Earlier today, Corus Entertainment spoke before the CRTC in a hearing to determine the future direction of television in this country. Amid the myriad of talking points debating pick-and-pay television, preponderance of Canadian services, and availability of youth broadcasting, I wonder if at any point the Corus representatives thought “hey, isn’t today the tenth anniversary of that anime block that ran on YTV? Maybe we should bring that thing back.” It’s understandable if they didn’t – even I forgot that Bionix debuted ten years ago today.
There isn’t very much that needs to be said in terms of reflecting on YTV’s former prime time anime block, which began on 10 September 2004 and ended sometime in either 2009 or 2010. Depends on who you ask. I already ran through my personal favourite memories of Bionix on its fifth anniversary, and the various bumpers and branding that defined its aesthetic are thoroughly documented and archived on YouTube. If you need a whimsical nostalgia fix, it’s all right there alongside various cuts of Short Circuitz and those beloved 90s PSAs. Lose yourself in reflection if you want, but we’re at a point now where fans need to start shifting their mindset towards the return of adult-oriented anime on Canadian TV, if not outright restoration of the Bionix block, as a realistic possibility in the near future.
The last time I dared comment on the state of late night animated programming, I dismissed the idea of anime making a significant comeback. It was a reasonable stance to take at the time, given how Adult Swim’s anime block was on a serious decline in the States. The return of the Toonami branding less than two months later certainly changed those circumstances. Ratings have increased to the point that they’re now practically fetishized by the block’s most devoted followers, the risk factor on experimenting with titles has gone way down, and companies like Aniplex are now perceiving even extremely late timeslots as valuable exposure. The new Toonami still has to make do with a lower promotional budget than its predecessor and struggles to gain an earlier start time, but still demonstrates just how powerful a strategic change in branding can be.
I’d like to think that kind of sensation can be replicated in Canada with the Bionix branding, at least to a degree. The sheer fanaticism that surrounds Toonami for even its more casual followers can be linked to the fact that the minds behind the block were trendsetters and sought to create demand for then-unexploited forms of entertainment under a unique banner. They put many unique touches on the advertising, even going so far as to create custom intros for their shows, although that is a tradition I’m sort of glad never carried over here. Bionix, by comparison, was merely a response to the existing demand for anime on television, but it was a very well planned and implemented one. It’s presence as a block was low-key, but was more than enough to spawn multiple imitators, and still continue to resonate strongly with people who were into anime in the mid-to-late 2000s. A return would no doubt be embraced loudly and positively by that audience, so long as they have a reason to be excited. I think the most important thing that got the new Toonami block off the ground that Bionix fans are currently lacking is a glimmer of hope. When viewers anticipating yet another screening of The Room were ambushed by a special Toonami line-up as an April Fool’s Day prank, the enormous highly-trending response on Twitter was entirely unanticipated. I’m not sure if anime fans could accomplish such a social media feat here due to a more diffused presence in social media, but I do think that the amount of support could come as a surprise.
If you need a glimmer of hope, let me provide one: earlier this year, Corus Entertainment purchased Teletoon. This is a bit of a negative development in the grand scheme of things since this effectively gives the company a near monopoly on Canadian children’s television, but it has already resulted in some interesting changes. Earlier this month, Teletoon “inherited” the last of YTV’s kids anime programming. It’s not terrible surprising, given YTV’s gradual shift towards tween-geared comedy shows. While this pretty much guarantees that Bionix won’t be returning on YTV, it does suggest some major internal changes at Teletoon since they have not aired any non co-produced anime series’ since 2005. They’ve resisted airing any anime TV series’ in their late night block for almost their entire 18 year history, but under Corus’ influence it looks like just about anything is on the table.
It’s useless for anime fans to simply tell Teletoon that they want anime on TV, but hopefully it won’t be long before they recognize the huge success that Toonami has proven to be for Adult Swim in the States. From my view the emergence of a block like this could be a pretty cyclical occurrence. I don’t know about the rest of you, but it sure feels like 2003 to me right now.