Reflections of an old anime fan: What has streaming brought us?

I’ve been an anime fan off-and-on for 23 years, but I’m usually on the peripheries of the fandom. I know enough to feel slightly superior to the casuals, but I certainly don’t know as much as the people who live and breathe anime and manga.

That is my roundabout way of saying, I’m planning on using these Reflections posts as my way of putting something I’ve noticed out there, but I don’t have the background to know if it’s 100 percent accurate. I am just an 40-something year old anime fan on my porch shaking my cane at the youngsters passing by. So if I’m wrong let me know.

Casshern

So back in the before time. When Crunchyroll posted other people’s fansubs, and anime series were still sold one disc at a time over the course of a year. The U.S. anime industry was falling apart.

A combination of things came together all at the same time to put it in peril. I think most people are familiar with this history, but I think it bears going over again.

First, anime exploded in popularity in the United States in the late 1990s and early 2000s. A series of hits made it to cable television. First it was Gundam Wing, Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon. That was shortly followed by Cowboy Beebop, Trigun and some others. Suddenly, what had been a cottage industry that was largely run by small outfits, turned into a much larger cottage industry where people were making tens of hundreds of dollars.

The problem is that Japan seemed to see that meteoric rise and overvalued their product. There are stories of anime distributors paying thousands of dollars per episode for shows that really weren’t worth it. But as long more people were buying DVDs each year everything was OK. The companies could afford to continue throwing good money after bad to buy licenses.

Gankutsuou

The second factor started on college campuses, and by the time 2004 rolled around became fairly ubiquitous — high speed cable. It’s hard to understate how much high speed internet changed how we consume media.

People were no longer willing to spend $14 on an album where they only wanted one song. Now they had the option to just take it, because no one was selling them that song. People weren’t willing to wait two years for an anime to finally be released in the United States, so they formed international groups and fansubbed them.

This directly impacting the profits of companies that were already operating on a shoestring budget.

So for a good three years, between 2006 and 2009, there was a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth, as first Geneon fell, then Bandai Enterntainment and then ADV Films reorganized.

But in the end, we can see what happened. We are living in the streaming future that I believed was coming for anime.

The fansub groups seem to be largely gone. There is a graveyard of torrents scattered throughout the interwebs, and the industry seems reasonably healthy. If we can be talking about working conditions in the industry, and not whether there is going to be an industry, we must be doing better.

That said, I’m not sure I’m in love with this future.

kaiba7b

There were some shows that were popular in that period of time between the end of the collapse and the beginning of the streaming present. There were shows like Kaiba, Ghost Hound and Dennou Coil.

I didn’t love all of them, but they were trying interesting things.

Now I am subscribed to Amazon, VRV, Hulu and Netflix, which covers everything except for the Funimation stuff that isn’t on Hulu or VRV. I’ve been scrolling through stuff, and what I don’t see, is anything that’s really taking a risk.

In fact, I see a lot of stuff that is probably good, and uses really traditional ways to tell a tale. I mean I don’t love Serial Experiments Lain of Gankutsuou, but I respect the hell out of them. I feel like anime is less willing to take risks then it used to be.

What I don’t know is if this is because the shows aren’t there, or if they aren’t reaching me. Has the disappearance of the fansub groups meant the really daring visions are languishing in obscurity, or is the big money backing most anime distribution mean we only get stuff that pushes the boundary so much?

I don’t know, and I wish I did. What am I missing? And who is pushing the boundaries?

Thanks for reading.

3 thoughts on “Reflections of an old anime fan: What has streaming brought us?

  1. That was an interesting recap. I remember fansubs and the existence of Bandai, ADV, and Geneon among other companies. I’ve also noticed that there’s not many newer anime series that I know of that really experiment with things as much as the 00s (Good call with Gankutsuou. That was an underrated series). I wished there were more companies than just Sentai, Funimation, or Aniplex of America to carry the weight of the anime industry (I know there are others, but they get the most attention). It feels weird being an anime fan in this time when I had a years-long hiatus.

  2. I think the advent of reliable legal streaming, in itself a very good thing, has increased the size of the watching community but also splintered it: more people are watching along, but (and this is impressionistic) I don’t get the sense that there’s any chance, nowadays, that you’d get an event like seemingly almost every anime fan on the English-speaking internet anxiously awaiting speedsubs of the finale of Gurren Lagann. Of course, more people watching along is good, and some of the splintering is because people can now pursue particular things which are more niche but up their particular street.

    Another result, I think, is that the greater ease of access to *most* titles has reduced the number of people paying attention to the things which still aren’t easy to access. You can see a minor version of this in the way it’s very difficult for any buzz to build around a show which is held back from regular English translations as it airs by Netflix. And the full-on version is the silence around titles, old or new, which aren’t getting any official release in any form. I’m told that the numbers of people torrenting are quite small these days. More people are watching anime, but fewer know what to do if they hear about something which interests them but will never in a million years be legally streamed. Obviously, overall, we’ve seen a change for the better, but it’s interesting to think about the smaller-scale negatives contained in that big net positive.

    1. So I think overall, it has meant that we don’t live in a purely pirated world, which is good for creators. In turn I think that’s good for anime fans.

      The thing is I don’t even know what I’m missing. The last truly weird thing I’ve seen come out of Japan was House of the Five Leaves, and that was 10 years ago now. I am curious if there is a way to find out what I’m missing, or if it just never will make it out this way.

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