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Since the period of October-November 2021, as the likes of Black Clover, Fena: Pirate Princess, Food Wars, and My Hero Academia were completing their respective seasons, there has been a growing gap of shows on the Toonami schedule. My Hero Academia saw the final two episodes of Season 5 air back-to-back, while Yashahime saw a doubleheader of Episodes 20-21 on November 27-28, as well as a triple-header season finale on December 11-12 (although Episode 24 was delayed until January 1 due to a technical error). And that’s to say nothing about the unexpected marathon of Blade Runner: Black Lotus Episodes 1-5 on December 4-5, another on Christmas Day, as well as a Cowboy Bebop marathon on New Year’s Day.
While Yashahime’s first season ended with no indication if and when Toonami will be given the green light to air the show’s Second Act (presently streaming on Crunchyroll, FunimationNow, and Hulu), the schedule is, fortunately, being stabilized through the month of January as Toonami has brought in a new or returning show every week throughout the month. The January 8th edition of Toonami saw the return of Assassination Classroom for its second and final season, while last week’s broadcast on January 15 saw the premiere of the critically acclaimed Made in Abyss by Akihito Tsukushi and studio Kinema Citrus. This Saturday, January 22, Toonami will bring back One Piece after being off the schedule for four years, and Jason DeMarco has already hinted that there could be another announcement revealed next week. And with only three episodes of Blade Runner: Black Lotus left to air as of this writing, Shenmue will be next up to bat for Toonami originals, as the anime based on the classic Sega video game will premiere on February 5 at 12:30 a.m.
So why are these delays happening? On November 24, DeMarco tweeted “Frankly, we’ve had some unforeseen issues getting the shows we had lined up (issues out of our control). Once we are in the new year, we’ll launch some new ongoing series & things will settle down!”
SPIRAL CURSE DEMARCO on Twitter: “Sorry #toonami fans for the lineup bouncing around so much over these holidays!1 Frankly, we’ve had some unforeseen issues getting the shows we had lined up (issues out of our control). Once we are in the new year, we’ll launch some new ongoing series & things will settle down! https://t.co/aO9xfsh3bv / Twitter”
Sorry #toonami fans for the lineup bouncing around so much over these holidays!1 Frankly, we’ve had some unforeseen issues getting the shows we had lined up (issues out of our control). Once we are in the new year, we’ll launch some new ongoing series & things will settle down! https://t.co/aO9xfsh3bv
However, on December 7, Jason subtlety tweeted out that the Toonami crew has hit a significant snag with Sony over bringing back Demon Slayer for season 2, which may or may not be a contributor to the issues regarding bringing in new programming. When sharing the article by Screen Rant titled “10 Classic Sci-Fi Films That Deserve The Anime Treatment After Blade Runner: Black Lotus,” he mentioned that he would love to make a ROBOCOP anime series happen. However later in the discussion thread, he mentioned that “Sony’s busy freezing us out of Demon Slayer and who knows what else, I don’t see them letting me make ROBOCOP! Ha.” More recently, in an AMA on New Year’s Eve, when asked if Demon Slayer will return, Jason simply answered: “We might not have it at all, sorry.”
Yesterday, it became official when Funimation revealed that the English Dub of the TV adaptation of Mugen Train would be available to view on FunimationNow and Crunchyroll starting today, January 21, instead.
It’s unknown if Toonami had any first right of refusal contract clause to premiere successive seasons when Demon Slayer first joined the block back in 2019, something similar to the situations we’ve seen from other Aniplex shows including Sword Art Online and The Promised Neverland, as well as Funimation shows including Attack on Titan and Dragon Ball Super. It wouldn’t be surprising if this was a point of contention by Sony, that the dubs of one of their biggest cash cow franchises had to premiere on Toonami before it can be streamed on FunimationNow or Crunchyroll. Aniplex’s deal with Toonami for Demon Slayer precedes the “Funiplex” merger, and Toonami has not yet picked up a new franchise from Aniplex USA since the merger (although it also could be because Aniplex doesn’t license a lot of shows Toonami is interested in airing).
Besides the theory of Toonami not having such a clause for Demon Slayer in the first place, it’s likely that the Sony-Funimation Group (the name for the consortium of Aniplex USA, Crunchyroll, and Funimation) found a way to snake themselves out of their contractual obligations with Toonami. It wouldn’t be the first time it happened to the block this past year. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure recently saw its premiere and streaming rights go to Netflix with Part 6, prematurely ending its run on Toonami after four seasons/five parts. On the other hand, it should be noted that it was not only Toonami that lost the rights but Crunchyroll and possibly Viz as well. So, if Toonami and Crunchyroll had rights of first refusal for the dub and sub respectively, it either must have been nullified when VIZ Media lost the anime rights or the “loads of money” Netflix gave Warner Bros. Japan, et al. included enough to pay any penalties to sever any of their previous airing contracts.
If all Funimation wanted was to simply take the rights away from Toonami, and possibly let the block air it sometime later, it seems like they got their wish. However, given that this coincided with the previously mentioned schedule gap of programming, some are fearing that there is much more to Sony’s antics than meets the eye. Yesterday on Twitter when answering questions regarding Toonami bringing back One Piece, Jason answered some questions that could give perspective on the impact on how the current industry impacts are affecting Toonami’s ability to acquire shows. Of particular note, Jason mentions that “because the way we get [One Piece] is different from most other shows that Funimation distributes. And Toei VERY MUCH wanted us to run it.”
SPIRAL CURSE DEMARCO on Twitter: “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 of off the air. / Twitter”
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 of off the air.
SPIRAL CURSE DEMARCO on Twitter: “To survive in the exercise shrinking (I’m talking audience and budget) climate we are in, Toonami’s gonna have to start changing. Some doors will be closing, but I also think others will be opening. We’ll see. / Twitter”
To survive in the exercise shrinking (I’m talking audience and budget) climate we are in, Toonami’s gonna have to start changing. Some doors will be closing, but I also think others will be opening. We’ll see.
When asked if One Piece was brought in because of the situation regarding Demon Slayer, Jason mentioned: “We had many shows lined up, including [Demon Slayer], and we are no longer sure we can get any of them. Things appear to be changing…” Later on, in regards to if Toonami will be seeing older shows as a possible result, Jason added: “I mean, there’s so much churn in the market right now I have no idea what Toonami will look like in six months, let alone a year. So can’t really say. Maybe.”
SPIRAL CURSE DEMARCO on Twitter: “We had many shows lined up, including that, and we are no longer sure we can get any of them. Things appear to be changing… / Twitter”
We had many shows lined up, including that, and we are no longer sure we can get any of them. Things appear to be changing…
SPIRAL CURSE DEMARCO on Twitter: “I mean, there’s so much churn in the market right now I have no idea what Toonami will look like in six months, let alone a year. So can’t really say. Maybe. / Twitter”
I mean, there’s so much churn in the market right now I have no idea what Toonami will look like in six months, let alone a year. So can’t really say. Maybe.
Make Jason’s tweets as you will, especially given the current fluidity of the situation regarding the anime industry stateside. But if this is indeed the worst-case scenario and Sony ultimately is burning their bridges with Toonami, this not only jeopardizes the prospects of Demon Slayer ever returning, but could also go as far as jeopardizing Toonami’s ability to air future seasons of Attack on Titan, Black Clover, Dr. Stone, Fire Force, My Hero Academia, Sword Art Online, and potentially many other shows. Negotiation issues between media conglomerates is nothing new. Most notably, Sony earlier last year had negotiating issues with Disney over several rights regarding the Spiderman franchise, including its inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although Disney and Sony eventually settled their feud, it goes to show that when conglomerates fight over popular things and let their greed get the best of them, the only losers are the fans.
Regardless of what happens in the long run, there is no doubt that Toonami will need to invest more in original productions that guarantees said show will premiere on Saturday nights, in addition to having to diversify and work with other partners for co-productions and acquisitions. Fortunately, investing in more original and co-productions is exactly what Warner Bros. and Cartoon Network as a whole are doing, when Jason DeMarco was promoted last August to lead and improve their anime and action cartoon ventures, despite selling Crunchyroll.
With Aniplex/Sony’s acquisition of Funimation in 2018 and Crunchyroll last year, Sony’s ownership and consolidation of the anime licensing industry’s two biggest players has been considered a near-monopoly by critics. Since the Funimation-Aniplex-Crunchyroll merger, the only programs that Toonami has aired that are not licensed or co-produced from the Sony-Funimation consortium are the Naruto franchise, Made in Abyss, and Yashahime. Since most of Toonami’s acquisitions and several of its original productions are co-produced by the Sony consortium, an ending of such relations could severely hurt, if not become a potential death blow to the block’s long-term viability. It would also vindicate fans concerns of a Sony monopoly in the anime licensing business. Ironic, especially given that Sony fans in the gaming side have accused Microsoft’s recent purchases of Bethesda and Activision-Blizzard as monopolistic. A permanent break up of Toonami-Funimation relations would also be an unfortunate end to a partnership that dates back to Dragon Ball Z’s success in 1999, one that was and continues to be mutually beneficial for both parties and the anime industry as a whole.
Last spring, I published an editorial titled “Is Toonami’s “No Movies” Policy Coming Back to Haunt Its Viewers?” highlighting that because Mugen Train and the SAO films are canon and tied into the overall storylines of both respective franchises, a failure to showcase these events to the block’s audience will likely lead to fans being disenfranchised canonically down the line unless a TV adaptation of Mugen Train or the Progressive films is made or Toonami can successfully negotiate a deal with Sony to air the films when they become essential for viewing a future season. Since then, ufotable announced that there would be a TV version of Demon Slayer’s Mugen Train arc, which ran in Japan from October to December 2021. Although this looked to be a huge benefit for Toonami and other international networks who couldn’t air the film, despite this, it looks like Sony might still be willing to disenfranchise Toonami viewers after all, by simply not letting them air the show.
But as Jason himself says time and again, “Never say never.” Hopefully, it’s just a situation where cooler heads will eventually prevail and Cartoon Network/Adult Swim/Toonami and Sony-Funimation Group will complete a deal to bring back Demon Slayer and other shows in the future. Unfortunately, all we can do now is wait and see what happens, though it doesn’t hurt to let @Clarknova1 and @AniplexUSA, @Crunchyroll, and @Funimation know on their respective social media outlets. Let them know your show requests and concerns, but of course, politeness goes a long way.
Article Update: During a Q&A session on January 28, when asked if Netflix played a role in Toonami losing the Demon Slayer rights, Jason DeMarco revealed that thanks to the theatrical success of Mugen Train, Aniplex’s asking price to renew the series on Toonami far exceeded what Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, and WarnerMedia was willing to pay.
SPIRAL CURSE DEMARCO on Twitter: “Not Netflix this time. The movie doing so well has made the price… uh… higher than we can afford, let’s say. https://t.co/TU6M6TccB3 / Twitter”
Not Netflix this time. The movie doing so well has made the price… uh… higher than we can afford, let’s say. https://t.co/TU6M6TccB3
In addition to the other possible factors, Demon Slayer may well be a victim of its own success. Its popularity and acclaim in streaming, in the theaters, on Toonami, and everywhere else proved that this franchise was a hot commodity, and you can’t blame Sony for wanting a bigger return for its investment in this franchise.
On the other hand, a big reason why these shows succeed is because of their wide availability, and it’s very common for anime studios to negotiate a deal to see their shows on TV (in addition to streaming and the like) to help satisfy this. It’s why similarly popular titles including Attack on Titan and My Hero Academia are also on Toonami, and why we saw the return of One Piece to the lineup. Indeed, it’s the reason why Sword Art Online, the show that paved the way for Demon Slayer and other Aniplex shows, got on Toonami in the first place. I always believed that for a show that ultimately gets acquired for Toonami, it requires the support of the fans, Toonami themselves wanting to air the show, and the show’s producers and licensors wanting to see it on the block. While it was the case for Demon Slayer season 1, sadly that just didn’t turn out to be the case this time around. Perhaps maybe in a few months or a few years, it will be again.
What are your thoughts on the recent news? Do you think Toonami should continue to try bringing back Demon Slayer? Let us know by commenting below or directly on our social media.