Overall, I’m generally not one to dislike how Netflix does things when it comes to anime. While, yes, they have a very dated release practice of holding on to a show and waiting until significant portions of the production airs before releasing any of it for streaming, I had yet to be someone upset in any meaningful way that I had to wait. With them having the rights to Little Wicth Academia and Fate/Apocrypha last year, and those both being shows I had a very high interest in watching, I gladly waited for all of the episodes of the former to come out before watching it and after thinking about it I wasn’t all that bothered that I had to do the same for the former. Then comes along this stunning, original, exciting show from Kyoto Animation called Violet Evergarden. Just like with the previous two from 2017, I didn’t see any problems with Netflix taking the show and holding on to it until Spring when it would release it to the world. After all, this meant Amazon didn’t get it, and this meant I would be able to enjoy the show at some point. That was, at least, until the way Netflix did things with anime changed just a bit.
Of course, a majority of the world would have to wait, as expected, before being able to watch Violet Evergarden, but in a select few countries including Japan, Canada, United Kingdom, and Singapore, the show would be simulcasted. While I’m sure there’s some reason only a select few countries and a reason it’s these countries in specific, it feels odd. Outside of Japan, Netflix has primarily had a rather firm stance on maintaining their release practices centred around binge watching. On Netflix, every single episode of a season of a show is expected to be released so that anyone can sit there for a few hours and watch a show they like without having to worry about whether or not the next episode is available.
This has largely made sense outside of Japan since Netflix’s marketing has always been geared around convenience and watching shows non-stop whenever you want. For obvious reasons, this has been a problem for a lot of people when Netflix started taking a piece of the anime pie. While it wasn’t as awful as Anime Strike, which is still at the time of writing asking for $160 (more expensive than any of it’s competitors by an extremely large margin) a year to watch anime from the smallest library out of any of it’s competitors, it still but a pretty large annoyance in front of parts of the anime community that both watched simulcasting shows and liked to watch their anime legally.
The hope had been that Netflix would eventually realise how many people wanted simulcasting anime and would treat the international services the same as they treated the Japanese service, streaming anime as new episodes came out. Unfortunately, the way Netflix wanted to do things seemed to be the way they were going to do things regardless of what people wanted. While initially a little bummed I’d have to wait, I eventually got used to it. It still sucked that Netflix was pushing people who “couldn’t” wait to piracy with a medium where fighting piracy is already a large enough problem as it is, but overall that as the way things were going to be was far from the worst way it could be.
Then, suddenly came the aforementioned odd decision. What had previously seemed as just the way things were going to be was put aside for a highly anticipated show. At first glance, and even when I think about it from a broader perspective, this is a great sign. It shows a willingness to simulcast shows the anime community cares about. But, every other part of me cannot help but see how unfair this is. Sure, I just so happen to be in one of the countries that doesn’t get to watch Violet Evergarden as it airs, and sure that probably puts a bit of bias in my words, but humour me for just a moment. Netflix, one of — if not the — biggest names in streamable television decided to take a show it knows a specific part of it’s audience wants the most with a specific watching behaviour, and cater to that behaviour, but only in specific areas of the world.
The only justification I could come up with is that Netflix is using these smaller audience bases to see how streaming anime as it airs effects usage and retention. While the aforementioned audiences don’t come even close to how many people use Netflix in the United States — Canada and the United Kingdom combined only have about 25% of the number of Netflix subscribers the United States has (based on numbers from 2015, 2016, and 2017) — they aren’t negligible audiences by any means. If Netflix were to make a change like this to their United States audience they would see the effects instantaneously and in a world where the chance for this change to bite them, they likely chose to perform it on a level where it would still give them data but a huge dislike wouldn’t ruin them.
This is a perfectly legitimate reason, in my opinion, since if I’m right and the select countries that get simulcasted Violet Evergarden show positive data the whole rest of the world might be able to join for whatever amazing show comes next. However that bitter taste of feeling like I’ve been cheated out for playing nice is still there. I don’t think that watching anime is a right or whatever have you, I don’t think this is enough justification to pirate the show this season, and I know at the end of the day this is just entertainment and anime at that, but not everyone shares a normal mindset like that. For a good number of people, this feeling is all they get and they blame one company.
The anime community is typically one to have little to no time between thought and action when it comes to piracy, and if I’m being completely honest the justification some people have for piracy is ridiculous. Any time Amazon, Netflix, or any other huge company that doesn’t understand the anime community as well as Crunchyroll or FUNimation makes a move that makes any percentage of the community feel like piracy is by far a better rout to travel, I wince a little. When Netflix says “Hey if you live in these countries you can watch Violet Evergarden!” the community asks why only those countries get the show and the longer a change like this stays in the line of sight of the community, the longer piracy begins to look a lot more pleasing.
I could be wrong; in fact, I hope I’m wrong. I hope Netflix doing this is just making more people excited that they might add more countries to the list at the last minute and hopeful that the change coming to a handful of countries is going to become permanent and standard for streaming on Netflix. However, we’re a part of a community in which people will unsubscribe from legal sources because a company has a convention celebrating the medium we love, so when this happens nothing but consequences come to mind. People get used to similar news, that’s why the outrage around Anime Strike is lesser each time it returns each season, but when they hear something that makes the news seem even more unfair, they pay attention again; this kind of attention in this kind of situation is not the kind Netflix will want.
Thank you very much for reading the first editorial of 2018! I’m pretty happy with how this one came out, which is saying something since as of late I’ve had a bit of a bittersweet taste in my mouth with each post I put out. If you have any thoughts or things to add about this topic feel free to leave them in the comments below; I promise I reach each one! Additionally, if you would like to see what I’m up to when I’m not writing for this blog, feel free to follow me on Twitter. All of my sources for this week’s post have been listed below. I’ll see you all next week!
– Netflix Lists Violet Evergarden Anime in Some Countries on January 11, But Anime’s Site Still Lists Spring (Anime News Network)
– Violet Evergarden Listed on Netflix January 11 (Anime News Network)
– Netflix to Stream Violet Evergarden Anime Worldwide (Anime News Network)
– Netflix to Stream Violet Evergarden Anime in Singapore in January (Anime News Network)
– Netflix now has more than 5.2 million customers in Canada, report suggests (CBC News)
– Number of Netflix paying streaming subscribers in the United Kingdom (Statisia)
– Netflix Has More U.S. Subscribers Than Cable TV by Tom Huddleson Jr. (Fortune)
– Netflix now has more subscribers internationally than in the US by Jeff Dunn (Business Insider)