Starting with this season’s Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, new shows from the highly-regarded Noitamina late-night slot on Japanese television will only be streamed abroad on Amazon Prime. Some fans are angry because that closes the window that previously might have allowed them to see it for free from another supplier.
But it doesn’t seem to bother the UK’s anime companies. “Streaming from another large platform can only be a positive thing,” comments Andrew Partridge of Anime Limited. “I heard naysayers flapping when Netflix came along, too. The truth of the matter is that the Amazons and Netflixes of this world are the terrestrial TV we never really had.”
In the years before NEO, anime TV shows weren’t on TV in the UK. Japanese cartoons were written off as glorified toy commercials or unsuitably violent, and fans sourced them from the video trade instead. In the last decade, anime has undergone a quiet revolution in streaming and simulcasts, but I don’t think fandom likes to feel that it’s being “handled”, even though enclosing intellectual properties is the way that any broadcaster builds its brand. SKY TV initially sold itself as the place where you could watch The Simpsons. Sporting channels snatch exclusive access to Your Team versus Their Team. If you gave me the mission of seizing the high ground in anime, Noitamina would be the first thing I went for, because it’s come to be associated with quality. If you were previously the sole gatekeeper to Noitamina, you would have had Erased, Psycho Pass, and Terror in Resonance, Nodame Cantabile and Eden of the East. But so what? You still wouldn’t have had Attack on Titan or Ghost in the Shell.
Fans love the idea of getting their own, tailor-made anime-streaming “channel”. But they hate it when they discover it Doesn’t Have All The Things. So it’s not just one monthly payment, it’s two, it’s three… When Battery starts running in July, you won’t be able to preview it for free on Crunchyroll. But if you really want to see it, it will still be right there, if you pay the annual fee, on Amazon Prime. That’s what’s making a lot of fans twitch. When Funimation or Viewster subscriptions cost no more than a once-monthly Happy Meal, they feel negligible. But Prime’s £79 a year doesn’t feel like £7 a month, even though it is. Or another £5.99 a month for Prime Video, if you prefer.
Of course, down the line, these shows will continue to come out on disc anyway. Which is where the real cleverness lies, because if you’ve already paid for Amazon Prime, it’s pretty obvious where you’re going to buy your Blu-ray. They’ll get to take your money twice.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article first appeared in NEO #150, 2016.