Toonzai: Imitation is still the Highest Form of Flattery

Posted: May 10, 2010 by Sketch in Animation, Animation Editorials, Animation News, Sketch
Tags: , , , , ,

Today you get a double whammy with my second entry right after the first. What can I say, inspiration comes when it wants to.

In September of 2008, Cartoon Network stopped broadcasting their long-standing Toonami action animation block and shortly there after they ended their deal with Viz Media and shut down Toonami Jetstream. Since then Naruto has found a new home on Disney XD and Dragonball Z Kai was picked up by Nicktoons Network along with a new Voltron series letting the legacy of Toonami live on elsewhere but when 4Kids announced they would also be airing Dragonball Z Kai on their soon to be branded Toonzai block I had my first suspicions that 4Kids was on the verge of creating a block inspired by the popular Toonami block which last just over decade and made the anime industry in the US what is today.

A lot of people said “it’s just a coincidence” and such talk was absurd. Why would 4Kids make their own Toonami? And I agree, 4Kids isn’t going to make Toonami. Toonami was lightning in a bottle and it cannot be recreated as the times are different now and where anime used to solely be available on a few channels it is now legally streamed all over the internet. The market is already there. We’ll never see another anime boom like we did in the US in the early 2000s. However Toonami has had its fair share of imitators over the years and it looks like 4Kids is the next company to try to benefit from the legacy Toonami left behind.

An excerpt taken from the transcript of 4Kids’ latest conference call which can be read here proves that it is indeed 4Kids intention to model their block after Toonami. At least in some senses.

“The company will be rebranding its 5 hour Saturday morning block on the CW network. We’ll be re-emphasizing bringing Japanese animated content to American audiences. If you look at the history of our business, we as a company have obviously made very significant amounts of money by bringing in some wonderful Japanese properties both from a television standpoint and also from a merchandising standpoint.

The television network will be rebranded called Toonzai which will be actually a Japanese bent block. If you think about other Japanese blocks that have been on American television, one of the most successful blocks of all time was Toonami on Cartoon Network. We would think that our advertisers who have seen our new branding are very excited about it and think that it’s actually going to be something that they will be very, very interested in participating in as an advertiser.

We are excited on acquiring the television broadcast rights to Dragon Ball Kai, a show which is a ratings winner in Japan. We also will be announcing some additional Japanese content which we believe will enhance our block and garner improved ratings as well as give us additional opportunities in the licensing arena.”

So there you have it. They even mentioned Toonami by name. No doubts should remain that they are making an anime block inspired by Toonami. I must admit my distaste for Toonami to still be mostly considered an anime block though. Even though Toonami was the key player in bringing anime to mainstream audiences in the US and giving birth to the current generations of otaku it was much more than an anime block and aired and even premiered some of the greatest American action cartoons that were ever made. It was the home of the best action cartoons period not just the ones from Japan. 4Kids like Cartoon Network before them and pretty much everyone in the media as well as many fans consider Toonami an anime block first and foremost. With good reason I suppose but it’s still a bit of a shame that only that is what seems to be the legacy of Toonami to some people.

Now I’ll be the first to say when I read “edgy” and “Saturday morning” in the same sentence I get worried. All the more worried when you add 4Kids to the equation because the last time they tackled an edgy cartoon for their Saturday morning block we were “treated” to their wretched One Piece dub. Though I’m not worried about DBZ Kai since FUNimation will still be the ones dubbing it and as far as I can tell the Y7-FV TV cut will be the same as the one Nicktoons is broadcasting baring time cuts. However, if 4Kids is looking to bring edgier anime to their Saturday morning block through their own licensing deals we may have another One Piece sized mess on our hands in the near future.

I will say again that 4Kids can’t possibly hope to recreate Toonami even with DBZ Kai as the flagship of their Toonzai block but its interesting to see them try. Here’s hoping they see beyond the superficial elements and grasp onto what Toonami was really all about. Bringing you a better cartoon show. So I wish them luck in that endeavour and I hope that Toonzai will be more than just a Toonami knock-off like various blocks before it and will play an important role in bringing great new shows to kids the way Toonami always did.

I wonder if they’ll have a block specific mascot to run the show like TOM before him. I kind of hope so. I like hosts and imagine a TOM like character voiced by oh I dunno Michael Sinterniklaas, Marc Diraison or dare I say… DAN GREEN. Yeah, go ahead and ponder that a bit. I think you’ll find it just about as amusing as I do.

It is great to know that someone in the media still sees the value in the Toonami brand. It is just a darn shame that said someone is not in fact The Cartoon Network who could certainly use an afternoon action block again if not another prime time one to go along with You Are Here on Friday nights. 4Kids does seem to understand how successful Toonami was and perhaps why it was successful. I guess its true that imitation is the highest form of flattery, even after you’re dead.

  1. cohen says:

    I do not see DBZKai as the flagship of Toonzai, 4kids will hopefully get an anime of their own to lead it. Hopefully that is. Unless Funimation is buying 4kids out, then DBZKai can be the flagship.

  2. Sketch says:

    Well that may be the case but the show they’re making the biggest deal about so far is DBZ Kai. Not much has been said about Taichi Chasers for instance. There’s more to come apparently but I’m still counting on DBZ Kai being the centerpiece to their Toonzai line-up even if it’s something they don’t own. Afterall, Cartoon Network never owned DBZ or Naruto but they absolutely the flagship series of the blocks at the time rather than Samurai Jack, Megas XLR, IGPX or anything they owned. I realize 4Kids opperates much differently than CN as a company but that’s still how I see things going down.

  3. […] years 4Kids is back to thinking Japan is the place to find their next big hit and they’re revamping their Saturday morning block to be anime themed. The content is out there, it’s just not all in the same place anymore and while I admit that […]

  4. Izanagidonutz says:

    Isn’t 4Kids “flagship” Yu-gi-oh? I mean they pretty much made it their own thing.

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