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Toonami Topper Sean Akins Talks to Toon Zone (pt 2)

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Toon Zone: Alright, FUNimation’s been one of Toonami’s greatest partners over the years, with Dragonball and Yu-Yu Hakusho. They’re currently doing Tenchi Muyo GXP and the new episodes of Tenchi Muyo. Was Tenchi enough of a success that you might pick these shows up?

ImageSean Akins: It’ll depend. We’ll certainly have conversations with FUNimation. We have conversations about all the properties that they have, and they have been one of our best distributors. Certainly Dragonball Z was our biggest show of all time and helped make Toonami what it is. They have made an invaluable contribution to the network and the brand. Anything they’re doing we’re going to have a conversation about, but it’s going to largely depend on what the new series looks like and how it feels and whether we think it would fit in. I know that it’s happening, but I haven’t seen a whole lot of material.

TZ: ADV, on the other hand, seems like a touch-and-go relationship.

SA: We’ve been in conversations with them, and we kind of know everybody. We have a decent relationship, but a lot of their shows don’t neces sarily fit with what we’re doing. You have to remember that before the Animé Network started, they basically were just putting out DVDs and stuff. But the properties that might work in a DVD market won’t necessarily work in the children’s television business. They’ll go for stuff that’s a little more racy, a little more aggressive, and we can’t necessarily do that. If we got those shows we could edit them, of course. Tenchi‘s a show that we did a tremendous amount of editorial on-hundreds of thousands of dollars of work to get it ready for the air. But that stops making sense after a while, especially if there are other shows out there that can work that we don’t have to edit.

See, I don’t necessarily want to get edits from the local distributors, because I don’t think they have the expertise or the compassion to really do a good job. I could get a bad cut of a show, but that would just make the fans of that show mad. “Why is this show all hacked to pieces?” If the original content isn’t necessarily conducive to TV, it’ll be one of those situations where it’s hard to work out.

TZ: How does the acquisition process work exactly? Do they just throw stuff to you, or do you say “Hey, that’d be a great show for Toonami?”

SA: It’s a mix of both. We’ve got a person at the network who’s in charge of acquisitions, and, at the same time, if we see something in the market place, we can bring to the attention of the network. It happens every single imaginable way, from our acquisitions person going to a big animation convention, to us seeing a bootleg DVD we think is cool, to having one of the big toy companies with a line on something sending it over. So, it happens in every way. There’s no real formula.

TZ: Escaflowne and Slayers are two shows you were once interested in. Do you have any idea if their contracts have expired, and if so, do you still want to air them, either on Toonami or Adult Swim?

SA: Mmmm. I think both those shows are cool, but at this point now, they’re old. You know what I mean? If we go back and license older shows, they just end up looking older. If it’s a name people have kind of heard before, it doesn’t tend to rate as well. Every time we’ve tried to go back and get an older show that seems to have a strong following, it’s never really worked. It’s always kind of let us down. There will be brand new shows right now that would make more sense financially to air than older fan favorites. It’s really better for us to try to stay new. Not saying it will never happen, but generally that’s how it shakes out.

TZ: Well, everyone’s happy that Lupin‘s still on the air.

SA: Yeah, Lupin. I love Lupin. We were actually talking about getting some other Lupin movies. I’d be interested to see what happens with Lupin. I don’t know the numbers, so I don’t know if it’s really burning up the charts. It’s certainly a great franchise, and Lupin’s a really cool character. There’s a lot of great work out there; and it’d be interesting to see where that thing goes. Again, Adult Swim’s not necessarily my deal.

TZ: Toonami’s helped get new episodes of some old shows on the air, like ReBoot and The Big O. Are there any series you’d like to see continued?

SA: The Big O, we co-produced that second season. I thought it was a great project, I liked it a lot. But I think it’s a little bit too cerebral. It started off on Toonami and moved to Adult Swim, and it did okay but it wasn’t really burning it up. I would love to see that finished, but I think the likelihood of that is slim to none. Mainly, these days we’re trying to make new shows, co-produce new shows, and get some new things on the air instead of looking back.

TZ: Anything guaranteed to come down the pipe? We knew of Rave Master back in 2003.

SA: There’s nothing that I can really talk about. I wish I could tell you “The big new hit show coming to Toonami is X” but there’s nothing I can really talk about. Some things are looking really good, but nothing is definite, and I can’t say anything until the paper is signed.

TZ: Don’t want Fox to hear about your latest show and snatch it away?

SA: If they care, I certainly don’t want them to hear it. I don’t know that anybody’s afraid of us, but if they are, I certainly don’t want to give them any advantage.

ImageTZ: With the new demographic shift of Toonami, and the creation of Miguzi, and Adult Swim’s success, some shows might seem perfectly fit to one block, while others are bordering on another block. Teen Titans airs on both Miguzi and Toonami, and Yu Yu Hakusho and Inuyasha both have what a lot of people consider to be a similar level of violence and drama. What decides where these shows go?

SA: That’s a very complicated decision as well. The guy who’s in charge of programming these days is not into isolating content withing franchises; Teen Titans, which is a show that is working on Toonami and on Miguzi and on just normal Cartoon Network, is an example of that. So I think it usually breaks out according to where the brands can be leveraged. There’s not any real concrete rules about that.

I mean, with Inuyasha was kept off of Toonami because of the first episode, where he’s impaled to the tree with the arrow. And on Toonami at the time, you couldn’t impale people to trees. And if I go “No, he’s a demon dog monster from another dimension,” they’re like “It looks like a guy, it’s a guy impaled to a tree.”

TZ: Well, he does have long flowing white hair.

SA: I tried that one too. “He’s got dog ears as well, wearing a strange crazy outfit.” They’re like “he’s a guy impaled on a tree.” And you can’t do that on Toonami, and that’s what got it on Adult Swim. “The whole thing’s fantastic, it’s a fairy tale, blah blah blah.” Sorry, but the lawyers don’t look at it like that. If you press play on the VCR and it’s a guy impaled on a tree, it’s a guy impaled on a tree. They don’t want to hear any backstory. So, that’s kind of what lead that to happen.

But with Yu Yu, I could just eke it in to Toonami, and I wanted it to be there. It comes down to the specifics of the property, exactly what happens, exactly what is the action that makes this adult or not, and then you make the call from there.

TZ: New episodes of Cyborg 009 and .hack have been premiering on Friday nights at 1:00am. Why are they premiering unadvertised, and how come they’re not on Toonami?

SA: Because they don’t get a number. I could probably come up with some other flowerly language, but they don’t get a real number. ..hack is a beautiful show, Mashimo-san the director of that, actually directed the IGPX pilot. That show is difficult to understand, and really hard for the layman to get into. It’s tough to be surfing around and get to that show and watch it, just because it’s very complicated. So that hurts its performance. Cyborg never really performed well, and I don’t know why.

ImageTZ: Some shows have kind of disappeared from the block. Rurouni Kenshin left, and Astro Boy disappeared, even though a review at IGN said it would be airing in the fall and the toys say “airing on Cartoon Network.” He-Man seems to be disappearing, and Transformers Energon has been relegated to weekday mornings. Didn’t those shows get the numbers?

SA: We’ve got our fingers crossed that some of those shows might be coming back. I can’t really tell you which ones. Some of them are hopefully coming back, and some of them are gonna be hooked up. [Note: Since this interview was conducted, schedules have shown Transformers Energon getting a Miguzi slot in mid-October and Rurouni Kenshin returning to the Toonami lineup around that same period.] Astro Boy didn’t get a really strong number. We love Astro Boy. Williams Street has a life-sized Astro Boy at the front door.

TZ: As seen on Adult Swim.

SA: Tezuka’s a genius, but for one reason or another, it just didn’t work. People aren’t getting it or we’re not doing it right, but they never really showed up to watch it. That’s the main thing. Even if I personally love a show, if people aren’t showing up to watch it, it’s gone. Like, you can’t hang on. This is TV, and if it doesn’t happen, it’s not gonna. You’re gonna move along. And a lot of that is sort of what happened to other shows. Some of those are definitely coming back. He-Man, I would imagine, is going to come back, but I’m not sure about that. We did He-Man and Transformersat the same time, and both had mixed results. So, we’re kind of just looking at both of those and seeing what’s the best way that Cartoon Network can do it.

TZ: A lot of fans loved Zoids: Chaotic Century. The show premiered new episodes on the morning, on Toonami, which got pulled right before the Final Four. What’s the story behind that?

SA: Well, we brought those Final Four back, and aired them as a special.

TZ: On a Saturday.

SA: We did that just for the fans, because that was another one that didn’t get a very good number. But I hate ending shows mid-run. That just sucks, but, you know, when you have to take a huge financial hit and nobody’s watching, the business guys don’t care if the 11 or 12 fans that are tuning in get to see the conclusion of a story arc. They’re like “we need a hit, this is killing us, it’s gone.” I always hate doing it, though, and we had a little bit of leverage, so we did those Final Four as a special. That’s the deal with that. It’s never really a mystery, you know. If a show disappears, it’s because it wasn’t working. If it was getting good numbers, you’d still be seeing it. We would be juicing it until the last drop came out.

TZ: Dragonball Z was on there for a long time.

SA: Exactly. Dragonball GT‘s still on the air, probably will be the rest of this year and maybe the next. It’s our highest rated show, every Saturday. Justice League just beat it out with a huge push, premiere episodes, lots of marketing, print ads, lots of stuff. And it just beat it out by a tenth of a rating point. GT is still there, still has a huge following, still has a lot of fans that tune in like clockwork every Saturday night.

TZ: Are you guys going to be looking at the redub of Dragonball Z?

SA: We would be, we’re certainly gonna be looking at any Dragonball Z stuff that happens. It’s been such a breadwinner, we’ll look at all of it. I like the original dub myself.

TZ I’m a dub-fan myself, too.

SA: The first 52, that were done at Ocean, I thought were the best. Those were different times, and that was long ago. When they changed the voices the first time, we were all like “Oh no! Don’t do that!” (laughs)

TZ: I think they kind of grew into it.

SA: Yeah, they did. After we saw the first couple, we were like “I don’t think that’s really good,” and they were like, “Well, just give it a little bit of time. It’s kind of hard to nail this thing right off the bat.” As the show matured and the actors got more familiar with the characters, the writing came along, and they really started to get it down and did a good job.

TZ: Uh, back to Zoids, what about Zoids Fuzors?

SA: Agai n, I don’t know. Fuzors may happen. We’ll have to see. We really don’t have a whole lot of slots this time. I think that would be a Toonami show if it went down, if we were really going to try and embrace it. We have Megas and Justice League, which are originals, in there, and Dragonball‘s not going anyhwere. Rave and Duel Masters aren’t going anyhwere. We just don’t have a whole lot of room to play with. So, we kind of got around with one or two shows, and if that doesn’t happen, that’s our whole deal for the year-we don’t have that many openings.

TZ: People have been loving Duel Master‘s crazy “Samurai Pizza Cats”-type show. SA: Yeah, it’s working. Definitely, the first part of Toonami is what we’ve got to work on the most and try to get that audience in there.

TZ: It seems to aim younger.

SA: It’s supposed to age up throughout the night, and we go with our gut feeling of what kids will be watching when they go to bed and then turn it over to more sophisticated stuff for the older crowd. It may be true, maybe we made that up, but that’s kind of what’s been driving the decision-making process.

TZ: Speaking of younger shows: SD Gundam. Bandai said Season 2 would be airing on Cartoon Network, and it hasn’t shown up.

SA: I would imagine that it will air. That was one of our most successful Gundam shows, but I don’t know where we’d put it.

TZ: It would be drastically different from Gundam SEED.

SA: (Laughs) Yeah, it would be drastically different than Gundam SEED. Gundam SEED‘s been kind of an average performer for us. It’s been doing okay. SD was bigger. It appealed to a younger crowd, so it made more sense looking at a 6-11 number. That particular Gundam show makes a lot more sense than the others, which are very sophisticated. Actually, while the scripting and the story writing kind of want you to be an adult, they don’t have the super hardcore action to make it an Adult Swim show. Plus, Gundam’s always been a Toonami thing, and I always love it, so we try to take care of those guys.

TZ: Everyone was kind of surprised by that Neon Laser Gun edit, replacing a normal gun with a flashy gun.

SA: Um, yeah, well, yeah… (laughs) We’ve still gotta do that kind of stuff.

ImageTZ: Sailor Moon-

SA: (laughs) Don’t talk about it.

TZ: Don’t talk about Sailor Moon?

SA: (laughs)

TZ: It was on there for a long time.

SA: Long time.

TZ: First Toonami show to pick up new episodes. Any idea why it’s kind of left the country recently?

SA: There hasn’t been any real new stuff. Unless there’s like a fresh look for that series, we’ve already kind of done it. We can’t continue to just put the old episodes on. It was part of Toonami for a long, long time, and we need to see like a whole new Sailor Moon identity if we’re gonna think about doing that stuff. I just don’t think it’s happening.

TZ: Sailor Stars had no chance of being dubbed?

SA: We don’t necessarily want to take on a whole deal, because we don’t know if it’s gonna work out in the end. But if someone does it, then there’s a chance. But if it doesn’t, you know, it doesn’t look too good.

TZ: Have you seen the live-action one they’re running in Japan?

SA: I’ve seen clips of it, I haven’t seen the whole thing. It’s crazy.

TZ: It’s messed up.

SA: It’s crazy. The whole Sailor Moon thing’s a little crazy if you ask me.

TZ: There’s a Toonami channel in the UK.

SA: Oh yeah.

TZ: Do you have any control or connections with it?

SA: I have absolutely no control over that, and very little connection other than that I send them all the stuff.

TZ: Any chance of America getting one?

SA: I would say don’t hold your breath. (laughs) Maybe, but I doubt it.

TZ: Well, Sean, thanks for dealing with our questions.

SA: Thank you, man. Thanks for all the work Toon Zone does. You guys are a staunch supporter, and Toonami definitely appreciates all the fans out there. We’re gonna try to keep doing what we’re doing.

TZ I’ve been watching the block since the first time Chad showed up on Sailor Moon.

SA: (Laughs) Really? That’s hysterical.

TZ: So, I guess it’s kind of fitting.

SA: (Laughs) That was the way we hooked ya.

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