When Anime Goes Corporate: Netflix and Amazon

The anime industry is always changing and evolving in unprecedented ways, but since Crunchyroll and Funimation launched as streaming services after 2006, things seemed fairly stable and static until 2014. In January of that year, the first simuldub aired on American TV. Toonami broadcast new episodes of Bones’ Space Dandy in English before their Japanese versions broadcast in Japan. This practice of simultaneous dubbing began in earnest later that year with dubbed episodes streaming on Funimation’s website a few weeks after they aired in Japan. Sentai began something similar to this recently, called “dubcasting.”

Space Dandy promotional visual. New episodes of Space Dandy aired on Toonami on American television in English before they aired on Japanese television.

That really shook the industry, greatly reducing the time fans would wait before seeing anime in English. But the change that shook the industry just as greatly came at the end of the year, with Netflix entering the fray of anime themselves. Before 2014, Netflix’ library of anime consisted solely of other publishers’ anime. I wrote about some of those titles that existed in the glory days of my anime fandom here, and some of those titles still exist there, but after 2014, Netflix began investing into the medium themselves, first paying for exclusive streaming rights (starting with Seven Deadly Sins), then financing it directly for the purpose of being on the service.

Seven Deadly Sins promotional visual. The first prominent Netflix Original anime.

What followed was a steadily increasing library of “Netflix Original” anime while other publishers’ titles began expiring without renewal on the service. As the seasons went by, fans saw more and more titles swooped away from Funimation and Crunchyroll such as Aijin, Knights of Sidonia, and Kuromukuro. It wasn’t too long after that that Netflix moved from paying for exclusive streaming rights to actually sitting on production committees and financing anime for streaming on Netflix globally to be dubbed and subtitled in several different languages, beginning to churn out more titles at an exponential rate in 2017 and 2018 including B: The Biginning, Sword Gai the Animation, and A.I.C.O. as well as the more recent Aggretsuko, Devilman Crybaby, and Violet Evergarden.

While Netflix was doing this, Amazon also decided they wanted a piece of the anime pie. They began an exclusive deal in 2016 to put all Noitamina titles on their Amazon Prime video streaming service, starting with Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. After this, Amazon began their own anime-specific streaming service, Anime Strike, which drew mixed responses, to say the least (Amazon eventually ended the service in 2018, making all anime titles on the service free to Amazon Prime subscribers as was the case originally). Some of the titles there now include Re:Creators, Iroduku: The World in Colors, and the currently airing Dororo.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress promotional visual. Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress was the first prominent Amazon exclusive anime in 2016.

In 2016, Funimation formed a partnership with Crunchyroll, possibly to compete with Netflix and Amazon. Shortly after that, though, Sony Pictures TV decided to get in on the action too by buying a majority stake in Funimation, an act that ultimately caused the short lived partnership of “Funiroll” or “Crunchymation” to end after a little over two years. This was followed by AT&T buying out Chernin Group’s remaining shares of OtterMedia, which owns Crunchyroll.

With so may big companies suddenly in the anime industry in a span of just a few years, fans have noticed a lot of positives and negatives about the idea. Reactions have been just as swift as the changes themselves. Here are some of the differing opinions on the subject.

First, the positives…

A higher volume of content

One thing that comes with increased outputs of money is increased outputs of content. Particularly, this also means that more anime is available to watch than ever before. With Netflix working directly on production committees, it means more anime can be made and investments that normally wouldn’t be funded without the help of Netflix’ deep pockets. It’s because of Netflix we have Devilman Crybaby, widely regarded as one of the best anime from 2018, Aggretsuko, the upcoming Kengan Ashura, and others. More anime is being made than ever before. This was true even before Netflix stepped foot in he door, but that certainly didn’t hurt.

More new people are now getting into anime

Netflix and Amazon are large companies with many subscribers, many of whom are not interested in anime, but when they appear on mainstream services, these anime become noticed by more people, expanding the reach of great titles. My old college roommate who I never would have suspected liked anime once remarked how he liked One Punch Man (found on Netflix). There’s also some others who have fawned over Aggretsuko due to its presence on Netflix. There is also Funimation’s new partnership with Hulu, and their backing from Sony gives them some more leverage in expanding their reach to a global audience. And on that note…

Aggretsuko was made in association with Netflix and was streamed in many languages. A season 2 has been announced.

This anime is being made available globally

Netflix is licensing anime for global streaming, subtitling and dubbing their titles in multiple languages other than English. Territories that have been previously shut out of access to these titles now have access to it in their native language. More and more anime is being made available outside Japan not just in North America in English but to more people around the world, and that is definitely a good thing.

But with the good also comes the bad..

Restrictive paywalls

Disappearing are the days where one could just hop onto Crunchyroll or Funimation and watch everything for free (with ads). These made anime not just accessible, but easily so. But with Netflix and Amazon in the game, consumers must pay in order to get the content. Netflix requires a subscription to view its content, and that subscription price keeps going up. Amazon was doubly guilty of this when they required not only a subscription to Amazon Prime, but also an additional subscription to Anime Strike.

Now in order to watch everything you are interested in, you need several subscriptions to get the exclusive content that doesn’t have a free option, which brings me to my next point.

One Punch Man season 2 is a Hulu exclusive title.

There’s a crowded market

There used to be fewer companies streaming content. If you were an anime fan before 2014, the only legal options open to you were basically, Funimation, Crunchyroll, and Hulu, and that was basically it, and neither really required a subscription to view content, but now Netflix and Amazon have entered the fray and so has HiDive, a new service set up for Sentai Filmworks titles, and Hulu has since scrapped their free option . And with the breakup of Funiroll, subscriptions will be required for Funimation, Crunchyroll, Hulu, HiDive, Netflix, and Amazon to get everything. Those monthly bills add up, and it could lead to some consumers picking one or two services and pirating all the content held by others.

And then there’s the thing hurts the most. One of the most painful things for a collector like myself:

Violet Evergarden is a Netflix exclusive. A film has been announced for January 2020. No English BD/DVD release has been announced.

Less DVD and Blu-ray releases

With these large streaming services picking up these titles, we have to rely on other companies getting home video rights separately for these titles if we want to own them on disc. And as Justin Sevakis points out in this Answerman column he does for Anime News Network (which also answers the overall question of why these anime don’t get home video releases), companies don’t like to do this. They want all the rights themselves.

One such example that hurts in particular is Violet Evergarden. I gushed over the show in my piece about 2018 anime so I won’t do that again here. But I will say that I would very much like a set to own on my shelf.

The dominance of streaming and digital has relegated physical media to a collector’s premium. The mentality of collecting is partially based on the idea that these shows will not stream forever so it would be wise to have a physical copy. But what if these streaming services brokered deals and produced these series themselves? Then there’s a tacit guarantee that these series WILL stream forever. So a physical copy may not be necessary. But there is something to owning a physical copy to hold in you hands and display on your shelves.

Knights of Sidonia was a Netflix exclusive that was licensed by Sentai Filmworks for home video.

There are a few exceptions to these titles getting home video releases, but they are by no means guaranteed to get that treatment. These exceptions have been few and far between. Only six Netflix Original anime of the 36 listed on the Wikipedia page have gotten home video releases in English speaking territories. They are: Aijin (Sentai Filmworks), Castlevania (Viz Media), Fate/Apocrypha (Aniplex of America), Knights of Sidonia (Sentai Filmworks), Kuromukuro (Ponycan USA), and The Seven Deadly Sins (Funimation). The picture is just as grim for Amazon Prime exclusives. That isn’t to say there will never be home video releases for more titles, but don’t hold your breath.

There has been a lot of good that’s come from large companies investing in anime. Large sums of money means more content more readily available, and it gets more people into anime. But those same companies and same piles of cash are the ones making a corporate mess of the medium. It’s because of Netflix that we have Aggretsuko. It’s also because of Netflix I will probably never be able to own Violet Evergarden on Blu-ray.

What do you think? Do you welcome the entrance of large companies into the anime medium? Or do you wish they would go away? Although your opinion might not matter much, because it seems these companies are here to stay.

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The Danime Times

The Danime Times

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In depth analysis and features on anime you can’t get anywhere else. For conventional reviews: https://www.fandompost.com/author/danmansfield-tfp/