Anime on Netflix: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (12 Days of Anime 3)
Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Sentai have all been (more or less) the big players in streaming new anime series to Western consumers for a while now. Amazon dipped its toes into the water with a few series a couple years ago, but appears to have pulled back from that. I believe Hulu also has some series available to watch, although I don’t believe they try for new series. But Netflix, probably the original streaming heavyweight, has been upping their anime game over the last several years — occasionally to the consternation of Western audiences.
Welcome to “12 Days of Anime 2021”, a writing challenge in which I look to have an article a day for 12 days leading up to Christmas, all centered in some way on anime or anime-related topics. You can find last year’s stories at this link over on Anitay, as well as re-posts of my 2018 and 2019 series here on Medium. Big, big thanks to Stanlick for creating the header image outline template.
Netflix has had at least a small part in the anime game even before digital streaming was really a “thing.” When they were still all disc-based as a service, there were a fair few movies and even some series you could get from them. Studio Ghibli movies were of course present, and some of the more prominent shows that had made it over here, like Trigun and Rurouni Kenshin could be rented.
Now, their streaming service has a fairly robust catalog of anime titles. They’ve got a pretty good selection of the more kid-friendly shows, like Pokemon, a number of popular shounen such as Bleach and Hunter X Hunter, they’ve got One Piece, Attack on Titan, and quite a few “big name” shows. They’ve got a number of different anime movies as well. They’ve got high school shows, rom-coms, thrillers, really, just good general coverage across the board. All these are included in their standard subscriptions, with no extra “tiering”.
Another thing I’ve appreciated about anime on Netflix, at least in the past, was a number of series having dubs as well as subs at times when I didn’t have other access to dubs of series I wanted yet. They may not always be the fastest to get them, but they often do.
And over the last few years, Netflix has begun getting into the anime production game, so that instead of just licensing “older” series, they’re now starting to have their own exclusives available, typically several per year. And just the other year, Netflix got the licensing to re-sub and re-dub the original Neon Genesis Evangelion, along with several of the follow-on movies, making it available (legally) to new audiences again for the first time in a long time.
So, Netflix has anime. This is undoubtedly good. Netflix is funding anime. Even better. BUT…
Netflix has become somewhat notorious amongst Western anime fans for putting its exclusives in “Netflix jail”. Whereas the show is aired weekly as normal on Netflix Japan, here in the US, the standard has generally been that they’ll release the show all at once (or possibly a single cours at a time for longer shows) only after the show’s original airing in Japan has completed. And sometimes, months or even a full season later. An opinion I saw expressed elsewhere that I agree with is that this practice can lead to a more casual viewer (i.e., someone who might be interested in the show but not necessarily in a “must watch it NOW” way) forgetting about the show. And on a more personal front, for me at least, having the whole series dropped at once turns it into Just Another Thing On My Netflix Queue, that I may or may not ever get to.
Worse than viewer apathy though is that this practice can lead to increased piracy from those who DO “need” to see the show as it comes out, even if they’ve already got a Netflix subscription. I’m not going to stand on a soapbox and rail against the Evils of Piracy or whatnot, but you’d think that this is definitely more of a situation where you’d like people to be paying you to watch things, instead of making it more attractive for them to take the free, but illegal, option. On top of which, often these shows are having their raw video taken from Netflix Japan itself before being fansubbed and put out for downloads. So they’re making it more attractive to pirate from themselves instead of letting Western fans see it with minimal delay (usually only a few hours for Crunchyroll and Funimation’s subs).
The top image is from the highly-anticipated series Komi Can’t Communicate, based on a popular manga series. There was a collective Internet groan when it was announced that it was going to Netflix, along with the worries about it being put in “Netflix jail”. But hey, Netflix US is putting it out a week at a time — with “only” about a three-week delay from its original air date. This is a slight improvement on the original problem, but only so much, because there’s one last elephant in the room:
Netflix’ subs often kinda suck.
First of all, there’s a question of translation accuracy. I’m certainly not versed enough in Japanese to speak to how big of a problem this is, and to be fair to Netflix, it’s not a problem unique to them either. Certainly, fans are probably more likely to take exception to any mistakes (or perceived mistakes) in a highly-anticipated new series (such as Komi), or with a big-name series update/acquisition (such as NGE). (As an aside, the latter also had issues with the dub scripts from what I’ve heard, with the voice actors in some instances pointing fingers at Netflix as the responsible party there as well.) But again, Crunchyroll received plenty of criticism from the fanbase for their subs for My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, particularly its third season.
Secondly, Netflix’ subs typeface (at least on the systems I most commonly use to watch it) typically isn’t very good. Take the image below:
The top version is the subs as seen on Netflix. The bottom/underneath is from a fansub of the episode. Note how the Netflix subs are typically white lettering, with a very minimal border around them. Even on a 40" TV such as in my house, they can be very hard to read, especially against any lighter kind of background, because Netflix doesn’t adjust any of it. Now, compare that to the fansub at the bottom. Note how the fansubs, and typically Crunchyroll and Funimation (at least with some of their players) use a rather fat, dark border around the lettering. This provides a good contrast, making them easier to read, without being overly intrusive on the actual images.
Most egregiously, certainly when it comes to Komi, is that at least sometimes, they’re not even subbing a whole scene. Take this scene below:
I’ll be honest, I’m not sure if this specific image is from a Netflix screengrab or not, but even if it’s from a fansub, it’s perfectly representative of what I’ve seen on Netflix’ official subs. The only thing being subbed here was the narration over the scene. None of these descriptions of the idiosyncracies were translated. Similarly, at best about half of the descriptive text boxes that appear at times get subbed. Sometimes the narrator reads them anyway, which then IS subbed, but plenty of times they don’t.
While I’ve had my issues with Crunchyroll and Funimation’s subs of non-speaking elements in the past, the former has drastically improved over the years (see the near-insane efforts taken to sub the various “stat screens” in So I’m A Spider, So What? for instance), and for the latter, my issue has often been more one of clarity of what text belongs to what, and how long it’s being displayed on screen (which has also been improving slowly, in my opinion). But Netflix definitely isn’t there yet. And from what I’ve read and heard discussed, they don’t pay translation staff well enough at this time to be improving — let alone implementing whatever updates they’d need to their player(s) to allow for more subs in different places to be displayed.
So in the end, for now we unfortunately will have to muddle through with Netflix as best we can, trying to let them know of our opinions when possible, and hoping for a change, especially as Funimation and Crunchyroll merge, and could use another big-time competitor in the market to help balance things out.
12 Days of Anime, Day 1: So You Thought ’21 Was Gonna Be A Good Year?
Umrguy42 begins his 12 Days of Anime by briefly looking back on this past year in anime.