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However, as this article was being written, more news started breaking that painted a very ugly picture of Crunchyroll and its practices. First, for years, Crunchyroll has been accused of underpaying their translation staff (and likely other divisions involved in the rapid production of their new releases) and from an outsider perspective, it certainly would appear that under Sony’s ownership, things have only gotten worse as pay has reportedly stayed the same with little-to-no chances of it improving in the foreseeable future.
Then, most recently, news broke that Kyle McCarley, the English dub voice of Shigeo Kagiyama in Mob Psycho 100 Seasons 1 and 2, would not be returning for the 3rd and final season, which Crunchyroll confirmed shortly thereafter with a statement indicating that “to accomplish [dubbing Season 3 in Dallas] seamlessly per our production and casting guidelines, we will need to recast some roles”. According to Mr. McCarley, the decision to recast was never a matter of money, but instead a lack of interest on Crunchyroll’s part to have a meeting with SAG-AFTRA representatives to discuss the possibility of deals with the union for future productions. Not trying to finalize any sort of deal, or even to pitch one for Mob Psycho, but simply a conversation on future union-backed dubs. Nothing more, nothing less.
Regardless of where one might stand on Crunchyroll or Sony, this should be unacceptable. People who are working on their translations aren’t getting salary pay, but instead are paid based on how many lines they can churn out and translate from Japanese to English. Considering the hard amount of work that goes into translating anime and how much the market has seen an explosion in popularity, one could be mistaken in thinking it might be a lucrative industry, but it rarely is. Coming from The Canipa Effect the upper end of translator pay for a single episode script is around $80 USD before tax and other potential withholdings. That is, quite frankly, an abysmal and paltry amount from a corporation that makes billions of dollars in profit every year. Crunchyroll has always had lower pay rates compared to its anime peers, but even under Sony and a new management regime, they still haven’t fixed their pay which is inexcusable! Coupling this with their current stance on unions and how they want to avoid even one meeting, it is sad to see a company that had a fans-first focus on great content now being ridiculed by those same fans for their horrid business practices.
Obviously, coming back to how this whole deal has affected Toonami, one really has to look at the block’s current lineup and where things are this year. It certainly is not the worst year in the block’s history, but it’s looking to be a very dry year for any new pick-ups, and the main reason is simple: Sony does not want to make deals for the anime they hold. So, the question becomes why they would choose not to do that. During the time that Sony had acquired Funimation Entertainment, the business didn’t really change much, if at all. Funimation continued to work with Adult Swim and Toonami, licensing out titles they held to the block on a regular basis. Toonami would air hit titles like My Hero Academia, Fire Force, and even slightly older titles like Assassination Classroom, all of which were licensed from Funimation while they were already a part of the Sony family, so why the change in heart after the Crunchyroll acquisition? I believe that the main reason is due to the Funimation purchase, which as mentioned earlier, was a deal worth $143 million. For a company like Sony, that’s a mere drop in the bucket, and as such, it would make little sense for them to keep tight control of the licenses they held at that time, especially as Funimation was expanding into global markets and had acquired some big names in the industry. After the Funimation deal closed, Sony went on to pick up other anime companies around the world, such as Manga Entertainment UK and AnimeLab, an Australian/New Zealand-based anime streamer, originally owned by parent company Madman Entertainment (who themselves would end up under the Sony banner after being acquired by Aniplex in 2019). However, their primary market remained North America and the idea of making their titles exclusive to Funimation, especially the FunimationNOW streaming platform, made little business sense as licensing out anime titles to TV networks that were willing to pay money for them would likely speed up returns of the money spent on acquisitions, alongside the free advertisement for their titles and platform. But when we move to the topic of the Sony purchase of Crunchyroll, that cost Sony almost nine times the amount they paid for Funimation. Additionally, Crunchyroll was already a global brand across the world and was known as the anime streaming service by the general anime audience. The Sony of today isn’t taking a scorched earth approach with Toonami, but they sure as hell aren’t making compromises either after spending nearly 1.2 billion dollars on Crunchyroll. The business model this reminds me most of is Netflix’s model, in which Netflix has a trove of content that they hold the exclusive rights to, and while they could do sub-licensing deals with linear broadcast stations like Adult Swim, they simply choose not to do so. People will probably be inclined to bring up a show like Bojack Horseman, which did features reruns on Comedy Central, or Tuca & Bertie, which made the jump to Adult Swim. In those cases, Netflix is just the distributor of those shows and in the case of Tuca & Bertie, Adult Swim produces the series now. Netflix thrives on exclusive content to bolster its service even though they’ve had to contend with more competition coming into the “streaming wars”, less compelling originals, and subscriber numbers tanking over the past year. They’ve also seen outcry after their animation department has taken major hits, with various creators calling out Netflix for their poor practices, along with the cancellation of fan favorite series and unproduced originals such as Bone. Yet, Netflix is still the leader in the streaming market and it’s unlikely that they’ll have a sudden change of heart with sub-licensing anything they have to TV networks. They value exclusivity as exclusivity drives your subscription platform, which is why you won’t see Marvel or Star Wars originals come to any other platform besides Disney+. It’s all a part of the plan to grow the service and make said brand widely available to those who are willing to subscribe to it.
Sony’s move similarly makes sense as they clearly want Crunchyroll to be the only place for anime and they’ll market it to hell and back to make sure the public knows it. There is a somewhat bleak outlook for the western anime industry, and it seems obvious that Sony is not going to budge on their stance anytime soon. So, one might ask if there is anything fans can do? As consumers, it is our job to voice our concerns to these corporate entities, but campaigning and complaints can only go so far. If you want to do anything about Sony’s bad business practices, voting with your wallet is one of the best ways to send a message. Fans that cancel their subscription to Crunchyroll can send the message that if they do not change, then those fans will never give Crunchyroll their money. Supporting others in the streaming space, regardless of your region, wherever possible can also send a message when subscriber numbers begin to migrate elsewhere. If those services aren’t available, then one can just “find” the content you are looking for through our search engine of choice. While I personally do not like suggesting such options, it’s not like Crunchyroll is feeding money back to the animators or translators. It goes back into their own pockets and fills the pockets of the executives at Crunchyroll and Sony. Options exist out there and whatever you choose to do is your choice alone. Always show support, but if it comes to drastic measures… well, you probably know the saying.
If you are a viewer of Toonami however, it has become very clear that Sony isn’t interested in licensing out titles to linear networks any time soon and it’s looking like rough waters ahead for the action cartoon block. It may not be completely bleak for fans of the block, but it will be more and more challenging as time moves forward, with more competitors in the streaming wars wanting anime as a driving focus for their young adult content. We’ve already seen it with Netflix’s aggressive acquisition spree, including Toonami favorite Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure being locked in with the streamer for the foreseeable future. Perhaps in the next few years, Toonami will downsize their time and focus less on what’s hot and look to curate a block that has a large focus on original content, staples of the block (Naruto, One Piece, etc.), and a random acquisition from time to time. While that may be less exciting than what we have been given in years prior, options are dwindling and those options that remain are likely to be aimed more at niche viewers with the occasional popular title showing up, albeit if those titles get licensed and dubbed by partners like Sentai Filmworks or Viz Media. I believe there’s still a bright future ahead for the action cartoon block and I remain optimistic on that.
As for Sony and Crunchyroll, the longer they tend to push their harmful business practices on the consumer, the sooner it will get to a breaking point. The market might not be there now, and fans may not see it for some time, but I believe there will be a breaking point for Crunchyroll where the consumer will not buy into their practices anymore, and in the end, Sony will be losing a lot of money through Crunchyroll if they so choose to continue down this path.
Sources: Sony Pictures, Crunchyroll, Verity, Kyle McCarley The Canipa Effect