Okay, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat. This may feel like it has a bit of an “anime is dying!” tone, but please don’t think that’s what I’m saying. I don’t know where anime will be in 5-20 years. Is the slow to adapt Japanese corporate mentality making the whole thing seem worse than it is? Yeah, of course. Does that mean there’s potentially enough money in it for studios to start producing lots of quality, original content made by well-paid animators? Probably not. Regardless, here’s why I don’t like Crunchyroll.
I’ve been stating my dislike for the anime streaming service for a long time, but originally, it really didn’t go much further than my own personal gripes. If you’re just watching a show normally, it’s not bad. But if you’re rewinding and pausing videos constantly to try to collect screenshots or write some lines for critique, you quickly find that their video player can be very buggy. It freezes, you have to reload the page, and then you have to rewatch all the ads up to the point you were at, and it doesn’t help the Crunchyroll has the most obnoxious ads. Of course, you could always subscribe as a premium user, but that’s where the core of this issue lies for me these days. But first, a little look to the past.
Two year ago, the popular YouTube anime commentator Gigguk released a video titled AZ Rant: Anime Becoming Mainstream?!. The video sparked some discussion at the time, but I think the question has effectively been answered in hindsight. Yes, yes it is. It may not be entirely there yet, but I think it’s hard to deny that anime has been growing significantly in popularity.
Gigguk closed the video by asking another question, do we want anime to become mainstream? He came down on the side of no, citing videogames as an example of mainstream popularity genericising and corporatizing an industry that produced better content when it was smaller and more willing to experiment artistically. At the time, I didn’t totally agree with him just because of the significant difference between Japanese corporate culture, where anime comes from, and western corporate culture, where the bulk of mainstream videogames originate.
However, we have actually seen anime mull around at a terrible level of genericalness (yes, that’s a word, even though genericy would be a much better word) in recent years, which we’re thankfully finally moving away from, and it wasn’t due to too mainstream appeal. The anime industry isn’t a profitable one, and the slew of bland, unoriginal shows it produces isn’t due to focus testing, but playing it safe. With the potential for a studio to go under in a season, no studio wants to make something new and risky. And mainstream appeal could actually be the solution to this, as a bigger fan base mean more profitability, means more chances to take risks.
Now obviously that’s a very watered down version of the actual economic systems at play here, but this article isn’t about all that, it’s about Crunchyroll, which I’m getting back to now. Crunchyroll is partially responsible for what growing popularity anime does have now. It is through their streaming system that a lot of new people are discovering that they like at least a few anime for the first time. And you can see how far a net they’re casting by their ads. They’re paying from promotions from gaming circles, political news shows… probably some other places, but those are pretty much the only two things I follow other than anime.
So the fan base is increasing, but profitability, for the most, isn’t. Why? Well, because Crunchyroll. As I understand it, Crunchyroll pays between 2,000-3,000 USD per episode on licensing. Compare that to the 200,000-300,000 USD it costs to produce anime per episode just on animation, and you realize that your $7.00/month gets spread pretty thin between all the people making this stuff.
And these new viewers Crunchyroll brings in aren’t the type who will go out and buy a box set of a bunch of shows. Unfortunately, at this point, that’s really the only effective way to support anime works. What’s worse, people who were buying retail DVDs before, aren’t any more. At least not as much. I concede, Crunchyroll is the financially more appealing option. But it’s not the best option for the industry.
I buy DVDs for pretty much all the anime I watch, but I’m not saying everyone who cares about this industry has to go that far. But when you find a show you really like, form a studio you think can make some good stuff, you should drop some money on it.
But ultimately, I understand this doesn’t address the problem. As much as I like them, physical copies are dying out as technology advances, and that is changing the market. But most people who point this out seem to think that market change is purely superficial; the business can’t go under for it, they’ll just adjust. But of course business will go under; look at how HMV and Blockbuster have “adjusted” to changing markets. I’m worried that there might not be any room for the anime industry in this changing market, and if Crunchyroll is the new model, there isn’t going to be any.
Don’t Lose Your Way