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Adult Swim Con, Williams Street’s online replacement for San Diego Comic-Con, has come and gone and while I didn’t get a chance to check out the entire thing, it was pretty cool that they were willing to do something like this. It was fun to watch the Samurai Jack panel and learn more about Samurai Jack: Battle Through Time, but I was most looking forward to the Toonami announcements on Saturday. I was curious what titles would be announced but I was excited. Maybe we would get a trailer for what would be replacing Paranoia Agent, maybe a more specific release date for Uzumaki than the general “2020”, perhaps a small clip from the upcoming Blade Runner anime… the sky’s the limit and NONE of that happened! Instead, the only new show announcement was another co-production with Crunchyroll, called Fena: Pirate Princess, which admittedly looks cool but isn’t debuting until next year. Uzumaki was pushed from the original 2020 release window to an unknown 2021 date. The only new information we got was an update on Blade Runner: Black Lotus and even then, it wasn’t much. They only showed screenshots from what looked like an episode of the series and while they did announce that it is coming in 2021, I am skeptical it’ll release that year given the delays to Uzumaki. The rest of Toonami’s portions of Adult Swim Con were disappointing in a way I haven’t felt in a long while. While it was cool that they showed another Rick and Morty anime short and a rerun of a performance from The Pillows, at the time, we still didn’t know what would be replacing Paranoia Agent if anything would be replacing it at all. Of course, about a day later, they announced that JoJo is back with the final eleven episodes of Golden Wind, and day after that they announced Fire Force Season 2 was coming October 24th, while they chose to rerun the second half of season one again at 1am to replace Mob Psycho 100. I find it baffling they couldn’t announce either of these during Toonami/Adult Swim Con or during the week on their Facebook page. So, with that being said, I have to ask: what’s left to be excited for? It seems like 2020 has been a major bust for Toonami. From hours being cut, budgets being slashed, and anime acquisitions becoming a greater challenge than before due to real world circumstances, it feels like they don’t have a Plan B in place and are just hoping to ride out the rest of the year on the backs of reruns, because it feels like reruns are all the block is right now. The first hour-and-a-half of the block are currently reruns and while Paranoia Agent was a new pick up for Toonami, it’s still a decade-old show that Adult Swim has already aired before. I still think it was cool to see Toonami re-acquire such an old title like that even if its original run on Adult Swim didn’t pull in high viewership numbers. It is clear they wanted to re-broadcast it because they love Satoshi Kon’s work and want people to check it out. A nice gesture for sure, but that still doesn’t excuse the lack of premieres on the block. Dragon Ball Super was hastily brought back despite My Hero Academia leading the lineup and doing a fine enough job leading the block and they did not grab anything new to replace Demon Slayer and instead decided to re-run Mob Psycho 100 Season One again. I understand that a lot of the challenges they have faced this year are not their fault. The COVID-19 pandemic has halted the entertainment industry and has done a lot of damage to various studios and distribution outlets such as theaters and more importantly to Toonami, English dub studios. Yet, it feels concerning when all we have to go by is that content has been secured for the future without knowing when that future is supposed to arrive. Right now, Toonami is in a state of limbo and there isn’t much they can do about it. Rerunning popular shows makes sense in theory, but in practice, only a handful of viewers seem to be specifically interested in rewatching a title that’s already aired before. I obviously don’t have any of the hard data that Adult Swim uses, but considering they’ve pulled underperforming shows regardless if they are reruns shows that even popular options can be taken off without warning.
Another alarming thing about Toonami in the second half of 2020 is that any hope of an original project premiering before the end of the year got thrown out the window now that Uzumaki has been rescheduled for a 2021 release window, while all other original productions they’ve announced like Blade Runner and Fena are also slated for 2021. At the very least, we had the hope that Uzumaki could make up for lackluster offerings from Toonami this year but that obviously is no longer the case. It feels like nothing is worth getting excited about right now and to me, it is becoming a concern that nothing of what is coming has been announced to at least ease the minds of the fans. Yes, it is nice they gave people an update for shows like Fire Force and JoJo, but those shows were inevitable rather than a question of whether they would come back. I already figured Fire Force would continue its run on the block either in the summer when Funimation is simuldubbing it or in the fall where they have enough episodes to air and don’t need to worry about running out of dubbed content. Obviously, with Fire Force they chose the latter, which is a smart move as it’s better if they wait it out for specific shows now rather than jumping in when it’s brand new because just look what happened with their other premieres in the last few months. My Hero Academia had to go into rerun mode and Golden Wind was pulled until the rest of the dub was finished. Even with Black Clover, Toonami is reaching the end of the show’s dubbed episodes and there’s no telling if they plan to pull it for a while until Funimation has enough episodes ready or if they’ll shift its timeslot over to 3am and have it rerun there for a while? Everything is up in the air and with the radio silence from the Toonami crew on the matter, it is hard not to think of the worst sometimes.
While it is nice to see Toonami fund a lot of these originals and it’s nice to know that their future is secure for the time being, yet I ask again: what’s left to be excited for? Right now, for me, the answer is “very little.” If I’m correct about their intention to ride out the rest of the year coasting on reruns, to me, that seems like a flimsy plan anchored by the lack of a budget and an uncertainty of how badly COVID-19 damaged the acquisitional process for new anime. There should always be a back-up plan in place and to me, it feels like they don’t have one. Whatever back-up plans they might have had in their arsenal have been upended due to various circumstances and they are being forced to rely on airing reruns for the majority of the block in the hopes that they will be good enough. I want to make it clear that I am not trying to say Toonami’s outlook is all gloom and doom, especially as it is clear that they have a future outside of 2020. This is reassuring but it isn’t a calming thought to know that there isn’t much to look forward to for the rest of the year. I’d like to be proven wrong, but their radio silence on what’s happening next speaks volumes of their current plans for the remaining months of 2020. I understand that they have contracts in place and those deals are very complicated and obviously they can’t break NDA’s unless they want that title taken away from them. Yet, it took them a day later to announce JoJo coming back when they could have easily made a post on Facebook during the week? It’s frustrating because they’ve always done a fine job at making sure shows are announced in advance, but JoJo came late when it should’ve been announced earlier. There are not that many months left in 2020. The way I see it we likely have 2-3 more new shows to round out the year and one or two more reruns on the block and that’ll be it. 2020 has been a brutal year and no one has been hit worse than Toonami, but at least it can’t get worse from here, right?