I’m going to begin this post by saying that I am quite optimistic in the recent news Netflix have given out in terms of their future relationship with anime, and putting it on their platform. If you’re not aware of it though, here is a rundown of it all.
Netflix plan to bring more and more original content to their platform: new shows, feature-length movies, documentaries, etc. Exclusive license acquisitions also fall under this category. A figure they have given is US$8 billion by the end of 2018. Even with big names like Disney deciding to break away from Netflix by pulling their content off and focusing on their own streaming platforms, Netflix have found a perfect way to tap into the TV-watching audience who turn more towards internet television, podcasts, online streaming and on-demand video than live television. In their third quarter earnings interview, it was revealed that a ‘sizable chunk’ will go towards 30 new anime series and 80 new original films, all slated to be released by the end of 2018.
The anime-watching community are very quick to defend the service they have grown used to, though (Crunchyroll/Funimation), so I can totally understand why they are extremely sceptical and pessimistic in Netflix’s plan. Simulcasting has become the norm now. Viewers in the West get to watch shows the same day they are released in Japan, and with simuldubs being brought in by Funimation, it could be fair to say that they are a rather impatient lot. They don’t want to wait weeks or months for their shows to come to the West; they want them now. In addition, they can also turn to pirating and torrenting shows. So are Netflix capable of introducing simulcasts/simuldubs? Possibly, but putting together a dub costs money and time (hiring voice actors, translation, etc.) Amazon have already shown they are keen to jump on the anime bandwagon by acquiring licenses for shows the viewers are curious about (Scum’s Wish, Welcome To The Ballroom, Love & Lies, Made In Abyss, Land of the Lustrous, Inuyashiki).
Netflix can join the likes of Crunchyroll, Funimation and the others, and be a platform that the anime community can warm to. But only if they are willing to listen to the fans, and not treat anime as some kind of faceless commodity.
Now it’s pretty easy to see that anime isn’t their main profit-bringer. With Emmy award-winning shows under their belt and big-name Hollywood actors eager to appear in their original/licensed shows and movies, Netflix don’t have to worry if anime doesn’t bring in as much profit as they hope to, but US$8 billion is still a lot of money to invest in. Let’s begin by taking a look at some of the things have done so far to bring anime to the West:
I’m going to begin with the studio that has, effectively, given Netflix exclusivity to their most recent work. 3D animation studio Polygon Pictures are behind Knights of Sidonia and Ajin: Demi-Human, as well as the feature-length movie Blame! (which was released on Netflix globally). While Blame! is, in all purpose, a Netflix original movie, both Sidonia and Ajin have been seen as rather underrated by the sci-fi anime scene, and this could well be down to Netflix’s license. Unfortunately to some in the anime community, 3D animation can be seen as quite a turn-off, especially if the animation itself is not up to par. But what both Sidonia and Ajin make up for is having a compelling story and a fascinating cast.
Based on the manga, Knights of Sidonia is set in the far future, where the remains of humanity live on ‘seed ships’ scattered across space. One such ship, Sidonia, has to defend itself against the parasitic Gauna using mecha. It follows its protagonist, Tanikaze, an orphaned self-trained pilot, as he emerges from the ship’s underground (where he grew up) and becomes a pilot to fight the Gauna and save the ship. Also based on a manga, Ajin tells the story of a student who discovers he is immortal when he is hit by a truck, and is forced to go on the run when the government declare him a threat to humanity.
I do believe that their show’s underrated performance is, unfortunately, because of Netflix’s license. Both are great shows, and yet they barely registered on the anime-watching community radar. We are still in the time when Netflix is seen as more of a barrier than a platform, and even though I recommend both shows to the curious folk who don’t mind leftfield and hard-hitting sci-fi and horror, I fear that because Netflix has more negative connotations in the anime community than positive, both shows will be left in the shadows.
As part of Netflix’s plan, they have already confirmed that their upcoming film Godzilla: King of the Monsters (not to be confused with the 2019 planned film of the same name) will be available after its theatrical release in Japan. Season 3 of Knights of Sidonia has also been green-lit; with their license for the show, this could be one of many opportunities for Netflix to offer a simulcast.
Little Witch Academia and studio Trigger
Speaking of shows that are left in the shadows, one of 2017’s best shows remains left there. If you’re familiar with the story behind how the Little Witch Academia mini-movies came into fruition, then you’ll probably understand how much of a success story the LWA franchise has become, and they have Netflix to thank for that.
Little Witch Academia is a show I recommend to absolutely everyone, from the hardcore sakuga fans right to my young nieces and nephew, who I have been desperate to get into anime for like forever. Set at Luna Nova Magical Academy, it follows the passionate yet impulsive Akko, who has no witch background, who is desperate to show the world that magic is a wonderful thing after being inspired by former celebrity witch Shiny Chariot. It’s a show that succeeds because it’s capable of appealing to both a younger audience, who can watch Akko, Lotte, Sucy, Diana and co go through each day in all sorts of adventures, and an older audience, who can admire the breathtaking animation, the solid story, and the chemistry all of the characters have with each other.
Sadly, Netflix don’t have the license for the short show Space Patrol Luluco or the equally underrated Kiznaiver, but with Trigger bringing out 2 new original shows in 2018 (Gridman & Promare), who is to say whether they will turn to Netflix again. In July, LWA director Yoh Yoshinari said in an interview that he was eager to bring the show back, either as another season, or some kind of spin-off featuring the secondary cast, or focusing on Shiny Chariot. With studio Trigger focusing on both Gridman and Promare in 2018, we probably won’t hear any new LWA news anytime soon. But one thing for sure is that while a home video release is potentially on the cards for LWA, Netflix have exclusivity, and that can be used as a selling point…to entice people to get Netflix accounts, which is their ultimate goal.
Glitter Force is a show I haven’t really touched, but this is only because I am unable to warm to the cast. But its arrival to the West is marred with controversy and outrage from the magical-girl-loving audience.
Glitter Force is, in fact, the Western name for Smile! Precure, the 9th instalment in the Pretty Cure franchise that has, since now, not really ventured any further than Asia. The controversy surrounding the show has stemmed from the fact that the English dub directors, Saban Brands, decided to ‘westernise’ the show, replacing character names and censoring content to aim for their target audience: young children. This isn’t a tactic that’s new, though; in the 1990s, DiC did the same thing when they brought Sailor Moon to the West and put it on Saturday morning TV, sometimes going as far as cutting entire episodes due to some not-so-kid-friendly content.
Shows like Glitter Force make the anime community very sceptical of Netflix’s true intentions when it comes to anime. In their minds, they are thinking several things:
- If Netflix can approve of a heavily-cut show like this, do they really care about anime, or is it all about the money?
- When they release more shows, will they do the same thing?
Well you can’t deny that money is the first thing that Netflix are thinking of when they acquire rights for shows; they’re a multi-million dollar corporation who have other shows to think of too. Do the fans have this mentality that Netflix are only treating anime as “something on the side”, and that it’s something that they’re not fussed about if they mess up? I think so.
However, it’s worth noting that the creators of the Sailor Moon anime had given the okay for DiC to ‘butcher’ the show for a Western audience, meaning that the Japanese studios are also ones who are putting money on the mind as well. It’s as if both the studio and Netflix are damned if they are, and damned if they don’t.
And so as we have moved on to the bad moves Netflix has done, now is the time to bring this up:
That Death Note movie
Hollywood was already under pressure this year when Ghost in the Shell came out in March of this year, being accused of whitewashing, so much to their delight, the arrival of Netflix’s adaptation of Death Note eased their minds……sure it did. It only made them worse. And with the film’s director, Adam Wingard, saying that Netflix gave him freedom to reimagine the storyline only reinforced the anime community’s cynicism over Netflix’s grand plan to bring anime to their platform. I mean Netflix could have told him to stick firmly to the original manga story, and they would have had to deal with only the mass whitewashing.
I don’t think there can be any happy ending with this. The anime community love nothing more than to criticise. I haven’t seen Death Note (either Netflix or anime), and I don’t care to either, but that’s not my butthurt weeb talking.
But enough depressing news…
Castlevania & Neo Yokio
Two shows that are true Netflix originals, it’s likely that shows like Castlevania and the recently-released Neo Yokio Netflix will invest the most in. While Castlevania was made in America, but heavily influenced by anime, Neo Yokio is from Production I.G. and Studio Deen. However, the two shows are very different.
While Castlevania got many positive reviews, praising the animation in particular, Neo Yokio was universally panned, with one critic simply saying that the show is attempting to be a copy of Jaden Smith’s chuunibyou Twitter persona. And after watching episode 1, I couldn’t agree more. It feels like the makers of Neo Yokio threw as many anime tropes and stereotypes as they could into a blender and just decided to serve it to the audience regardless of what it would look like, hoping that they would find some kind of witty satire in the show that would negate the crap. Well, the thing is, the satire is there, but you can’t help but cringe at so many things in the show. The badness totally overrides any satire, and makes the show just not a fun watch.
Well thanks to Death Note, Glitter Force and Neo Yokio, it’s really no wonder why people don’t picture the two words ‘Netflix’ and ‘anime’ ever working together. But as someone who has enjoyed the exclusives that they have given us, as well as the licensed shows they already have available, I still want to give Netflix a chance, even if no-one else seems not to want to.
So what do they have confirmed for us for the future?
Other planned shows for 2018, so far:
- Fate/Apocrypha (A-1 Pictures) (Due to be released November. 07 in US & Canada, and December. 02 elsewhere)
- A.I.C.O. -Incarnation- (BONES)
- DEVILMAN crybaby (Science SARU)
- Kakegurui (MAPPA)
- Children of the Whales (J.C. Staff)
- Violet Evergarden (Kyoto Animation)
- The Lost Song (LIDEN FILMS)
- Sword Gai: The Animation (DLE Inc.)
- B: The Beginning (Production I.G.)
- Baki (TMS Entertainment)
- Cannon Busters (Satelight)
- Rilakkuma & Kaoru (Dwarf Studio/San-X)
- Saint Seiya: Nights of the Zodiac (Toei Animation)
I think it could be my age/experience/so-called wisdom that has made me not-so bothered that Netflix are saturating shows like Pretty Cure and turning them into Glitter Force, or creating complete messes like Neo Yokio, while at the same time offering high-quality shows like Little Witch Academia and getting exclusivity, and acquiring the licenses of some other very interesting shows, effectively leaving the more mainstream titles for Crunchyroll (where they are guaranteed an audience).
But instead of merely dismissing their chances, why don’t we at least let Netflix prove to us that they are serious in this investment of theirs. Fate/Apocrypha, Kakegurui and Children of the Whales already are available in Japan, but I’m very interested in watching them on Netflix. Sure, they pissed off the community by Westernising an already-existing magical girl show. Sure, they whitewashed an highly-acclaimed teen horror show. And sure, they thought combining as many anime tropes as possible to make a show would work.
It sounds like I’m trying to defend them as much as I can, doesn’t it? Well, if they fail miserably, then they’ll fail miserably, but I’m thinking of something else that rarely anyone is thinking when their plan was revealed: what if it works?