It’s an amazing thing, to be able to watch such a subculture-centric form of entertainment like anime at the instant click of a mouse. It’s so easy to lose grasp of just how wild this very concept is, not merely to industry, but to those long in the fandom. The very idea of streaming video has been with us long enough to make this a possibility, but to consider anime as an accepted staple of it continues to blow my mind a least. The far reaching effects of something like this bringing an all-encompassing end to flawed business models, forcing companies long dependent on physical media to survive has been both an painful, yet exciting ride to witness. So when it has come to pass that anime studios/producers find themselves late to the party, but more than welcome to the sphere, it also comes to bear that it affects more than merely their bottom line. It can also be said to affect the very nature of not only how we watch our favorite shows, but how often as well.
When one considers a time when waiting & access was the greatest barrier between fans and their next fix, the very idea that being able to watch a recently released series mere days (or sometimes hours)post release has been something of an impossible dream realized. In a bold progression, legitimate entities can now beat out an often outmodded fansub model to present high quality translation and treatment, which can be upgraded for a small subscription fee. This is something that had long eluded fans not only here, but in so many other fan communities. So much so that it renders so many of the more DIY elements fandom used to comprise of. And as it becomes such a direct line between creators and fans, one can almost say that the gap is indeed closing to those originating parties most willing to work with their viewers. It cuts out the old network TV model that anime had long been a part of. Opportunities lie to those willing to open up to the possibilities. And what this means to us, is more content, better treatment, and possibly..some semblance of crossover potential.
What this promotes, is an olive branch to a global viewing audience that may force the industry to better consider what will be watched, let alone purchased. To think that audiences outside of Japan had that kind of impact before can be debated, but more than ever, this makes for an important moment between the viewer/potential consumer, and those that purvey the medium. The long term effects is something that continues to concern many, but the potential is certainly there. Especially when considering that until this point, file sharing was the de-facto alternative to purchasing, and before that it was tape trading. And then before that, it was purchasing of old 16-35mm printed film of shows and movies without subtitles, often with a need for a friend or “source” to interpret the scenes out loud to a roomful of con-goers, watching the movie years after release. One had to know the lingo, the secret handshake, or have the friend or relative in the military to even have access to shows which had zero chance of ever seeing light in the states in any legitimate manner. Which is why the previous trade models were in place. But where we are now is at a point that virtually negates this as long as the studios are willing to play ball.
On the flip side, there are also plenty of pratfalls to all of this that continue to concern not only the studios looking for new ways to turn a profit, but me as well. If there is any possible major drawback to the streaming anime, it lies in the new reality that once we become inundated with anything, as people, we have a tendency to filter out what we don’t either like or care for. The novelty of anime was something the Japanese had depended on for sales. This is something so many have neglected to consider. The allure of pretty girls, machines, magic & monsters can in fact become boring if one delves into the medium a bit more than most. Burnout is not only the concern, but the general attitude of an industry obsessed with cornering increasingly trope-based stories and concepts runs potentially against those looking for something new and fresh. Crossover potential has been a growing concern with anime for the last several years, and fewer general interest shows have been produced. The loss of shows that can garner a constant stream of new, fresh-minded fans is a deeply concerning one if one wishes for the medium to survive beyond a niche audience. Too much access, and having little in the way of choice is something both sides have to contend with today, as it can also turn away potential converts, as well as turn off older fans with a hankering for those types of shows from the past that saw potential in anime as a wide –reaching artform, with less restrictions as to story. In essence, streaming becomes the new TV, and anime just becomes another part of the background, much like in Japan. Which brings the challenge to an even greater plateau; the shows need to be more than self-serving to survive. This is a global audience to consider now, and to assume that a self-cannibalizing creative pool will keep it alive for long is worth questioning. Novelty is dead, and with that, comes a need for clarity of vision.
So when it comes to our habits, and what it is we do with this wild new world we continue to see develop, It’s well worth considering what it is we consume, and how we do it. A personal favorite benefit of all this, is a big one-up from broadcast/simulcast, and that’s the ability to sample shows whenever I like. And taking this into account, one does not have to watch every new episode the moment it is released. As a kid who is only used to marathoning shows depending on their strengths, I personally enjoy the option of pacing myself with a series. Sometimes waiting several weeks to pass, in order to catch up with them in several hour bricks at a time. And since so many shows are released per season, it also helps to be a little more responsible with what one is more willing to dedicate time to. Unlike many bloggers, I don’t see the potential in perusing so many shows just to make burst reviews. As a general rule, it simply isn’t my cup of tea, and it often only works if the series starts off incredibly strong. (which rarely if ever happens) Which brings us back to the notion of novelty, and how we are now in an era where anime doesn’t have to be on par with dangling a flashlight in front of us to be amusing. There is actual content to be considered now, and analysis can happen truthfully, and without some kind of cloud of freakishness to make it seem more vital than it is. Because much like Japan, we have the potential to clock the changes that come, and how they affect us in the grander scheme. Our anime diet can in fact be a healthy one, representing what it is that drew us to the show, rather than the mere idea of its origins. It’s all a big conversation that just continues to get bigger, so let’s live it up and act, shall we?
So as for the moment, what excites me about where we are? The shows that continue to dominate my time continue to be Moretsu Space Pirates, and Chihayafuru. Both series that continue to live up to what I prefer to see in my occasional intake. And the recent classic Hulu acquisitions by way of Tokyo Movie Shinsha have been great to share and talk about. Having Space Adventure Cobra and Lupin III: Mystery Of Mamo within instant reach keeps me hopeful that more films like these will continue to have a home for more movie and animation fans to discover. In fact, that’s pretty much my biggest pie in the streaming sky at the moment. I’d love to see more classic shows to pull a Captain Harlock, or Galaxy Express 999-style presence here. Licenses of many older, lesser known series would be the most exciting next step these studios could possibly take. In lieu of decades of fighting to have many of these shows even considered for VHS, I’d be over the moon for an “anime classics” line, myself.