The word “exclusive” has gained more glory when it comes to anime licenses. While the importance of that word hasn’t changed much in the years, it certainly feels like it carries more weight than it used to, due to a high number of streaming services that are buying rights to anime titles. Before, many companies either passed on anime or only wanted what was already popular. Back at Anime Expo last year, Jason DeMarco told me that previously companies were okay with only getting the subtitled version knowing that a dub of a favorite would most likely end up on Toonami once a series was available in English. Most companies thought that if that show were to air on Toonami, fans would just go to their website to see the subtitled version. Fast forward to today where the anime landscape has changed, dramatically so, thanks to FUNimation turning the dubbing process inside out. That’s now changed the mindset of different streaming services about how they want to tackle anime, as they see more value in it now and want to lock up both subtitled and English dubbed version. And because of that, now Toonami has another battle they’ll have to face to keep fan’s interest in the long run. Before these companies weren’t worried about an English dub going to Toonami, but that’s not the case anymore. Right now it seems that companies are now viewing Toonami as a rival and want to do what they can to grab these dubs before they can.

I think fans are missing the mark when they talk about streaming services and how it can impact Toonami. It isn’t just that they have a larger budget that would take a show away from Toonami if they felt like it. Toonami doesn’t have the kind of pockets that Amazon, Netflix, etc. have, and that is a huge part of the equation. But it is also the fact that in these recent deals are intended, for the dub to be exclusively aired on their streaming service compared to it coming to multiple platforms. Now you’ll see a company like Netflix set up a deal to get an anime and then dub it in multiple languages so it will only air on their platform. Right now, the market has shifted towards streaming entertainment and watching on your schedule (which TV can do, but it isn’t as convenient as being able to watch things on your phone or tablet). I don’t think it’s shifted to the point where television is dead. After all, people still listen to the radio and read hard copy newspapers. These things don’t just evaporate into thin air. Viewers like to watch stuff on their own time with no ads, so it’s become more ideal to watch content wherever they want on whatever they want, compared to just in the living room on a television. The problem, especially for anime fans, is that the market is stagnated to the point where you have to make a ton of money to see all the anime that’s being made, which the opposite of what fans want.

That’s what has made Toonami successful. It was the only place to see an English dub of popular anime titles people loved (besides buying the expensive home media release and Saturday Morning Cartoon blocks). As of now, it feels like more and more streaming services are targeting anime and going after dubs due to how profitable they can be. If there’s one thing anime does well (compared to other forms of entertainment) it’s selling home media products. Many companies hope to have the same kind of revenue that anime can give a company like FUNimation. So I think other services want to get into that action as well. So instead of sending English dubs to one place (Toonami), companies are shopping titles around to any streaming service that’ll have them. For example, Aniplex dubs seem to be all over the place, with shows going to go90 (God Eater and anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day for example) and Hulu (Erased, The Asterisk Wars, Blue Exorcists: Kyoto Arc), making it hard to believe that any of their titles that’s not Sword Art Online will join the block in future. Of course, every show/deal is different, but it certainly looks like Aniplex would prefer to have their dubs exclusively shown on a streaming service over Toonami. Could that be due to the money that the company makes by making exclusive deals with them? Fans will never know. This is a business. These companies are locking up the dub for it to exclusively air on their service, which was what Toonami did for dubs back when it was on Cartoon Network.

Not only have I noticed that Aniplex titles are all over the place, but there have been quite a few shows that would be a smash hit on Toonami that haven’t been able to get on the block (yet). Toonami fans continue to lament that My Hero Academia hasn’t made it on the block (with some fans wondering if Toonami has even looked at the property). To which I answer, of course they have! I’m pretty sure that as the second season was airing they realized how popular it has become in the U.S. However, with how fast that dub, in particular, was being made, and how much of a push it has gotten from companies like FUNimation and Crunchyroll, I doubt other streaming services would say “eh, let’s leave that insanely popular title alone”. Obviously, My Hero Academia was looked at, especially with the acclaim it got in its first season, it’s massive following thanks to the manga, and how popular the superhero genre is. Sadly, Toonami fans will have to wait to see if the rights for My Hero Academia (and others like Mob Pyscho 100 and The Ancient Magus’ Bride) will become available while it’s still popular (or wanted).

That isn’t to say that all is lost with Toonami when it comes to anime getting locked up by other places. There are a few things that Toonami can look into to make it more enticing to watch the block and keep themselves in the “fight.” One thing that comes to mind off the bat is airing original content. That’s why I was so excited about the new season of Samurai Jack as well as the new seasons of FLCL. Toonami needs more original content that fans can get behind. Otherwise, fans might start to feel fatigued from the block, with all the shōnen that airs (I like that, but know that some fans don’t). It’s tough, too, because making a series is an expensive endeavor and can’t be done on a whim. You have to get these things right, especially considering the type of budget Toonami deals with compared to other places.

And while Toonami does gain exclusive rights to air anime on their block, I’m starting to think that they’ll have to start making a push for more “Simuldubs” that FUNimation is producing to stay with the changing anime landscape. They’ve done it a couple of times with Space Dandy and Dimension W, and currently grabbed Black Clover, which is hugely popular in its own right. I think in the future there needs to be more “Simuldubs” to keep Toonami feeling fresh for anime fans. That’s what the market has turned into with the fast turnaround of shows joining the block. It’s just tough to have a television block emulate what a streaming service like Crunchyroll provides. It’ll be tough, especially when you don’t know where a series is going beforehand and what might start off as promising turns into a jumbled mess. But depending on the title, it might be a chance that Toonami has to take down the road.

It’s something to look into, and I’m sure Toonami already has. After all, they do have extended plans into 2021, so they are in for the long haul. Jason DeMarco has said it’s tougher to get shows now, so they might have to take more leaps of faith than they have before (which they seem to have done with the addition of Black Clover), and possibly have more original content. Samurai Jack was a huge success, and if FLCL ends up becoming one as well, that could quickly open the doors for Toonami to take more chances with their own programming. Trying to beat out the streaming services’ deep pockets by outspending them on titles isn’t a reasonable thing to expect, so the dreams of getting every single popular dub that’s out has been killed (for now). Maybe things can change, considering FUNimation values their titles getting on television, but as of now Toonami will have to fight in a different way than fans are accustomed to hearing about.

C.J Maffris is an editorial writer for Feel free to follow C.J on Twitter @SeaJayMaffris