Why Cartoon Network Killed Off The Original Toonami TOM

Created by Sean Akins and Jason DeMarco, Toonami is a late-night programming block that helped introduce Japanese animated series to audiences in the West. First launched in 1997 on Cartoon Network, the block continues to this day on Adult Swim and is responsible for expanding the animated palate of multiple generations, myself included. Originally, Toonami was hosted by Moltar, a former supervillain from the 1966 animated series "Space Ghost" (not to be confused with "Space Ghost Coast to Coast"), but was replaced three years later by TOM (short for Toonami Operations Module). TOM wasn't just a host; he also came with his own lore and storyline from episode to episode, similar to the way the robots on "Mystery Science Theater 3000" also have backstories and character arcs.

TOM was a way to usher in a new era of Toonami, kicking off his transmission with an episode of "Sailor Moon R." Fans loved TOM, who hosted alone until the first episode of the very first Toonami Total Immersion Event (TIE). This was a five-part on-air story fueled by exclusive online material available at Toonami.com. Viewers took part in assisting TOM throughout the event with online interactions, while new co-hosts SARA and Clyde 50 were brought in to help as well. It was an ahead-of-its-time interactive event, which ended when a mysterious red blob called The Intruder invaded their spaceship and ultimately ... killed TOM. Fans were shocked that Toonami would actually kill off their host, but that's precisely what happened. No amount of online support could save him. The Intruder had defeated our humble, robotic hero. Fortunately, we aren't without answers. Back in 2017, Complex published an oral history of Cartoon Network's Toonami and finally let the world know exactly why the original version of TOM was killed off.

TOM needed a new look

Complex talked to both Sean Akins and Jason DeMarco for the history, who explained that TOM's death was equal parts capitalism and creativity. "Intruder came about because our sales department said, 'If we gave you guys some money to tell a story using the host of Toonami, could you come up with a story, and then we can package it as an event and sell it to advertisers?' And we said, 'Hell yeah. If you're going to give us money we'll come up with something,'" recalled DeMarco. The story was TIE, but the massive creative swing was determining the end of TOM. According to Akins, the decision to kill off the original TOM would allow them to completely revamp and redesign his character. As he explained:

"We really were like, 'This guy's not cool looking, we need a new looking guy. What happened to this guy? He gets eaten by something?' Maybe it was a bit too traumatic, but I certainly thought it was awesome. Getting the ability to do that — people don't even remember but it was an event on television and a multi-level game on CartoonNetwork.com. All this way before we should've been doing any of that. But that goes back to the spirit of Toonami. A lot of times for the network — just the word Toonami was an excuse to try something."

The death of TOM was a shock, but it paved the way for future incarnations. In the years that followed, fans were introduced to TOM 2, TOM 3, TOM 4, TOM 3.5, TOM 5, TOM 6, and the noncanonical Cosmo Samurai version of TOM 3. The current TOM (6), has been hailed by many as the best host yet, with his powerful speeches on fear, Black Lives Matter, and environmentalism praised by fans and critics alike.