Monday, November 17, 2008

Anime Today: From Japan to America In An Instant



crunchyroll - feed your need!002705, originally uploaded by Shellingfordinjugem.


I decided that instead of immediately launching into a review, I would concentrate on what I see as the changing anime world of today. Sounds lofty I know, but really I don't want to focus on content, since I still don't have experience enough to cover the history, and I don't want to concentrate on the fandom per se, because I'm impressed and shocked by fans, usually at the same time, every step of the way in my life. Instead, I will focus on the industry, primarily the American, which I know a tiny bit about, and how, in this seemingly volatile time for media in general, the American anime industry is changing. Specifically what interests me is the content delivery system for anime for American audiences and how, now here's where my expertise comes in, companies are using the internet as opposed to traditional media to give us the goods, so to speak.

As with music and movies, sites such as YouTube, MySpace, and Hulu have been developed, with the first 2 initially developed to promote individuality and social networking, into high profile content providers of music and movies, primarily popular. In a way, especially with the creation of Hulu, this was an attempt by established media companies to hold on to their position in the media market, and not get swallowed up by internet piracy. By allowing videos to be watched for free at high quality, with limited ads of course, Hulu is attempting to make profit without totally relying on DVD sales. This model has since expanded with music and now anime.

In the beginning of fan subbing, most of the distribution was community based, with fans sending them to one another via personal communiques or IRC channels forming, along with LiveJournals, around the fan subbing group themselves. With time, this connection with the fan subbers themselves has diminished since now anime fans do not have to interact with the subbers directly, although many still do by choice. Instead, those anime fans venturing out into the webs, new and old, have many alternative methods of receiving their precious anime.

First and quite similarly to the original model of getting anime online, many individuals find blogs that will link to a streaming episode or that have download links attached to their reviews. Some of these blogs are in fact the new sites for fan subbers, to replace or supplement their LiveJournals. Blogs allow for up-to-date news to be posted quite easily, and the overall simplicity allows for anyone to create one (this blog exemplifies this).

The second method and the one that is probably most preferred, due to the high quality of the videos and the option for possession on one's computer, is torrenting. Torrenting is an many ways more than just new Napster, Limewire, and Kazaa, in that the technology for actually downloading files is different, and to many, more efficient. Many individuals also join torrent communities, such as the once reknowned Oink. Not only do these communities lead to online social interaction but by being select about their memberships sites like Oink can control the amount of leechers, those who effectively 'steal' without giving back via uploading to the community. Torrenting has gotten more simple with time as interfaces such as Vuze (formerly Azureus), ĀµTorrent, and many others, combine easy to control user interfaces with effective downloading. Still perhaps for those with the faster connection speed, torrents essentially dominate as the new face of peer-to-peer file sharing.

The last method for delivery of anime online is streaming video sites. Starting off with YouTube, the mother of all online video sites still, many anime fans were able to watch a plethora of releases that, through user submissions, were put for the world to see on the then unrestricted pages of YouTube. The quality may not have been perfect, and finding what you wanted was sometimes a work of art, but put simply YouTube had the ability to 'have it all' if the world's anime fans so uploaded it, at least until the restrictions came. Even so, for many YouTube is still an anime wonderland for parodies, amv's and the like, and even more recently, but for the moment I digress.

Let me discuss another website that, quite like YouTube, allows users to upload videos for mass viewing albeit for the niche Otaku crowd. That site is Crunchyroll.com aka Crunchyroll. Crunchyroll was one of the most popular websites for finding licensed anime, and their aggregation of unlicensed anime coming over as fansubs has, and continues, to push Crunchyroll as the #1 site for anime fans wanting to stream anime online. Depending on your perspective of the anime industry, there story can either be one of success, shame, or just mystery. Essentially, what has occurred is that Crunchyroll, a site that would leave licensed anime up until absolutely forced otherwise, was given substantial funding from venture capitalists to the tune of 4 million dollars. Since the deal, Crunchyroll's rolled out several site updates but, more importantly, they've made deals with several companies such as MediaBlasters and Gonzo to deliver content via their site often merely days after the Japanese release. Needless to say this isn't dubbed material, but the company does add a subtitle track for American and other english speaking audiences.

Much of this material so far has been new shows, some rather quirky and non-mainstream, but with shows like Strike Witches and Kurogane no Linebarrel Crunchyroll's helping deliver presumably the next waves of anime releases. Recently they have also begun delivering retrospectively by providing the 2nd season of Digimon, among other older series, and this leaves room open for more dub releases online in the future.

Perhaps partly due to Crunchyroll's success, along with their own interests, companies such as Funimation have rolled out impressive amounts of shows that they've released here in the US on their own site and websites such as YouTube. Viz already took advantage of iTunes with their cheap prices for shows such as Death Note, Bleach, and Naruto, and now Funimation is previewing shows such as Ouran High School Host Club and Darker Than Black, teasing the viewer with a couple episodes so as to, ideally, get them to purchase the releases on DVD.

This leads to a very important question that everyone, fan and industry worker alike, should be wondering and that's 'where's the revenue coming from'? Well, as in the example with Funimation, much of the funds will presumably come from people who pick up the releases in store; however, sites such as Crunchyroll rely on ads along with donations. No ads show up in the shows as of yet on their site, merely in the page boundaries, but for every episode released they asked for an equivalent, but still optional, donation especially for their first releases. Seeing as how anyone with a free registration can, when its available, use the high quality viewing feature one would imagine little reason to pay up more; however, as mentioned in Anime News Network today, Naruto Shippuden episodes will be released subtitled through Crunchyroll for free a week after the episode releases in Japan, and paid subscribers will be able to watch the subbed episode merely one hour after it shows in Japan. Viz is also going to be releasing the new Naruto Shippuden episodes subtitled shortly after airing possibly leading to some competition, although if Viz still has the license for Naruto Shippuden their sales for DVD's, when released, could perhaps benefit from the multiple methods of viewing for Naruto Shippuden.

Perhaps Viz, Funimation, Gonzo, and sites such as YouTube and Crunchyroll are risking too much, but when companies have to fight piracy and fan subbers, which could conceivably be considered piracy, then they probably see this sort of thing as a small sacrifice. The biggest news to come out of all this as of late was the announcement, coupled with the Naruto Shippuden release article on Anime News Network, that on January 8th Crunchyroll will only be accepting videos allowed by their respective licensors. In a move much like Napster, Crunchyroll will then 360 from a stubborn protector of free uploads to an integral, albeit independent, component of the Japanese and American anime companies new distribution plans. How will this all turn out is anyone's guess, but as an anime fan looking to find the latest releases, instead of checking out Best Buy and Amazon.com, you may find yourself getting on YouTube or Crunchyroll and streaming the high quality video minutes after Japan itself gets to check it out.

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