OPINION: The Problem with Current Digital Distribution of Anime in North America

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Share this page

We are proudly a Play-Asia Partner


Ads support the website by covering server and domain costs. We're just a group of gamers here, like you, doing what we love to do: playing video games and bringing y'all niche goodness. So, if you like what we do and want to help us out, make an exception by turning off AdBlock for our website. In return, we promise to keep intrusive ads, such as pop-ups, off oprainfall. Thanks, everyone!


Anime Streaming

Being a fan in 2013 and the access one has to anime is far different than what it was like 15, even 10 years ago. Back in the old days there was the mailing of VHS tapes, trading, and sharing all that people could get their hands on — which at the time wasn’t that much. With the advent of the internet, fansubbed downloads and eventually DVD rips became far more common. This too was all well and great, but it wasn’t instantaneous. Especially with the slower connection speeds of a decade ago. We are now in the true age of streaming content and download to own digital distribution, but that too is not without its problems here in North America.

We literally have the ability to watch almost any anime we want wherever we are: at home on the computer, on the couch, on the bus, cross-country road trip, the list goes on. And this is all thanks to streaming services like Crunchyroll, Netflix, Hulu, and Funimation’s Elite Service in addition to other digital distribution channels like iTunes, Google Play, and so on where you can purchase individual episodes or seasons to download to any device and watch locally at a good price. And the amount of titles is ASTOUNDING compared to what could be obtained via VHS tapes or even downloaded from fansub groups. But some fans aren’t able to reap the full rewards of these services.

Anime is just that, Japanese animation, and thus was created in the Land of the Rising Sun. Point is, it’s Japanese and thus the original versions were recorded with Japanese dialogue. Here in North America, many titles also get an English dub to be watched in our native language, not to mention some titles getting Spanish dubs to be distributed in Mexico and French dubs for some sections of Canada. There are fans who enjoy each and every one of those, but they are not all being served with all the anime-watching options we have in today’s technological age.

Anime on Netflix

If you’ve ever played around with options on certain Netflix titles, you can see that you have the option of subtitles and, in rarer circumstances, audio streams. It’s hardwired into Netflix’s programming that you can have options for the title you want to stream. But with the anime that is presented by the likes of FUNimation and VIZ Media, there are zero options to choose from. It is interesting to note that those two companies specifically handle anime on Netflix differently: FUNimation only offers English dub versions of its shows while VIZ only offers Japanese with English subtitles. Some fans like it one way, others like it another. But why do we have to take it this way? If options are available with Netflix, why aren’t they being utilized?

If anyone knows me, I prefer watching anime in its native Japanese with subtitles. I feel a bit let down with so much anime on offer from FUNimation, for I don’t really have the drive to get into their series’ because it’s not presented in a way I prefer to watch. Similarly, those that prefer to watch their anime dubbed feel left out with what VIZ has up to watch.

Let’s move on to the other option for digital distribution of anime here in the US — download to own. The whole point of offering TV shows and movies for digital purchase is to be quick, convenient, and cheap enough to prompt an impulse-buy while perusing online video stores. While it may be quick to just buy and own an episode or a season of a show, in the case of anime it is in no way cheap nor convenient in comparison to a physical release. Let’s take a look at NOIR that is available both for digital distribution and a physical release. You can purchase the DVD at online shops like RightStuf.com for a good price with both language options as well as extra materials on the disc.

NOIR Rightstuf

NOIR GooglePlay

Twenty-five dollars for a 26 episode series, plus bonus extras comes in at less than $1 per episode. Certainly a good deal. And then we have the same 26 episode series up for digital purchase on Google Play, only available in English, with zero extras. And what does that look like?

So it’s now $36 for the full season — or $1.99 buying it an episode at a time — for the series, which comes in at over $1.38 per episode with only one language and no access to the extras.

Quick? You can download it right now. Convenient? No language options or extras available without buying the whole set on disc brings that to a no. Cheap? Certainly not. Even with shipping the DVD box set comes in cheaper, and you’re also paying for printing materials for the set. So why so expensive online? I can only come to the conclusion that it’s to make a quick profit off of people with zero patience to get the set in the mail. But why not offer the series with a choice of languages or two sets of the show to download so you can have your pick on the fly?

I’m all for digital distribution and legal streaming. It’s letting people have access to products that they love more easily and quickly. But when there is a lack of options, let alone the loss of extras, I don’t see the point of purchasing a product like this. Regardless, I feel this way of utilizing technology to serve fans really isn’t properly serving the fans. Things can change with very little effort or expense to North American publishers. Will it change? Maybe. When? Unfortunately it looks like time will only tell if this issue isn’t brought up and at the publisher’s attention.

What are your thoughts? Are you put off by FUNimation only posting English dubbed anime on Netflix? Or the reverse with VIZ only offering Japanese subbed anime? What’s your stance on download to own services with absurd pricing and a lack of options? Let us know in the comments.

About Randy Thompson

[Former Staff] Just a normal nerd who loves his computer, video games, anime, manga, and the like. I love to draw and graduated from the Art Institutes for animation so I could bring my drawings to life.

As an author at oprainfall, I write up news articles and such as well as review new and current anime.

I also love Dragon Ball (subbed)—it’s kind of my own pet obsession.