans. A red blob attaches itself to the Absolution and slowly eats at the engine. Tom goes to fight it but ultimately fails and is his body devoured. However this releases his new body, Tom-2 and he manages to jettison the engine and the blob out into space. Viewers were then allowed to pick the new engine for the ship.
- Lockdown: The Absolution comes upon distress signal that leads them to a spaceship graveyard. Their controls are locked down trapping them there. Tom and SARA find that the problem coming from a nearby ship and an entity whose signal is keeping the ships trapped. As TOM and SARA are stuck on the Absolution, they send their probes (controlled by their viewers) to destroy the entity and free them.
- Trapped in Hyperspace: Tom tries out a new hyperspace function but a computer virus attacks the ship during so, leaving the Absolution stuck hurling through hyperspace. The only way to free themselves is for Tom to plug his mind into the computer grid and confront the virus directly. The confrontations were part of a flash game the Toonami site was holding.
- Totally Radical: Arguably subverted in that while TOM says things like "Ride 'em Cowboy" and "Drop It Like It's Hot" when reviewing games, he still sounds like a badass.
- Trailers: Toonami was famous for putting together professionally well-made trailers for the programs it aired. The pre-debut trailer for Gundam Wing was so good that Bandai asked for--and received--permission to start using the Toonami trailer instead of its own to advertise the show's DVD release.
- Twist Ending: The intro for the April Fools' Day block.
- Uncanceled: Toonami's Back Bitches.
- The Voiceless: TOM, oddly enough, on the Kids WB Toonami.
- Watershed: For a while, Toonami aired specials after the watershed hour as a special block called the "Midnight Run". Among other things, they aired episodes of Gundam Wing uncut, as opposed to the slightly-edited versions that aired during the day. As noted above, Midnight Run was essentially an early version of Adult Swim.
- Web Comics: Toonami had two of them. The first called Swarm explained the origins of Tom 1, while the next one called Endgame explained how Tom 2 became Tom 3.
- Wham! Line: "Oh hi, Adult Swim!"
- With This Herring: TOM, after being rebuilt, was expected to (and proceeded to) destroy Orcelot Rex. With a dinner fork.
- From left to right: Moltar (C. Martin Croker, 1997-1999), TOM 1.0 (Sonny Strait, 1999-2000), TOM 2.0 (Steve Blum, 2000-2003), TOM 3.0 (Steve Blum, 2003-2007, 2012), TOM 4.0 (Steve Blum, 2007-2008), and TOM 3.5 (Steve Blum, 2012-on).
- "#ToonamisBackBitches", which was used as the intro to Toonami during its 2012 return premiere.
- Click this link to watch everything that happened, sans the shows.