OPINION: The 2020’s Anime and Streaming Service Bubble Burst

Last Updated on by Daniel Limjoco

A look into the controversies regarding the Warner Bros Discovery merger, the Funimation-Crunchyroll merger, their respective effects on Toonami, and how what’s going on with both could lead to another anime bubble burst. Also, how all this has contributed to an economic bubble for streaming overall.

Disclaimer: One or more members of the Toonami Squad staff has provided contracted services to companies and productions mentioned in this article. The companies in question have not reviewed or had any editorial oversight on this content whatsoever.

One thing I’ve noticed over the years as a Toonami fan, is that since its creation in 1997, the block was, is, and continues to be a bellwether for the overall health and growth of the American (and by extension, western) anime industry.

During the late 90’s through the mid-2000’s, Toonami (and by extension, Adult Swim Action, Miguzi, Kids WB, and its other sister blocks) served as a gateway drug to millions of anime fans in the United States, if not worldwide, as titles like Dragon Ball Z, Gundam, Pokémon, and Sailor Moon were given a platform to shine. But around 2007-2009, those good times for the anime industry just stopped as the medium suffered an economic bubble burst in what could be considered as anime’s version of the 1983 video game crash. The reasons most blamed are a combination of the collapse of the overall economy (and thus, consumer spending) from the Great Recession, combined with a general oversaturation of anime and manga titles (making it difficult for fans to find their favorites in sea of options they might not find so appealing) and a greater focus in Japan on pandering to the so-called “Otaku/Weeaboo” market, a loyal but shrinking audience, but at the expense of appealing more to casual and international fans. Furthermore, regime change at Cartoon Network following the Boston Mooninite Bomb Scare in 2007 saw a major shift the channel’s strategy, one that saw the gradual decline and cancellation of Toonami and the advent of live action programming and “Network Decay” of Cartoon Network and Adult Swim (i.e. CN Real) as they wanted to cash in on the reality TV craze. These factors made anime less available and more difficult to find with casual fans and mainstream audiences, an issue that would not be rectified until (among other things) Toonami itself would return in 2012.

Richie Branson, a nerdcore rap artist who created the anthems for Toonami’s return, “Bring Toonami Back” and “Toonami’s Back Bitches” back in 2012, may have said it best at the time in regards to Toonami’s cancellation and resurgence during an interview with the Toonami Faithful Podcast back in 2012:

“[When Toonami ended], Anime really wasn’t the same at that point, it went back to being that obscure hobby that people partook in, as opposed to something that everybody was watching. Cause I remember Anime used to be cool [when Toonami was at its prime], everybody watched anime. Even in high school, [thanks to shows like] Dragon Ball Z, the jocks watched it, the nerds watched it, the pretty girls watched it, like everyone was into anime at that point. And so, when Toonami went off the air, Anime stopped being mainstream at that point. I think that sort of hurt Anime in the US, you know and I’m glad that it’s back. I think that’s gonna signal a resurgence of Anime in mainstream and American pop culture now, that’s a good thing.”

As Toonami regained its foothold, alongside the advent of streaming competitors and partners like Crunchyroll, Funimation, Sentai Filmworks/HiDive, Hulu, and Netflix, Anime has seen a resurgence in popularity and the Anime Industry has recovered from the “bubble burst” and dark age that was seen during the late 2000’s.

It has been 12 years since Toonami returned, officially surpassing the lifespan of its original 1997-2008 run on December 2nd, 2023. But good times and rough times tend to come in cycles. And now Toonami, and the anime industry at large, has been tested in what’s been the biggest upheaval since its revival.

WarnerMedia’s owner in AT&T from 2018-2022 has been going through chaotic issues over the past few years, biting off more than they could chew with their failed ventures into streaming and entertainment media over the past decade. AT&T ultimately needed to cut assets; their solution, among other things, was selling Crunchyroll to Sony (whom merged the company with Funimation to form Crunchyroll LLC), and spinning off WarnerMedia and merging it with Discovery, Inc. creating Warner Bros Discovery (WBD).

The end result has been an absolute disaster for fans of Toonami, anime, animation, and entertainment overall. Crunchyroll’s oligarchy and “near monopoly” on anime has contributed to the anime industry being in the worst shape it’s been since the late 2000’s anime bubble burst. Despite Sony spending billions to acquire every international anime distributor they can and all but monopolizing the anime industry, little of it has trickled down to the artists who make our favorite anime and manga; the consolidation of the industry, alongside other systemic issues the Japanese industry faces, has led to less competition and cost cutting across the board.

Meanwhile Warner Bros Discovery’s accumulated debts has led to cost cutting across the scale leading to shows getting canceled and/or written off for taxes. The effects have been vast and has led to a knock-on effect on the entertainment industry as a whole, as a result of poor executive and financial decisions during the “streaming wars.” And nowhere have these moves hurt more than Hollywood’s creative artists and workers.

Matt Stoller on Twitter: “6. AT&T broke its pledges. It fired workers, raised prices, canceled services, and even created an anime streaming monopoly by selling Crunchyroll to Sony! It also screwed shareholders, who have lost significantly over the past five years. https://t.co/qSVOETZHhy pic.twitter.com/Wpdbs9qNIc / Twitter”

6. AT&T broke its pledges. It fired workers, raised prices, canceled services, and even created an anime streaming monopoly by selling Crunchyroll to Sony! It also screwed shareholders, who have lost significantly over the past five years. https://t.co/qSVOETZHhy pic.twitter.com/Wpdbs9qNIc

With the cutthroat spending cuts by Hollywood executives, combined with the lack of compensation and residuals from the current streaming service model, alongside concerns that artificial intelligence could stifle the industry’s creativity and lead to unemployment on a massive scale, Hollywood’s employees have taken to the streets in protest. During the past summer, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went out on strike for the first time since 2007, joined by the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) striking for the first time since 1980, and the first time both have been striking together since the 1960’s.

And despite that many of its advocates claiming that streaming will continue to grow and make traditional television and physical media obsolete; we’re instead seeing the advent of a streaming service bubble burst. In what could be the modern-day equivalent of the dot-com bubble in 2000, the streaming market is now over-saturated with content and different services as audience growth peaked during the COVID-19 pandemic. Combined with the increasing debts due to the costs needed to maintain these services, streaming companies are now pivoting towards needing to make a profit rather than just trying to increase market share, with ever increasing prices and lowering production budgets, combined with moves such as introducing advertising and cracking down on password sharing. This in turn has led to viewers needing to cut back on what they can (legally) stream as subscribers are increasingly becoming unable to afford subscriptions in this post-pandemic economy. Nowadays, analysts are now considering this era of television as the end of “peak tv” and the “end of the streaming wars” as streaming services have “reinvented cable TV” in of itself.


David Zaslav: Public Enemy #1

A big reason Toonami has been a bit of a lull is due in part to restructuring of the network’s parent company. Back on April 8, 2022, AT&T spun off WarnerMedia (the parent company of Toonami, Adult Swim, and Cartoon Network) after owning it for six years, the latter of which merged with the networks of Discovery, Inc. to make Warner Bros Discovery (WBD). Unfortunately, the new Warner Bros Discovery has inherited a lot of debt due in part to the merger, with figures of around $57 billion.

David Zaslav, the CEO of Discovery since 2006, assumed the role of Warner Bros Discovery CEO upon the merger. To make up for a $3 billion shortfall, the new corporation under Zaslav has undergone some serious budget cutting. Several titles, including most notably the unreleased Batgirl, Coyote vs ACME, and Infinity Train, have been pulled from HBO Max (now simply known as “Max”) to have their streaming licenses sold to other platforms, or are put on “turnaround” for tax write offs. When a show gets “written off” by a media corporation, they are legally prohibited from airing said show on television and having it available for streaming services (including AdultSwim.com and Max) and other such outlets. While said works can still be released on home video (Including Blu-ray and digital downloads, but sometimes not even then), a show getting written off effectively makes the work “lost media” due to its lack of availability.

Not even Toonami originals were safe, as on September 27, 2022, Fena: Pirate Princess, Blade Runner: Black Lotus, and Shenmue: The Animation have been removed from AdultSwim.com and HBO Max, Jason confirming that they were a part of WBD’s write-offs. Despite doing well at least for Toonami standards, Jason has confirmed that the shows have been written off, meaning that WBD is only allowed to release the shows on digital downloads and home video. In the case of Shenmue, despite Jason giving it a “6-7 out of 10 chance” of season 2 entering production, production is all but canceled due to the write-off.

NUNEKIN KAMUI DEMARCO on Twitter: “Sorry guys. This happened. You can still watch all of the anime on Crunchyroll and it will still be available as digital downloads. And yes, it’s looking like no S2 of Shenmue, even though sadly- it did well enough that we were gearing up for S2. Maybe one day… https://t.co/WpM3O6NcSC / Twitter”

Sorry guys. This happened. You can still watch all of the anime on Crunchyroll and it will still be available as digital downloads. And yes, it’s looking like no S2 of Shenmue, even though sadly- it did well enough that we were gearing up for S2. Maybe one day… https://t.co/WpM3O6NcSC

This isn’t the first time Toonami had lost original productions due to write-offs, as both Megas XLR and IGPX were two of such shows written off back during the late 2000’s, although IGPX did managed to get to get the write off reversed thanks to the complex structure of IGPX’s production committee. Given that this current generation of written-off shows are co-produced with Crunchyroll and the respective Japanese publishers, it is possible that the write-off can be reversed via a similar loophole used to free IGPX from the “Warner Vault”. Although that would, among other things, require the cooperation of Sony and Crunchyroll (and in the case of Shenmue, SEGA as well), which is an issue I’ll get to later in this article.

In 2024, Warner Bros Discovery is going as far as even shutting down Rooster Teeth, with the futures of their hit web animation titles including Gen:Lock, Red vs Blue, and RWBY now up in the air, likely to be shopped to other networks/services if not canceling them outright.

Some would argue that David Zaslav may not necessarily have a choice, and if the board of directors and stockholders feel that keeping said shows hurts more than jettisoning them in the name of Wall Street shares, there’s not much you can do. But it may be in vain in the long run, as WBD has lost over $20 billion in market cap, due to said cuts. It’s even been pushed so far, that most of Warner’s Fall 2022 movie lineup (of films that haven’t been canceled) were pushed back to 2023, as the company apparently only had the budget to release two more films during the Fall 2022 calendar. And that’s to say nothing of the long term burned bridges with many of the company’s new and veteran talents.

And not all cuts may not necessarily be for the justification of financial reasons, as there are allegations that David Zaslav is engaging in discriminatory (if not outright racist) practices. During the month of August 2022, Warner’s HBO Max department saw over 70 people get laid off, many of which were people of color, and some of those former executives have called out WBD for killing diversity within the corporation in an attempt to court “middle America.” Warner Bros Discovery also considered shutting their “Writers and Directors Workshops”, which was hailed for being a stepping stone for diverse voices joining the television industry, but performed a quick U-turn on its decision after protests from the Directors Guild of America. The workshops will now be housed within WBD’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion unit.

Ironically, one film that Zaslav probably should have written off in hindsight was The Flash (2023), given its production setbacks as well as the various controversies surrounding star actor Ezra Miller. Although nobody would have blamed Zaslav if he did push the reset button and made a new Flash film with a new actor playing the Flash given the circumstances, he and WBD decided to go ahead and release the film anyway. To be fair, given Warner Bros’ $200 million investment in the film, any money recouped from a theoretical tax write-off could have been negligible; not to mention having to deal with the legal nightmare of any contractual “poison pill clauses” that would require additional financial compensation to the cast and/or crew if the film wasn’t released. Nonetheless, they were rewarded with one of the biggest box office bombs of all time and Warner Bros lost over $200 million as a result. It’s perhaps no surprise that in December 2023, Macroaxis.com estimated that WBD has an over 60% chance of entering bankruptcy.

Rockoon from TOME: VTuber! 🦝💣 on Twitter: “Warner Bros Discovery stock has LOST 60% PERCENT of its value since the merger.WHY are David Zaslav’s current business practices being permitted to continue when they clearly aren’t working? #ReleaseCoyoteVsAcme pic.twitter.com/MDPnsFVdv9 / Twitter”

Warner Bros Discovery stock has LOST 60% PERCENT of its value since the merger.WHY are David Zaslav’s current business practices being permitted to continue when they clearly aren’t working? #ReleaseCoyoteVsAcme pic.twitter.com/MDPnsFVdv9

It’s gotten so bad, that we heard rumors in September 2022 that WBD might consider selling themselves to Comcast in 2024, which Zaslav himself has vehemently denied. And later in December 2023, we got reports that Zaslav discussed a potential merger with Paramount, as they too have had their fair share of debt issues in the streaming era. Said merger talks with Paramount ultimately fell through a few months later. To say nothing of the legal nightmare of trying to get an additional merger through governmental regulations; given that Warner Bros has gone through not one, not two, but three failed mergers (besides the failed AT&T merger and now the failing Discovery merger, there was the failed AOL-Time Warner merger from 2001-2009) over its history, if the solution to this current quagmire would be to force another merger, Warner’s executives and stockholders may just be following the definition of insanity to a T, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Joaquin Castro on Twitter: “Warner Brothers Discovery already has a massive debt problem. They can’t afford to buy Paramount. It’s become clear that Discovery couldn’t afford Warner Bros. 1/ https://t.co/BGa1fqU6qr / Twitter”

Warner Brothers Discovery already has a massive debt problem. They can’t afford to buy Paramount. It’s become clear that Discovery couldn’t afford Warner Bros. 1/ https://t.co/BGa1fqU6qr

David Zaslav’s cutthroat cost-cutting moves to WBD has made himself “Public Enemy #1” among members of the entertainment industry and fans alike, and has become a PR and financial disaster to Warner Bros Discovery overall. The fact that he has paid himself over $500 million over the past four years while the company has seen layoffs and cost cutting across the board has only fueled resentment towards him. Unsurprisingly members of congress, among others, has called for an investigation to WBD for “hollowing out an iconic American studio,” alongside other allegations including that of HBO Max’s subscriber numbers were being inflated by as much as 10 million.

Joaquin Castro on Twitter: “The @WBD tactic of scrapping fully made films for tax breaks is predatory and anti-competitive.As the Justice Department and @FTC revise their antitrust guidelines they should review this conduct.As someone remarked, it’s like burning down a building for the insurance money. https://t.co/Vb8vj3brD7 / Twitter”

The @WBD tactic of scrapping fully made films for tax breaks is predatory and anti-competitive.As the Justice Department and @FTC revise their antitrust guidelines they should review this conduct.As someone remarked, it’s like burning down a building for the insurance money. https://t.co/Vb8vj3brD7

Zaslav’s gutting of Max has become a bellwether watershed moment for the cutthroat spending cuts Hollywood and the tech industries has been seeing since the COVID-19 pandemic. And said “hollowing out” of WBD productions almost certainly played a role in the Writers Guild of America (WGA) ultimately deciding to strike for the first time since 2007, with SAG-AFTRA joining them in their first strike since 1980, leading to Hollywood experiencing the first double strike since the 1960’s.

With such cutthroat spending cuts ruining the artistic and financial livelihood of Hollywood’s creators, combined with Hollywood studios threatening to replace said creators with artificial intelligence, it’s understandable that Hollywood’s blue-collar (and even white-collar) workers were not going down without a fight. Hollywood executives were hoping to starve and bleed dry their employees to force them back to the studios, but instead, the strikes are expected to cost WBD around $300-500 million dollars to their yearly earnings, roughly 10 times the amount it would have cost for the company to have simply agreed to the union’s demands.

The AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers), the union that represents Hollywood corporations during these negotiations, eventually caved after six months of work stoppage, and the WGA and SAG-AFTRA would both get deals that brought an end to their respective strikes on September 27th and November 9th respectively. However, many have felt that the offer SAG-AFTRA’s negotiators and the AMPTP have agreed to, doesn’t do enough to satisfy the concerns from the advent of Artificial Intelligence, so I fear that this battle may only just be the beginning. Not to mention that other Hollywood unions including the IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) and the Animation Guild also have negotiations for new contracts coming up in the new year, and if the AMPTP and Hollywood studios don’t address their concerns, expect further work stoppages in 2024 and beyond.

At the moment, Toonami’s hands are tied in regards to what they can do. During the past year, new executives at Warner Bros Discovery, have put everything “on hold” so to speak, as they assess their long-term plans for the company and its networks since the merger. This alongside a tight budget (due in part to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic) has hindered Toonami’s ability to pick up more programming.

“We have a ton of plans. For now, our new bosses have sort of put everything on hold across the company, as they assess what THEY want us all to do. We know it looks to fans like we are just sitting around, but we literally can’t do much right now. And money is very tight, too.”

Despite this, Jason DeMarco has said that Warner Bros Discovery does wish to have Toonami as a part of the company’s future, and that plans are in place to secure the block’s future with both original productions and acquisitions from media partners in the works. In August 2021, Jason DeMarco himself was promoted to the position of “SVP Anime & Action Series/Longform for Warner Bros Animation and Cartoon Network Studios” and ever since, he has been busy producing original productions for both Toonami and other WBD entities.

Warner Bros Animation Japan meanwhile, has produced over 80 titles since 2011 for both Cartoon Network/Adult Swim/Toonami and Max as well as third party networks and services, and plans on increasing its output for 2024 and beyond. According to James Gibbons, President of WBD Asia-Pacific, in an interview with Variety, “We have a Japanese anime studio, which has been producing five or ten anime series per year, over the last few years. […] We’ve approved expansion to take that to more than ten series per year.” How many of those titles Toonami itself will get to broadcast is yet to be seen, but it’s a good sign that Warner Bros Discovery is putting their money where their mouth is.

Since selling Crunchyroll to Sony and with Rooster Teeth in the process of being shut down, Toonami now remains as Warner Bros. Discovery’s sole anime-related subsidiary. So, unless the new bosses decide to make a quick turnaround and abandon the anime market outright, I’m pretty sure it would be wise to see them continue and expand on their investment on Toonami. On that note, although this move was done by Warner’s previous owners, AT&T’s selling of Crunchyroll to Sony could turn out to be a huge own-goal for Toonami and Warner Bros. Discovery’s anime ambitions in the long run (to say nothing of the failure of governmental regulators), which leads us to the other big reason why Toonami has also been in a lineup rut.

When your show gets bonked all the way to tax write-off land…


The Crunchyroll Monopoly and #JustAMeeting

With Sony Pictures’ acquisition of Funimation in 2018 and Crunchyroll in 2022, combined with Sony Music’s ownership of Aniplex since its founding in 1995, Sony’s ownership and consolidation of the anime licensing industry’s two biggest players has been considered a near-monopoly by critics. With combined figures going as high as a 92.4% market share, audiences and creators are now beholden to Sony when it comes to the international distribution of most anime franchises. And since the merger, Sony has been making controversial moves that has only given credence to fans criticisms.

Back in March 2022, Crunchyroll quietly announced that they would be ending free ad-supported viewing of newer series (although they have since offered a “seasonal sampler” of the first three episodes of several new shows) requiring viewers to subscribe to Crunchyroll Premium, in a similar “paywall” subscription model to Netflix and Hulu. For the record, before the merger, only 5 million of its 120 million users are subscribed to Crunchyroll Premium. They’ve taken it further since later that September, as viewers have been noticing more older shows being put under the Crunchyroll Premium paywall. And while some viewers internationally have seen monthly price drops in their subscriptions, other regions have seen a price increase to their monthly subscriptions. In the USA, beginning on January 28, 2025, a yearly subscription to Crunchyroll will increase from $54.95 to $99.99 USD, almost doubling in cost.

miles on Twitter: “A bit disheartened to see that while other streaming platforms are moving towards having ad-supported models and increasing opportunities to engage with media, others are limiting accessibility. / Twitter”

A bit disheartened to see that while other streaming platforms are moving towards having ad-supported models and increasing opportunities to engage with media, others are limiting accessibility.

This all means that Sony has drastically reduced Crunchyroll’s legal reach to potential viewers unless they can somehow up their subscriber numbers substantially. While a subscription priced around $10 USD a month in most countries doesn’t seem like much, it can add up when you consider other entertainment services you wish to subscribe to as well (even with account sharing), unless Crunchyroll is all you need to satisfy your entertainment. Especially at a time where media conglomerates are increasingly wanting to start services of their own and stretching the value of a specific service thinner and thinner while simultaneously raising subscription prices, it’s gotten a lot harder for a casual fan, and especially a non-anime fan to justify subscribing at a regular rate when entertainment dollars are being stretched thin. Ending free ad-supported options will especially affect kids and teenage anime fans, since they aren’t old enough and too busy in school to go get a job. And not every parent is keen on letting their kids use their credit card, much less have an allowance, to pay for a subscription.

Darrel J Delfin on Twitter: “Anime is FINALLY mainstream. Kids in the past were bullied and ridiculed for liking anime because it wasn’t easily accessible and so it was considered wierd.KIDS DON’T HAVE REGULAR INCOME.KIDS CAN’T PAY FOR ANIME.I don’t want their lives to become what it was for us. https://t.co/cg4WHlF4XE / Twitter”

Anime is FINALLY mainstream. Kids in the past were bullied and ridiculed for liking anime because it wasn’t easily accessible and so it was considered wierd.KIDS DON’T HAVE REGULAR INCOME.KIDS CAN’T PAY FOR ANIME.I don’t want their lives to become what it was for us. https://t.co/cg4WHlF4XE

With Sony having all the leverage to play hardball with their partners, it’s perhaps no surprise Sentai Filmworks ended their partnership with Crunchyroll and pulled their shows from the latter’s service. In early 2022, Sentai, along with its streaming service HiDive, were purchased by AMC Networks. This allowed the company to get the funding to step their game up in regards to programming licensing. Lupin the 3rd Part 6, for instance, is distributed by Sentai and premiered on HiDive and Toonami in 2022; compared to previous iterations, which were distributed by Discotek and premiered on Crunchyroll and Toonami. The Sentai-Crunchyroll split has caused licensing issues for the shows they have cooperated on. For instance, the Food Wars streaming rights are now split between HiDive (for seasons 1-2) and Crunchyroll (for seasons 3-5), although Sentai is still responsible for dubbing and home video distribution for the entire show.

And while Crunchyroll still has a partnership with Viz in regards to franchises such as Naruto and InuYasha, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony’s hard-balling played a role in Viz Media ultimately denying the Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War arc from going to Crunchyroll, as they took the Bleach anime off of Sony’s service and opted for a simulcast deal on Hulu and Disney+ instead.


In August 2022, Crunchyroll expanded their hold on the anime industry to a vertical monopoly by purchasing RightStuf and Nozomi Entertainment as its co-founder and president Shawne Kleckner announced his retirement. Said buyout has also caused conflicts of interest, as RightStuf has assisted companies including Sunrise, Sentai Filmworks, and Discotek, in their physical media distributions. Unsurprisingly, Sentai also ended their partnership with RightStuf not long after, with Distribution Solutions now in charge of the physical distribution of their shows.

An organizational chart by @HelpMeHekuta, illustrating Sony’s holdings and how this vertical integration amounts to a monopoly.

One of the first casualties of this merger is RightStuf’s removal of their eroge and hentai library, which fueled fans concerns that Sony was engaging in censorship of their titles for various reasons. Although Funimation and Crunchyroll have historically licensed ecchi content, they’ve been quite conservative in licensing some of the more risqué anime franchises, at least in comparison to Sentai, Discotek, and pre-merger RightStuf/Nozomi. To be fair, as Justin Sevakis has noted, the reason RightStuf’s more shady businesses can’t join Crunchyroll is because a corporation as large as Sony being in the pornography market tends to be bad business and PR in regards to shareholders, governmental regulators, and credit card processors. Granted, there are corporations that still are in the porn game, “sex sells” after all, but they tend to do such business through separate/shell companies. And a separate offshoot of RightStuf is what ultimately happened with their eroge business, as long-time RightStuf business partners formed buyanime.com, aka Ero Anime LLC to assume management and operation of RightStuf’s 18+ sales and video production label, Critical Mass.

Unfortunately, just a year after RightStuf “joined the Crunchyroll family”, RightStuf itself would cease to be as its operations would be absorbed into the Crunchyroll store by October 10, 2023. This despite that Crunchyroll promised to fans that RightStuf would not be shut down when the buyout occurred, claiming that “RightStuf and Crunchyroll will be even better together.” I guess Sony meant that in a different way. There were signs that Crunchyroll planned on doing this prior to the announcement. RightStuf email subscribers were noticing that they were posting coupon codes for the Crunchyroll store roughly three weeks before this announcement. Furthermore, Vice President and COO Christine Morgan left RightStuf on March 31, and Kleckner himself effectively retired last December 14.


Despite that Crunchyroll has inherited both Funimation’s and RightStuf’s distribution lines, fans have noticed that the physical media output has been quite lackluster post-merger, with only a fraction of titles getting DVD and Blu-ray releases. Some have argued that this is “a sign of the times” given that even Best Buy has made the controversial move to phase out its Blu-ray and DVD sections from its stores by Q1 2024. But this has led to fans believing that Sony is pushing for an all-digital future for their licenses, a worrying concern for Anime collectors and preservationists. Part of the reason for this is because, according to Robert’s Anime Corner Store, Crunchyroll will “move their physical media master distribution to SPHE (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) over the course of March and April [2024]. This is why their Q1 new release schedule is currently so thin as they didn’t want a lot of release overhead during the transition.

But such concerns of an all-digital future do have merit. In the end of December 2023, Sony not only removed certain Warner Bros Discovery content from the PlayStation Store, those who purchased said content will be unable to access and view them again. To be fair, this is more by order from WBD rather than Sony themselves. Furthermore, when Crunchyroll announced that they were shutting down the Funimation app as Funimation would be completely folded into Crunchyroll by April 2, 2024, Funimation users wouldn’t be able to take their digital licenses of shows with them (as Crunchyroll presently offers no such service), or be able to migrate the licenses somewhere else, like the PlayStation Store. Not a good look in regards to consumer’s faith in digital ownership overall. Even in this digital age, roughly 2.9 billion people globally (including around 42 million Americans) still don’t have reliable broadband access to be able to watch these streaming services; and even for those that do, some ISPs have some pretty stingy data caps that limits the amount of streaming and downloading one can do. And a streaming-only format will only disenfranchise these audiences from enjoying anime and other forms of entertainment.

As for Nozomi Entertainment, while Crunchyroll has said that their merger would have no effect on their licenses, given that most of their shows are streaming on Crunchyroll anyway, the progress on projects including Macross and Dirty Pair (which had a Kickstarter for a Blu-ray release) have been up in the air ever since.

Shawne Kleckner on Twitter: “After 35 years, my journey comes to an end today with my last day at Right Stuf. I hope my efforts brought happiness to many and that the Super Service that I championed will continue.My farewell message to the staff in the image (I am just too verbose!), if you have interest. pic.twitter.com/CLqft8gu1i / Twitter”

After 35 years, my journey comes to an end today with my last day at Right Stuf. I hope my efforts brought happiness to many and that the Super Service that I championed will continue.My farewell message to the staff in the image (I am just too verbose!), if you have interest.

Furthermore, Crunchyroll’s push to end remote dubbing combined with their low pay for their translators and actors in the face of Sony’s profits from subscriptions, movie ticket sales, and the like, has drawn concern from voice actors of possible union-busting. This is especially as Funimation dubs are non-union and recorded in Texas, a “right-to-work” state. And upon the merger, Crunchyroll sent most of their dubs to be produced there. Voice acting in general is notoriously known for its blue-collar environment and low pay in comparison to other forms of acting. And especially given the commitments needed from its actors and crew, the pay for anime dubbing may well be the worst of the bunch. Jujutsu Kaisen 0, the prequel of a show that Crunchyroll has refused to let Toonami air so far, made $30 million in box office sales in the United States alone. Making it the fourth highest grossing anime film all time in America. Their actors only got around $150-300 for their roles in the film. Not hourly, not per session, in total.

anairis! on Twitter: “I was paid $150 total. No residuals or anything past that. https://t.co/SocaLabbga / Twitter”

I was paid $150 total. No residuals or anything past that. https://t.co/SocaLabbga

Those union-busting concerns became all too true when Kyle McCarley, the voice of Shigeo “Mob” Kageyama in Mob Psycho 100, revealed that he would not reprise his role for season 3 unless Crunchyroll held a meeting with SAG-AFTRA to see if the show can be dubbed under a union contract. Despite promising that he would have still reprise his role even if Crunchyroll said no after said meeting, Crunchyroll responded by announcing that they are recasting the show and moving the production to Dallas under the guise of “logistics.” Understandably, fans and critics alike were pissed.

Come Mob’s season 3 premiere on October 5th, 2022, what was supposed to be a celebratory release was muted as Crunchyroll shadow-dropped the new season on their service with little noise from Crunchyroll’s social media accounts. The new cast hasn’t even been credited for their roles, and it is doubtful said actors will ever publicly announce that they have joined the cast themselves, which might be for the best given that they would be getting a lot of threats over union scabbing. Although as Kyle himself has noted, your ire should not be directed at the actors who may not necessarily have had a choice in the matter, given that the industry’s low pay makes it hard to put food on their table. Not to mention, the new actors may have been unaware of the situation when they were recording their lines, and there’s also the fear of potentially getting blacklisted themselves if they declined in solidarity. Ernesto Jason Liebrecht, whom viewers have identified as the new voice of Mob, has largely stayed silent regarding the role, likely out of sympathy for Kyle. Some viewers, however, did notice that Crunchyroll had apparently made one notable exception to their mass firing of the Mob cast and crew, and that was bringing back Chris Niosi to play Reigen. Niosi himself was previously on hiatus from voice acting since 2019 due to among other things, his own admission of abusive behavior towards his friends, romantic partners, and colleagues. While I’m all for second chances once one gets his/her/their act together, and we hope that Chris is getting the help he needs to do so; this is the same company who swept under the rug the sexual harassment allegations and misconduct Vic Mignogna had perpetrated over the years, and a company going more nuclear at someone who says the word “union” more than someone who has actively enabled a toxic workplace isn’t a good PR look.

However, even before being sold to Sony and despite being based in liberal-leaning San Francisco, Crunchyroll has historically shown that they have had union-busting tendencies. According to Kyle McCarley in an interview with Anime News Network, Toonami wanted to have a union dub for Fena: Pirate Princess, but Crunchyroll was adamant in that not happening. Which may explain why Crunchyroll to this day has not had the Fena dub available to stream on their service.


It gets worse, too. Crunchyroll has been actively blocking their talent from doing role reprisals if said studio and licensor shifts to using a union contract to dub said adaptation or sequel. According to Laura Post, Crunchyroll strong-armed the game developers of Tower of God: New World, to essentially blacklist her and the original cast of the Tower of God anime (which Crunchyroll produced) from reprising their roles or even play different characters, as the game is dubbed under a union contract. Crunchyroll cited that they “owned the voice prints” of the original cast, which legally they don’t. Unfortunately, despite having all the legal grounds to do so, neither the developers nor the actors have the financial capacity to sue Sony over it anytime soon.

Fortunately, Crunchyroll did give in in regards to letting the Black Clover cast reprise their roles for the film, with a union contract no less, as it is being distributed by Netflix rather than Crunchyroll themselves. It probably does help that Netflix, among others in the Black Clover production committee, do have the financial capacity to sue Sony into the ground if they did try to do what they did to the Tower of God cast. But if other productions in the future sees a recast, or perhaps even no dub at all, such as Eden’s Zero (which switched licensors from Netflix to Crunchyroll for season 2), this will probably be the reason why.

Laura Post on Twitter: “You may (or may not) have noticed that there is a cool new Tower of God game coming out!And you may (or may not) have noticed that the cast (full of totally awesome people who have our blessing) is different from the anime!Would you like to know why? Well, STORY TIME: (1/?) / Twitter”

You may (or may not) have noticed that there is a cool new Tower of God game coming out!And you may (or may not) have noticed that the cast (full of totally awesome people who have our blessing) is different from the anime!Would you like to know why? Well, STORY TIME: (1/?)

Marin M. Miller meanwhile, has publicly stated that they will not be working directly with Crunchyroll again after claiming that Crunchyroll tried to get them to sign a contract “that would have these unenforceable clauses that they used to intimidate the cast and crew and refused AI protections.”

♨Marin M. Miller♨ on Twitter: “Personally, I will never be working with Crunchyroll directly again, as they recently tried to make me sign a contract that would have these unenforceable clauses that they used to intimidate the cast and crew and refused AI protections. I will not be reprising my roles. / Twitter”

Personally, I will never be working with Crunchyroll directly again, as they recently tried to make me sign a contract that would have these unenforceable clauses that they used to intimidate the cast and crew and refused AI protections. I will not be reprising my roles.

The “AI Protections” bit Marin mentioned could be another controversy that Crunchyroll, among other television studios, could be getting themselves in in the future. And indeed, Crunchyroll has already confirmed that they are testing the use of artificial intelligence on subtitles and closed captions. According to Anime News Network, this testing “is an effort to “optimize [their] processes” to allow them to release subtitles in more languages closer to the Japanese release date of seasonal anime episodes. The company is also testing generative A.I. to assist users in personalizing their experience and discovering titles, and is testing A.I. in general for different workflows in the company.” So far, efforts have not been successful as seen with their simulcast of The Yuzuki Family’s Four Sons.

Yami ReiRei, JK on Twitter: “Woof, not sure what happened here but Crunchyroll’s subtitles for The Yuzuki Family’s Four Sons are straight-up unprofessional. 4 out of 5 sentences don’t have punctuation, overly literal translation that mixes up possessives. It’s a mess. pic.twitter.com/0aM3zmfHq3 / Twitter”

Woof, not sure what happened here but Crunchyroll’s subtitles for The Yuzuki Family’s Four Sons are straight-up unprofessional. 4 out of 5 sentences don’t have punctuation, overly literal translation that mixes up possessives. It’s a mess. pic.twitter.com/0aM3zmfHq3

Given the company’s current trajectory towards cost-cutting and union-busting antics; you can bet that once the technology evolves enough to be put into mainstream use, they’ll be among the first corporations in line to jettison their talents to implement artificial intelligence for their productions. Meaning that not even Texas-based actors that are union-averse will be safe. And for all the “subs over dubs” folks out there, don’t think this will just be for anime dubbing either, as Sony has already dabbed on utilizing AI replication with their YOMIBITO Plus audiobook app in Japan, including controversially replicating the voice of the late, great Kenji Utsumi. If Sony likes what they see, expect entire anime series from conception to distribution to be made entirely by robots in the near future. Japanese actors and creators, much like their western counterparts, have also voiced their concerns regarding AI, including Hayao Miyazaki who says that using AI for art “is an insult to life itself.” And given Japan’s shrinking population, among the nation’s other systemic issues, I wouldn’t be surprised if Japanese studios turn to AI long before Hollywood does. Given the various ethical concerns that can and will come from artificial intelligence, it’s no surprise AI protections was a major issue that SAG-AFTRA and the WGA spent much of 2023 on strike for, and will continue to be a hot topic political issue in the years ahead.

Anime News Network on Twitter: “Late Voice Actor Kenji Utsumi’s Voice will be replicated by AI pic.twitter.com/j9WhoCPDaL / Twitter”

Late Voice Actor Kenji Utsumi’s Voice will be replicated by AI pic.twitter.com/j9WhoCPDaL

The anime industry’s inability to pay its actors has led to brain drains of talent over the years, leading them to be largely reliant on younger and upcoming talent for dubs. Previous well-loved Funimation regulars including Troy Baker, Laura Bailey and her husband Travis Willingham have all but left the anime dubbing scene due to this combined with the high demand they get from other (higher paying) voice acting gigs. Meanwhile, veteran talent including Steve Blum, Kari Wahlgren, Crispin Freeman, Maile Flanagan, and Yuri Lowenthal still lend their voices to anime titles, but you’ll only see them nowadays in titles that are unionized under SAG-AFTRA contracts. And it’s only going to get worse for Crunchyroll in the post-merger era unless the higher-ups decide to be more open to union dubbing. Besides Kyle, Laura, and Marin, Ben Diskin has also informed Crunchyroll he will no longer do non-union productions with them in solidarity, and I expect many others to follow in the near future.

Ironically prior to the merger, Funimation and Crunchyroll had expanded their talent pool to include Los Angeles based actors as well as others around the nation thanks to remote recording. This also allowed many Texas regulars to move to Los Angeles and other locations for expanded opportunities while still being able to reprise their roles. Even Aniplex has been willing to have more of their anime dub productions (via Bang Zoom! in Los Angeles) be unionized, including Sword Art Online which wasn’t under a union contract for its first two seasons; something which Sony has allowed to continue for now as they have some autonomy from Crunchyroll’s executive decisions (as Aniplex is with Sony Music while Crunchyroll is with Sony Pictures). But with Crunchyroll going on a quick reversal back to mostly Texas-based talent, combined with all the post-merger bridge burning and union busting, Crunchyroll’s current brain drain of talent could potentially be much larger than previous generations of anime actors. And one that could scare away both established and new talent alike.

And that’s to say nothing about the various complaints regarding Crunchyroll’s lackluster and unstable servers and user interface, meaning that the service often deals with technical issues especially when a new episode of a big franchise is released. Granted, while any streaming service can have issues when tens of millions are trying to watch something at the same time, this is especially appalling given that Crunchyroll’s active userbase is just a small fraction to the numbers the likes of Netflix, Hulu, and Max have. So, while Sony has been pushing for Crunchyroll to be a hub for all of anime, they certainly do not have the servers that can handle said crowds on a consistent basis.


Crunchyroll has also been criticized especially from disability advocates and viewers with disabilities for not including closed captions in many of their recent titles, the noticeable exception being titles that air on television (Toonami or otherwise) as required by law since the passage of the Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990. Which is ironic given that FunimationNow does have closed captions on most (if not all) of their shows, even for the shows that don’t make it to Toonami.

Closed Captions in Anime on Twitter: “Not a single one of Crunchyroll’s dub releases today, including two new show English premieres, have closed captions. In fact, they don’t have any captions/subtitles at all, not even for on-screen text or translations/transcriptions of opening and ending theme lyrics. / Twitter”

Not a single one of Crunchyroll’s dub releases today, including two new show English premieres, have closed captions. In fact, they don’t have any captions/subtitles at all, not even for on-screen text or translations/transcriptions of opening and ending theme lyrics.

rachel is watching TV 💭 on Twitter: “What *I* still can’t understand is how Crunchyroll subtitles anime… but then removes all subtitle/caption options whenever you play a dub. Just because I wanna listen in English doesn’t mean my hearing is GOOD 😭 you already made the subtitles just keep them on / Twitter”

What *I* still can’t understand is how Crunchyroll subtitles anime… but then removes all subtitle/caption options whenever you play a dub. Just because I wanna listen in English doesn’t mean my hearing is GOOD 😭 you already made the subtitles just keep them on

It probably doesn’t help that their translator and subtitle departments as a whole are poorly compensated in general. Marin M. Miller once posted that Crunchyroll translators can get around $90 to translate an episode of a show, or 450 lines of script. Furthermore Crunchyroll’s translators have historically been paid at a lower rate than Funimation’s were, and it’s perhaps no surprise that Crunchyroll laid off many Funimation translators post-merger. One former translator posted that Funimation translators that did get to stay had to take a paycut to $240 per episode (meaning that they were paid more than that pre-merger) for the “opportunity to continue working with them.” Combine all this with the short deadlines that translators have to work with in order to meet simulcast schedules, and you can see why translations of your favorite shows are occasionally not up to high standards.

And speaking of FunimationNow, Sony has also been very slow at migrating the FunimationNow library over to Crunchyroll despite saying that their main goal and promise of the merger was to merge the two libraries into one service. The English dub of One Piece, for instance, was only made available on Crunchyroll after Anime Expo 2023, after years of negotiating and ironing out licensing complications with Toei Animation. So, despite that FunimationNow subscribers are being told to move over to Crunchyroll, fans can’t necessarily unsubscribe from the former service just yet if they still wish to see said backlog of titles. As a result, some (but not all) of Crunchyroll’s simulcasts are still put on FunimationNow, despite Sony ultimately deciding on using Crunchyroll’s service and branding going forward.

On February 7, 2024, Sony announced that they will be officially shutting down FunimationNow on April 2, 2024 as Sony completes its integration of Funimation into Crunchyroll. However, there are still Funimation titles who have yet to be available for streaming on Crunchyroll, and it’s looking likely that some shows will be “left behind” for one reason or another.

Anime Dubs on Twitter: “The @Funimation website as of today, April 2nd, now redirects you to @Crunchyroll.RIP Funimation May 9th, 1994 – April 2nd, 2024The company still exists as Crunchyroll, but the Funimation branding is officially retired. pic.twitter.com/i61fPfAoP7 / Twitter”

The @Funimation website as of today, April 2nd, now redirects you to @Crunchyroll.RIP Funimation May 9th, 1994 – April 2nd, 2024The company still exists as Crunchyroll, but the Funimation branding is officially retired. pic.twitter.com/i61fPfAoP7

Granted, the past three issues could potentially be solved with more manpower, but back in February 2023, Crunchyroll actually downsized by laying off at least 85 of their staff globally. To be fair, Crunchyroll isn’t the only big tech and streaming company making such layoffs in the current post-pandemic economy (Sony themselves also laid off 900 employees, or about 8%, of its PlayStation division this past February 2024), and sources have stated that this wasn’t a cost saving measure, but reducing redundant roles. But given the money spent on the merger combined with the above-mentioned issues, critics are only given the impression that Sony’s focus is merely to spend their profits on monopolizing anime more than improving their services and paying their employees, and that probably isn’t going to get much better anytime soon.


The Toonami-FuniRollPlexStuf Divorce

Which brings us to Toonami’s situation with Crunchyroll. If the Crunchyroll-Funimation merger is Anime’s version of the Disney-Fox merger, then Crunchyroll’s deteriorating relationship and feuds with Toonami may be anime’s version of Disney and Sony’s feud over the Spiderman franchise. The “Spiderman” in this case being whether anime should air on television. And where Sony’s underhanded and shifty antics is most visible may well be the deterioration of Toonami’s long-standing partnerships with Funimation, Aniplex, and Crunchyroll.

Unfortunately, since the merger, Toonami’s long standing relationships with the combined Crunchyroll and Funimation (now Crunchyroll LLC) and Aniplex USA have been completely strained thanks to Sony’s monopolistic ambitions in the anime distribution market. As Sony implements their own “Embrace, extend, and extinguish” strategy similar to what other monopolies such as Microsoft during the 90’s were famous for, what were once Toonami’s best friends are now seemingly hell bent on trying to run the block out of the anime business. Back in July 2022, Jason DeMarco even went as far as saying “Anything Sony has the rights to is looking unlikely for the foreseeable future, but I never say never.”

This was the case when Jason revealed that Sony was “freezing” Toonami from bringing back Demon Slayer when the show continued in late 2021. DeMarco later revealed that the success of Mugen Train in theaters made the price for renewing the series higher than what Toonami, Adult Swim, and Cartoon Network could afford. And as if giving Kyle McCarley the cold shoulder wasn’t enough for Crunchyroll, Jason in May 2022 has also confirmed that Sony was also freezing Toonami from bringing back Mob Psycho 100 for seasons 2 and 3, saying that “Crunchyroll has never been willing to license it to us.”

Sony’s current hard balling goes both ways, as Toonami and Warner Bros Discovery won’t be as willing to have their originals stream on Crunchyroll as before, and the distribution of all co-productions Toonami made with Crunchyroll before they went to Sony have become more complicated to manage. Although Fena: Pirate Princess, Blade Runner: Black Lotus, and Shenmue did well for Toonami’s expectations, it is likely the shows were written off by WBD in part due to Sony’s lack of cooperation in the distribution of said titles, much less potentially greenlighting sequels. As for current and future Toonami original productions, in particular for the Jujutsu Kaisen fans who would love to see Sunghoo Park’s newest work, Ninja Kamui, also stream on Crunchyroll, you can bet that Toonami’s not letting that happen unless the block can air Jujutsu Kaisen in return. While I’m sure many fans (including my colleagues at Toonami Squad) would love to see a deal like that happen, it doesn’t seem likely Sony will budge as of now.

Crunchyroll Jail
Love (to hate) Netflix Jail? We’ll you’re gonna love (to hate) Crunchyroll Jail!

It’s incredibly unprecedented that Aniplex and Crunchyroll/Funimation would be this hostile to Toonami given their respective histories with the block, one that goes all the way back to when Funimation partnered with Toonami to bring Dragon Ball Z to western viewers back in 1999. Crunchyroll co-founder Kun Gao even told Jason DeMarco that Crunchyroll owes its existence to Toonami, as the reason he and his friends and colleagues got into fansubbing (and later anime distribution) was because of their love of Toonami. And while Sony renamed the merged company from Funimation Global Group into Crunchyroll LLC, it’s still the “Funimation” side of Crunchyroll that forms the company’s executive branch (and the side that has the most experience working with Toonami), so them deciding to turn around and backstab Toonami the second AT&T sold Crunchyroll to Sony makes it even more baffling.

NUNEKIN KAMUI DEMARCO on Twitter: “Fun (and true) story, Kim Gao, co-founder of Crunchyroll, told me the reason he and his friends even got into fansubbing in the first place was because of their love for Toonami. He told me without Toonami there would BE no Crunchyroll. https://t.co/bp97FvyVG6 / Twitter”

Fun (and true) story, Kim Gao, co-founder of Crunchyroll, told me the reason he and his friends even got into fansubbing in the first place was because of their love for Toonami. He told me without Toonami there would BE no Crunchyroll. https://t.co/bp97FvyVG6

But for Sony on the other hand, we may have seen this before. You might remember when Sony bought Funimation back in 2018, Funimation had a distribution partnership with Crunchyroll, which Sony severed upon their purchase of the former. While Funimation founder Gen Fukunaga has said that Sony did want to keep their partnership with Crunchyroll, differences over international distribution, among other things, meant that they ultimately went their separate ways until Sony bought Crunchyroll outright in 2021. Fukunaga has since stepped down as Funimation CEO in 2019 (although he does still maintain a minority stake in the company), with Colin Decker and later Rahul Purini serving as CEO of what is now Crunchyroll LLC.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the folks at Aniplex and Crunchyroll actually do want to continue working with Toonami, but the higher-ups at Sony for whatever reason aren’t letting that happen. Whether it’s because of Sony wanting Toonami to pay more to air their shows? The block since the revival has had a shoestring budget, and many of the hit shows Toonami are able to get these days are as a result of the block getting some sweetheart deals, thanks in part to Toonami’s role in the industry’s success. Or is it because Sony wants all of their licenses paywalled exclusively for their services, à la they want their own “Netflix Jail” for Crunchyroll. While “Crunchyroll jail” isn’t as restrictive as “Netflix jail” or “Disney+/Hulu prison” since they still do simulcasts, the fact that Sony is now doing their own exclusivity paywall is completely out of character for Crunchyroll, given that both companies became what they are today largely for their accessibility of shows.

Tanjiro when he found out Demon Slayer couldn’t return to Toonami back in 2021

While Sony makes some great products, Sony execs tend to have a bad habit of “market leader arrogance” over their history, and it often comes back to bite them hard. You might remember during the same time the last Anime bubble bust was taking root in 2006, Sony was making some pretty cocky and anti-consumer moves and statements when releasing the PlayStation 3, feeling that they can do no wrong with the success of the PS1 and PS2. Consumers responded with buying Wiis and Xbox 360s instead, giving Sony massive financial losses that completely wiped-out Sony’s profits gained during the previous two generations, eventually becoming the only time in their history that the PlayStation brand actually “lost” a console generation. Fortunately, Sony righted the ship by the time the PS4 launched in 2013, but some are worried that Sony is making similar mistakes with the PS5 and the same can definitely be said with how they’re currently running Crunchyroll. After all, this is the same media conglomerate that decided to up the price of the PS5 in several countries, something that has been virtually unheard of in console gaming before; while simultaneously upgrading the console with components that are now cheaper to manufacture (and since October 2023, a slim redesign). And for further irony, Sony fans and even Sony execs themselves have cried “monopoly” regarding Microsoft’s purchases of Activision Blizzard (ABK) and Bethesda, fearing that hit titles including Call of Duty and Elder Scrolls would become Xbox platform exclusives…while ignoring that Sony has also paid companies to keep games such as Final Fantasy and Silent Hill away from Game Pass and even the Xbox platform historically. Also, Sony has made their fair share of gaming acquisitions, including Bungie in 2022 for $3.6 billion, which itself was let go from Microsoft just over a decade ago (in exchange to all rights for the Halo franchise). And the less that can be said about the inconsistency of Sony Pictures’ films (Morbius and The Emoji Movie come to mind), the better.

Sony might want to be careful what they wish for, because if the Activision-Blizzard deal did fall apart due to antitrust concerns, they could have set themselves up for governmental regulators, former partners, and competitors to potentially sue Sony, PlayStation, and Crunchyroll for their own antitrust issues in the future. Given that Sony is the undisputed market leader in both the gaming and anime industries, it’s no surprise that their arguments to the courts to stop Microsoft’s merger fell flat, and ABK joined Xbox on October 13, 2023. Sony doesn’t seem to have much hard feelings in the end, as Xbox Game Pass ultimate subscribers at the time were offered six free months of Crunchyroll Premium as part of their perks program, and Microsoft and Sony made a deal to keep Call of Duty multiplatform for at least 10 years.

Crunchyroll Hime as the Grim Reaper


A New Golden Age of Piracy

With the popularity of the many franchises owned and licensed by the Sony-Crunchyroll consortium, some fans may not have much of a choice but to put up with Crunchyroll’s antics to enjoy their favorite shows. And you bet Sony is counting on Crunchyroll viewers to stay and upgrade, as well as FunimationNow subscribers, Netflix subscribers, Hulu subscribers, Toonami viewers and more to convert to Crunchyroll Premium. However, I fear that Sony’s monopolistic gatekeeping and pay walling moves since the merger is not just hindering anime’s availability and success on television, but can potentially hurt the vitality of Anime’s mainstream popularity in the west as a whole. And one that is leading to another golden age of anime piracy.

Given that anime started out as an underground thing largely ignored by mainstream critics and viewers, bootleg VHS and DVDs and later torrenting and video streaming, were a primary source to view the latest and greatest from Japan and especially some of the more obscure anime titles. ADV Films, the predecessor to Sentai, started off as a bootleg business in the early 90’s. YouTube in its early days had folks uploading entire episodes of series, at least until studios started handing out DCMA takedown requests. Hell, even Crunchyroll themselves started out as a piracy site during the last heyday of Anime piracy, before getting investment and going legit in the 2010s.

Crunchyroll’s front page circa 2006.

The likes of Toonami and other programming blocks in the 90’s and 2000’s, and later streaming services like Crunchyroll in the 2010’s, gave anime legal outlets that allowed the medium to flourish to this day. And what was once an underground thing has become more and more enjoyed by mainstream audiences, in addition to the long-time hardcore fan. But with Sony taking away legal and easy ways to watch anime outside of their service (and one with its many technical issues, at that), combined with their poor treatment of employees, some fans don’t feel it to be morally compromising to go (back) to the piracy route for their anime fix. Indeed, pirates have only been enabled by Sony’s recent actions to continue pirating Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Aniplex shows, even arguing that pirating your anime is “morally correct.”

On the other hand, pirating shows, even if it’s in protest of a monopoly, can easily backfire, as lower ratings and streaming numbers combined with declining DVD/Blu-ray and merchandising sales won’t make a work as attractive to the advertisers and corporations that will invest in said production. Leading to anime creators not being as compensated for their hard work, and also leads to your favorite shows not getting sequels and other spinoffs, and potentially less investment in the industry as a whole. It’s also more fruitful to contribute your dollars to a competitor, like Sentai Filmworks/HiDive and Discotek, as a healthy anime industry (and industries in general for that matter) requires strong and healthy competition.

Still, strong-arming anime fans that can’t or won’t subscribe to Crunchyroll Premium and disenfranchising fans who like to enjoy Aniplex/Crunchyroll/Funimation titles on Toonami, physical media, and other such outlets is not going to coerce people to up Crunchyroll’s subscriber numbers. Some might if the convenience is still worth the price increases, but it’s more likely said viewers would just lose interest in wanting to check out Sony’s acquisitions (if not the medium entirely), or become so disgusted with Sony’s greed that they decide to double down on “sailing the seven seas” to view said shows. Valve founder and Steam creator Gabe Newell once said: “Piracy is almost always a service problem. The easiest way to stop piracy is not by putting antipiracy technology to work. It’s by giving those people a service that’s better than what they’re receiving from the pirates.”

Especially considering Crunchyroll’s piracy roots, you would think this company would know better that it takes a lot more than simply telling pirates to stop pirating anime to get them to be paying customers. Which is unfortunate, Crunchyroll, Funimation and Aniplex did a pretty good job at trying to avoid the “service problem” when they were separate companies during the 2010’s (especially in comparison to how Netflix handles its shows), which certainly swayed millions of anime fans to watch via legal means. Of course, it wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot better than what Sony is pushing today.

Perhaps it is ironic that those boycotting Crunchyroll today are going back to piracy. According to a report by Variety, anime made up 50% of the most pirated titles in the United States over 2022, with Chainsaw Man, Bleach, The Eminence in Shadow, Spy x Family, and The Rising of the Shield Hero among the top 10 most pirated shows. There are even reports that some of the more popular piracy websites get even more website traffic than Crunchyroll and other legal services do. This is not helped by the fact that Anime’s accessibility situation is even worse outside North America, as many Crunchyroll titles (and in some cases, the entire service itself) are geoblocked from being viewed in some countries; meaning viewers in those nations, as well as those who frequently travel, have no choice but to pirate their anime or use a VPN. This despite that Crunchyroll absorbed Funimation, Madman/AnimeLab in Australia and New Zealand, Manga Entertainment in the UK, Wakanim in continental Europe, and the like over the past few years, giving Sony a total monopoly in some regions. To be fair, much of it is primarily thanks to licensing red tape and stubbornness on the Japanese end; HiDive just had to end services in some international markets due in part to such issues. But it is nonetheless a total failure of Sony trying to win over fans (and a disenfranchisement of those who actually do wish to pay creators by watching via legal means) both here and abroad.

Given the bootleg history of anime, no demographic may well be versed in pirating content more than anime fans. And quite frankly, if those piracy rates go on the upswing and profits are hurt as a result, then Sony execs have no one else to blame but themselves.

If the future of the anime industry Sony envisions will be detrimental to anime fans and creators, and if governmental regulators won’t put a check to Sony’s monopoly ambitions, then it’s gonna be up to fans voting with their wallets to get Sony to reverse course. If you ask me, anime fans who support the well-being of its creators and especially Toonami Faithful should not be giving Crunchyroll a cent of their hard-earned money and unsubscribe (if they haven’t already) from Crunchyroll Premium. But whether it’s simply as unsubscribing from Crunchyroll, to going on a full-on boycott to anything Sony owns (even if it means defecting from PlayStation to Xbox and/or Nintendo, as Sony are using PlayStation’s profits to help fund their other divisions such as Crunchyroll), how one should “vote with their wallets” ultimately is up to you.

Lauren Orsini on Twitter: “I’ve been a subscriber for 12 years, a freelance contractor, a CRX press attendee, and a Crunchyroll Awards judge. I’ve toured their office and regularly wear their merch. So this was not an easy decision for me. I wrote about it here: https://t.co/VGOw36waih https://t.co/SvVLhCtp3P / Twitter”

I’ve been a subscriber for 12 years, a freelance contractor, a CRX press attendee, and a Crunchyroll Awards judge. I’ve toured their office and regularly wear their merch. So this was not an easy decision for me. I wrote about it here: https://t.co/VGOw36waih https://t.co/SvVLhCtp3P

Both SAG-AFTRA and the WGA (and their respective members) had been very hesitant in calling for an outright boycott of AMPTP affiliated corporations during the strikes, as a massive drop in subscriptions and viewership (and thus revenue) could undermine the unions ability to negotiate better contracts. The media conglomerates could simply cite declining revenue for why they can’t agree to improving the pay and benefits of their employees. On the other hand, in a society of free market capitalism, nobody is entitled to do business for a company they don’t like. You pay money to enjoy the goods and services you want to buy. And if a company’s products become terrible, you stop buying from them. But of course, it’s when there are little to no alternatives to said products that this becomes harder to do.

When you decide to unsubscribe from Crunchyroll, even if it’s temporary, they mention that your subscription directly goes to the studios so they can produce more anime. And one can argue there was a time where Crunchyroll and Funimation actually were doing a good job at directly supporting the industry. But given that Crunchyroll itself started as a piracy site during the last anime bust, that anime industry workers are among the lowest paid in the entire entertainment industry, and given the many greedy and monopolistic moves since Sony bought both companies, you’d be hard pressed to convince anime fans that Crunchyroll has the moral high ground. If you do decide to unsubscribe, make sure you tell them why you are unsubscribing in their feedback sections. Protesting Union busting and asking for the wellbeing of their actors and employees. Protesting their refusal to air shows on Toonami anymore. Wanting better physical media. Corporate malpractice. Monopolistic actions. You name it. Let them know that people are losing trust in them. And if for any reason you don’t wish to unsubscribe, feel free to let them know at their feedback sections anyway. There have been instances where Crunchyroll’s customer service has given out free subscription extensions as an apology to disgruntled users.

June Yoon || 성우 윤준 on Twitter: “This is the message right above the cancel button:”Your action will hurt the anime studios.”I have nothing but the highest level of respect, admiration, and love for the folks in various anime studios. To put this language here in this context is pretty crummy, Crunchyroll. pic.twitter.com/E2uur9xkyX / Twitter”

This is the message right above the cancel button:”Your action will hurt the anime studios.”I have nothing but the highest level of respect, admiration, and love for the folks in various anime studios. To put this language here in this context is pretty crummy, Crunchyroll. pic.twitter.com/E2uur9xkyX

Do note that you’ll need to delete your form of payment from their site before unsubscribing as there have been instances where the service has auto-renewed unintentionally.

Alison Turjancik ☯️🐍✨🍉 on Twitter: “⚠️To anyone who’s deleting their Crunchy accounts, don’t do what I did 2 months back & delete it without removing your payment info first. ⚠️They will NOT respond to yours or your credit card security’s emails or phone calls. It’s been a frustrating and impossible situation. / Twitter”

⚠️To anyone who’s deleting their Crunchy accounts, don’t do what I did 2 months back & delete it without removing your payment info first. ⚠️They will NOT respond to yours or your credit card security’s emails or phone calls. It’s been a frustrating and impossible situation.

Also, of note Crunchyroll now owes every subscriber (who submitted a claim form before December 12, 2023) $30, as they were caught violating the United States’ Video Privacy Protection Act by disclosing subscribers’ personally identifiable information to Facebook and other third-party companies. As if Sony didn’t learn not to compromise user data after going through at least two different major data hacks in 2014 and 2023.


A New Hope?

There is a glimmer of hope in regards to Crunchyroll-Toonami relations, however. Following the announcement that Toonami was bringing back My Hero Academia for season 6 in December 2022, Jason noted that Sony was lightening up a bit in regards to cooperating with Toonami again. With DeMarco commenting that he was “Happy to announce this! We are hoping this is a sign of more returning shows to come.” and “We believe and hope Crunchy is modifying their approach, we will see.” This would follow with the return of additional Crunchyroll and Aniplex shows to the lineup, which to this date has included Attack on Titan for The Final ChaptersDr. Stone: New WorldFood Wars: The Fifth Plate, the One Piece crossover with Dragon Ball and Toriko, Lycoris Recoil, and even the return of Demon Slayer.

When your favorite show is freed from Crunchyroll/Disney/Netflix Jail and gets to air on Toonami

Perhaps Sony finally realized that having the anime community at large pissed at them for one PR disaster after another, whether it’s because of them burning bridges with Toonami, firing the Mob Psycho 100 cast and anyone that even utters the word “union”, or making their titles less accessible overall, was only driving fans away and bleeding Crunchyroll’s userbase. And even if Crunchyroll somehow wasn’t bleeding subscribers despite all the PR blunders since the merger, Crunchyroll simply does not have the subscriber numbers and mainstream reach to successfully paywall anime into one service like Netflix does.

As previously mentioned, only 5 million of Crunchyroll’s 120 million registered accounts are actively subscribed to Crunchyroll Premium. Crunchyroll has claimed that they have since doubled that amount to over 10 million since the merger, as FunimationNow subscribers have been gradually switching over to Crunchyroll, combined with the offering of discounts and free trials to new users, Xbox Game Pass subscribers, Duolingo users, and the like. Yet it still doesn’t hold a candle to what their streaming rivals are putting up.

In comparison, Netflix has over 214 million (as of Q3 2021), while HBO Max has over 70 million (as of January 2023, putting aside issues over transitioning everyone into Max), and Disney+ and Hulu have 100 million and 43 million respectively (as of November 2023). Heck, even with declining cable subscribers, Cartoon Network is still available to view in 94 million households (as of 2021) in the USA alone.

Putting aside accusations of inflating subscriber numbers and the lack of transparency of streaming services when it comes to posting viewership and subscription numbers (whether it is by Crunchyroll or its competition), Sony clearly has a ton of work to do to get tens of millions more people into becoming paying subscribers of Crunchyroll Premium. And given that Crunchyroll has been a walking PR disaster to the anime community since the merger, Sony executives, to put it nicely, surely have their work cut out for them. Crunchyroll’s monopolization of Anime also masks how masks how poorly run the company has been since the merger and their dominance in the market (in comparison to their competition) also makes their executives slow, if not unwilling, to fix their systematic problems.

Crunchyroll having “all of the shows” also makes it difficult for some series to get the attention and advertising they deserve. And with finite resources and ad-space, Sony will just focus on advertising their most popular shows in addition to shows that the higherups invest the most into. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury, for instance, had nearly non-existent promotion stateside from both Sony and even Sunrise, aside from the announcement that Crunchyroll was streaming it in addition to the announcement of the simuldub cast. Even the announcement that this new Gundam series was being dubbed was shadow-released by Crunchyroll. It’s a similar problem to the flaws of Netflix’s advertising strategy, in which save for a handful of titles, Netflix shows largely have to rely on the show recommendations algorithm and word-of-mouth to find their audience. Not to mention that Crunchyroll having so many shows combined with their cheapness also makes it difficult for some shows to get English dubs, as resources and manpower are stretched thin.

NUNEKIN KAMUI DEMARCO on Twitter: “#toonami would’ve made some noise about it. Alas, it was not to be. https://t.co/CZELUAVXY8 / Twitter”

toonami would’ve made some noise about it. Alas, it was not to be. https://t.co/CZELUAVXY8

While exclusives and premieres have their purposes (to be killer apps for a service or network, much like first party titles in the Console Wars) and will always exist, the whole exclusivity paywall and “walled garden” Netflix has popularized, in which conglomerates put all of their content on their streaming service and nowhere else, always was a flawed concept when it comes to getting as many eyeballs to watch a show as possible and finding its fanbase. As they say in the television business, “syndication is where the real money is.” Netflix, despite all their success, is actually bleeding money with over $14.5 billion in debt in part due to their unwillingness to syndicate, and more on that later. And while Netflix is doubling down on their model for the near future, traditional conglomerates are learning (once again) that licensing things out to other services doesn’t hurt.

At the very least, corporations can get some revenue to recoup their costs and expand viewership. Not to mention, syndicated viewers could even be enticed to subscribe to their services in return. Even Disney, who are heavily protective in keeping their franchises from competitors, is starting to admit this and are exploring licensing more of their content to the competitor’s services to make back a $1.5 billion loss in their streaming services, which has included the return of Futurama back to Adult Swim. This is especially true in regards to anime, in that having everything exclusive to one service can only go so far in regards to exposure of the medium to casual anime fans and non-anime fans who may not be interested into subscribing to another streaming service just to see one or two shows.

Ironically, syndication is what Sony does best in regards to television. Despite being one of the “big five” major Hollywood studios, Sony is historically not very good at distributing their shows to television without outside help, especially when compared to other conglomerates of its size. The Game Show Network (GSN) is Sony’s only real linear television outlet in the USA (and that mainly consists of primetime and syndicated game show reruns, though they do have some originals), and most of their efforts at starting up a streaming service has gone up in smoke (Crackle comes to mind). Crunchyroll and Funimation are the notable exceptions, but both were bought by Sony well after their respective companies and streaming services were established. Which is why Sony has always had their shows go straight to network syndication (Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy for instance) or partnered up with a rival conglomerate’s tv network instead. The television adaption of The Last of Us, for instance, is produced by Sony Pictures, but airs on HBO and streams on Max.

Sony hasn’t been shy on letting everyone know they want Crunchyroll to be the “one-stop shop” for all things anime. Unfortunately for them, Sony has already lost that war before it even got started. For starters, you’d think Crunchyroll would retain their partnerships with Toonami and Sentai, among others, so their shows could be available on Crunchyroll as well. Unfortunately for Crunchyroll subscribers, Sony’s scorched earth policy has assured that neither will be interested in doing so anytime soon. Maybe Toonami if relations continue to improve, but certainly not Sentai.

And while Sony wants Crunchyroll to be the exclusive stop for all things anime, not all show creators are going to be sold on what Crunchyroll offers. And Crunchyroll’s biggest streaming competitors are already taking advantage of their discord by enticing anime production committees to have their shows streaming on their services instead.

  • Sentai, with AMC funding, has noticeably increased their licensing output with titles like Made in Abyss, Oshi no Ko, and The Eminence in Shadow (which ironically enough, the game for the latter series is licensed by Crunchyroll). HiDive has even inked a partnership deal with the Mainichi Broadcasting System (MBS) to exclusively stream part of the latter’s future programming.
  • Netflix meanwhile, has continued their heavy investments in anime, including Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, and even going as far as snaking away the anime rights for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure away from Toonami, Crunchyroll, and Viz Media (although Viz still remains in charge distributing the physical media and manga); not to mention picking up the Black Clover film (while the rest of that series is licensed by Crunchyroll). They’ve even made live action adaptations of fan favorite anime and cartoons, including Cowboy Bebop, One Piece, and Avatar: The Last Airbender. And despite Netflix’s fair share of controversies, including their role in leading to the Hollywood strikes, it speaks volumes that Netflix have both the financial and moral high ground compared to Crunchyroll when it comes to paying their actors fairer wages.
  • Heck, even Disney has gotten more into the anime business, getting the rights to Bleach‘s Thousand Year Blood War, Summertime Rendering, Tatami Galaxy Blues, most of the Macross franchise, and a Sunghoo Park original series of their own in Project Bullet/Bullet. Granted, while another company with monopolistic ambitions like Disney trying to get their piece of the finite anime pie is concerning, as Jason himself would attest, having them in the competition is a lot better than having Sony having the whole pie to themselves.

NUNEKIN KAMUI DEMARCO on Twitter: “More competition for Sony is a good thing, generally. / Twitter”

More competition for Sony is a good thing, generally.

And of course, Toonami has gotten more into original productions, with at least seven different series presently in production, with potentially many more in development. That being said, despite Crunchyroll’s competition has amped up its content in recent years, experts have told TheWrap that “it could still take “years” for the streaming giants to get anywhere close to the Sony-backed company’s “borderline monopoly” status.”

Crunchyroll’s House of Cards. (Image from TheWrap)

As previously mentioned, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Crunchyroll and Aniplex themselves did want to continue their long-standing partnerships with Toonami, but it was the higher-ups at Sony that didn’t want to continue doing so. And while Sony executives may not be interested in continuing their partnership with Toonami or having their shows on television, there are anime distributors in the Japanese side that do. And that could be used as potential leverage in Toonami’s favor. While everyone and their mom seems to be cutting the cord nowadays due to the skyrocketing costs of cable, contrary to popular opinion, not everyone is a cord cutter. And the rising costs and volatility of the streaming market will still keep cable (and IPTV services) as a viable option for many TV viewers.

Say what you want about Toonami’s overreliance on Shonen franchises, but a big reason why Toonami has aired a lot of Shonen shows, Shonen Jump shows in particular, throughout its history is because those are the type of shows said producers wish to see their shows easily accessible and widely available the most; and said companies are willing to work with Toonami with its shoestring budget. It’s a move in the industry some called “The Curse of Osamu,” in which anime studios let television networks air their shows for dirt cheap licensing deals; the term is named after the late-great Osamu Tezuka, considered to be the grandfather of anime and manga, who used such tactics to make Astro Boy a hit back in the 1960’s.

Case in point, Toei Animation. When Toonami brought back One Piece in January 2022, Jason DeMarco remarked that “All I can say is that One Piece came back largely because the way we get that show is different from most other shows that Funimation distributes. And Toei VERY MUCH wanted us to run it. And yes, the TV landscape has changed utterly from what it was when we took it off the air.” This suggests that Toei skirted around Sony’s licensing control, if not overridden Sony’s veto entirely, to bring One Piece back to the lineup. Those watching Toonami in 2022 may have noticed that, when Toonami-Crunchyroll relations were in the pits, the ending company cards you see following the post-credits for One Piece and other “FuniRollPlexStuf” shows that remained on the block were that of Funimation’s. This despite that Sony had retired the Funimation company name and branding. Of course, once Crunchyroll rekindled its partnership with Toonami, the Funimation cards would slowly be replaced with Crunchyroll ones.

And of course, when Dragon Ball Super came out in 2015, Toei made sure that Funimation would have Toonami or another television partner on their side as part of selling them the license. It took several months, possibly years of negotiations, but Dragon Ball Super eventually saw its English Dub premiere on Toonami in 2017. We’ll see what Toei has planned with future iterations of the franchise, including Dragon Ball Daima when it comes out in Fall 2024, but I would be very surprised if Toei doesn’t stick with their Toonami/Crunchyroll partnerships to air and stream the show respectively, when the time comes.

I’d argue that the reason that Crunchyroll started playing ball with Toonami again (besides the licensing money) is because Japan pressured them to do so. And I got a strong hunch that Crunchyroll losing the rights to the Black Clover film to Netflix played a role. You might remember that back when Black Clover premiered in 2017, Sheuisha, Studio Pierrot and other companies in the Black Clover production committee, really pushed for the show to be widely available, feeling that author Yuki Tabata had created the next big anime franchise. So, distribution partnerships with Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Toonami, among others were made, giving viewers plenty of options to check out the show. Despite initial pushback from critics (with a panel of comic book writers at SDCC 2016 listing the manga as one of the worst manga titles released during the year), the wide availability of the series worked, Black Clover became a huge anime franchise. I’m not sure how Crunchyroll couldn’t conger up the money to keep Black Clover, while they were dead set on burning bridges with Toonami and other partners and cheapening out in paying actors, but I wouldn’t be surprised that Crunchyroll burning bridges with Toonami played a role in Sheuisha deciding that Netflix jail was the “lesser evil” to Crunchyroll Jail, given that Netflix has a larger subscriber base. The boatloads of money that Netflix can blow on productions (despite their large debts), also helped. And to add insult to injury for Crunchyroll execs, Sony caved in letting their actors reprise their roles in the film, with a SAG-AFTRA contract no less. If Sheuisha decides to send the show to Netflix whenever the anime returns from its hiatus (like they did for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure), I’m 100% pointing the finger on Sony’s gatekeeping as a major cause.

Given that Toonami has been able to secure the sequels to most of the big shows they aired, including the likes of Attack on TitanBlack CloverDr. StoneDragon Ball Super, Fire ForceMy Hero Academia, and Sword Art Online, it’s very likely that Toonami has long standing and grandfathered contracts with Sony (and the respective Japanese licensors) to continue airing said shows when the time comes. In addition to the wills of the producers on the Japanese side, this may well be the glimmer of hope for fans in the short term. On the other hand, as we saw with JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Demon Slayer, there is a chance that Sony could be petty enough to find a way to snake themselves out of said contracts, although that would likely require Sony to pay some kind of contract severance fee (or as Jason himself calls, “Fuck You money”) to Warner Bros Discovery, which is why we don’t see such moves in television a lot unless said shows get canceled (and ultimately surrendering the licensing rights) due to low ratings. And outside of Demon Slayer, I highly doubt Sony is petty enough to spend such cash to flip off Jason every time for every show they’ve licensed to the block, especially since even for first right of refusal shows Toonami holds, Crunchyroll just needs to wait a few months (at most) to have said dubs on there anyway.

The likes of Netflix and Disney have been offering anime distributors some pretty sweet exclusivity deals that Sony may or may not be able to counter. While Netflix and Disney’s exclusivity distribution strategies have been well criticized due to their paywalls, lack of simulcasting, and lack of promotion of their anime franchises, they have the advantage of have better reaches to more casual viewers due to their higher subscriber counts compared to Crunchyroll’s. And with Sony executives being adamant on competing in this streaming war without Toonami any longer, they no longer can leverage anime production committees to sell them the distribution license to their shows with the caveat that they can also put their shows on television. Toonami’s success has been used by Japanese companies to get better distribution deals in the past (or at least leverage more cash) and I wouldn’t be surprised if a Toonami deal starts playing a role as potential leverage in what could ultimately go to Crunchyroll, Sentai, and several other distributors. Alongside long-standing contracts, I also wouldn’t be surprised if anime distributors wanting their shows on television is what ultimately saved Toonami’s partnerships with Crunchyroll and Aniplex.

And given that Toonami still has long standing contracts with both Crunchyroll/Funimation and Aniplex, I wouldn’t have been surprised if things got so bad at one point that WBD threatened to sue Sony for antitrust and breach of contracts. Although taking it to the courts would be an absolute last resort given that neither corporation wants to deal with the headaches of such a lawsuit, especially as the lawyers of both conglomerates are already dealing with the legal issues from their respective mergers as-is. Not to mention, Sony and WBD suing each other would have absolutely entailed an indefinite if not permanent severing of relations; nobody likes working with people who sue them.


Then again, it’s not like Sony has been in an on-again, off-again relationship with Toonami before. Case in point, Toonami’s relationship with Aniplex. Prior to Toonami’s revival, Adult Swim worked with Aniplex to bring in the likes of Fullmetal Alchemist (via Funimation) from 2005-2011 and Durarara in 2012. But it wasn’t until Toonami’s revival where Aniplex and the block really pushed for a partnership in 2013, with the Sword Art Online franchise being the catalyst. Between SAO 1 and SAO 2’s airing in 2015, Aniplex gave Toonami Blue Exorcist, Gurren Lagann, and Kill la Kill. Aniplex took a break from Toonami for around 3 years, until SAO Alicization premiered in 2019, and with it came along The Promised Neverland and Demon Slayer season 1. And now, that relationship is back on again in 2024, with the return of Demon Slayer for season 2 alongside Lycoris Recoil.

Kirito will return…or at least, we hope he does.

Sony also seems to have caved a bit in regards to having a free ad-supported option for Crunchyroll, as they also have launched their own Free Ad-supported Streaming Television (FAST) service this October 2023. Following in the footsteps of the likes of PlutoTV, Tubi, AdultSwim.com (to an extent) and parts of YouTube. The jury’s still out whether Crunchyroll FAST will turn out to be a success, only a handful of Crunchyroll titles are on the service, and who knows if Sony executives will have the patience to properly promote the service and keep it running to find its audience. Throughout the history of anime in the west, there have been many attempts at a linear anime television network or service, including the Funimation Channel, Viz Media’s Neon Alley, and ADV’s Anime Network. On the other hand, there’s a reason those services would eventually shut down and said companies ultimately continued to partner with Toonami for their linear television needs. Crunchyroll might want to learn the history of the mistakes of those services, for if they wish not to repeat them.

And on that note, with Crunchyroll and Aniplex willing to work with Toonami again, combined with Sony’s monopolistic ambitions in the anime market, and David Zaslav’s ongoing write-off spree of Warner Bros assets in his desperation attempts to balance out the company’s budget, there could be another potential endgame for Toonami-Crunchyroll relations and the anime/cartoon industries in general. I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends with Zaslav ultimately choosing to sell Cartoon Network (and other parts of WBD, if not the entire company itself), to Sony. With Toonami getting to join the “Crunchyroll Family” to help fulfill Sony’s animation linear TV ambitions (to say nothing regarding Sony getting an entire network(s) to air their wares), while Crunchyroll gets streaming rights to Toonami originals and other Cartoon Network and Warner Bros animation productions. Though, given that the Crunchyroll-Funimation and Xbox-ABK mergers barely got by regulators, Sony will no doubt have their work cut out for them in trying to convince/lobby/bribe governmental regulators to get a theoretical Sony-WBD merger through, especially as media megamergers are now being increasingly scrutinized by governmental regulators. And while having Toonami and Crunchyroll in the same company again (with Funimation and Aniplex alongside them this time around) wouldn’t be a bad thing in regards to expanding anime’s overall reach, as mentioned before, going through a fourth merger with the Ted Turner/Warner Bros networks after the other three have failed would be the executives and stockholders following the definition of insanity to a T. And given how Sony is currently running Crunchyroll, I wouldn’t trust Sony to improve Cartoon Network any better than how Zaslav is currently running the network right now. Let’s just hope that if this ever becomes the case, Jason DeMarco and Gill Austin manage to convince Sony executives to not retire the Toonami brand and rename the block into something generic like “Crunchyroll TV” like Funimation and RightStuf were.

In 2020, Cartoon Network Latin America partnered with Crunchyroll Latin America to revive its regional equivalent of Toonami, which ended in 2022. Could something like this be in Toonami’s future in the USA?

Even if Crunchyroll is renormalizing relations with Toonami, TV contracts can often take months to be finalized and signed, so it could still be a while before Crunchyroll shows start appearing on Toonami on a more frequent basis. And Jason DeMarco has mentioned that the entire acquisition process has gotten a lot harder over the past five years, given the current volatility of issues the anime and entertainment industries are facing, so fans will need to have some patience in the meantime. That being said, fans should keep putting the pressure on both Sony-Crunchyroll and Warner Bros Discovery and demand better from them. Especially when WBD continues to double down on David Zaslav’s leadership and writing off shows while Crunchyroll continues to shortchange their actors and bust unions whenever they ask for more benefits.


Streaming Services are…No Longer the Future

While streaming services have given shows a chance to succeed that they wouldn’t otherwise get with conventional television, a major flaw that streaming exclusives are currently facing is oversaturation and the lack of promotion. Unfortunately, what’s happening with WBD/Max and Crunchyroll are symptoms of potentially darker times for the entertainment industry, as the current streaming wars is turning into a streaming bubble that is about to burst, if it hasn’t already. With corporations wanting to start their own streaming services and exclusively keeping their shows on their services and syndicating them nowhere else, a lot of these streaming services simply have lost the plot on why they became popular media outlets in the first place. That is to give viewers more options and alternatives in viewing their favorite shows and to give more shows more opportunities to find their audience. And the biggest kicker is that none of these services are even profitable.

NUNEKIN KAMUI DEMARCO on Twitter: “And ironically, TV is still the only proven profitable model. Streaming was a bubble driven by Wall St growth projections, that has now burst. We don’t yet know what a “sustainable” model for the future is. But ppl got their clicks! / Twitter”

And ironically, TV is still the only proven profitable model. Streaming was a bubble driven by Wall St growth projections, that has now burst. We don’t yet know what a “sustainable” model for the future is. But ppl got their clicks!

A few years ago, many considered Netflix as infallible, allowing the company to get loads of investment. Said investment gave Netflix the power to produce live action adaptations for many popular anime and cartoon series and even grab exclusivity on a decent chunk of anime titles. But with every media corporation wishing to make their own service to take advantage of Netflix’s success, combined with declining subscriber numbers due to losing content to said competitors, Netflix these days is not as strong as previously seen. And perhaps due to said bleeding of subscribers, Netflix these days has been very impatient and cancel-happy in regards to the shows they invest in, with many of their shows getting the cancellation after one or two seasons. And among other things, there’s also the service’s controversial moves including the service’s rising subscription rates and crackdown on account sharing. Who knows what their fate will be in the long term, but it’s already leading to a vicious cycle of viewers unsubscribing in response, potentially requiring Netflix to cancel more shows as a cost cutting measure, and so on.

Some of the elements that made Netflix great are also proving to be its Achilles heel, and other streaming services are learning it the hard way when trying to replicate their success. As previously mentioned, Netflix shows largely have to rely on their show recommendations algorithm and word-of-mouth to find their audience as since they distribute so much programming, only a handful of Netflix originals will get proper advertising. And then there’s the binge-watching model, which while liked for those who like to watch shows in their own pace, isn’t very good in regards to growing a show’s overall interest and online buzz. An advantage to shows that follow the traditional television model and are released weekly is that it allows the show to continue to be a hot topic amongst those interested for as long as new episodes are released (and several weeks following the season finale), thus giving free advertising for said show. But as for shows released in bulk, because an entire season or series is released all at once, the post-release hype and buzz for said show is thus condensed and only really lasts for several weeks after release. Just compare the overall buzz of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure now that it’s binged-released on Netflix compared to when it was simulcast on Crunchyroll and dub-premiering weekly on Toonami prior to Part 6, and you can see why the show’s fans are not happy about the situation the show’s now in.

Furthermore, for anime and other internationally produced shows in particular, Netflix (and to a lesser extent Disney) rarely does simulcasts for shows that are released weekly in its home market, holding off on releasing episodes until the season is over. This means that international audiences who wants to keep up with the show’s weekly buzz alongside their domestic counterparts are enticed to pirate said show instead. Summertime Rendering for instance, was released weekly in Japan, but Disney+ held off on releasing episodes internationally until the season was over. Guess where anime fans went to watch the show instead? It’s why anime fans dread their favorite show being stuck in “Netflix/Disney jail” alongside their lack of promotion of said titles.

Genndy Tartakovsky in an interview with Paste Magazine, may perhaps describe Netflix’s problems best, calling Netflix’s mass cancelation of animated projects as a “natural growth and then reduction.”:

Netflix started off where they promised creators the world. I went in there and saw that they’re putting up a studio. But the thing that was a little curious to me was it was all the same kind of executives from other studios. And I feel they’re kind of stuck in one way. They were pitching you the world, and certainly, I think they delivered it for some people, for sure. But then when the shows come out, there’s a little push, and that’s it. You’re on your own. Part of that is, “Alright, if the show works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.” But at the same time, being in TV for so long, it takes a lot for a show to get going. We all know the stories about Seinfeld and how it was almost canceled. It’s hard to find an audience and connect to it sometimes, and so you do need some support.

And so [at Netflix] there was a lot of freedom creatively in the beginning. They hired everybody. When I was starting Unicorn [Warriors Eternal], I couldn’t find anybody to work on it. It was crazy! That’s why I had to do it myself because I couldn’t find anybody. Everybody was busy. And now it’s the opposite. All of a sudden, there’s people calling for work, which I haven’t had a call for work in over two years.”


Netflix is by far not the only streaming service experiencing such struggles, as it seems that every major streaming service these days is bleeding money from their respective corporations, despite having respectable subscriber numbers and investment. Some of this tends to be from the AMPTP crying “poverty” during their negotiations with SAG-AFTRA and the WGA, but a lot of it also is because the streaming model (at least in its present form) just isn’t economically sustainable to begin with.

Given how Sony is drastically reducing their legal outlets to watch anime (and the likelihood of illegal viewing on the rise as a result), combined with the fact that Sony has spent billions buying out almost every international anime licensor (with the notable exceptions of Discotek, Sentai, Toonami, and Viz Media, at least for now), I would be very surprised if Crunchyroll was not bleeding money from their streaming ventures like their competitors are. Especially as Crunchyroll plans on nearly doubling its subscription prices by 2025. And given that that there are only 5-10 million active subscribers of Crunchyroll Premium, Crunchyroll has a lot less breathing room to bleed subscribers.

If you think David Zaslav’s efforts to cut down on Warner Bros Discovery’s debts is insane, Sony in June 2021 reported that they had a total debt of $2.09 trillion. (Reported by Benzinga Insights, “According to the Sony Group’s most recent financial statement as reported on June 22, 2021, total debt is at $2.09 trillion, with $773.29 billion in long-term debt and $1.32 trillion in current debt. Adjusting for $1.79 trillion in cash-equivalents, the company has a net debt of $305.88 billion.”) And that was before they finalized the purchase of Crunchyroll. The money might be flowing now, but if the economy and the anime industry see a downturn, and Sony’s board of directors don’t like the profit margins they are seeing from Crunchyroll, the results could get very ugly. If and when Sony’s executives decide that those deficits need to be driven down and gets their own David Zaslav to “clean house,” Sony could be going down kicking and screaming, taking down the entire anime industry with it to recoup their investments. Given that Crunchyroll and Warner Bros both are in the situations they are today mainly because AT&T bit off more than they could chew during the late 2010’s, Crunchyroll can easily buckle under its own weight in similar fashion if Sony aren’t careful.

A big reason why cable has gotten so expensive and Toonami runs on a shoestring budget is, among other things, traditional television networks have to make a profit as they are more established businesses. Meanwhile the likes of Netflix and Hulu have racked up billions in debt, but the potential growth of streaming has still brought in investors through venture capital funding and other forms of investment. But with streaming becoming the norm in the 2020’s and the growth of streaming now seeing its limits, we’re now seeing ever-increasing prices for services that are giving us less content. Indeed, huge streaming libraries at affordable prices (and little to no ads) might be too good to be true in the long run for the publishers themselves. As much as we all hate advertising, in the end, it’s what ultimately prevented viewers from having to take the full costs of the creation of our favorite shows. I mentioned earlier that “syndication is where the money is” is partly why Crunchyroll decided to work with Toonami again. As most streaming services (FAST services aside) solely relies on revenues from subscriptions; streaming revenue, and thus residuals, are nowhere near as good as the revenues that terrestrial television and basic cable generate.

So why is Hollywood still all-in on streaming, despite that these services have become money pits compared to traditional television and media? While viewers have been sold to streaming thanks to convivence, television executives on the other hand are in it for more sinister reasons, and is the reason why the WGA and SAG-AFTRA have spent the entire summer striking. Streaming, being a relatively new idea in the television business, is presently a legal grey area when it comes to the contracts the television industry’s unions have with the AMPTP. Which means that the overall pay, residuals and benefits (such as healthcare) for streaming productions aren’t as good as those for traditional television and physical media productions. And television executives, being executives, will do whatever they can to squeeze those extra bucks in the name of corporate profits by skirting around paying talent.

You may have also noticed that streaming services are far less transparent on the performance of a particular show and don’t release Nielsen ratings compared to broadcast and cable television networks. This has led to said services have been accused of using this lack of transparency to artificially inflate their viewership and subscription numbers to make their service’s overall growth look better to shareholders, journalists, and (if applicable) advertisers, then it realistically is. Conversely, this can (and has) also lead to streaming services deflating said numbers and profit margins to potentially lower residuals and make it harder for artists to ask for better compensation when a show does exceed expectations. And of course, the murkiness and lack of transparency does leave creators and fans wondering even more if their favorite shows are doing well enough for a season renewal or not; for better or for worse. Do note that Jason DeMarco has often told viewers that Nielsen Ratings don’t tell the full story, as there are metrics that aren’t released that viewers aren’t privy to. And while having good ratings is important, the ratings aren’t what necessarily greenlights future seasons. It’s making those ratings look good to the advertisers and executives who ultimately makes the call on what gets funded and greenlit respectively.

But with the streaming bubble bursting and workers now picketing, Hollywood executives were never going to get away with it forever. Television conglomerates were more than happy to blow up their business models to squeeze out those extra streaming dollars, and now they’re learning the old adage to “never put all your eggs in one basket.”


The Times They Are a-Changin’…but is it for the better?

Cable cutting has been all the buzz this past decade as viewers have been unwilling to pay for something with increasing costs and dwindling content, especially as streaming has allowed some programs a spotlight that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day on regular television. But with every major conglomerate wanting to start their own streaming service, viewers have to subscribe to multiple services to get the amount of content that used to be available on just one or two services and/or a cable subscription during the early 2010’s. And given the oversaturation and increasing costs of these services, I highly doubt most people are willing to subscribe to all of them on a regular basis, even if it’s for just one show they really love.

The streaming bubble reached its peak during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when people were stuck at home and entertainment options were limited. But with the world opening up again, viewers don’t have the time to watch everything, much less pay for various individual streaming services. And with subscription rates continuing to rise, the days of cord cutters being able to subscribe to many streaming services without having to pay something similar to a cable bill are over. Nowadays, the name of the game for cord cutters is either to stick with one or two services that you really like and forget about or pirate the rest, or by rotating the services you got subscribed to at a time, i.e. by binging all the episodes you can in one month and unsubscribing before it renews as you switch to a different service. And given that there are apps that help you unsubscribe from services that you so happen to forget you have subscribed to, such as Rocket Money, even that’s easier said than done for some. Combined with out-of-touch executives being seemingly obvious to what viewers may want and being as cancel happy of shows as FOX was during the 2000’s (and in Sony’s case, arrogance that they can do no wrong since they’re at the top of the anime licensing world), we are watching in real time the streaming wars turning into a streaming service bubble bust. And one that lead us to another dark age of anime, similar to one that we endured during Toonami’s cancelation period from 2008-2012.

Streaming and digital viewing is here to stay, as did online shopping and business following the dot-com bubble, but the volatility of the streaming business especially in recent years has shown us why linear television and physical media isn’t and shouldn’t be going anywhere either. Especially with the issues of licensing, corporate tax write-offs, and the like, viewers are learning the hard way how inconsistent streaming services (and to a lesser extent, digital downloading) are to media preservation and the ability to watch what you want, when you want it. Some have proclaimed that the future of media is streaming-only and scoff at any future potential of traditional lineal media, outside of “going the way of the dodo bird.” Unfortunately, despite being touted as a replacement to cable during the bubble, corporations have basically applied many of the elements that made cable expensive in the first place, to these streaming services. So, in a roundabout way, streaming has become cable in of itself. And as we’re currently seeing with this present bubble burst, a “streaming only” future isn’t all that cracked up to be.

How viewing habits of the general populous will be once the dust settles is anyone’s guess. Free ad-supported streaming television (FAST) services as well as conglomerates syndicating shows to each other’s services and networks again could well be the future for streaming once the dust settles; and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these corporations even partner up and merge services outright to create a multi-corporation run streaming service again (like Hulu was before the Disney merger). Nobody wants to see a WBD-Comcast/Paramount merger, but a merged Max-Peacock/Paramount service might not be so bad. Ditto for a combined Max-Crunchyroll service. Indeed, Paramount+ is already looking into doing just that with Peacock or another service. Many are also predicting that companies can potentially bundle services together in the future, which can lower costs of buying them separately, but kind of defeats the whole purpose of cord cutting in the first place. Its already happening with Fox, ESPN, and WBD teaming up to create a joint sports streaming platform expected later in 2024, that will share their licensed sporting channels and events on each other’s streaming services. Cable itself can also potentially see a renaissance again if the prices of streaming continue to rise, but of course that will largely require cable companies to slash their prices and/or offer more a-la-carte options, and who knows if said companies will be able to or are even willing to do so.

As this streaming boom as shown, there are many ways to view your favorite form of media (and in different combinations at that) and I personally think publishers utilizing a good combination of both traditional and newer media in tandem to reach and spread the popularity of a franchise to increasingly fragmented audiences, is what’s best going forward.

The Great Anime Crash of 2008 took roughly four years for the anime industry to recover from, and it’s no coincidence that this dark age started and ended during the period of Toonami’s cancelation. During the height of the last Anime boom, media conglomerates and cable networks were trying to hop on the anime bandwagon and grab up exclusivity to potentially hit shows to try and steal some of Toonami’s thunder. Entire anime networks like Animax, Funimation Channel, and Anime Network were on the air. But when the anime bust occurred and Toonami went off the air, those conglomerates hopped off the bandwagon fast. TV Networks like G4/Tech TV, Sci-Fi channel (now SyFy), and even Cartoon Network jettisoned their anime blocks as part of their overall “Network Decay” from broadcasting the genres and mediums they were originally intended to air. What was left of Toonami’s legacy on Cartoon Network was Adult Swim action, which itself became a ghost town as it was truncated exclusively to Saturday Nights and was buried with endless reruns. Companies like ADV Films, Geneon, and Bandai Entertainment, whom were heavy investors in the industry, all folded up in the blink of an eye.

Unfortunately, we might just be watching history repeat itself in real time. As we’ve seen with Warner Bros Discovery under Zaslav, companies are beginning to pivot towards significant cost cutting, and animation as a whole is getting a good brunt of the hits. Disney and Paramount have even joined WBD on the cancelation and write-off bandwagon, which unsurprisingly led to Hollywood unions picketing on the streets.

Netflix, Disney/Hulu, and even Sony have been spending millions on anime for their own services and to keep it away from Toonami’s airwaves. But with the golden age of streaming ending and the bubble now bursting, that money is definitely not gonna flow forever. We’ll see how committed these companies really are into their anime ventures when times really start getting tough. Already, we have seen Amazon Prime all but given up on their anime ventures since re-releasing the Rebuild of Evangelion films.

And I haven’t even cracked the surface regarding the current systemic issues the anime industry in Japan face, which was a major problem back during the 2000’s, and it is definitely a major problem now. From the high demand for anime productions from domestic and international licensors alike, to the low pay and grueling work conditions of its animators, production cast and crews, and manga artists (not to mention Japan’s declining birth and immigration rates), the anime industry has backed themselves into a corner with less and less people being able to get into the industry as a viable career path. It’s a big reason many anime series don’t go beyond 12-14 episodes a season nowadays, and is also a big reason why no small amount of modern anime titles, from Attack on Titan, to Zom 100, to anything made by Studio MAPPA, have seen frequent delays. 

How Toonami and anime as a whole will get out of this storm this time around is anyone’s guess. Can WBD get itself together or does Zaslav continue to run the company into the ground and sold off for pennies on the dollar? Will the industry consolidate itself even more and Cartoon Network is sold to Sony, with Toonami getting merged into Crunchyroll? Will Crunchyroll push their monopolistic actions so far that governmental agencies intervene, and/or Crunchyroll collapses under its own weight?

On the other hand, it seems as if Toonami’s problems may be solved by simply being patient, taking care of what you can control in the meantime, and waiting until the anime and cartoon industries correct themselves. Waiting for the higher-ups at Warner Bros Discovery to get things rolling again, while simultaneously waiting for Aniplex and Crunchyroll to come out of the house and want to play ball again.

The future is unknown, but as previously mentioned, Warner Bros Discovery is committed to the Toonami experiment. Compared to 2008, when Cartoon Network’s interest in anime was all but dead save for what was left of Adult Swim Action, the channel’s continued interest in anime will be key to how quickly and effectively Toonami, and perhaps anime as a whole, rebounds this time around. Good times and golden years tend to come in cycles. Although it doesn’t feel like it now, I do feel that better days are ahead for Toonami and the anime and manga industries overall. The days of Toonami’s cancelation and the anime bust of the late 2000’s was pretty demoralizing for fans, but somehow, we got out of it stronger than ever.

What are your thoughts on this editorial? Let us know in the comments below or on our social media outlets.

Daniel Limjoco

Editor of the “Toonami Trending Rundown” a weekly article cataloging Toonami’s social media impact. News editor and social media curator for Toonami Squad. Former news editor and social media curator to ToonamiFaithful.com from 2013-2021.