How the Japanese are Reclaiming the Internet

If you have been following my blog for the past year, then you are familiar with my controversial narrative of the US anime market and how it reached its breaking point a few months ago.  The giants of the industry formed their mighty empire after Toonami and Adult Swim brought in a new American audience around the turn of the century. The fans needing something more than just Dragonball Z and Cowboy Bebop to handle their anime craving began to head out to their local Best Buy and spend their hard earned cash on new DVDs.

With this expanding new market demanding more series, the American distributors bought into any new series that Japan was producing at the time and began adapting them for the US audience. But during this time, broadband internet connection became available to more households through out the country. With this new development, it was no longer TV that provided the gateway to new American otaku, it was illegal downloading and streaming video websites.

The audience brought in from the internet were not going out to Best Buy to buy anime DVDs. Why would they if they could just download it all for free? And as older fans discovered the ease and availability of fansubbing, they also stopped buying DVDs. This meant that all those series that the giants have been working on following that big rush were now just sitting on the store shelves going unsold.

The anime DVD market was dead, and it died at the hands of the internet fansub monster. Although fandom continued to grow through the years, profits began to shrink and wither away into nothingness. We saw the first causalities of this when the giant Geneon fell around a year ago, and again when ADV fell to pieces only a few months after that.

So instead of trying to squeeze water out of this dried up sponge, I have written many essays on how the Japanese needed to adapt into the digital space created by illegal file sharing. And as the economy and general outlook of the industry became far more gloomy as the months passed, it has become obvious that they had better do it soon. Otherwise, we were going to see many more causalities in the near future.

However, despite what appears to be all too painfully obvious to the Americans, the Japanese seem to be completely oblivious to the fansub monster. I faced this fact head on with an interview I had at Otakon last summer.

Chiyako Tasai of Kadokawa Entertainment gave a presentation at the convention on new anime properties that were still in the process of obtaining a US distributor. I was working on a piece about the importance of the American anime market to the Japanese, and I thought she would give me the best insight on the subject from the Japanese point-of-view.

After her panel, I stopped her, handed her my business card, explained that I was writing an article on the negative effects of the internet to the business, and asked if I could talk to her about the subject. She agreed to the interview, and we moved out into the hallway of the convention to talk.

“Now, can I ask you something?” she asks after I had finished my questions. “Just how bad is download problem?”

Much to my surprise, this had just become a two-way interview.

Ms. Tasai was a little surprised with the audience’s reaction to her panel. She was expecting to be introducing the American fans to these new shows for the first time. After all, shows like Spice and Wolf and H20 – Footprints in the Sand were only available in Japan at the time, so how could the Americans already know about it?

When she realized that the audience was not shocked and awed, she asked, “How do you know about this already?” When someone sheepishly admitted that is was because of downloading, she let out a very disappointing, “oh… ”

After telling her that I reported on just such things, I became her top expert into the situation. This was a role I’ve always wanted to play, so I proudly said to her all the things I’ve been saying on this site for years.

How bad was the download problem? Well, from my point-of-view,  it was killing the industry, so I’d call that pretty freaking bad.

“But, like, how many fans do it? One percent? Five percent?”

Well let’s see. I used to do it. All my friends still do it. All my peers in the blogging world do it. And looking around that crowded hallway at Otakon, I could see every single one of them just causally downloading anime off of the internet for free. So I gave her my conservative estimate  – at least 90%.

“Ninety percent?!?” she gasps in disbelief, “But isn’t downloading difficult to do?!?”

It was dead simple, and I explained to her the complete process. Just download a bittorrent client once and go onto a website like to start downloading. It was much easier than buying a DVD.

Ms. Tasai was not happy over this news, and I told her that if they wanted to fix the download problem, the Japanese had to take matters into their own hands. No matter how quickly an American company tries to release a show over here, the moment that show first airs on Japanese TV, the whole world will be watching it within 24 hours.

We talked a little about what Gonzo had starting doing, and how I found it to be very successful. Simply put, if the Japanese wanted to end the fansubbing, then they would have to put the show online themselves as soon as it is broadcast on Japanese TV. And if they wanted to monetize off of that critical initial viewing, they should probably put it on an ad-supported video website.

“Oh, so like on Crunchyroll,” she suggested.

And she broke my heart with that statement.

Crunchyroll was a video streaming website that specialized in fansubbing and anime piracy. After the site was granted a huge amount of venture funding last March, it created a huge uproar from the industry. How did a site actually manage to get a shitload of cash for harboring anime piracy? But the scumbags running the site claimed that they were going to use the money to establish legit deals with anime companies.

But the “legit” deals that came shortly thereafter were nothing more then signs of desperation from those affected by the fansub monster. When ADV had run out of funds to continue production on their Welcome to the NHK property, they had to strike a deal with Crunchyroll. In exchange for the some of that investor cash, ADV would allow the website to show NHK along with their pirated videos. The website would then be able to show this off as proof that, “No, really everyone, we’re legit now, we swear it!”

The day after the deal, the ADV staff went back to work on NHK and finished it, only to have the title taken away from them a few weeks later. It was just recently released on DVD by FUNimation.

Toei Animation embarrassed themselves when they entered the US market a few years ago. A combination of poorly produced DVDs and the outcome of the fansub monster meant that this company was dead on arrival to the market. After years of sitting on their properties and not selling any DVDs, they took Crunchyroll’s dirty money and put their titles on the service.

And Media Blasters also took up Crunchyroll’s offer, but then again, they will sell to anyone for a quick buck.

From my point-of-view, Crunchyroll wasn’t “legitimizing” anything. They throw around dirty money to companies in dire need of it, and the anime studios would whore themselves for it. It wasn’t progress, it was exploitation. The big three anime companies not hurting for cash – FUNimation, Viz, and Bandai – made it very clear that they would never deal with a website the promoted piracy like this.

So I explained to Ms. Tasai how much I hated Crunchyroll, and that as long as they continued to allow piracy on their website, I wouldn’t watch any legal content on it. “You should put it on something like Crunchyroll, but make sure the site only has 100% legit content.”

I met up with Ms. Tasai at the New York Anime Festival a few months later, and she told me that she had posted my comments and suggestions on a Japanese language website specifically for the Japanese anime industry. Kadokawa didn’t have any panels at the NYAF that weekend, so I have a feeling that Ms. Tasai was there to get a better understanding on the American anime market and report it back to Japan. Finally, awareness was being raised about the fansub monster over in the land of the raising sun.

And within a couple of months, the Japanese began to reclaim the internet.

I’ve talked about how FUNimation is making progress with online distribution this season, but that didn’t compare to the news of what’s about to come for the winter season. TV Tokyo is taking control of the most pirated anime show out there, Naruto Shippuden. Similar to what Gonzo had done, Tokyo TV will post subtitled episodes of Naruto just hours after its Japanese TV broadcast onto Crunchyroll. In exchange, Crunchyroll agreed to remove all their pirated video and only provide legit material.

Let me repeat that –

TV Tokyo forced Crunchyroll to go 100% legit!

No more settling for “it’s better than nothing” when dealing with the piracy site. The Japanese made their own demands to the website, and the douchebags were willing turned their back to their existing user base and caved in to the good guys.

So they’re making the most popular anime series available legally on the internet from the get-go, and they’re forcing one of the most popular hubs of anime piracy to go completely legit?

This isn’t a drill, my readers. The digital revolution has begun. Japan is finally stepping up and reclaiming the internet, and one-by-one, the dominoes are about to fall into place in the quest to make piracy obsolete.  We’re already seeing Bandai taking the initial steps for simultaneous releases in just the past week, and more studios will continue to jump onto this bandwagon within the upcoming months.

Not that this should come as a surprise to anyone. After all, with the anime DVD market breathing its final breath, what other choice is there other than facing the fansub monster head-on?

I just wish they would have come to that conclusion a little sooner than this. (-_- )

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