Fans of Toonami need no introduction to the greatest action animation programming block, but if you’ve never heard of Toonami, let me explain. Toonami was Cartoon Network’s primary action programming block from 1997 to 2008. Toonami was notable for bringing Japanese animation into the mainstream with exceptional shows like Sailor Moon, Dragon Bball Z, Outlaw Star, Robotech, Voltron, and Gundam Wing. Monday thru Friday kids across America would get home from school and turn on the toons.
Even though Toonami’s anime was often heavily edited for content, the programming block still managed to introduce viewers to serious shows that never talked down to them. Wrapped around the shows themselves was the Toonami packaging: techno music, blood-pumping intros that replaced the animes’ original openings, and the most intense promos.
While most networks limit promos to 0:30, Toonami did something different. They created unique 2:00+ interstitials that aired in between shows. These interstitials were super cuts of multiple shows put to music, and each had a theme, and dare I say, a message. As somebody who used to work at a local network television station, these interstitials are very curious to me in retrospect. Why would a network devote several minutes of airtime to what amounts to fan videos when they could instead be airing advertisements?
I don’t know the answer to that. Maybe they had trouble finding advertisers for the whole of Toonami’s ad space. Whatever the reason, these interstitials established a culture and an identity for Toonami. And they remain works of art even today.
Note: Credit for these videos goes out to SlimD716 on YouTube. This person has spent considerable time cataloging as many Toonami promos as possible, and has even remastered many in HD. They look so amazing!
Broken Promise (Dreams)
“A boy has a right to dream. There are endless possibilities stretched out before him.”
“As they search, they are always asking questions. What’s out there? What’s waiting for me? Why was I made? Who made me? And what did they make me for?”
“You gonna just keep running away?” “Just keep running away? … I’m not running.”
“Believe in yourself, and create your own destiny. Don’t fear failure.”
This interstitial has an ethereal quality to it. It’s about dreaming big, but in so doing, being confronted with fears while trying to realize those dreams. The key quote from this interstitial comes from Hilda, who asks Gene Starwind “You gonna just keep running away?” This comes from Outlaw Star, an anime about space bounty hunters. Interestingly, the main character, Gene, has a fear of space travel in the beginning of the series. It’s kind of difficult to have a space show about a pilot who’s afraid of space. But after Hilda questions Gene, he gradually overcomes his fear of space.
Shows used: Primarily Outlaw Star, but also Dragon Ball Z, Gundam Wing, Tenchi in Tokyo, and Tenchi Universe.
Pardon Our Dust
There are almost no words to this interstitial (aside from King Kai’s great interruption in the action: “Get set…and go!” but that’s okay. This interstitial has probably the best cadence of any of them, both visually and aurally. The message is simple: Toonami airs a lot of shows that have a lot of explosions. This video is probably one of the most memorable from Toonami’s “Golden Years” (about 1998-2001), mostly because they played it so often.
This interstitial is more than just a pretty piece of video to look at. Behind all of these explosions are fights and battles, featuring characters who are all fighting for something important: the people they love, their communities, or even the entire world.
My favorite part of the video is the clip of Goku punching Jeice in the nose. That dude was such a showboat!
Shows used: Dragon Ball Z, Gundam Wing, ReBoot, Ronin Warriors, and Sailor Moon (just one very short clip of Sailor Jupiter attacking from 0:50-0:51)
“Man’s greatest inventions, making the impossible possible, are no longer under our control.”
“This new breed of technology makes humanity obsolete.”
“Robots thinking, acting on their own, begin their march toward domination.”
“The robots among us, watching, waiting, calculate their new world order. Their time is coming. They cannot be stopped.”
“Let the fall of mankind give way to a new age.”
Not only did Toonami like explosions, but they liked robots. I’ve always been fascinated with storylines involving robots. The idea of humanity creating something greater than ourselves, and then the creation rebelling against us, seems very real and very possible to me. And yet in all of these shows, humans overcome the robots (often with the help of their own obedient robots). While shows about robots rebelling have always given me a certain kind of fear, the message of these shows is always the same: humans will always overcome robots in the end because we possess something special that can never be automated.
Note: According to the YouTube comments on this interstitial, the voice-over is Optimus Prime. Does anybody know what show/movie the narration is from, or was it an original recording for this promo using the voice actor who just so happened to voice Optimus Prime?
Shows used: The Big O, Blue Submarine No. 6, Dragon Ball Z, Gundam Wing, Superman The Animated Series, and Outlaw Star.
I honestly don’t remember this one. At some point, Toonami did a series of interstitials about virtues exemplified by their shows. This one is about courage. The message is a bit preachy, and of all the videos in this post, this is my least favorite. But I’m including it because it features the amazing clip of Gohan facing down Recoome: “My dad taught me not to be scared of bullies like you!”
Shows used: Dragon Ball Z, The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest, ReBoot, and Sailor Moon.
Mad Rhetoric (Walking Stick)
Compared to the other interstitials on this list, Mad Rhetoric’s theme is difficult to discern. The interstitial pulls clips from a wide range of shows (many of which are used in other interstitials). There are many quotations throughout, but some are hard to hear. Nothing really stands out until the final line, “Nothing good can ever come from staying with normal people.” (What show is that from? Leave a comment if you know.)
This single line sort of defines my relationship with Toonami and my friends throughout high school and beyond. My closest friends were those who were into anime, video games, and Dungeons and Dragons. The nerdy kids, if you will. Over the years, Toonami introduced us to a wide range of unique, crazy, weird, off-the-wall, abnormal, and otherwise deranged characters, and we were all better for it.
As I reflect on the people I’ve known throughout my life, the ones who were “not normal” were and still are the most interesting. Toonami was a celebration of the abnormality of each individual.
Shows used: Blue Submarine No. 6, Dragon Ball Z, Gundam Wing, Outlaw Star, Tenchi Muyo, and Tenchi in Tokyo.
Space is the Place
“To outer space, every one of us!”
“This is a pretty large scale operation.” Right. But it’ll be dangerous.” “So what? That’s never stopped us before.” “Right. But it’ll be dan–it’ll be dangerous.”
“We all have to make it out to space!”
“Never forget how beautiful the earth looks from afar.”
“Outer space…It’s so quiet.”
“Will you please come with me?” “Where to?” “Outer space.”
“Talented people are capable of understanding us.”
Easily the best Toonami video ever. They played this one a lot, and it really inspired me to think about space in a new light. Space is the place to be, and I want to go there someday. But as these clips from Gundam Wing show, space is also a very difficult place to live and is fraught with danger.
My favorite part of the clip is Quatre’s heavy breathing from 0:43-0:53. I don’t remember exactly when this scene happened, but I believe it was around the time he piloted the Wing Zero and began destroying space colonies. Quatre, who was mostly a pacifist at the beginning of Gundam Wing, eventually went crazy and decided the only way to stop the war in space was to kill everybody. His story arc is pretty interesting and is filled with emotional moments like this one.
Shows used: Mostly Gundam Wing, but three visual and one audio clip from Dragon Ball Z.