The Fox Kids/Fox Box/4Kids TV Experience

Confession time: I didn’t grow up with the Toonami block.

It’s not like I wasn’t aware it existed, however. Whenever I went with my brothers and parents to visit my grandparents in Florida during Winter Break, I’d watch the block whenever I had an opportunity. Nevertheless, living in Canada during the year meant that Toonami wasn’t available to me. It was a treat for 14 days a year, and that was it. What I grew up on instead was Fox Kids and, later, The Fox Box, the latter courtesy of 4Kids Entertainment.

It seems strange that I’d even get it at all. Fox Network was an American channel, and most American channels, save CNN and several reality/comedy blocks, weren’t on Canadian cable. It was additionally surprising since Canadian TV kept circumventing legal issues by creating their own versions of American channels: Nickelodeon became YTV, Cartoon Network became Teletoon, The Disney Channel became The Family Channel, to name a few. But Fox Kids/The Fox Box was that one exception, and it was cartoon euphoria for my pre-adolescent self.

It all goes back to the late-90’s, when my real memories of childhood were still developing. Those were the years of the N64, Toy Story, the slow decline in Disney’s popularity and, of course, the beginnings of the anime boom. Of course, not wanting to miss an opportunity, Fox Kids took up the task of showing off the newest anime shows and marketing them like it was no one’s business. The end result wasn’t only some memorable, albeit heavily-edited, anime shows, but also some memorable anime commercials:

Courtesy of PC2000.

Courtesy of o0Jahzara0o.

As you can tell from these clips, the big hit was Digimon. I won’t touch on that in too much detail, since I already have a retrospective series, but that show was huge. I was never anti-social, but being a nerdy kid with Asperger’s Syndrome made it nigh-impossible to make friends with anyone. It was, therefore, a big deal when I was able to discuss Digimon in the schoolyard during recess…in-between constantly being teased and shoved to the ground for being different. This was also the only way I was able to watch anime, since the internet was in its infancy and YouTube wasn’t even a twinkle in its creators’ eyes. It often meant missing episodes whenever I had to go with my parents to services on Saturday mornings, which I always dreaded, but it was better than nothing.

Looking back, it’s easy to see the goofiness of the ordeal anyway. 20th Century Fox was capitalizing on something it didn’t understand, and while it did its best anyway, the commercials were weird. They were hyped like action serials from the 20’s and 30’s, littered with inconsistencies and the kids they got for the tie-in promos couldn’t act. I often wonder in hindsight if they were given an hour to prepare because, “they’re for kids, so who cares?”, not realizing that we actually did care. But that’s for another day…

Around 2011/2012, Fox Kids became The Fox Box. I didn’t know at the time, but Fox Kids had been bought by Disney and 4Kids Entertainment had taken over licensing and distribution of the block’s programming. Gone were the hip and cool Digimon, Power Rangers and Medabots, the latter touted as “an older kid’s Pokémon”, and in were shows like Shaman King, Yu-Gi-Oh! and the weird adaptations of the F-Zero and Kirby franchises. We also got Ultimate Muscle for wrestling fans, which I watched occasionally despite not really hooking me.

It’s really easy now to make fun of 4Kids for turning anime into a joke in the West, but back then I didn’t know better. I was young and naïve, and here were foreign cartoons I’d never heard of before. It didn’t matter if they were hack-edited and ridiculous, it was still euphoric. Besides, I don’t think many kids watching these shows knew better anyway. Also, my childhood was pretty crappy, so these shows were a stress-release.

In 2003/2004, The Fox Box was rebranded to 4Kids TV to make it “more appealing”. This, in my opinion, was a sign that the block was selling out, but I stuck with it anyway even though I was entering teenage-hood. Also, I had nothing better to do on Saturday afternoons anyway. My brothers had both moved on to sports and other topics, but I was stuck in that niche that 4Kids TV was filling perfectly. It didn’t matter that their shows were getting weirder and weirder, or that their openings were getting dumber and dumber, they were more favourable than having to deal with the stresses of real life, so I grinned and bared it.

No, the real disinterest came in the form of real life eventually kicking in. In August of 2004, I came back from my month at overnight camp to the news that we were moving within the year, a fact helped by by my old house selling ridiculously fast. The pros, in my parents’ eyes, greatly outweighed the cons, including how my dad saved time commuting to and from work daily, so there was no way around it. It ruined the rest of my Summer, but it also had unforeseen consequences to my enjoyment of 4Kids TV and anime.

See, my older brother had started moving more to the right religiously, and to accommodate him my parents made changes. Most of them I didn’t mind, like how the cupboards were now separated for meat and dairy, but the protest came when it was announced that Saturday morning TV viewing would be phased out because of our Sabbath. I was given a few months to acclimate, and initially I was hesitant to give it up because life sucked, but I soon realized that Saturday morning television was no longer doing anything for me anyway. I was already a teenager at that point, starting high school and thinking about girls, and the anime on Saturday mornings was well-below my age level, so I lost interest.

I look back on my experience with Fox’s anime block with both fondness and confusion. On one hand, it was responsible for shaping a good chunk of my Otakudom, and I have great memories that go along with that. Not to mention, I probably wouldn’t have gone on to eventually watch Cowboy Bebop, Wolf’s Rain and Fullmetal Alchemist or be open to Studio Ghibli’s library without it. To-date, I still remember a lot of the old themes songs for said shows, including the opening for One Piece! that I can recite verbatim with a straight face. My memories of the block, be it the ads or the shows, remain firmly cemented in my childhood, and for that I’m grateful.

On the other hand, time has made for a dissonance of sorts. Some of the shows are downright unwatchable due to the edits and changes, a fact made more apparent by the internet having them uncut and in their original language. And, of course, 4Kids Entertainment no longer exists, so their legacy of butchered anime dubs are a bad nightmare in the minds of most anime fans now. Therefore, the experience, much like the 90’s/early-2000’s themselves, is more historically arousing than timeless.

But that’s how my childhood was: mixed. I still feel the results today, particularly in how my constant overexposure to TV led to getting glasses in high school, but that’s not necessarily bad. It was important to me then, and I thank it for helping shape my formative years. And like I said, it eventually led to my exposure to Studio Ghibli, which means that I now have something to corrupt my niece with once she’s old enough to read! If only that day would come soon…


  1. Nice! I have heard a lot about it. It would be fun to watch series by Andrew Yeatman on it. I enjoy watching shows with my kids. This is a good post and has a lot of information. I am going to forward it to all my friends because they have kids just like mine.


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