“This is a topic that won’t be controversial whatsoever…” he said sarcastically, knowing that this wasn’t the case.
As any devoted Anime fan in the West will know, it’s very expensive to be an Anime fan that tries to watch every new show (or at least the interesting ones) every Season. On average, there are about 20-25 new Anime released every Season, and there are four seasons a year (duh). That’s a lot of Anime. This doesn’t include continuing shows either, so in reality, there are more than that. As an example, for the Summer 2020 Anime season, there are a total of 26. Obviously, you won’t be interested in watching all of them, but generally, I’d want to at least check out half, which is probably why my backlog seems bottomless… anyway…
“So, what’s the big deal?” I hear you ask. The problem, you see, is that Anime (at least in the West) is rarely shown on just one channel, as it often is in Japan (with some exceptions). You can’t just switch to The Anime Network on your TV at 5PM to watch the newest episode of Boruto, or whatever your fancy might be.
Because Anime slowly grew in popularity over time, niche services started out offering shows, such as Crunchyroll, Funimation, HIDIVE, etc. You could usually get the majority of shows through a select few services such as those, but then Anime became more mainstream, and as a result, the big western streaming services wanted a cut of the pie. Services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Adult Swim, etc. This led to the classic math question: “If there is a cake split between x amount of people, how many slices do you get?” The answer? A whole lot…
Now, we aren’t talking about slices of cake, we’re talking about shows. And as a test, I tried to see just how, in one Season, the shows I was interested were split between platforms and how much it’d roughly cost me to be able to watch all of them without pirating.
It was January 2020 and the Winter Season which was underway had quite a lot of interesting shows (most of which didn’t turn out well, but that’s beside the point). Here’s how they were split:
1. Crunchyroll: 10 – “Eizouken ni wa Te o Dasu na!“; “Chihayafuru” S3 (a long-awaited season too); “Shokugeki no Souma” S4; “Kyokou Suiri“; “Haikyuu!!” S3 (another long-awaited one); “Boku no Hero Academia” S4; “Mairimashita! Iruma-kun“; “Kabukichou Sherlock“; “Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai – Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen” (on more than one); “Hanebado” (on more than one).
2. Netflix: 2 – “Dorohedoro”; “Kuutei Dragons”.
3. Funimation: 7 – “Azur Lane“; “Itai no wa Iya nano de Bougyoryoku ni Kyokufuri Shitai to Omoimasu” (this was mentioned in my previous Anime article about the MMORPG genre); “Infinite Dendrogram“; “Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun“; “Darwin’s Game“; “Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai – Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen” (on more than one); “Hanebado” (on more than one).
4. Adult Swim: 1 – “Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of the Underworld“.
5. Amazon Prime Video: 1 – “Beatless“.
6. Hulu: 1 – “Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai – Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen” (on more than one).
7. HIDIVE: 1 – “Devil’s Line“.
That’s 7 different streaming services for 20 Anime in the same Season (6 if we exclude Hulu because of the repeat entry). Another thing I haven’t even touched upon is the fact that all the shows on Netflix, Funimation, Adult Swim, Amazon Video, and Hulu, were (for the most part) unavailable to anyone outside of America, meaning people in Europe got double-shafted, because the only platforms they can even view the shows on legally, have geo-locking, making it impossible to watch them without a VPN, adding more money to the cost of this already tremendously-expensive hobby…
So, in conclusion: out of 20 anime, I (living outside of America) only had access to 11. Later, Netflix would make their two shows available outside of America, but only after a full season run, which for those two shows were three months, which was long after they have any value to someone who engages in forum discussions about current topics or who is not a fan of having shows spoiled.
But let’s imagine that I had access to all of these platforms. How much would it cost me to view each of them legally, for just one Season? If we’re extremely modest, we’ll imagine that all of the 20 shows last 12 episodes (i.e. 3 months with 1 episode per week) although a quarter of them have 20+ episodes and continue into the next Season. Anyway, so, for 3 months, with 6 streaming subscriptions (not counting Hulu, which is $6 per month), it would cost (structured according to the list above): ($8+$13+$6+$4+$9+$5) x 3 = $135 ($612 for all 7 services for a full year).
A 135 dollars to watch 20 shows, most of which probably won’t even be interesting. In terms of quantity, Crunchyroll is definitely your best bang for your buck, but in that Season, Netflix and Funimation both had very entertaining shows, so you could just subscribe to those three, but that’s still 26 dollars every single month, and who knows, maybe one of the shows you don’t have access to ends up being one of the really amazing ones. It’s always hard to tell.
Maybe after reading this, you’re more sympathetic towards why people pirate Anime so often. It’s rarely ever because people are cheapskates. It’s unrealistic to expect someone who is an avid fan, like myself, to subscribe to 7 different services, because the industry is designed around buying access to the entire catalogue of each site, rather than individual shows.
Another thing I’ve neglected to mention is the lack of archives that a lot of these services have. Crunchyroll and Netflix are perhaps the worst offenders in this regard because they buy licensing agreements to so many shows, that they often remove a lot of old shows to not overcrowd their sites. This means that all that money you invested over several months to watch a show won’t have a lasting value, and you’re therefore better off buying the shows on DVD or on-demand in a way that you have the copies even after archives are purged to make way for new shows.
I personally only subscribe to Netflix, because they’re the only ones with consistent quality whereas Crunchyroll is notorious for throttling their streaming quality to save money and because of the very rapid purging of series after their run has ended.
So, to return to the title of this article. The current horrendous streaming model for Anime and splitting of a very small cake, is directly linked to the enormous amount of pirating this industry experiences.
If you would like a deeper dive into this topic, please check out Uniquenameosaurus and his video: “You SHOULD Pirate Anime“.
For what it’s worth, I don’t feel that I’m morally in the right when I pirate Anime, but I do my best to support the creators behind shows that I end up liking, through buying merch, DVDs, games, and so forth. We as consumers are always told to put our money where our mouth is, and it’s clear that something needs to happen to how streaming services handles Anime if they want to prevent pirating. The problem is that, as Anime becomes more and more mainstream, even more services will want a slice of the pie, and perhaps in a few years, you won’t need to subscribe to 7 different platforms to be able to view the 25-ish new shows, but rather it’ll be 10 or 12…
I guess I view pirating of Anime as a protest against the industry built up around it in the West. This is much less of a problem in Japan, since services like Netflix Japan have access to many shows that are split across platforms in the West, not to mention, most new shows are aired on TV in Japan as well.
If you are wondering about the legality of pirating, the golden rule is to never download pirated shows, as that is where you are actually breaking the law, because you are possessing copyrighted material. If you watch shows on illegal streaming sites, you are technically not breaking the law, the site is; similar to how if you view copyrighted material on YouTube or Twitch, the platform or its creators take the hit for the offense.
What do you think about Anime industry and business? Please share a slice of your opinion in the comment section below! The Cake is always thrilled to read about your thoughts!
If you liked this cake, share a slice with your friends!
Featured image taken from YouTube (Video Thumbnail from “You SHOULD Pirate Anime” – Uniquenameosaurus).