Monday 24 July 2017

Streaming: Summer 2017 anime first impressions

Wow. Crunchyroll nearly completely wiped out when it came to licensing high quality titles this season; if I wasn't already subscribed for a year I'd have seriously considered taking a break if they hadn't snagged Jigoku Shoujo. It's not a strong season to begin with - the majority of titles are 'ok' rather than 'unmissable' - but it's the first where Crunchyroll's dominance in the UK has started to show major cracks. The main culprits are Amazon Prime, who have grabbed some high quality titles once again, and Sentai's new venture HIDIVE. Netflix are also sitting on the sidelines, singlehandedly justifying piracy for many viewers by withholding all international access for anything they touch and treating the anime community like a mindless cash cow. Screw Netflix.

Amazon's anime push is nothing new for this season, but Sentai's relaunch is actively frustrating. To draw attention to their homegrown service they have stopped allowing other anime sites to show their content, which means that none of their shows can be viewed on half my devices and there are no apps whatsoever since the new site is still in beta. In addition, the billing/trial system is poorly described and confusing. Even though their support team is friendly and responsive, by now we've all gone through this many times before with overly ambitious new site launches in legal streaming and it's never fun.

Manga Entertainment's Jerome accidentally hit the nail on the head in one of his characteristic Twitter rants recently when he said, "Isn't that weird? Usually consumers see monopolisation as a bad thing, but anime fans r screaming out for 1 source for everything."

In my mind, there's a simple explanation. Competition is important. The ideal anime streaming market would have sites like Crunchyroll, Netflix, Amazon, Funimation and HIDIVE all streaming every show, worldwide, with subtitles in multiple languages. If Netflix wants to push this stupid enforced 'box set' marathon model, let them do so. If HIDIVE think they are best positioned for providing a unified streaming-and-physical service to the US and English-majority regions, let them. If Crunchyroll think a completely free service on a delay is worth more to fans on a budget while Viewster think fans deserve day-and-date with adverts, fine. The customers can pick which site they find easiest to use, and everyone has legal access to as much anime as possible. The best sites will get the most customers and the anime industry will get feedback on what works best, without all of the lies, exaggerations and excuses.

What we have now is not competition. It's the opposite. As a fan, I don't want to watch some random shounen anime on my platform of choice, so I have to follow the shows I want to watch to the platforms where they end up even if it destroys my viewing experience, as it can easily do when a service is poorly run (Animax UK, I'm talking about you). Fans can't afford to subscribe to half a dozen different platforms to watch half a dozen different shows. Fans can't afford new computers just to have something which works to stream through a certain badly-written website. Fans can't afford to spend hours each week trying to piece together the puzzle of working out which site has the show they want to see for their region (if anyone has it at all) and which language options are available where. It's even worse for casual or new fans, who have no real investment in the industry to encourage them to put up with all of this disorganisation.

Piracy is flourishing because of this baffling parody of the spirit of competition, where the services with the most money grab all of the best shows and lock them away from potential viewers. For most of these sites the distributors aren't being paid based on the number of viewers, they're being paid based on how exclusive their contract is. Distributors like Jerome are incentivised to give exclusivity contracts to each service (or not stream at all, thanks Jerome), and thus we end up in a situation where almost every single title this season is exclusive to one streaming service in the UK. The services don't even specialise in anime genres, so one season you'll have to go to Amazon Prime for your mature, female-orientated entertainment and the next that stuff will be on Crunchyroll instead and Amazon Prime only has action fantasy shows. The cheapest way to subscribe is via annual subscription, but to subscribe to each and every streaming site costs several times more than most fans' anime budgets. Ironically, this current interpration of 'competition' is probably crippling the spending power of Jerome's own physical anime buyers more than he realises.

In short, anime streaming is still a huge mess and the distributors are completely to blame. But as I love anime and hate piracy, I'm forced to put up with it and can't do anything about it other than complain.

So let's switch topics and talk about my first impressions of this latest batch of anime. On top of the titles I liked from the selection below, I'm still streaming Boku No Hero Academia, Nobunaga No Shinobi and Sakura Quest from previous seasons. Crunchyroll's lineup page still has a blank slot which I'm guessing will be filled later in the season too.

Sunday 23 July 2017

Streaming: Spring 2017 anime final impressions

Time is passing by too fast for me. It's difficult to keep up, yet despite some travel I managed to complete all of the shows I was watching in the spring anime season. It looks as though Crunchyroll has lost its monopoly on content at this point, with me finally subscribing to another platform ready for summer to avoid some of the blocks on exclusives the industry seems obsessed with inflicting upon us. What a pain.

I'll talk about it more in my summer 2017 post, but I ended up picking up Re:Creators right at the end of the season after finally gaining access to it. Everything else is largely unchanged from my first impressions post so here is my top three:

1. Uchouten Kazoku
2. Shingeki No Kyojin
3. Berserk

Not a big change there, except that somehow Berserk's terrible animation trounced SukaSuka's melodramatic romance in the final ranking. It wasn't the most life-changing season. All three of those shows are sequels!