As long as we all remember not to cross the streams, I’m sure we’ll be okay.
Real talk: I was born in the 80’s and was a teen in the 90’s. I totally remember that sharing anime used to involve dodgy TV recordings getting copied to the point that they were almost unwatchable on VCR’s and passed by hand from fan to fan (the selection, particularly in Australia, was not impressive). Then YouTube came and with it a brand new way to access so many dodgy fan-subbed series cut into shorter than ten minute segments and often plagued by missing episodes or at times entire chunks from the middle of an episode (for those not familiar with past posts on the topic, this was how I initially became a Bleach fan and believe me hunting down part b of episode whatever number and trying to find English and not Spanish subs was definitely not an easy feat at times and that was when the internet didn’t just drop out altogether).
Torrenting also became a thing and suddenly I had vast arrays of series at my disposal provided I was willing to constantly monitor my computer for nasty little intruders. However legal and consistent access to anime continue to be a challenge.
And then came streaming services.
I mean sure, poor internet connections and disruptions to service remained a thing and while that has slowly improved Australia still has a number of issues to work on in that regard (particularly for those of us who don’t live in capital cities). But now there were actual choices for watching anime. And a lot of them could be accessed for free provided you were willing to watch ads or put up with a release delay.
Suddenly being an anime fan became a lot more mainstream as people could suddenly actually see that anime was in fact more than just Pokémon episodes running during kids TV in the morning.
Affiliate Link – Play Asia
However, nothing is ever perfect. Each streaming service has advantages and disadvantages and they aren’t constant. Crunchy and Funimation had a brief period of togetherness before going their separate ways and AnimeLab in Australia is now pretty much just Funimation with a slightly different logo. There’s HiDive which does still have some series that aren’t accessible elsewhere, though I ultimately decided there wasn’t enough to keep an additional service on deck, Amazon of course for those willing to pay for it and Netflix continues to dabble in anime streaming though hasn’t quite worked out the whole simulcast thing that anime-fans really want. There’s probably others, particularly elsewhere in the world, but those seem to be the main players that I have access to. Then again, assuming it isn’t over-ruled by the regulators, it seems Funimation will own Crunchyroll and then pretty much we’ll have Funimation streaming with a few different faces (unless they just consolidate the lot – though why would they if they can double charge their viewers) with a few other services that may have anime and HiDive trying to do its own thing.
The real problem with this of course is exclusive streaming where one service becomes the only one that can stream a particular series. The benefits to the company are clear as people either sign up or don’t have access. For viewers it means that one service isn’t actually enough to access everything.
Of course some people still just bypass this drama by watching wherever on the internet it becomes available. Common arguments include that the studios don’t receive the profits, they can’t watch everything in one place, or even that it costs too much to pay for ad free. But, when I talk with most fans and the topic comes up most seem fairly happy to go through these services but inevitably struggle with the question of how many they have or need and whether it would be better to cut back or go all in. Interestingly when I asked my Twitter followers how many streaming services they were using (for anime) the majority actually only used one or two services though a few made comment that they had other services but not necessarily for anime.
For me, I’m sitting at 3 currently for anime.
Crunchyroll remains a staple but their app doesn’t work consistently on my TV (and won’t run at all on my friend’s TV) so that means it is pretty much exclusive to when I’m watching at my computer. Still, the selection of anime remains impressive and the price for a subscription so I can watch without ads is pretty good so I’ll continue with it.
AnimeLab has always had my favourite interface and player for streaming anime however the selection used to be a little on the weaker side. That’s most definitely changed and now the catalogue is very impressive and they also do a lot more dubbed anime (while I still prefer subbed when trying to talk others into watching a show with me being able to tell them they can watch in English is a definite plus). Again, a yearly subscription is reasonable and overall I’m very happy with this service at the moment.
Finally there’s Netflix which continues to have a relatively small catalogue of anime in its collection but some of those are titles that aren’t accessible elsewhere and I have the Netflix subscription for other watching anyway so it’s probably there to stay. I also subscribe to Stan but that is almost entirely for 90’s TV shows and bad horror movies and it doesn’t have any anime on it (at least as far as I can tell).
Looking into the future, it is difficult to know what streaming will be like. With so many countries now trying to catch their legal systems up with the online world and at times passing laws that have huge impacts on how companies can operate it is really impossible to know what is next for anime fans.
What I do know is that we can’t put the genie back in the bottle. All these changes in technology and access mean there’s now a whole generation who know about anime and will find ways to seek out new shows and watch them. It would be fantastic if we can find a system that allows studios to make a decent amount from their work so they can continue to produce anime, while keeping the cost barrier to fans reasonable, and ensuring the streaming services themselves remain profitable, but there’s a lot of complications to be worked through and its unlikely we’ll find a utopian style solution any time soon.
In the meantime though, I remain very glad that anime is now available at the click of a button.
Images used in title image:
- Crunchyroll logo.
- Animelab logo.
- Netflix logo.