Last month’s big news might have been about Crunchyroll shutting down free simulcasts, but there are other ructions in the streaming world that have drawn less comment from the anime world. In part, that’s because right now, it doesn’t seem to be anime’s problem.
Amid press speculation about a drop in subscriber numbers, Netflix has suddenly started cutting back on some of its animation projects in development. So, that isn’t like shutting down the live-action Cowboy Bebop after twenty days; that’s choosing not to make a bunch of shows at all, as if someone at Netflix woke up one morning and decided: “Wow, that Meghan Markle cartoon series was a bad idea. What was I thinking!?” So out goes Markle’s Pearl, along with an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Twits, Lauren Faust’s Toil and Trouble, and the actual head of animation development at Netflix, Phil Rynda, fired along with a bunch of his staff, before any of the projects can see the air.
Netflix is feeling the pinch, as its model of presumably infinite expansion starts to hit a wall. People are sharing accounts. People are not signing up by the million any more, because they already have. And that means that the money train risks coming off the tracks unless the channel stops throwing cash at everything and starts focussing on real money-spinners.
Elizabeth Ito, the director of City of Ghosts (pictured), griped that Netflix manipulated its own stats to prove whatever it wanted to, a phenomenon that she called “staged data.” I’ve noted in the past that it’s difficult to work out what Netflix means when they say something oddly worded like “at least one anime watched a year by every household in x territory.” Those are vague comments – one whole series of a Netflix exclusive, for example, is a bit more of a guarantor of blue-chip value then ten minutes of a Miyazaki film that someone didn’t finish. And “household” is a vague thing as well – it would mean that because my son inexplicably likes Moomins, my whole household, including its Moomin-hating Dad, would somehow be tagged as Moomin lovers.
But Ito’s complaint was that Netflix were similarly evasive behind the scenes, carefully labelling pie charts or cutting off graphs in order to tell people like her that their show wasn’t doing as well as they thought it was, and that hence they had to cut corners, even if someone was winning awards.
The irony is, however, that this news tells us one thing we couldn’t be sure of before. Anime really is doing well for Netflix. We know this because, so far, the anime shows on Netflix have been largely untouched by the long knives. For now, at least.
Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History. This article appeared in NEO #221, 2022.