On DVD: Adult Swim in a Box

Adult Swim, which takes over late nights from Cartoon Network, has spent the last decade carving out a very particular niche market with an insanely inspired, eclectic approach to programming. Although Adult Swim broadcasts new and classic anime on selected nights, their original programming is what makes the program block stand out. Beginning in 2001, Adult Swim officially launched with programming only a couple of nights a week - new episodes of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Home Movies, and a lot of reruns. After a year or so, the network began to expand original programming with shows featuring the surreal humor and visual styles Adult Swim is now known for. These "early" Adult Swim shows included Sealab 2021, Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and The Brak Show. Since then, Adult Swim has matured into its comfortable role as the provider of alternative television programming.

This set, released as Adult Swim in a Box, presents a sampling of the network's distinctive shows, with six previously-released DVD sets and a welcome bonus disc containing a handful of pilot episodes for less-successful (or never picked up) programs. The content itself is absolutely fine - wholly enjoyable, and fairly representative of what Adult Swim is "about." However, the logic behind the assembly of that content is highly suspect. For one thing, if this box is meant to be an "introduction" to Adult Swim, why not include the first DVD releases for each show, instead of second or third seasons? If it is meant to be a sampler, why not arrange the shows chronologically, with revised disc packaging to make structure of the set somehow distinctive? On the box itself - which barely even qualifies as cardboard - the designers have emblazoned the characteristically self-reflexive phrase "Cash grab," which basically answers the questions I just posed. Although they are transparent and self-mocking about their bottom line-oriented thinking, it's not really funny. The MSRP on this box is $69.98. Fans likely already own most of the box's contents; if Adult Swim wants to lure new viewers or those who haven't got around to making a purchase of their favorite Adult Swim shows, the slapdash assemblage of contents is illogical. I suspect that Adult Swim was simply trying to clear warehouse space, designed a box, put together a bonus disc and voila - released this set.
I criticize the choice because it muddies the waters around Adult Swim's otherwise very thorough and thoughtfully-produced individual DVD releases. They routinely feature fine transfers, creative artwork and packaging, and excellent, unusual extra features. For their overall DVD strategy, I have nothing but praise. But this set is sloppy, and only makes sense for existing fans who happen to have holes in their DVD collection. Despite the lack of logical organization here, this is a noteworthy trove of unique television shows.

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