Crunchyroll/Sony on a Buying Spree

So I was hoping to publish this faster, so that this think piece was a bit more timely in regards to the recent news, but… yeah, that didn’t happen. Either way, I wanted to share my thoughts on things and also give a bit of an overview on how big of a company Crunchyroll has now become.

But anyway, a bit over a week ago, it was announced that Crunchyroll is buying RightStuf. For those who aren’t aware, RightStuf is an online store operating here in the US and Canada (and maybe other regions?) that specializes in anime, manga, figures, and any sort of physical stuff that exists in our little corner of the world. One could always hop onto Amazon to buy anime DVDs and other stuff if desired, but RightStuf was usually comparable in price and tended to have a slightly larger selection (especially when we got to things like merchandise), and you also had the warm feeling of knowing you’re supporting some small business rather than a mega-corporation. For all intents and purposes, RightStuf is the online anime store.

Crunchyroll also operates its own online store too, also selling merchandise, anime DVDs, manga, and more. Since Crunchyroll holds the rights to a number of shows, they also occasionally have exclusive merchandise not available on RightStuf or Amazon.

But, this is just the latest in a string of acquisitions and mergers involving Crunchyroll and Funimation.

Buying and Growing

Sooooo let’s do a little overview of what all companies and stuff are now under the Crunchyroll brand. Or more specifically, the Funimation brand before Crunchyroll was purchased by Funimation.

Firstly, backing up a bit, let’s recall that Funimation was purchased by Sony back in 2017. Specifically, Funimation was under the Sony Pictures wing; and under the Sony Music wing is Aniplex, one of the biggest names in the anime market in Japan. Funimation was one of the largest anime distributors here in North America, and the biggest thing to rival Crunchyroll (which was a separate company at this time). Funimation already had the licenses to a loooot of popular shows, including Attack on Titan, Cowboy Bebop, My Hero Academia, Tokyo Ghoul… the list goes on. Funimation also licensed a lot of Aniplex’s shows, such as Fullmetal Alchemist, Black Butler, Baccano, Soul Eater, and more; one could dive into the minute details of how the licenses and availability of these shows changed over the years, but because Aniplex and Funimation are now under the same parent company Sony, it doesn’t really matter.

That being said, since Funimation and Aniplex are technically under separate wings of Sony, they still operated independently; it was pretty much assumed that Aniplex-produced shows would end up on Funimation’s streaming service here in the US though, and then after 2019, Sony rearranged these companies so that Aniplex technically co-owns Funimation (with Sony Pictures being the other co-owner… so Funimation is really co-owned by Sony and Sony, but although they’re the same Sony overall, it’s different Sonys)… uhh, this can start to get confusing, so for the sake of simplicity and moving on, we’ll just say that now Aniplex owns Funimation.

Funimation isn’t the only purchase that Aniplex/Sony made in the past few years though. Outside of North America, other purchases have been made:

  • Wakanim: a European anime streaming service (kind of like HiDive here in the US). Purchased by Aniplex in 2015, its own website is still up and running, but that’s going to change soon enough.
  • Madman Anime Group: the anime arm/division of Madman Entertainment in Australia/New Zealand. By February 2019, Aniplex had gained full ownership of this, and this was kind of big. Madman licensed a loooot of anime in Australia, probably even more than Funimation had licensed in the US, and they also had their own streaming service (AnimeLab), sold anime DVDs and merch, and ran an anime convention called Madman Anime Festival. After this purchase, Madman Anime Group was folded into Funimation, and AnimeLab was shut down in 2021 (with its content being moved to Funimation). Madman as a company still exists, but doesn’t deal with licensing anime anymore, although you can still buy anime DVDs and merch from their website, strangely enough.
  • Manga Entertainment: also purchased by Funimation/Aniplex in 2019. Despite the name, Manga Ent. mainly handled anime licensing and distribution in UK and Ireland. They were pretty quickly folded into Funimation UK, although it’s said that Manga Entertainment’s brand will still be used in certain places in this market (sounds familiar?). At the current time though, Manga Entertainment’s website straight up doesn’t load for me.
  • Viz Media Europe: also during this same year (2019), Crunchyroll purchased Viz Media’s European business. Reminder that at this point, Crunchyroll and Funimation/Aniplex are still separate companies. Viz Media Europe gave Crunchyroll a foot in the door in the European, Middle Eastern, and African markets in regards to anime Blu-Rays and manga volumes (rather than just streaming). Kazé (a French anime distributor) was also included as part of the purchase.

And again, it’s important to reiterate that Aniplex is a big name in Japan, being one of the biggest production companies behind a lot of shows: Fullmetal Alchemist, Anohana, Bakemonogatari, Sword Art Online, Cells at Work, Demon Slayer, Madoka Magica, Soul Eater, the list goes on and on. They own entire anime studios: A-1 Pictures and Cloverworks. Now, this doesn’t mean Aniplex itself directly animated many of the shows they produced, but they were the company that helped foot the bill, get ideas off the ground, and had services like musicians (for OPs and EDs), a merch shop, a distribution network for getting DVDs and Blu-Rays out there, and a team to put on events and concerts to promote the shows in Japan. Aniplex was pretty much a one-stop shop for an anime production in Japan… if they felt a production was worthy of their time and business.

Anyway, finally, we come to the big purchase: Funimation/Aniplex purchased Crunchyroll in 2021 (buying the company from its previous owner, AT&T). Although Funimation and Crunchyroll did work together for a time before this, it seemed destined the two companies would be the two big rivals here in North America, forming a large duopoly (while Sentai and other companies got table scraps or stuck to their niches). That’s not so much the case anymore, huh?

It’s All Crunchyroll Now

No matter where you live in the world, I shouldn’t have to explain Crunchyroll to you if you’re in the anime scene. They have pretty much taken the anime world by storm as the big king anime streaming service, operating in dozens of countries and a large handful of languages. Even if Crunchyroll wasn’t the biggest service in your particular country, you were at least aware of it and they definitely had a number of shows available to you in your area.

So yeah, the purchase of Crunchyroll by Funimation/Aniplex/Sony was kind of a big deal. Reminder, Aniplex already owned a lot of anime licensing and streaming companies around the world at this point, but now they’ve gone and purchased the biggest one of them all.

And what’s the next thing they do? Start renaming everything to be called “Crunchyroll”.

It’s no longer Manga Entertainment, it’s “Crunchyroll Manga Ltd.”. No longer Madman Anime Group, it’s “Crunchyroll Pty” Australia (and also no longer Madman Anime Festival, now it’s “Crunchyroll Expo Australia”). Viz Media Europe, Kazé… now it’s “Crunchyroll EMEA”. Even Funimation, the brand name that helped kick off and expand the anime market in North America, will soon be no more: Funimation in its entirety has been renamed “Crunchyroll LLC” and Funimation’s name will no longer be used for new dubs and new Blu-Ray releases.

On a low-key level, this disappoints me. For thousands upon thousands of people, these are the brands that helped introduce people into anime and became well-known names in the countries they operated. Here in the US, the name Funimation brings nostalgia from when Dragon Ball played on Cartoon Network on weekday evenings, this being one of the shows that brought a lot of Americans into anime.

And by the end of 2022, all these names will just be… memories.

Now, I do love Crunchyroll. It’s hard to deny the positive impact it had on the world of anime. It introduced a level of availability and discoverability to anime (with the added bonus of being a fully legal avenue to consume this media), allowing it to reach a muuuuch larger audience than ever before. I can certainly say I wouldn’t be watching anime now without Crunchyroll, and I feel that isn’t a statement unique to me. It introduced the idea of anime being available to watch in English (subtitles) within a week of it first appearing on Japanese TVs. This was mostly unheard of beforehand, and introduced the concept of seasonal anime to the West. Even today, when I want to watch anime, Crunchyroll is the first place I turn to.

Crunchyroll definitely doesn’t have a clean track record though. It did start off as yet another anime piracy site, for goodness’s sake, but beyond that, it does have its fair share of logistical and design issues, being behind on the times, and weird/bad business decisions over the years. I certainly can’t call it perfect, but I can certainly call it successful. It’s definitely a global brand, and it makes sense why Aniplex is moving forward with this being the name of all these companies.

Dominating the Market

Now, here’s where we run into the big issue that I have though. (And this is also where the purchase of RightStuf comes back into play.)

We’ve certainly seen a number of headlines over the years of media companies being bought out by even bigger media companies. Disney is the big culprit that comes to mind, and arguably now Warner Bros Discovery is just as big a conglomerate.

Crunchyroll (and Aniplex) is now kind of the same boat as those… but it’s actually also kind of worse. See, with Disney and Warner Bros Discovery, although they definitely do license a decent amount of content, they have enough studios and people to pump out original content of their own constantly in various forms of media. Aniplex (and thus, Crunchyroll) definitely does have a fair share of original content as well, through the various shows it produces and funds. (Let’s set aside that the big differences in how anime is produced and funded in comparison to most Western media.) But Crunchyroll doesn’t just have all of Aniplex’s shows available to show… it also licenses all kinds of other anime too, produced by all kinds of other companies.

Even as of right now, if they don’t license another anime show again, Crunchyroll has an absolutely massive catalogue of anime shows it holds the licenses to. Here in the US, I’d venture that 4 out of every 5 at least mildly popular anime from 2016 and onward are all licensed under the merged Crunchyroll brand. That is a lot of the available market of anime controlled under one brand. This isn’t just streaming online either, but also producing the DVDs, Blu-Rays, merch, getting them on TV, and now (with the purchase of RightStuf) one of the largest direct avenues for Americans to get their hands on said Blu-Rays or merch.

From licensing to streaming to dubbing to Blu-Ray-ing to selling, Crunchyroll now it’s hands on every part of the anime market here in the US (and is also set up similarly in the UK and Australia). Sure, Crunchyroll and Funimation both had their own online stores before this, but RightStuf (and Amazon, I guess) were always available to purchase shows and stuff from all North American anime companies.

Now, of course, Crunchyroll doesn’t have an absolute monopoly on anime distribution, at least in the larger Western anime markets. Here in the US, there is still Sentai and Hi-Dive, which both get a decent amount of shows each season (last I checked, although they’re often not the most hyped up shows in their season), as well as other smaller companies like Discotek and the occasional show or two which gets scooped up by a larger media company like Netflix or Disney. In Australia they have Hanabee, and I’m sure they have other similarly-sized companies in the various European markets too.

But with how much money Crunchyroll already had, plus the financial backing from Aniplex and Sony, I’m sure Crunchyroll will keep shelling out all this money to continue picking up licenses to most shows (including – of course – all the popular, big ones) every season, and probably for every market outside of Japan (and East Asia). It’s hard to deny… Crunchyroll is pretty much the anime distributor. If you want anime, you go to Crunchyroll. That’s it.

All this being said, it’s also hard to deny that (beyond what gets scooped up by the other companies I listed a bit ago) it’ll be nice to just have one website and service I can go to to watch all the new anime that comes out in a given season, along with so many of the popular shows from past seasons and years. This has been a big complaint a lot of us have had with so many streaming services popping up is that one has to subscribe to six different services just to watch all the various shows being talked about; in the world of anime, now that problem’s been greatly reduced.

But it still does kind of feel weird and frankly a tad spine-shivering-y to have so much of this one particular market under one company… in practically every Western country in the world. I’m not as much of a vocal “these companies are too big and should be broken up” type as others are (not to say I’m disagree with that though, otherwise why would I write this entire piece?), but the knowledge that “anime” is likely to become synonymous with “Crunchyroll” outside of Japan doesn’t sit quite right with me.

Part of a Larger World

There is another angle to look at this though.

For millennials like me, it can sometimes be hard to remember that anime isn’t as niche and small of a thing as it once was. If you got into anime, you’d have to seek out other people who watched anime (not even mentioning watched the specific types of anime you do) to even have someone to talk about it with. Anime and manga were relegated to quiet conversations in the corner, a single shelf at bookstores if you were lucky, and specialty clubs and meetups.

Nowadays anime isn’t quite as mainstream as the major hit shows that Netflix, Disney, or HBO come out with, but it’s not nearly as hard to find someone who’s at least watched an anime show or two, or at the very least know what anime is. A number of celebrities and others have talked about having watched a few anime shows. Again, anime isn’t popular, but it isn’t unpopular either.

Major streaming services like Netflix, HBO Max, and Hulu now have a prominent anime section, and that’s where we come to the point of this section: under these streaming services, anime is shown as another category, another genre, from the list, next to “Drama”, “Horror”, and “Romance”. For these larger services and companies, anime is just another type of audiovisual content.

So in the grander scheme of media and streaming and what-not, anime can be seen as just another genre. A subset. Which… probably isn’t an incorrect way to look at it. For those of us who have really fallen into anime, we know that anime itself has a lot of genres, like “isekai”, “action”/”shonen”, “magical girl”, “slice of life”, and also more traditional genres like “romance” and “comedy”. So it may feel weird to consider anime itself a genre of its own… but at the same time – although some anime shows can definitely differ heavily from other shows – anime does kind of have a similar style; not just in appearance (character design), but also just the… vibe and just how a production is done, a lot of anime start looking like they’re cut from the same cloth. And for these giant companies like Disney, HBO, and Netflix, which have such a large catalogue overall, it’s easier to just lump all anime together rather than further dividing and specifying.

Looking through the perspective of anime just being another genre of the larger world of media, you can argue that Crunchyroll/Aniplex doesn’t really have a monopoly or a large portion of the market… they’re just a company that really caters to a particular genre or niche. Similar to, say, Shudder, for horror films or Curiosity Stream for documentaries… or YouTube for online indie productions. Each of these companies have a specific genre or style, and have a looooot of it, but although they’re big in their specific circles, they’re still just a part of the overall piece of audiovisual media. I think a big difference with anime is that it has a large, vocal, and dedicated fanbase (not that other genres don’t, but, well… the reputation of collective fanbase of anime precedes us).

In this larger world of media, Disney and Warner Bros Discovery are the mammoths. And Sony is definitely also a pretty big company itself, but Crunchyroll/Aniplex specifically? Not quite as much. So I think this might be the counterargument used when it comes to accusations of being a monopoly or anything like that.

EDIT: After looking at a FAQ article that Crunchyroll posted in relation to the shuttering of the brand Kazé, they talked a bit about the whole “monopoly” accusation, and indeed provided an answer similar to what I talk about here (the answer, given that Kazé is a French brand, is in French… so here’s the Google translation):

The streaming industry has changed a lot since Crunchyroll was established over 15 years ago and Funimation 25 years ago, and now anime is a big part of almost every major streaming platform. Crunchyroll hasn’t cornered the anime [market] but the brand aims to be the best destination for tens of millions of global fans.

https://help.crunchyroll.com/hc/fr/articles/6674695412116#h_01G4FG0YCVHP304P819D5DCR3A

Where Things Go From Here (The Future…)

So what do I, some random guy on the Internet, think is going to happen from here?

Well, Crunchyroll is already underway with renaming all the various companies and bringing everything together under the Crunchyroll banner. So it’s only a matter of time before sites like Funimation Now, VRV, and Wakanim are going to be fully shut down, and all their catalogues will be on Crunchyroll. (Plus also now the catalogue of RightStuf’s Nozomi Entertainment.)

I suspect the same will eventually happen to RightStuf itself, where RightStuf will be shut down as an independent thing, and either renamed to “Crunchyroll Store” (or something) or subsumed into the existing Crunchyroll Store. It’s possible the opposite might happen where the Crunchyroll Store and other various online stores get shut down, and RightStuf becomes the “store” part of the whole company, but given the trend so far has been to collect everything together under the Crunchyroll name, I don’t see this being as likely. We’ll start to see this transition happen slowly, as RightStuf will probably lose its identity and unique flairs or quirks as it’s absorbed in (for better or worse). I’ll also note that I don’t think this is a scenario where Crunchyroll is buying RightStuf simply to remove this storefront/avenue; selling physical media and such is still a potential source of revenue, and I think Crunchyroll is more likely to just take the systems, processes, and relationships that RightStuf has and just incorporate them into the larger company. Note that I didn’t say “staff”; I suspect there will be a lot of redundancies, and a lot of people back on the job market in the coming months.

Also, as a side note (I didn’t know where else to fit this in), in regards to RightStuf removing all 18+ and hentai stuff, and distancing themselves from those things, post acquisition… once I had heard this, I honestly wasn’t surprised that happened; it’s a little disappointing, for sure, for those who purchase such products, but I suspect some other smaller company will pop up to fill the void that’s been left by that decision.

I don’t know where Crunchyroll would go next in regards to more acquisitions, at least here in the US. They could continue purchasing up other anime distributors and streaming services, like Sentai / Section 23 or HiDive, but Crunchyroll also could just strong-arm these companies out of business instead. Here in the US, I think this will end up being the last big purchase in the anime scene out of Crunchyroll. (There may be more purchases, but they’ll either be 1) relatively smaller purchases by Crunchyroll, who’s already the de facto “winner” in this market or 2) an outside company pushing itself into the scene by purchasing up Sentai or something.)

Given that Crunchyroll is owned by Aniplex, which is owned by Sony, I also don’t suspect the brand and company is going to change hands anymore, unless Sony decides they really want out of the anime business.

And from there… I don’t think there’s going to be enough public outcry or other issues to dissuade Crunchyroll or Aniplex to reverse course in any fashion. In general, people are looking for a hassle-free way to watch and buy anime, and Crunchyroll is handing that to you on a silver platter, no matter where you live. So barring any major scandal or shift in the market, I think things will keep keeping on like this. Crunchyroll will become an even bigger name in anime than they’ve already been, and pretty much become the one site you go to for anything anime-related. (Minus the few shows that are either picked up by the smaller niche companies, or by the larger corporations like Netflix or Disney.)

There may be the chance that other anime producers in Japan (like Kadokawa or Square Enix) might want to switch things up, and start building their own alternative(s) to Crunchyroll to stream or sell anime in other markets, but Crunchyroll may also have enough cash in hand and enough incentives to just keep these companies selling licenses to them. Time will tell with that, but I’m not holding my breath.

But yeah. Anime isn’t just some weird small market anymore, filled with a handful of independent companies in small offices dotted around the country. Anime is a big thing now, and now the companies behind it are big things too. Ultimately, this may just be another page or footnote in the chapter that is the recent “media conglomeration” trend, but it’s still notable news of the times regardless.

And I feel… well, not the best.

Additional Thoughts: The Success of Nichijou

This wasn’t planned to be a long post, but it’s turning into one… either way, I just wanted to share some additional history and trivia that you might not know about this show.

(Also, as a quick update, I did update my review for Nichijou to add and change some stuff, as I wasn’t happy with how it was. No changes in opinion or anything, but wanted to let you know.)

So despite how much people seem to be enjoying it in recent years, Nichijou actually didn’t see too much success right out of the gate, either in the US or Japan.

Japan

In 2011, the Nichijou anime was about to start airing. This anime project came after tremendous success with the producers’ two previous shows: Haruhi Suzumiya and Lucky Star. Haruhi Suzumiya blew up like nothing else, and people around the world clamored to get any tiny bit more Haruhi anything they could get their hands on. Lucky Star, although it rode a bit on the success of Haruhi Suzumiya, was a great hit in its own right and helped to define the genre of “slice-of-life anime”.

Naturally, they expected Nichijou to be another hit out of the park. A lot of time, money, and work was put into getting that 3rd major success: many character single CDs were made, advertisements were put all over, they opted for a full 26 episodes right off the bat, it was aired and streamed everywhere, limited edition DVD/Blu-ray boxes were lined up, merchandise (and video game) deals were made…

But it didn’t turn into the success they wanted it to be. Manga sales were actually pretty good, maybe some of the music CDs did well… but in general, people weren’t buying up the DVDs, other music CDs, and merchandise as well as they hoped.

This didn’t mean that Nichijou was a complete financial disaster, however. It still performed pretty alright. Other anime production committees would probably be pretty happy with the numbers Nichijou brought. … But it wasn’t on the level of Haruhi or Lucky Star. And with how much extra money they poured into this, expecting it to be on that level, it just didn’t return as much money as they put into it.

There’s a lot of speculation and theorizing on to why Nichijou didn’t play out as much as expected. It could’ve been that the content is more suited for a Western audience rather than a Japanese one. It could’ve been the fact that the show was split into 13 separate DVD boxes sold over a year which people didn’t want to get behind. It could’ve been the over-usage of the then-already-overused voice actor Minoru Shirashi in the bonus content on the DVDs. Either way, that’s what it was.

The manga division of Kadokawa, which published the Nichijou manga, certainly saw some success, and Kyoto Animation and Klockworx probably came out alright… but Kadokawa’s anime division, along with Lantis and Movic (who produced the music and merchandise, respectively) probably didn’t see the numbers they wanted.

Kyoto Animation would soon after move into producing its own shows, but it’d be wrong to say that Nichijou was what caused them to do so. They were planning the move into self-production for a while, starting with a book writing contest that first ran in 2009 that gave way to shows like Chunnibyou, Free!, Beyond the Boundary, and Violet Evergarden.

Japan – NHK-E version

The following year (2012), though, the TV station NHK re-aired Nichijou. They cut down the original 26 episodes, taking the best sketches from the show and reorganizing them to fit into 12 episodes. This ended up being referred to as the NHK-E version or Director’s Cut version of Nichijou.

Ultimatemegax translated a compiled listing of what made the cut in the NHK-E version.

(Side note: isn’t a “Director’s Cut” supposed to be like… longer than the original (theatrical) release? Have extra stuff? The 12 episode re-release is half as long as the original 26, but yet it’s sometimes referred to the Director’s Cut…)

The NHK-E version of Nichijou actually performed well enough that they ended up re-airing that version again later that year and also releasing that on DVD. So at least the Nichijou anime did have some success in the end… even if that meant cutting half of it out.

United States

However, now we turn our attention to the United States. Other overseas regions, like Europe and Australia, don’t necessarily apply here. (Madman Entertainment released Nichijou in Australia in 2013.)

In the early 2000s, Bandai (yes, that Bandai) had an anime distribution division in the US, and released DVDs just like Funimation or Sentai. Bandai were the ones to bring over Cowboy Bebop, Haruhi Suzumiya, Code Geass, and K-On! to the United States. For Haruhi’s 2nd season, they even did live events and promotions for it.

When 2011 came around, Bandai would acquire the license for Nichijou with plans to release it in 2012. However, it would end up not to be.

Around 2011 is when the American anime industry was hitting a problem: people just weren’t buying DVDs as much anymore. The Internet was becoming the next big thing, and piracy and torrenting sites allowed people to watch anime without paying a dime. On top of all of this, as well, was the larger economic recession happening in 2010/2011; people just didn’t have the extra money to spend on things like DVDs (and why would they, when they could just hit up their favorite site and watch a show with just a click of a mouse).

For Bandai America’s anime and manga division, this wasn’t an obstacle they could afford to overcome. The parent company back home in Japan wasn’t happy with how things were turning out, and when they decided to merge all their Japanese anime companies into one, they also decided to leave the American anime industry in steps.

The discs for Nichijou, Gosick, and Turn A Gundam were cancelled in January 2012, and all of the manga they were publishing were cut short. In August, they stopped selling all of their DVDs altogether, and by December 2012, they were totally out of the American anime industry.

Nichijou would still end up on Crunchyroll (under the translated name My Ordinary Life) as part of their premiere lineup for this new “legal anime streaming” thing they were trying out. But there was no company in the US to advertise and support the show, to make and put out DVDs and put it into catalogs and on retailer websites like Amazon. And so for the US, the show never raised above cult hit status, and in 2014 when Crunchyroll lost the license to Nichijou, there ceased to be a legal way to even watch the show in the US.

Things seemed to change around a little bit when Vertical Comics announced their acquisition of the Nichijou manga at AX 2015. It still wasn’t the anime, but there was at least some way for people to enjoy Nichijou. I excitedly purchased the first 3 volumes right away from them, and I still support them now (especially since they also have the Monogatari series books too).

Finally, at YoumaCon 2016, Funimation announced they got the license to Nichijou. February 2017, a month short of a full 6 years since the 1st episode aired, American anime fans could enjoy this comedy show with the Blu-Ray box in their own hands.

Unfortunately, Nichijou’s time in the limelight has passed, as there’s new shows to produce and promote, and new DVDs and Blu-Rays to make. But the show’s popularity, hopefully, will continue to grow and expand online, as more and more fans come across this awesome show.

Until next time,

Jayke

Additional Thoughts: My Experience Watching No Game No Life Zero

So, as mentioned in my review of the film, I actually went out to the theater to watch it with a friend. I thought it’d be interesting to document how our experience at the theater that night went down. This was my second time going out to a theater to watch an anime movie, my first being The Boy and the Beast.

Going to see The Boy and the Beast in theaters was really cool, because the theater was packed with anime fans who were probably all watching this for the first time. There was a lot of emotion; laughter during the funny parts, and “awws” during the more sweet part. It was exciting and a lot of fun.

My experience here, though, was pretty different.

Of course, I watched The Boy and the Beast at a theater at an anime convention, rather than at some theater in my hometown. There’s bound to be a lot of anime fans interested in the film at an anime convention; meanwhile, No Game No Life Zero was playing at the theater here without any bigger event tied to it, and no physical marketing or even mentioning of it excepting for on the showtimes board inside the theater itself.

I went over this in my review, but my friend and I had gone and pre-purchased our tickets to the movie online. My friend had a bit of a weird snafu because she ended up getting charged for like 4 tickets or something? So that was something that needed to be resolved when we actually arrived at the theater. It was only maybe 45 seconds of waiting at the front counter (it’s interesting how slowly time seems to move while you’re standing and waiting for something), and then we were all good.

Anyway, we go and grab some food (I almost never get popcorn because I’m just not much of a popcorn guy, honestly), and then head off to the theater where the film will be showing.

It was around 35 to 40 minutes before the film was to start, so we weren’t exactly expecting the place to be filled when we walked in, but still! No one was in the theater at all. We sat down in the seats that seemed just right for us (everyone has their preferences), and just… sat there. There was nothing on the screen, so my friend decided to whip out her phone and began playing “This Game”, the OP from the TV anime.

A few minutes in, a man suddenly appeared on the screen, and his voice boomed over the speakers. He said something to the effect of “Welcome to this film sponsored by Fathom Events. It’s 30 minutes to show time, so get comfortable!” and then the screen went blank again. This just scared the ever-living daylight out of me (I’m so easily startled), so my friend started laughing. It was about then that – finally – the next two people appeared in the theater.

They were two guys from a local technical college, and because there was nothing else to do, we began talking a bit. One of the guys was a big fan of the TV anime, and so he decided to drag along his friend, whom had never even watched it, so they could enjoy the movie together. We gave this friend a short crash course on what No Game No Life is like, thanks in part due to a video by Gigguk.

We saw maybe two or three more small groups walk in during this time, but even by 6:50 – 10 minutes before the show was to start – the theater was still mostly empty. Around 6:45 or something, the screen turned on again, the same guy greeted us, and then this rotating slideshow of images and short ads began playing; one of the slides was this Q&A question, and despite it being labeled “Q1”, we didn’t ever see a “Q2” or anything else… they only showed Q1 over and over. (It was something related to the snack Shiro ate in the beginning of episode 1.) While this slideshow was playing, there was this crowd-murmur sound that’d play in the background; it kind of creeped us all out, but luckily the YouTube video did well to fill the soundscape instead.

At around 6:52 or so, I decided to get back out and grab some more food (they sell these pretzel nugget bite things and I love them!). By this point, long lines had formed though – something I should’ve expected, but totally didn’t. So I got into a line and resigned myself to the fact that I probably won’t make it back by 7.

Finally, though, I got my pretzel bites, and quickly zipped my way back to the theater. As I come back in, I notice the special “pre-show presentation by actors and staff” that was promoted for the event playing on the screen. I sit down and my friend whispers, “Don’t worry; you only missed the recap.” Something I didn’t need since I rewatched the TV anime recently.

This presentation went on for twenty. five. minutes. (Including the time I wasn’t there.)

(I should also mention that by the time I came back, the theater had quite a bit more people in it. Certainly wasn’t a full house by any means, but I’d say about half the seats were filled.)

I came in as the interview with Sentai’s ADR director began, saying things like “I’m excited I was able to come back to work on the film” and things like you’d expect him to say. A tiny bit of his southern twang came in at times which definitely amused me (Sentai Filmworks is based in Texas, after all).

They then progressed into small interviews with each of the main English voice actors, being the ones for Riku, Schwi, Jibril, Tet, and Izuna. (Izuna barely made an appearance in the movie, by the way, so having her voice actor come in was kind of amusing.) These interviews were structured pretty similarly; the first part of each one focused on each voice actor’s role in the original TV anime (Riku and Schwi share the same VAs as Sora and Shiro, respectively) and the second part focused on their role in the movie.

Looking at these interviews wholly on their own, I’d say they’re probably okay.

However… the thing is, they played before the movie started. For what seemed like forever, we’re sitting here and watching people talk about the movie rather than watching the movie itself. And not only that, but each of the voice actors were also open about their roles and the world they’re in; I’d say at least half of the entire movie was spoiled by these interviews before the thing itself even started. Half of the entire movie.

The only voice actors who didn’t spoil anything were Tet’s (who said something to the effect of “I won’t say when he makes his appearance, but when Tet makes his appearance, it’s super cool”) and Izuna’s (whose character was only in the film for two scenes). Both of these characters barely made any impact on the film, and so their voice actors didn’t spoil much because there wasn’t much to spoil about them.

If these interviews had either played after the movie, or simply have been edited down for time and to remove so much of these spoilers, it would’ve been a lot better. The thing finally ended with the ADR director and all the voice actors on the screen, saying “Hope you enjoy the film!”, and then they all raised their hand and said “Aschente!” before a cut to black. It was super cheesy; my friend and I just looked at each other and were like “… really?”

(It also amused me that despite us going to see the subtitled showing of the film, it showed the English ADR director, voice actors, and played clips of the TV anime and film with English audio. I wouldn’t have expected Sentai to have gone and interviewed the Japanese staff/cast, but still, it amused me.)

So finally, at 7:25, the film began playing.

My thoughts about the film are all in the review I posted alongside this piece, so if you’re looking at a spoiler-free look at the film, go there. From this point onward, I’m going to be talking about events in the film itself, without regard for spoilers. So consider yourself warned!

The theater was pretty much entirely silent throughout the whole film. The amusing moments in the early part of the film (while Couronne was misunderstanding Riku and Schwi about to “get it on”) got a few chuckles from the audience, but that was about it. The romantic heartfelt scene in the middle got no reaction, none of the big dramatic stuff that happened afterwards got no reaction. There was just nothing.

Like I said in my review, my friend got up and left during that romance scene. It went on and on as Riku was like “I want us to get married” and Schwi just kept rejecting the idea. Finally, she revealed to Riku that she alone was the one that destroyed the village the human colony had started in, effectively killing off half of the entire human race. She looked right up at him and said “you probably think poorly of me now, don’t you?”. Riku, this stupid guy, looks back at her and essentially says “Yeah, that sucks, but I don’t care. Let’s get married anyway.” This was about when my friend left.

Really? Really?

Half of your entire race just died to the actions of this one person standing right in front of you, and you – the one that was beating yourself down earlier for how many people you had indirectly gotten killed – just brushed it off like it was nothing? REALLY?

I’ll admit that I had a pretty “meh” reaction to this movie thus far. At this point, though, that’s probably when I really started to dislike it.

After a long enough time, the movie finally moved on to the climax, which is where Jibril made her appearance and began fighting Schwi. My friend, who is a super huge fan of Jibril, walked back in after this battle already started; she ended up kicking herself in the back later because she missed Jibril’s entrance.

I talked about the battle in my review. I’ll just move on to the last scene of the film.

This very last scene jumped back to present time; Sora and Shiro appeared, with Steph and present-day Jibril, and they talked for a tiny bit about how much the people of present day remember the events of that time – which is to say not much. I will admit it’s a tad emotional to see that these two people (Riku and Schwi) which played a huge role in ensuring humanity’s survival and making Disboard what it is today, are both just forgotten to time. Even Tet, who was actually narrating this story, says that he doesn’t know what happens with certainty.

Anyway, Sora and Shiro proudly declare something to the effect of “it’s time for the next phase.” We see them move to some cliff, standing proudly on the edge of it with all of the TV anime’s characters, and saying “Let the game begin!”

And then it cut to black.

During that moment of blackness, I turn to my friend and whisper, “I hope there’s a teaser or something for a season 2”. Instead, nope, the credits began rolling. The Japanese credits, I should clarify, including the ending song, “There is a Reason”, and some relatively simple animation of water ripples and the wedding ring.

While the credits played, the TV anime fan whom I mentioned well earlier in this piece loudly chanted “Where’s Season 2?” and got the rest of the theater to mutter in agreement. However, the credits finished, they replayed a section of that marriage scene (ughhhhh) and then it faded to black again. You could feel the entire audience exhale as their anticipation just evaporated.

There were yet again a few more moments to blackness… and then suddenly, more words began appearing. It was now the credits in English. I just laughed; I turned to my friend and said “Okay, let’s go, there’s nothing more.”

The fan guy responded to me, “You never know, they could’ve put something more after these credits.”

“These are the Sentai credits. There’s nothing more,” I laughed.

Sentai Filmworks, about 95% of the time, doesn’t modify/translate the ending credits for their anime DVDs, like Funimation and NIS America do, and instead just put the credits after each episode’s included credits run: white text on a black background, repeating everything the Japanese credits did (and adding the English staff), but with no ending animation or audio whatsoever. It’s cheap and kind of boring, but for Sentai, it’s par for the course.

I was not expecting, however, Sentai to do the same exact treatment to the films they show in theaters. I knew once the Sentai credits started rolling, though, that was the end.

Regardless, my friend and I found ourselves staying to the end of the Sentai credits as well, as did most of the people in the theater. When they finally finished and the screen went black again for the final time, I just shook my head, stood up, and said “we’re outta here”.

My friend and I drove back home, complaining about the film the whole way. One of our other friends was planning to watch the dubbed showing on the 8th, and we decided to tell him that it wasn’t worth his time to go.

I went home, made a disappointed tweet, and just moved on with the rest of my night.

So that’s my experience. Did you go to see the film? Or are you still interested in watching it at all? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! As for me, I’m looking forward to seeing A Silent Voice; I’m hoping that’ll be more worth my time and money than this was.

Space Patrol Luluco – One Year Later

To be honest, in the past few years, it’s been harder for anime to really reach out and grab me, draw me in, and get me whole-heartedly invested. I’d say there’s a couple reasons as to why, but that’s another discussion for another time.

One of those exceptions, though, was Space Patrol Luluco. It caught my eye in April of 2016 due to it being a new short-length series created by animation studio Trigger, the animation studio that had recently gained fame for its work on Kill La Kill (and Little Witch Academia, to a lesser extent). When I saw that first episode drop, I was like “sign me up!”

The first episode did really well to draw me in that day due to its fascinating background work, its highly-cartoonish character designs and animations, and its sense of timing for its comedic moments, with a small dosage of overdramatization on top of it.

The series as a whole is hyper, chaotic, dramatic, and aware of all of it.

I wrote my review for Space Patrol Luluco relatively soon after I had finished the series, and even wrote an accompanying piece for it talking about the forces behind the show’s creation (although I feel that’s of my lower quality pieces on this site). It’s been a full year since the release of that final episode, and four days short since the release of my review. I rewatched the entire series today to somewhat celebrate and commemorate the anniversary, so the big question is… what do I think of the show now?

(Warning: since this is my reflection on this series, I’m not going to be devoting paragraphs to explaining the plot/setting, and my discussion is also going to be pretty spoiler-laden. Soooo… yeah.)

Honestly, the show is a lot of fun. If you simply let yourself just get caught up in the action, drama, and the quick, snappy flow from one scene and episode into another, you find yourself in a storm of excitement as everything falls into place in the final two episodes. If you sit down and give thought to everything happening on screen too, the show did its job well enough for things to make a relative amount of sense, although the fast pacing may muddle that.

For my first watch-through last year, I didn’t notice (or give much thought to) Nova’s indifference to everything throughout nearly the entire series (due to him being a Nothingling). Thus, I sensed Luluco’s frustrations with his mixed messages and such as just her “being a flustered teenage kid”. This led to me being a bit more confused as well when the plot twist occurred in episode 10 where his double agentry was unveiled.

This show revels in being dramatic, over-the-top, and ridiculous. This all lended itself well to the comedy of the first episode, and also to quick pacing and tone of the overall series. Indeed, Space Patrol Luluco seemed to be at its weakest point at episode 10 (and also episode 8), which was basically the plot dump episode. The show quite literally had the characters all sit down so the main villain could spout backstories and explanations at them, instead of their usual antics of action-explosions-justice! that was present throughout pretty much the rest of the series.

I could sense the show was trying to add some levity and silliness to it with Midori’s moments in that episode and the Blackholeian’s long-winded descriptions of middle schoolers. As well, honestly, the plot as a whole isn’t nonsensical either. It didn’t seem like it was pulled out of their you-know-where, and the show gives you just enough time for you to think yourself “Huh, I guess that does make sense” before ending the episode or whisking you off to another thing. The plot isn’t the most deep or groundbreaking, and it ends on this “love conquers all” thing we’ve seen many a time before, but it’s overall not bad. For the show’s purposes, it does fine enough. You can tell the creators have more fun with the action-explosions-justice! though.

Thus, after Luluco goes through the essential character development scene in episode 11 and comes back from Hell, the show basically says “okay, back to the fun stuff” and it becomes hyper-awesome-action for the final two episodes. As I said a number of paragraphs ago, though, the hyper-action and overdramatics of it all is really exciting and a lot of fun. To be honest, I think that’s mostly what this show strives to be, is just super-fun, super-action, and over-the-top, and it very well succeeds in that regard.

It also sets up Luluco as Trigger-chan, basically the mascot for the entire animation studio, so that’s cool, I guess. I honestly don’t really fully understand the idea of a company mascot (such as Super Sonico), but hey, whatever.

My feelings towards the episode-long cameos to other series are not as negative as they were in the past. I’ve still yet to watch any of the shows that got cameoed here… Anyway, the cameos, although they definitely do serve to give fans of those shows a wink and a nod, also usually tie in fairly well into the main plot, overall (if not in somewhat contrived ways). Like the rest of Space Patrol Luluco, the cameo episodes are all intense, quick-paced, and usually full of action… with the exception of Episode 8, “The Trap of the Mystical Power”. This episode was slower paced, and everything in it seemed to drag just as much as well. It’s a relatively important episode to the overall plot (although, again, the situations in it are fairly contrived), but it still feels like this show’s other weak point.

All in all, though, I have a lot of positive feelings about this show. Rewatching it all today was a lot of fun, and it got me motivated and excited enough to want to come here and write this reflection!

My biggest hope, now, is that Crunchyroll/Funimation will go ahead and release a physical copy of this show. Since Crunchyroll is on the production committee for this show, they assumedly have all distribution rights outside of east Asia. Short-length anime usually don’t see a physical release, however, but I’m still going to hope for this one!

What are your thoughts on the show, one year later? Has it brought you as much excitement and enjoyment as it brought me? Or maybe you got other feelings out of it? Let me know in the comments!

Additional Thoughts: Attack on Titan Season 2

Attack on Titan Season 2. It’s happening.

I didn’t really mention “Season 2” at all in my Attack on Titan review. There are a few reasons:

  1. Season 2 obviously hasn’t happened yet (as I write this). I wouldn’t exactly have much to say about something I haven’t seen (unless I wanted to write speculations or what I want to see).
  2. My Attack on Titan review, I felt, was pretty long, and I didn’t want to make it any longer.
  3. If I were to write speculation about it, I feel it would involve spoilers for the first season. And I keep my reviews spoiler-free.
  4. Honestly, you probably already knew it was happening.

So, let’s talk about it a bit now.

Today, the day after I posted my review, Funimation actually translated a Japanese promo video and posted it on their YouTube channel. That’s a weird coincidence… The video clocks in a bit under 2 minutes, so if you have a free moment, go take a look!

The first thing, of course, that will probably grab your attention is that weird-looking giant-eyed Titan (fish-eyed?) walking among the crowd of Titans. I’m not really going to be doing a second-by-second overview of the entire video, but I just wanted to point it out. It’s weird looking, and not even in the same way the Moe Titan was. It’s just… weird.

Anyway, now that I spent a paragraph on that…

From what we can tell with this video, there seems to be more of a focus on Titan-vs-Titan fighting. I’m not surprised, as this seems to be the next logical level, especially after the two last major battles in the first season incorporating a lot of Titan-vs-Titan fighting. There does still seem to be some human-vs-Titan fighting still, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that isn’t as prevalent.

It seems the second season may also talk a bit more about the squabbling military factions, about the three walls (which will be rather intriguing, actually), and about Titans themselves. I wonder how much the series will bog itself down from its main staple of high-intensity action.

The visuals seem to be on par with the first season. The coloration seems to be just a tad darker from the first season, but not drastically different. It seems the character outlines aren’t quite as thick this time around though. The background music piece sounds really cool, of course, and still fits right in the style of the first season’s soundtrack (I actually first thought they just reused an OST track from the first season). It’s nice to see a lot of the same staff returning for this second season too.

All in all, I’ll be interested to see what this second season will have in store for us. Of course, not too much can be figured out from a two-minute promo video, but it’s probably safe to say that the show won’t be veering off in an completely weird direction (at least, not at first).

Finally, I should also note that I’ve never read the manga. I honestly very, very rarely even look at the manga for a show. I can’t exactly pin down one specific reason as to why that is, but a big contender is probably the fact that I’d rather spend my time on other things other than just reading.

Switching gears to another topic… April 2017 is 4 years since the first season aired. That’s kind of a long time between two seasons, I feel. I know a notable part of the reason for the long wait is because they wanted the manga to advance further, but I do wonder how this second season will do, sales and viewings-wise, in comparison to the first.

Between the end of the first season and now, we’ve seen a number of other shows, including action shows like Tokyo Ghoul, One Punch Man, and My Hero Academia, more than satisfy fans. I know there is still quite a fanbase for Attack on Titan, and something as big as it was certainly doesn’t have to worry about its name disappearing that quickly; however, I feel it’s more than possible that some people have lost interest in the show since that time.

This being said, there’s also been the show Attack on Titan Junior High, two anime films and two live-action films, and a crapton of manga and light novels, to try to keep the public interested in the show. It’s not like fans have been completely dry of new material while they wait.

But still, I just don’t hear people talking about Attack on Titan so excitedly anymore. When the first season aired, you would hear conversations about it all of the time. People would constantly talk about how cool Mikasa or Armin was, or about Titans themselves, or about Marco’s death (to be honest, I enjoyed the puns that came out of that though). While I still see people in cosplay for the show at conventions, and I see merchandise still moving for it, it’s not as… everywhere now as it was then. The first opening song isn’t being blasted all over the place anymore. Like I said, the excitement seems to have worn off.

Only time will tell how this second season will go, I suppose. I just hope that the show creators haven’t shot themselves in the foot with such a long pause between the first season and now.

I’m curious to hear other peoples’ thoughts about the second season, about what it might contain, and about how much excitement there really still is for this show. If you wish to share, I welcome you to write a comment below. Do give a spoiler warning if you’re going to be talking about something from the manga that we haven’t seen in the first season.

Additional Thoughts: Space Patrol Luluco’s Production Committee

I won’t always do this “Additional Thoughts” thing, but in this case, I felt there were a few things about this show that I wanted to talk about, that wouldn’t have fit too well in the review (without making it super-long). To that extent, allow me to dump some of these words here.

There is one big thing I want to mention. For those of you who paid close attention to my review, you’ll notice I used the animation studio’s name, Trigger, more than I usually do for a review. This is actually intentional. Trigger’s co-founder, Hiroyuki Imaishi, not only directed this series, but also wrote it too. As it’s an original series, he had more control over what direction this show could go than one would for an adaptation; thus, the presentation of this show fell more onto Trigger’s shoulders than it usually would for an animation studio. Thus, I felt justified in using its name more in my review. This is not a common occurrence for me.

Trigger, though, despite animating and writing the show, still does not have full control over the series; everything they do still has to get approved through the other members of the Production Committee.

What is a Production Committee, you ask? For every anime series out there, there is a Production Committee. A production committee is made up of various companies that come together to make a particular show: the essential members are a music production company (such as Lantis or Aniplex) to provide the music for a show, and a publishing company (such as Pony Canyon or Aniplex) to handle the intellectual rights of the show and generally work to bring the show to the public. Usually, for an adaptation, the book/video game/whatever publisher is on the committee, but not always. Each member company of a committee puts forth a certain amount of money to help produce the show, and in return, they get partial ownership of the show, and get to promote it in their own way.

A music company gets to make and promote the show’s music, a merchandising company gets to make and promote merchandise for the show, a DVD/BD authoring company gets to make and promote the show’s DVDs, and so on. However, in many cases, the production committee does not contain the animation studio. In this case, the animation studio is simply contracted to draw the anime, in the same way that you would contract someone to remodel your kitchen for you.

(Also, another thing to mention is that just as an animation studio is not a must-have for a production committee, a TV station isn’t either. If an animation studio is on the committee, we know that studio will be animating that show, and likewise, if a TV station is on the committee, we know that TV station will be airing that show. If a TV station is not on the production committee, this means the production committee has to shop around and find a TV station to air their anime on.)

So, let’s look at the Production Committee for Space Patrol Luluco:

Good Smile Company (merchandising, leader of committee)
Flying Dog (music production, branch of Victor Entertainment)
Crunchyroll (international rights/publishing)
Bilibili (Chinese online distribution)
AT-X (Japanese TV station)
Ultra Super Pictures (publishing company, joint company held by various animation studios (including Trigger))

The first thing I’m going to be bringing attention to is Ultra Super Pictures. This is the (joint) company behind the ULTRA SUPER ANIME TIME block, which Space Patrol Luluco aired as a part of. Trigger is one of the owners of Ultra Super Pictures, and thus, it was one of the various companies that helped bring Space Patrol Luluco to fruition. However, as Ultra Super Pictures is at the very bottom of the committee, this means that all the other shows contributed more money to producing this show, and also get a bit more of a say in the show’s direction.

Thus, despite being the animation studio behind this show, employing the head writer for it, and being one of the various companies that even helped produce this show, Trigger still doesn’t have absolute control.

However, there is another thing I want to bring attention to in this production committee list, that you probably noticed too: Crunchyroll is on this committee.

For those of you who have never heard of production committees for anime before, you may be like “So? What’s the big deal? Crunchyroll is streaming this show in the West, so doesn’t it kind of make sense their name get put somewhere?” However, that’s not actually true.

I’ll be talking more about the roles of Western anime distributors some point later, but the big thing to know is that, up until 2015, all these Western companies ever did is just license a bunch of Japanese anime shows, and bring them to the United States (or Europe, or Australia, or elsewhere). They don’t actually own the rights to anything in the show (including the dub), they just have the permission of the Production Committee to sell the show in their own region. When it came to making an anime, that was always just something that occurred in Japan, without the say of non-Japanese companies.

This is no longer the case, and Crunchyroll is one of the companies making this happen. By being in Space Patrol Luluco’s Production Committee, this means that Crunchyroll is actually one of the various companies that helped make this show. They didn’t just simply license the show to bring it to the rest of the world, they were with this show from the very start.

It’s actually pretty exciting to see Crunchyroll and Funimation (who is on the Production Committee for My Hero Academia) going to Japan and getting involved with creating anime. These two companies are no longer just licensors or anime streaming sites: they’re now anime producers, they help actually make the stuff. There has been a growing trend within the past year to get Western companies more involved in anime and manga production (as Crunchyroll and Kadokawa has also made an anime co-production deal earlier this year, and Kadokawa bought a 51% stake in Yen Press).

As a Western anime fan, I think it’s pretty cool.