The first time I watched you, Moltar from “Space Ghost” was still hosting. He broadcasted from Ghost Planet Industries and had a UFO as a sidekick. I was 6 years old and, thanks to parental controls, only vaguely aware that TV could be anything other than “Sailor Moon” and “Jonny Quest.” Back then, you were just a semi-nameless string of shows, a cursory blip on my consciousness, the thing I squeezed in between finishing my homework at 3 o’clock and starting my piano lesson at 4.
But as I grew up, so did you. Six became 10. “Jonny Quest” became “Gundam Wing.” “Sailor Moon” became “Tenchi Muyo!” Moltar disappeared and was replaced with the helmet-wearing, wisecracking robot TOM (which stood for “Toonami Operations Module” — a fact I’ll admit that before today, I was in complete ignorance of). Ghost Planet became the spaceship “Absolution,” and you became a regular three-hour fixture in my after-school routine.
I remember getting into fights with my little brother and shouting out (sadly to no avail) the words, “Kamehameha!” and “Moon Tiara Magic!” I remember falling hopelessly in love with Tuxedo Mask. I remember you scaring the shiitake mushrooms out of me as I watched the first TOM die (die!) trying to save the ship. Granted, TOM 2.0 was ultimately my favorite incarnation, but at the time, all the trauma and distress seemed just a bit much for my poor, fragile, young heart to bear.
Eventually (and a bit thankfully), I started growing out of my anime phase. I started watching real shows like “Lizzie McGuire,” and decided I could have only so many pretend-boyfriends before it started being weird. In my defense, you also might’ve let yourself go a little, dropping “YYH” and “DBZ” for “Ben 10” and “Transformers: Armada.”
In any case, by spring 2003, it was time for me to move on. I didn’t hear from you for another nine years until last week, when I came across an interesting hashtag in my Twitter feed, reading “#ToonamisBackBitches.”
Suddenly, all the fond memories came flooding back. Squeez-Its. Bagel Bites. “Thundercats,” ho! I even forgave you for that brief lapse of sanity a few years ago when you decided to give TOM a face. Like several others all over the Twittersphere, I couldn’t wait for May 26, when, at least for a few hours, I could go back to being nine, 10, 11 years old. Toonami was back (13-itches), and along with it, my childhood.
Sadly, the Toonami I tuned into last Saturday night was not my Toonami. It was my TOM (the cool, dark, faceless TOM), and it was my ship, but it was not my Toonami. It wasn’t you. With tragically deficient fanfare, Adult Swim launched into an episode of “Bleach,” followed by new shows “Deadman Wonderland” and “Casshern Sins,” before finishing up with “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood,” “Ghost in the Shell” and “Cowboy Bebop.” And while this new line-up was undeniably good, a huge part of me still yearned for the really good ol’ days, for power-ups taking six episodes at a time, for attacks made of swirls and rainbows and hearts.
And can you blame me? Finals are coming, summer’s almost here, I’m about to head into my last year as an undergraduate, and I don’t know. I guess a small part of me just needed you for a minute there. But I guess I can’t have you anymore. Wherever you are though, somewhere kicking around the outskirts of my memory, I just wanted to say how much you really meant to me. Because even though I didn’t get it at the time, “Sailor Moon” taught me the importance of friendship. “Gundam Wing” taught me the tragedies of war. “Reboot” taught me that computer viruses are bad (or something). And you. You defined a generation. So thank you, Toonami, for everything.
Stay gold. Bang.
A Hopelessly Nostalgic ’90s Kid
Toonami on Adult Swim airs Saturday nights, starting at midnight, on Cartoon Network.