For a while now, Crunchyroll is facing a big decline. In recent seasons, Funimation has been getting a lot of high profile shows in the past. To make matters worse, the service has been losing a lot of shows in its catalog while increasing the subscription fees.
Now, WarnerMedia, who owns Crunchyroll wants to sell it to Sony. Not only this will cause the problem of Sony almost controlling the western anime market, Crunchyroll will most likely cease to exist as they will most likely merge it with Funimation.
With the lack of shows that appeal to my tastes, I kind of let my Crunchyroll Premium lapse and I have yet to renew it. This is mostly because the titles I want to watch is now on Funimation or Hidive.
The question remains, what led to this situation? Is it because of Crunchyroll’s ambitious plans to work on creating their originals with the long-term plan of controlling anime? Or is it bad luck caused by the Covid19 induced recession.
Note: An audio version of this post is now available.
Why Crunchyroll Controlling Anime and Westernizing it is a Bad Idea
It’s obvious that Crunchyroll had more ambitious goals. Not only they want to be the premiere anime streaming service, they want to control the production of anime. Despite the Funimation partnership deal falling in 2018 thanks to Sony buying Funimation, Crunchyroll has more ambitious goals. It’s obvious that it wants to be like Netflix and pump out their original works.
Crunchyroll has teamed up with Webtoons, which is a digital comic that originated from South Korea to work on anime adaptations. They also working on their in-house original works, which sadly are not always well received.
Case in point, don’t look no further than the whole controversy over High Guardian Spice as the production team promote how diverse the production instead of It being a theme of the story. To make the controversy worse, they only hired other white women and leaving out POC women and other LGBT people from working on the production, which is not a good thing and hypocritical. Moreover, Crunchyroll also is under fire recently by the poor animation of EX-ARM as seen from its trailer. Anime News Network went into great detail about why the animation look terrible. This is after months of delays caused by Covid19.
To make matters worse, Crunchyroll Originals is a mixed bag just from looking at the scores of all the titles that made a premiere currently. With the exception of Kami no Tou and Tonikaku Kawaii, most of the titles are just average or poorly received. The current average scores on MyAnimeList of all premiered Crunchyroll Originals is 67.5%, which is below average or a D+. That is not a good track record considering that Crunchyroll wants to be like Netflix of anime by creating originals.
However, their goals are obvious. They want to make the whole Japanese animation focus more on the western tastes opposed to what the Japanese audience wants. It’s obvious with their intent, to control the whole direction of anime, including the production and story. Yes, this means getting rid of that makes anime enjoyable. This ranges from references to Japanese or Asian culture, attention to detail in the animation, diverse genres (not just action and science fiction), deep storytelling and themes, etc.
Instead, Crunchyroll wants to make it more to the akin of western values, especially with more action and sci-fi, two genres I have absolutely no interest in. This becomes obvious with some of the statements Joanne Waage have shared in an article by Variety.
It’s apparent with Crunchyroll’s in-house productions, which looks more like western animation. Once that happen, can one really consider this as an anime? After all, it’s missing the elements that make the medium unique and possibly better than western animation. Once you remove those elements and worse, make it 3D, you completely remove what makes anime unique. After all, I don’t want to watch another Avatar.
To me, I think Crunchyroll should get rid of the notion to control anime and westernize it. It’s just not going to work because it’s not what fans of anime want to watch. Instead, I think co-productions are a better way, even if they give up some of the revenue. They can help give the resources studios need to finish the production without influencing the production. That way, studios still have full control of the direction of the production.
The Decline of Crunchyroll
Besides the lukewarm feelings towards Crunchyroll Originals, the service is receiving fewer titles since 2018. When Funimation broke up with Crunchyroll, it lost a lot of titles that both services shared. The same happened in July of this year when Crunchyroll removed a good number of Sentai Filmworks titles. While a vast majority of them are still viewable on Hidive, a competitor to Crunchyroll, this was a huge blow.
Furthermore, Crunchyroll is now receiving fewer shows every season. This is very apparent with Aniplex titles as the newer titles are Funimation exclusive such as Kaguya-sama Second Season. Not only that, some titles you would think that will make it on Crunchyroll are now Funimation exclusives. This is apparent with the genre of shows I normally cover such as schoolgirl slice of life shows. This makes me believe that Crunchyroll is too focused on the originals at the expense of other high-profile shows. To make matters worse, there are revelations that they pay their translators poorly.
At the same time, Crunchyroll’s parent company, AT&T, which also owns WarnerMedia is not doing that good. The pandemic has strongly impacted not only production of shows, but also their media businesses. After all, local governments shut down movie theaters to prevent the spread of the virus. Thanks to the failure of leadership in the United States, AT&T has no choice but to let people go. This of course impacts Crunchyroll with its potential sale to Sony.
Crunchyroll has nobody except themselves to blame. Nobody asked for Crunchyroll’s in-house productions, which are mostly westernized. Most anime fans want to watch anime as they intended, as in titles that cater to a Japanese audience. That means no westernization whatsoever or getting involved in the creative process.
If Crunchyroll only gave money to Japanese productions studios with the exchange of exclusivity, then it wouldn’t be so bad. With Sony most likely buying Crunchyroll, it’s obvious that Crunchyroll’s existence is in jeopardy. It’s very unlikely that Sony will keep them around when they already have Funimation.
This leads us to the final point that most fears. Yes, Sony having a near monopoly of the western anime market.
The Implications of Sony Buying Crunchyroll
If the deal goes through, this will leave Sony having control of the entire western anime market with Hidive/Sentai Filmworks being the other competitor. This is not a good thing since Sony pretty much dictates not only what shows receives a localized release or censorship, but also the pricing of services as well. They are free to abuse their market position and raise prices while controlling how much money studios receive. This is not good, especially since this can cause people to go back to pirating anime. This in turn will hurt animation studios.
While we do not know what will happen if this deal were to go through, I think this is a big blow to competitions. Maybe studios in Japan need to band together and create their own streaming service and cut out the middleman.
Yes, cutting the middleman out means hiring translators to translate the series in house by doing the translations themselves. Most Japanese people know English from their education with some possibly doing so at a native level. For other languages, they can simply hire translators outside of Japan for other languages like Spanish, French, and German.
By cutting out the middleman, I think this can become beneficial as studios can bring in 100% of the revenue from subscription fees and advertisements. In turn, studios can pay their animators a living wage as they don’t have to deal with a middleman. Still, building an infrastructure to build a streaming service is very expensive, but it’s not impossible.
Even so, I think studios banding together to make their own servicew would be a good idea as it would increase competition so that one or two players won’t have complete control of the western anime market. Some are kind of doing this already by having English subtitles on Japanese Blu-ray releases. Why not just do it for streaming too?
With that, what do you think about Crunchyroll’s situation and your feelings towards Crunchyroll Originals? Should they simply give up on their in-house productions and just stick to simulcasting Japanese anime? Also, what are your feelings towards Sony buying Crunchyroll? Lastly, what would you do to improve competition in the western anime market? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. ¶