Dear Adult Swim/Toonami:
Bringing back Samurai Jack turned out to be a pretty fantastic idea. It was an even better idea to allow this to happen by bringing in Genndy Tartakovsky instead of simply taking the rights of the show (owned by Cartoon Network) and hand them to some kind of mercenary with no real understanding of what the show is or what made it interesting in the first place. I think we can all agree that it was a success all around. Critics loved it, fans loved it (except for that one or two things here and there) and the ratings were pretty terrific. I believe I speak for plenty when I say that this is a new standard for what it means to successfully re-boot a long dormant series (Yes, I know calling it a re-boot is a bit inaccurate given that it’s a continuation of the series that Mr. Tartakovsky had always intended to deliver one way or another, but that’s a bit beside the point). It managed to stay faithful to the original series while expanding our understanding of it in exciting, unexpected ways. You have my gratitude, as well as that of many, many fans because of this.
Now, I’m sure that Mr. Tartakovsky, as well as the rest of his team, have moved on to other projects by now. He’s a busy man, and I’m sure there will be plenty on his plate in the years to come. He’s been a regular presence at Sony Animation for the last few years and is said to be working on a third Hotel Transylvania film; maybe even that Popeye film that’s been in production hell for a couple years now, though that’s kinda up in the air as of right now. Regardless of this, I like to imagine that Samurai Jack 2017 has put him in some very friendly terms with you guys, and the possibility of working together again at some point in the future is certainly possible, if things were to align as such. With that in mind, I would like to make a suggestion for your consideration:
Bring back Sym-Bionic Titan.
You PROBABLY remember what this is, but for the sake of my argument, let’s talk about it for a bit.
In 2010, Cartoon Network launched a show co-created by Mr. Tartakovsky with Bryan Andres and Paul Ruddish, in which a trio of aliens escape from their home planet of Galaluna after a civil war breaks out. These aliens feature royal princess Ilana, her moody bodyguard named Lance, and a bio-cybernetic robot named Octus. The three arrive on Earth, where they seek shelter from the evil forces hell bent on destroying Galaluna’s royal family. Specifically, they arrive at a small town named Sherman, Illinois where they attempt to blend in as regular humans, specifically high school students. Unfortunately, it’s not long before they’re discovered on Earth and deadly monsters are sent to kill them. Thankfully, our trio is outfitted with robotic weaponry they can use to fight back, and when things get really ugly, they can combine them, as well as their “heart, body and mind”, to form the Sym-Bionic Titan, a giant robot capable of going toe-to-toe with the Kaiju-sized mutants regularly sent to fight them. According to Mr. Tartakovsky, he describes the show as a cross between a John Hughes high school drama like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club with a mecha-anime like Voltron or Macross.
Basically, it was everything that you have come to expect from a Tartakovsky project on Cartoon Network: stylish action, endearing characters, and an easy-going sense of humor (with occasionally not-quite-raunchy allusions), all held together with amazing, anime-inspired visuals and themes. Sounds like a party to me.
The show has had a very troubled history. It came on the scene at a time where Cartoon Network was going through a very awkward phase. As I’m sure some of you are aware, there were some big shifts in power around 2007 when then-CN president Jim Samples stepped down and was replaced with Stewart Snyder, who would continue the network’s current trend of experimenting with live-action content, leading to the creation of a programming block called CN Real in 2009. While it didn’t last very long, this caused the network to begin to fall out of favor from animation fans, going through what I like to refer to as the “MTV-ification” of the channel, where the “cartoon” in Cartoon Network suddenly felt like it was losing its meaning. It didn’t help that the actual animated output wasn’t doing so hot either. While shows like Chowder and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack found moderate success, and even allowed some artists working on them to move on to bigger projects, they were largely overlooked by some large shifts in CN’s structure. Gone was the Cartoon Cartoons branding that defined so much of the channel’s history up until then, Toonami went away (for a few years), and original programming had to share airspace with acquisitions from Canadian animation channel Teletoon. The shows were cheaper than anything CN was producing, and it was easy money to make room for them in their programming schedule. While they did build up some level of following, they felt below the expectations of what many fans had come to expect.
Amid all this disorder and re-invention of the network came Sym-Bionic Titan, and it just couldn’t find the footing it needed to survive. It wouldn’t be until a few years later that shows like Adventure Time and Regular Show would skyrocket in popularity, allowing CN to “come back” and bringing in a new era of itself, one where a show as “out of place” like SBT would likely have better chances of laying down its roots. (It’s themes of unconventional family dynamics would feel right at home along the likes of Steven Universe, We Bare Bears, and even Clarence). The key factor behind its cancellation though was the network’s inability get a toy/merchandise license for the property (How does that happen for a show about giant robots fighting giant monsters, I’ll never know). While it did have several re-runs when Toonami was brought back to life, not much came from that afterwards. In fact, in 2014, the show was written off by the studio, meaning that they no longer saw any value on the property.
So, all of this makes it sound like the death knell for this show has sounded out long ago and there are no prospects for it to come back. Still, while doing press for the new season of Samurai Jack, Mr. Tartakovsky did mention how, if he was given the money and other resources, he could return to Cartoon Network and, at the very least, give the show some closure. Its single 20 episode season ended with the heroes still stuck on Earth, still living as refugees while dealing with a number of opposing forces looking to defeat The Titan and some subplots about various relationships still unresolved or left a bit too open ended. Given what’s happened between the two of you regarding Samurai Jack, I think teaming up again to do THAT but for this other show wouldn’t be the craziest idea ever. Whether it’s another limited series or something beyond that, I haven’t decided; I’d leave that to you and the creators.
While it COULD potentially have a more-than-respectable comeback in the current CN landscape, it would probably feel more comfortable as part of the Toonami block like Jack before it (Have I mentioned how much anime is in this thing?). It would definitely be risky, as the show doesn’t have the same standing as other Tartakovsky shows in the minds of animation fans, but…maybe that’s why it SHOULD come back? The show never really had a proper chance to have a break-through. Many fans only discovered it after-the-fact, myself included, never being able to show their support while it had its shot at relevancy during its run. While it currently sits at best at a cult following, things can only get bigger and better if given the right level of care. After what a hit Samurai Jack turned out to be, I don’t think you should write off the possibility of working together again. Hell, slapping a “From the creator of Samurai Jack” in front of it would be enough to get some hype going. Also, I get the feeling that things like merchandising wouldn’t make too much of an impact on whether or not this gets to stay (As far as I can tell, there hasn’t been much new Samurai Jack merch since it came out).
Obviously, making TV shows are huge endeavors that take a lot of time and money. Mr Tartakovsky even described it at one point as the hardest project he’s ever worked on. Like I said before, it’s likely that he, as well as his co-creators, have other things going on at the time that could prevent them from getting to work on this and, in the end, it’s up to them whether there will be any drive to finish this story and whether you give them the money to do so. As far as the immediate future is concerned, I’m not exactly holding my breath, but as long as you keep it in the back of your mind, and if you ever get in touch with Mr. Tartakovsky and his team again, perhaps talk about this? Throw a couple ideas around? I’m not here to make any demands; I’m in no position to do so. Still, looking out at what came from your recent partnership, I think it would be wise to look into building on it. Hell, it doesn’t even need to be this show. I’m sure there are a couple other ideas he may be tossing around his head, waiting to properly develop.
I’m not expecting a response from this, but I still think it would be worthwhile for me to put these thoughts in words and share them with you. Even if nothing comes from this, as long as I can make you understand where I’m coming from, that will be all I need. It’s been about 6 years since Sym-Bionic Titan left its story unfinished. Fans of Samurai Jack had to wait nearly 13 years to see its conclusion. Goes to show that, at least when it comes to comebacks for TV shows that left us too soon, hope can always endure.
PS: If I’m writing this to you, it’s mostly because Mr. Tartakovsky has no presence online social media to speak of, so I decided to turn to you. Not that there was much choice on the matter.
2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Adult Swim/Toonami”
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I too found this show too late as I have just found it in Netflix. I just finished the last episode and searched online to see if there were any more seasons, and to my disappointment I found only the 1 season and that it had been cancelled. I’m sad but these characters who really developed overtime didn’t have a chance to see themselves go home; heck if they already wrote the script but just didn’t put it into animation I’d read that!
Shows like Regular Show, Adventure Time, Voltron (the Netflix reboot), and Steven Universe all luckily saw closure ( well technically Steven Universe found the end of it’s series, then got a movie ,and then a spin-off show “Steven universe future”), and shows like we bare Bears still haven’t found itself at the end, it’s sad to see a show that had potential for a well written conclusion to be cancelled before it got to shine.