Tonight marks the sixth anniversary of the debut of YTV’s phenomenal late night animation block, Bionix. This week also marks the one year anniversary of the block’s unceremonious death. Although a product of fan demand, YTV went to great strides to make this block everything it could be before priorities changed at the station. Last year I wrote a short article summarizing what I felt to be the top ten most memorable moments. It will be taken down along with my old website, “Zannen, Canada,” but here it is again for the sake of preservation.
I don’t want to spend a lot of time gushing about Bionix here on its fifth anniversary. I never really thought of the block itself as anything more than a collection of (for the most part) consistently great programming. Definitely something worth celebrating, but nothing worth getting attached to. But now that I’ve been in university way too long, it’s getting to the point where I’m starting to meet more people who were well within the block’s target demographic when it debuted, and have been until very recently. The people who the block really spoke to, and who truly viewed it as something special.
It’s pretty safe to say that Bionix really has held significance beyond the sum of its programming, and because of that I hope that it can still continue on in some form. While I can’t even remember the last time I bothered to watch the block, there are a few good and bad memories from the past five years that I can’t help but extensively list out in a poorly formatted list.
10. Don’t You Be Touchin’ My Credits, Boy – The Closing Credits Controversy
Bionix played a key role in helping to change YTV’s branding. When the block launched, YTV had overhauled their prime time branding into something clearly designed to break away from the perennial “Keep it Weird” theme which generally turned away older viewers. Bionix was clearly intertwined with the new look that had just launched, and it’s very likely that differentiating the way anime was presented played a major role with the way the entire scheme was developed. A year later, a refined version of the prime time branding evolved into a much needed visual overhaul for the entire station, including the earlier hours. Bionix was given an unprecedented amount of leeway in terms of its presentation, and this definitely wound up being a good thing for the station in the long run.
Despite this, a few annoying quirks of YTV’s general format still lingered in the Bionix timeslot. I don’t think anything garnered as much attention as their insistence on running advertisements over ending credits sequences. Since the ending credits in anime series’ are designed to help sell soundtracks, the extra effort put in the ED sequences have a tendency of inciting fans to be a little more passionate about their integrity. The often silly degree to which certain fans would deride YTV for this, as well as the station’s apparent need to continue doing it despite the outcry, made for a very memorable controversy. Most viewers did get used to this idiosyncrasy soon enough, and by the time YTV stopped running ads over the credits, it wasn’t a huge issue anymore. Although the change came as a pleasant surprise nonetheless.
Of course, it’s been two years since any series on the block even had its full ending credit sequence intact, so it all seems fairly moot now.
9. An Under-the-Rader Masterpiece – Samurai Jack’s Quiet Return
Samurai Jack achieved something fairly significant after it snagged the Prime Time Emmy Award for animation which had almost always been allocated to The Simpsons by default. This made matters very puzzling when YTV actually removed the series’ third season from their September 2004 line-up before the schedule was finalized. Although the move wasn’t as surprising when one observed how frequently Jack jumped around on the station’s schedule, having ultimately been removed from Friday nights in order to make room for Bionix. It seemed that for all its artistic praise, Samurai Jack just wasn’t meshing with any of YTV’s demographics.
The omission definitely gained a lot of attention from those wanting desperately to see the final season. Luckily, a compromise was soon made by YTV, despite some obvious scepticism over the show’s prospects. Samurai Jack was quietly added to the post-midnight portion of Bionix, previously reserved solely for encore broadcasts. This not only helped to expand the block, but also broaden the types of content Bionix would become known for. It was a very satisfying move for fans, although not an entirely unexpected one, and was one of the key factors in establishing how much of a fan-friendly block Bionix was despite its reach for a fairly broad audience.
The question now is whether or not Genndy Tartakovsky will ever get the chance to actually conclude the series as a direct-to-video movie. There has to be someone out there willing to put up the cash for it!
8. “Wombats, Fire!” – Rebirth of the Gundam Craze
As soon as YTV embraced Viz upon picking up Inuyasha, you could be sure that Bandai Entertainment would be quick to jump in between asking for their turn. Four years after YTV made some unfortunate mistakes in their handling of Gundam Wing, the newest title in the never-ending franchise was acquired by the station. With an earlier regular timeslot and slightly more strategic scheduling, Gundam SEED debuted on Bionix’s premiere night catching more mainstream attention than ever could’ve been imagined for its predecessor.
If you asked the average fan what made Gundam SEED‘s run on YTV truly significant, you’ll probably hear all about how the series was very noticeably less edited than the version aired on Cartoon Network. Make no mistake, Gundam SEED is definitely one of the most notable examples of an anime series having a substantially different presentation on both sides of the border. In the US the characters brandished guns with brightly coloured disco lasers and pilots were never seen so much as screaming as their mobile suits were destroyed. While the series was still subject to some cuts in its Canadian broadcast (albeit bafflingly inconsistent ones), the things that mattered to people were still there: the guns were real, the words “die” and “kill” oozed out of the script, and Kira and Flay were definitely up to more than assembling toy models together.
What was likely more significant about SEED was how massively successful it was on YTV compared to its broadcast on Cartoon Network. The series was given no less than five runs in Canada (three of which were either complete or virtually complete) while in the US it was banished to 1:30am on Fridays halfway through its run, a move which was then thought to be unabashedly ruthless and cruel. Oh what a simple time that was.
Unfortunately, as big a hit as Gundam SEED was on Canadian TV, the great success in that one little market didn’t amount to very much in the eyes of Bandai Entertainment’s parent companies. To this day their priority lies with making things work in the US market, which is pretty clear when you take notice of which English-speaking countries are airing Gundam 00.
7. THINGS REALLY ARE FUNNIER WHEN YOU YELL THEM – The Arrival of Invader Zim
YTV has always had, at the very least, a very close and focused relationship with Nickelodeon. By the late nineties it was unthinkable for a Nick animated property of any kind to land on a different station, as contractual arrangements probably made it a literal impossibility. In the earlier part of the decade YTV showcased every single cartoon that came out of Nickelodeon… EXCEPT INVADER ZIM. The omission was staggering, and definitely received a lot of attention over the years. Why didn’t they want to show it? The suggestive and downright freaky undertones that were persistent throughout the series? The fact that its fanbase consisted primarily of D&D-playing community college students who wear top hats and black nail polish? The series’ moral outlook which was so vapid as to suggest that the complete and utter destruction of humanity was a good thing? Come to think of it, it was probably a combination of all that and more.
Nonetheless, demand for Invader Zim was high, and YTV remained the only outlet that could fulfil the request. And so they did at last in September 2006 when it was finally clear that the Bionix crowd was the audience the series needed. It was always a bit out of place on Nickelodeon, but the series definitely wasn’t a failure, and should have inspired some good faith. But it seemed that either the programmers or the executives at YTV still didn’t see eye-to-eye with Irken ways, so it was placed after midnight. With the exception of the Christmas special which was given special early airings during the holiday season, after midnight it stayed.
The funny thing is that after its debut, Invader Zim was a mainstay on the block, running continuously until Bionix was ultimately downsized and shifted to Saturday nights. It appears that against all odds, Invader Zim still managed to make its mark on Canadian television.
6. Nothing is Sacred – The Great CanCon Purge
Around 2006-2008, YTV’s prime time schedule became a bit turbulent, to say the least. Annual Canadian Content quotas became a pest, with schedules being hastily rearranged in order to accommodate more episodes of Zixx and Mystery Hunters. The constant rush apparently also made it necessary to unearth antiquated masterpieces such as Fries With That. The changes resulted in many casualties, including My Family (marking the definitive end of British sitcoms on YTV), Pinky and the Brain, and the anime weeknight reruns which just never seemed to work out the way the station probably wanted.
But amidst all this chaos, Bionix seemed to be the only safe haven on all of YTV that appeared to be immune to these forced changes. Much unfounded cockiness emerged amongst the fanbase until the glass wall finally came shattering down in the late spring of 2006 when Bionix suddenly found itself infused with live action Canadian programs. Being a block for animation, the addition of Zixx: Level Two, Monster Warriors, and Dark Oracle wasn’t a particularly well-received move. Given that two of the timeslots were already occupied by older Mainframe productions, it also raised vague suspicions that this change-over had more to do with ambitious commitments made to certain Canadian production studios than it did with Canadian Content regulations. Although no one ever really found out for sure.
While the changeover was temporary, it did take one casualty with it: Case Closed. YTV had picked up twenty-six episodes as a test run for the ongoing murder mystery series, likely as a condition for licensing another notable FUNimation title which will be discussed later. It likely wasn’t doing great, since eight episodes was enough to justify bumping it off the main portion of the block. Still, this served as a grim reminder that nothing on the block was quite as safe as we had all once thought.
5. The Last Laugh That Never Was – Death Note’s Delayed Debut
Things were not looking good for anime on Adult Swim back in 2007. Their Saturday night action line-up was pretty consistently pushed back to 1am or later, and there was no sign of new anime programming for the coming autumn season. Quite the opposite was the case for Bionix, which was showcasing one of its strongest line-ups ever. With the confirmation that Death Note‘s dub was being produced in Vancouver, there wasn’t a single doubt what YTV’s next CanCon-driven acquisition would be.
The pipe dream that YTV would broadcast a major new title without correlation with an American broadcaster edged closer to reality in the minds of more senselessly nationalistic fans (ie: me) when a confirmation of Death Note‘s September 2007 debut fell through the cracks. It was clear that they had the series, but most of the details on its debut were kept mum by the broadcaster with a distinct lack of fanfare, leading to a lot of questioning and suspicion about the show’s actual status. That wasn’t enough to dissuade the competitive spirit of fandom, though, which remained fixated on the idea that Canadians could now definitively say anime was a more viable commodity in their country. That is until Death Note was yanked from the schedule mere days before its expected premiere.
Much panic and confusion followed. Speculation was abound as to why YTV would temper with such an important debut, the most prominent theories being that the station suddenly came to the conclusion that the series was somehow thematically inappropriate. The actual reason was a little more predictable: Adult Swim had licensed the series and was waiting an extra month to show it, and just to turn insult to injury, the Bionix airings trailed the US ones by a week.
While everything turned out okay in the end and everyone learned an important lesson about dreams driven by jingoistic nationalism, it is unlikely that all of the panicking that briefly took place over the show’s “thematic appropriateness” did it any favours. When the series reached its end, it underwent a couple of very minor but very strange text edits concerning suicide. Also of note is that the very week after the final episode of Death Note aired, Bionix was sliced down to two hours and shifted from its prominent Friday night position to Saturdays. Most interestingly, Death Note was shortly ported over to the Corus-owned horror specialty station SCREAM (now known as “dusk”), pretty much verifying that eyebrows were raised sometime during Death Note‘s run. As popular as the series proved to be and as great as it was to see the English dub broadcast on television, it does seem that Death Note may have done more damage than good to the Bionix block.
In the end, Gundam SEED Destiny still stands as Bionix’s only exclusive series. Although, looking back, it’s rather difficult to brag about that.
4. Who Says Handlebars Aren’t Sexy? – Witch Hunter Robin’s Run
A lot of people aren’t going to agree with giving this series a prominent spot on this list. It’s not exactly surprising, since Witch Hunter Robin wasn’t exactly a extraordinary program. In its own right, it was a series with some great atmospheric direction and characters, but both the long-running and stand alone stories left something to be desired. However, as a headline anime running on YTV, it delivered nothing less than amazement and disbelief to unsuspecting viewers. In that specific context, Witch Hunter Robin was a massively important and influential series, and for that alone I’m going to ignore all the naysayers: Robin gets her own spot on the list.
Airing Robin not only scored YTV some major artsy points, but challenged the expectations people had for the types of programming that could be expected from this block. Despite having been branded a notorious failure on Adult Swim, Witch Hunter Robin emerged as a new entity entirely when it reached audiences in Canada. Taking one of Inuyasha‘s old timeslots helped of course, as early ratings reports indicated that it was YTV’s second highest rated 12-17 series upon its debut. Can we really deny how memorable and significant this show as a Bionix series?
3. The Shopping Bags Join the Justice League – The Unusual Incident Surrounding Justice League Unlimited’s Season Finale
If I’m not the only person who even remembers this happening then I’m definitely the only one who would place it at number three on this list. From sound problems, to visual distortions, to schedule delays, Bionix was certainly no stranger to broadcast glitches. Problems like this followed the block right to its expulsion to Saturday nights, but perhaps no incident was quite as memorable as one which occurred closer to the block’s genesis.
Justice League Unlimited became a very delightful mainstay on Bionix in its first year. After the rather uneven first series, the idea of incorporating the slightly more mature-toned superhero series on a block essentially dedicated to anime drew some ire, but it took only two episodes for most of these apprehensions to fully subside. After making it halfway through the season, YTV began to catch up to the series as it was still being produced by Warner Bros. This caused JLU to go into reruns several times, but just as often resulted in the Canadian airings beating the American debuts of each episode.
YTV’s airing of “Epilogue”, the first season finale of JLU was highly anticipated. Not only was it known to serve as a bookend to the DC Animated Universe in general, but it was also the international premiere of the episode. What happened upon the episode’s expected premiere was tragically hilarious: as the coming up next screen faded out and the anticipation reached an apex as the episode began, viewers were instead treated to the first three minutes of an episode of The Shopping Bags. The program, if you’re not familiar with it, is a Vancouver-based W Network original featuring Anna Wallner and Kristina Matisic comparing various consumer products and services. Strange as it was that the majority of fans complaining about this incident were familiar enough with this program to identify it immediately despite its title not once appearing, it appeared that Corus’ inadvertant cross-marketing endeavour had not been well received. Although only the first few minutes of Epilogue were lost, YTV nevertheless issued a full apology by e-mail and aired the episode the following week, glitch-free. Regardless, this has to stand as one of the blocks most memorable broadcast glitches.
2. Jungle Boogie – The Skipped Episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
I’m not sure how much detail I really have to go into on this one, because I’m sure anyone who followed Bionix is familiar with this case. Not to paint a depressing picture of the past, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that this incident may have brought more attention to Bionix outside of Canada than anything else.
When Gundam SEED aired on YTV, it attracted a bit of criticism in the way gun violence was handled. Guns and blood were allowed, but there seemed to be some problems surrounding blood protruding from a gun wound, which brought about some interesting inconsistencies in the way the final few episodes were handled. It is no wonder that the announcement of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex as their next major anime acquisition brought about more concern than excitement. A lot of the concerns were negligible. The chronicles of Section 9 were indeed difficult to defend as youth-oriented programming, and the standard action scenes were consistently more violent than SEED. Thankfully, by giving the series a midnight timeslot and a special “serious business” disclaimer stating that it was for older teens (a disclaimer we would see again both for Death Note and, oddly, Case Closed), these concerns were pretty much done away with by YTV.
Of course, all of those issues paled in comparison to the speculation surrounding how on earth YTV would handle the show’s tenth episode: Jungle Cruise. As a self-contained episode (or at least it appeared to be until the end of the second season) that focused on a serial killer who ritualistically produced snuff films capturing the reactions of women as their skin ripped off, skipping the episode seemed almost too easy a solution. Fans who anxiously awaited the episodes premiere learned very quickly that it really wasn’t – the episode was pulled at the last minute, with the first episode airing in its place. Needless to say, outrage ensued.
While YTV stood their ground and stated that the episode was deemed inappropriate to air on the station at any time of the day, the stance led to criticism that got, perhaps, too heated. To some, skipping the episode was equivalent to admitting that licensing the series was a mistake on YTV’s part. This view was ultimately debunked after Stand Alone Complex proved to be one of the block’s most all-time popular anime offerings, being consecutively showcased no less than four times. Nevertheless, as it became clear that another broadcaster was unlikely to pick up the series after YTV was finished with it, a number of comparisons were drawn to Farscape, a series whose broadcast presence was ultimately hindered by YTV’s late realization that the series wasn’t an appropriate mesh with their image or target audience. With pressure being taken to such an extreme, YTV eventually caved and aired the episode after a GitS marathon at 1:30am late in December of that year. Jungle Cruise was aired intact in all subsequent airings.
I will confess, though, that my own reaction to the entire situation is probably the reason that YTV never aired 2nd Gig, the series’ second season which wasn’t quite as inherently problematic in terms of content as I had implied. Sorry about that one.
1. Now That Vic Mignogna Guy Has an Excuse to Come to Canada – The Announcement of Fullmetal Alchemist
Fullmetal Alchemist was special. Unlike Witch Hunter Robin, which became prominent due to its context as a Bionix series, FMA carried even greater significance since it was an acquisition that required the entire world to be temporarily strung inside out. In 2005, even young children posting on YTV’s hilarious message boards would tell you that bad blood had developed between the broadcaster and Funimation in previous years over licensing of Dragon Ball Z. Apparently Funi wasn’t as interested in dealing with non-U.S. markets as they would be in later years. The exact details of this were never confirmed, but it served as a continual downer to fans who could only envy their American neighbours as they watched Fullmetal Alchemist on television every week. Despite the fact that it smashed ratings records for anime programming on Adult Swim (which still stand to this day!) certain other Canadian broadcasters were quick to, rather shockingly, admit that they had turned down the series.
Access to Funimation programming seemed like an impossible hurdle to Canadian fans. But then one day, a notice was quietly sent out by YTV staff notifying anxious fans that they had acquired Fullmetal Alchemist, all the while acknowledging just how unbelievable this announcement was. Some of you may remember my knee-jerk reaction to this:
It was a quiet, unassuming Friday afternoon when it happened. The Canadian people went about their usual business, emptying their garbage pales out the windows of sky rises and walking their decorative dachshunds down main street whilst wearing gaudy attire. But then, the announcement came. It was made, rather meekly in YTV’s latest Anime Bulletin, but along with it evaporated all sense of reason, logic, and reality that once inhabited the nation:
Better be sitting down for this one:
Full Metal Alchemist
premieres Friday, March 3!!
Catch it at 10pm and 1am E/P!!
For one moment, the nation froze: the population stood in awe as they gripped onto their running hoses in astonishment. YTV licensing a FUNimation show? This just could not be! Then, not even the police, who had previously been distracted by their engaging game of air hockey, were prepared for the onslaught of confusion and panic that engulfed the streets. Looting and violence were the only natural responses that the minds of these innocent people could conjure in response to this insanity, and all sense of reality was lost. The ground split open and devoured the northern territories where seals were currently attacking citizens with clubs, Viking zombies emerged from the ground and began terrorizing those in the Mairitime provinces, and the Voyager spacecraft ripped through the sky and took out a small part of Edmonton.
But then, after a little while, the tranquility that this wonderful news was meant to bring finally grew within the hearts and minds of the populous, and as this demonic reaction that had been slowly building up for half a decade began to subside, order was slowly restored. The waitresses put down their barstools and gave out drinks on the house, the Army’s talent show could commence as planned, Orochimaru once again put on his Stephen Harper disguise, and the Antichrist decided that he’d rather sit down and watch reruns of Who’s the Boss than kick start that whole Apocalypse thing. At long last, Fullmetal Alchemist was set to air on Canadian TV, and the people were happy.
Even though YTV never acquired any other Funimation titles outside of the FMA movie and the test run of Case Closed, this announcement still stood as testament to just how awesome Bionix really was. In its heyday, it wasn’t merely a group of incidentally acquired programs slapped together under one banner, it was a block with real drive and an audience worth reaching out to. The moment when we could say that this was a definitive truth was pretty fleeting in retrospect. Believe me though, considering how long it took for a Canadian broadcaster to get to that point and how anxiously fans across Canada waited for it to finally happen, it was pretty swell.