Ever since coming back from the dead in 2012, Toonami has been a fixture on Saturday nights on Adult Swim. The greatest action block ever created that’s been building you a better cartoon show for 20 years has grown significantly since its revival to become a fixture on the Adult Swim half of Cartoon Network.
Toonami has introduced hundreds of thousands of fans to Attack on Titan and One-Punch Man. It has allowed JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure to gain a second life. The block provided a steady home to one of its older shows by giving Dragon Ball Z Kai a fully uncut run and is now airing Dragon Ball Super too. It allowed Lupin III Part IV to get dubbed, even if TMS’ meddling knocked it down a bit in the music department. Thanks to the block, we got a definitive conclusion to Samurai Jack as well as two more seasons to cult classic FLCL. And while they cannot air the shows anymore, Toonami was the one place where older-skewing Cartoon Network shows like the 2011 ThunderCats and Beware the Batman could get steady airtime. Hell, Dragon Ball Super is now leading off Adult Swim proper, with an entire hour no less!
Even with all that, it was thought that the block was fading in importance due to streaming services like Crunchyroll and Netflix as well as a downturn in ratings. But it seems like the executives believe Toonami is on the upswing again, if the new schedule is any indication. Now, a while back the block announced they had acquired Boruto: Naruto Next Generations, the sequel series to Naruto Shippuden, and it was assumed to take the place of Pop Team Epic when that show left the block. Well, it also brought about a major re-shuffling.
Here was the schedule as of last Saturday, September 15th, 2018:
10:00pm - My Hero Academia
10:30pm - Dragon Ball Super
11:00pm - Attack on Titan Season 3
11:30pm - FLCL: Alternative
Midnight - Pop Team Epic
12:30am - JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable
1:00am - Hunter x Hunter
1:30am - Black Clover
2:00am - Naruto Shippuden
2:30am - One-Punch Man
3:00am - Lupin III Part IV
3:30am - Cowboy Bebop
Now, here’s what the schedule will look like on September 29th:
9:00pm - Dragon Ball Z Kai
9:30pm - My Hero Academia
10:00pm - Naruto Shippuden
10:30pm - Boruto: Naruto Next Generations
11:00pm - Dragon Ball Super
11:30pm - FLCL: Alternative
Midnight - Attack on Titan Season 3
12:30am - JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable
1:00am - Black Clover
1:30am - Hunter x Hunter
2:00am - One-Punch Man
2:30am - Lupin III Part IV
3:00am - Cowboy Bebop
3:30am - Samurai Jack
Holy crap, what a change. Let’s parse things one by one.
Now, it makes sense to lead off with a Dragon Ball series. Even if it is reruns, the show brings in the ratings and it makes a solid lead show. People may say that this change shows that the execs don’t have faith in My Hero Academia as a lead show anymore, but I don’t see that at all. The 9:30pm slot is a lot more competitive in the television landscape than 10:00pm or later, and the fact that it’s not a proven commodity like Dragon Ball Super taking that slot speaks volumes. The show has been doing great in the ratings, and putting it in the new first hour shows that the programmers have the utmost confidence that Deku and the rest of Class 1-A can hold their own.
Next is the Naruto hour. Boruto airing before midnight makes sense, as the show is actually pretty light and more family-friendly than its prequel series (as seen by Japan moving the show to Sunday nights in a new family-oriented programming block alongside Pokémon Sun & Moon), and it’s part of a franchise that is closer to mainstream than anything else on the block except Dragon Ball. Viz Media will likely put a lot of effort into promoting the show, so it also makes sense that they pushed for the earlier timeslot.
The weird part is Naruto Shippuden moving up. It may have been the timeslot, but the ratings for Shippuden, while steady, have not been that great. Furthermore, we’re at a stretch that is very, very flashback heavy and less than a month away from a massive stretch of anime-only one-off fillers. Then there’s spoilers. If you haven’t watched Shippuden on Toonami, the show just finished the Five Kage Summit arc and are about to officially name Kakashi the Sixth Hokage and send Naruto off to train on Turtle Island. We’re still over 30 episodes from being halfway done with the show. Now, you may think that everybody watching it on Toonami has seen it already, either via DVD or Crunchyroll or fansubs, but as someone who live tweets during the block, I can tell you a LOT of people are watching the show for the first time on Toonami and that’s gonna increase with the earlier time slot. I have said many, many times in other places that Naruto Shippuden should have aired in an hour block to get through the filler, and that might cause some strife when this lineup change occurs.
Because of the emphasis on the ninjas, Dragon Ball Super pushes the other non-FLCL shows back a half hour. Super’s ratings shouldn’t be affected at all, especially since a large part of the audience has not watched the sub and are curious as to how the Tournament of Power will continue, even if the actual Tournament won’t start until well into 2019. It also makes a good lead-in for FLCL: Alternative, as Adult Swim wants the show to succeed in order to justify the money spent. Especially since the show will be half-over by the time this schedule change takes place. Plus, it serves as a good transition between the lighter shonen fare and the more heavier shows airing after midnight.
Attack on Titan and JoJo fans are likely pissed at the move back, but midnight has always been the anchor hour for the block, and in recent years has been where the more mature shows air. This actually puts Attack on Titan in a better chance to succeed, even with the lost momentum of airing so far after the subbed version airs, which hampered Season 2 hard. As for JoJo, it has been a steady performer on the block and should help both Attack on Titan and Black Clover get better ratings. Titan by being sandwiched between JoJo and the heavily-promoted FLCL, and Black Clover because of people wanting to watch both JoJo and Hunter x Hunter. Also, Toonami probably paid a helluva lot more for Attack on Titan than they did Diamond is Unbreakable, so they need that show to pull in bigger numbers.
Hunter x Hunter fans are probably pissed their show got moved back yet again after gaining the 12:30am slot a while back, but I don’t think the ratings will suffer too much. In fact, it may have been moved back in order to bolster Black Clover. I know a lot of people loathe Black Clover (I think it’s OK, but not great), but it’s getting a lot of push from TV Tokyo and Funimation, so they want the show to succeed as much as it can. And since the show is moving up in the timeslot rather than farther back, I think that is proof that they’ve secured the broadcast rights to Season 2 and will air that once they finish with Season 1. Now, that hasn’t been confirmed, but common sense would tell you that Toonami wouldn’t move a show further up the schedule if they were gonna dump it in a few months. And for those curious about ratings, since Black Clover moved to 1:30am, the ratings for it and Hunter x Hunter have been mostly the same, with usually less than 50,000 viewers separating the two.
The rerun section of the block stays mostly the same, but with the addition of Samurai Jack to close the block. This is actually pretty interesting, since it’s usually Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex that gets paired up with Cowboy Bebop. Although, Bebop is about to finish another run in about a month, so it’s possible Ghost in the Shell will take over once Bebop finishes. It’s also possible that the other reruns will get pushed down, since there’s a rumor that Toonami will air Sword Art Online: Gun Gale Alternative in the near future. Still, the fact that Samurai Jack is closing the block, regardless if it’s Season 1 or Season 5, instead of one of Toonami’s anime brings some nice variety to the end of the block, even if it doesn’t cost anything for Toonami to air it to begin with.
People will question whether this expansion will be worth it. After all, Toonami has had other expansions as well at various times and had them axed soon after mostly due to ratings. And the experiment could very well fail and they could lose the 9:00pm hour next year. But for a block that airs very niche programming on Saturday nights, Toonami does bring in very good ratings and this boost in confidence from the execs should be seen as a major positive. The block is airing more premieres than they have in years, and advertisers have noticed. They’re getting the same kind of ad dollars as Family Guy and American Dad are getting. The block doesn’t have to scrounge around for Gerber or insurance commercials anymore, as bigger companies such as Arby’s and even Netflix are pumping heavy advertising dollars in the block. There’s a very real chance that Toonami could cement itself for good and perhaps expand to weekdays.
Of course, it’s very easy to be pessimistic about this. It’s plainly obvious that Adult Swim is struggling for solid programming after losing both King of the Hill and The Cleveland Show to Comedy Central. Yes, they still have Family Guy, American Dad, Bob’s Burgers, and Rick & Morty, but they can’t fill a programming block with nothing but those four shows. Well, they kinda do already, but still. Their original shows like The Venture Bros., Robot Chicken, and Mike Tyson Mysteries still bring in viewers, but they can’t anchor the network since most of their profit comes from their production budget being so cheap. Now, Adult Swim isn’t in any danger of losing their Fox shows, but if they don’t wanna cede their early hours back to Cartoon Network proper, they need new blood. And Toonami could provide that, as seen with Dragon Ball Super’s weekday run.
But if the ratings crater more than the executives and advertisers thought with the loss of those two other shows, Adult Swim might put on more Family Guy reruns in the 9:00pm hour regardless. The margin for error for Dragon Ball Z Kai and My Hero Academia is razor thin, so they’re going to need to deliver and do it quickly. If they can’t bring in similar numbers that Rick & Morty is providing right now, Toonami’s big experiment could crash and could also force Adult Swim to chop off some of the later hours of the block to boot. And since the network is going to air Home Movies at 8pm, there won’t be an hour of Family Guy to anchor things this time. In terms of the block itself, I also worry that Naruto Shippuden being moved so early right before a long stretch of terrible fillers could cause a ratings hole that will force the show back into the 2:00am slot and cause Boruto to suffer along with it, similar to what happened when One Piece was moved to 8:30pm after Dragon Ball Super.
This new schedule is extremely risky for both Adult Swim and Toonami. If it succeeds, it could lead to Toonami officially taking over the entirety of Saturday nights and possibly early weeknights. But if the ratings continue to falter (this summer has been pretty rough for everything except Super and Academia), it could be the final nail in the coffin for Toonami’s expansion efforts. Only time will tell, but hopefully it brings positive results.