Happy birthday, Cartoon Network!
Twenty-five years ago today, Cartoon Network launched as the first cable channel dedicated to animation, 24/7. At first the channel broadcast solely classic works of animation such as Looney Tunes, Scooby Doo, Tom and Jerry, and even black and white classics like Popeye. However, the network soon expanded into original programming, and I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that Cartoon Network helped define the landscape of American television animation for over two decades.
Cartoon Network’s first all-ages success, Dexter’s Lab, proved that its newly founded Cartoon Network Studios had legs, later producing modern classics like The Powerpuff Girls and Ed, Edd & Eddy. This legacy continues on today in Cartoon Network-fostered series such as Adventure Time, Regular Show, and Steven Universe. The network’s other early hit, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, was a decidedly different sort of success, mashing old Hanna Barbera animation with a snarky and deconstructed talk show. Decidedly not for kids, Space Ghost Coast to Coast set the foundation for the network’s future success with Adult Swim in making animation specifically for—well, adults! Not to mention efforts like the Toonami programming block, which was arguably a driving force in pushing anime from the realm of bootleg VHS tapes to mass pop culture awareness.
That’s an incredibly abbreviated summation, of course. To do justice to the history and impact of Cartoon Network is beyond the scope of your humble purveyors of geekery here at GeekPiphany. However, what we can do is reminisce on what Cartoon Network shows have left an impression on us over the years.
Myself? Having glommed onto The Disney Afternoon, Kids WB, and Nicktoons as an impressionable youth, the prospect of an all-cartoons channel was amazing…but alas, it wasn’t a channel we could get at the time! I didn’t get a glimpse at new offerings like Dexter’s Lab or Johnny Bravo until at a grandmother’s house on a family trip, and from then on I was hooked. Cartoon Network really came into its own when I was in high school and college, which I think was a good thing—being older, I was at the point where I could better appreciate the humor, parody and homage often weaved through Cartoon Network’s best.
My absolute favorite episode of Dexter’s Lab, for example, is the original series finale, Last But Not Beast. This episode brings every player in the Dexter’s Lab world together in a brilliant homage to comic book spectacle and tokusatsu madness, where Dexter, Dee Dee, their parents, Monkey, the Justice Friends and more come together to save the world from a rampaging axe-faced kaiju. I love the concept of a shared universe, and to see all those separate elements come together was a fantastic send-off for the show. Well, before it was revived under a different creative team, but that’s another story altogether.
Megas XLR will always have a fond place in my heart. The show was an excellent parody, lampooning while also deftly executing science fiction, anime and comic book tropes. I saw a bit of myself in Coop during college—for better or worse, it’s hard to say—and MEGAS itself helped solidify my love of all things giant robot. I’ll also say that my interest in that particular field was initially piqued, perhaps predictably, by Toonami’s airing of Gundam Wing. Hell, Megas XLR led to my first foray into cosplay—at my first convention, come to think of it—at Anime Expo 2005, where a friend and I paired up as Coop and Jamie. Funny thing? My then-girlfriend, now wife, got me a tri-chambered slushie cup for that costume. Ah, memories!
I could go on. Samurai Jack is perhaps one of my favorite pieces of entertainment ever crafted, full stop. Even in its original run, before we were miraculously gifted with a final season, the show was a master class in cinematic storytelling, truly living the “show, don’t tell” maxim. Ed, Edd & Eddy was a wonderfully surreal take on growing up in suburbia. Regular Show tickled my demographic’s nostalgia bone while having stealthily built a robust continuity along with surprisingly compelling character growth. And I’m thrilled that going forward my kids will have shows like Steven Universe, an absolute gem (heh) of a show that champions heroes of all shapes, sizes and types.
I guess what I’m saying is that it’s been a great 25 years. Congratulations to all the people at Cartoon Network that have worked so hard to produce such great entertainment. Wherever you might be celebrating—Townsville, the Land of Ooo, Crystal Cove, or beyond—here’s to the another 25 years!
I became an anime fan in 1997. During that time, there weren’t many places you could go to get your fix, aside from Sailor Moon on the USA Network and Dragon Ball Z on some local network (I don’t remember which one.) When Cartoon Network announced their Toonami programming block, both those shows anchored the block.
On those other networks those shows ended at the same spot; Sailor Moon would end in the middle of the Black Moon saga, and Dragon Ball Z shortly after Goku’s arrival on Namek, with the next episode aired just starting back from the beginning. On Toonami, those shows were finally carried through to the end, fans being able to see both series in their entirety. As an anime fan frustrated by not being able to see the Sailor Senshi finish their battle against the Black Moon Clan, or Goku finally go toe-to-toe with Freeza, Toonami was a breath of fresh air.
Toonami would also bring us series that became instant favorites, such as Mobile Suit Gundam, Outlaw Star and The Big O.
But that’s not to say CN’s original stuff was no good. On the contrary! I can remember many a Saturday night in college, plopped on the couch along with GP Mike and honorary GP member Brad, checking out the latest episodes to such shows as Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Teen Titans, Justice League and, of course, Megas XLR (because we dig giant robots). It may not have been how college students typically spent Saturday night, but it was a ritual we hardly missed.
Bonus! Check out this spiffy anniversary bumper currently airing on Cartoon Network: