Lately, as an anime fan, going on Netflix has been quite a treat. The streaming service just recently added the first season of Attack on Titan, and popular titles such as My Hero Academia and One Punch Man are also available for me to get my family or friends into. I personally had the pleasure of watching my favourite comedy anime this year; Kaguya-sama Wants To Be Confessed To. Older anime favourites such as The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi and Cardcaptor Sakura has also made its way to the platform. And despite some negative buzz, Netflix did succeed in bringing Evangelion back to the masses.
As a Malaysian, it's pretty exciting to have legit streaming sites that stream anime as well, especially with such a wide range of new, old, and popular titles. While America has Amazon, Hulu, and Funimation, currently in terms of legal anime streaming we only have Netflix and iflix. Netflix has been completely leading the way in anime though, based on the titles I mentioned earlier.
There is, of course, Crunchyroll which is also accessible to us Malaysians too, but it hasn't made much leeway in this country for reasons which deserve a post of its own.
While it can be easy to see anime as something niche (though that's arguable), this rise of anime on Netflix means the company is going all out on getting anime titles on their platform can mean only one thing; many of their viewers love anime and they have noticed.
The rise of Anime on Netflix
In 2014, Netflix began to invest in original anime content; teaming up with Polygon Pictures, a 3DCG production house in Tokyo behind several anime films and series, to make shows like Knights of Sidonia (a beloved space opera about genetically engineered refugees who escape from a destroyed earth to a spaceship named Sidonia) and Ajin: Demi-Human. They weren't the only ones; Amazon would follow suit with series like Kamen Rider Amazons and Tokyo Vampire Hotel in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
There's a reason why American streaming sites have been picking up anime. Based on the US alone, there are more than 300 anime conventions catering to fans. So there's no doubt that anime isn't just a niche as many may think. But that's not all; Netflix had the added benefit of understanding their audience’s desire for anime via their old business model.
“We’d been distributing anime for many many years from the DVD days,” says John Derderian, Netflix’s director of content – Japan & Anime. “When we went streaming, it’s just such a core fan base, we saw a lot of engagement when we put up something very old and non-exclusive. So that led us to, about five or six years ago, to start co-producing anime, where we would come in as a pre-buyer or early investor in the show, and get global rights.”
Netflix launched approximately 30 original anime in the United States and other parts of the world last year. One of which is the adult-rated Devilman:Crybaby, that caused a stir among anime fans to take note of animes being released on Netflix. According to Derderian, all this is simple economics.
“We take the resources we can from the money from our members, and allocate it towards what they want, and what we see that they want is more anime,” he says. “The numbers we can’t share with you specifically, but we’ve seen a significant growth year over year for the years we’ve been investing more into anime. So the more we have a compelling proposition in anime, we see more and more fans come to [the platform]. And we’re not seeing a peak in any way; we’re seeing growth.”
Derderian even alludes to the fact that Netflix is aware of a subsection of users who are either coming to the platform specifically for anime, or are using the platform primarily for anime.
“We do look at data to see – obviously, these people are all anonymised to us, so we have no idea who they are – but what we look at is, ‘Oh this subscriber watches a certain percentage of anime’, or, ‘This subscriber, when they entered Netflix, watched a lot of anime immediately’,” he says. “So we can start to understand how the behaviours are around anime on Netflix, and we can match our investment and engagement with that category appropriately to their interests.”
New fans are found through the algorithm, he says. And it shows on the platform, anecdotally. If you’re even vaguely interested in sci-fi or American animated series or films, it's hard to not get suggested anime titles.
“We use the power of personalisation and the algorithm to discover new fans of anime,” Derderian says. “Streaming overall has created a new wave of accessibility and discover-ability for anime. Traditionally anime didn’t have great distribution real estate, because oftentimes it was too small to secure meaningful distribution, and what having a global streaming service allows us to do is find the fandoms.”
It's important to note that the reach of anime goes way beyond Japan and the US. Using Google Trends alone shows that anime is searched most by our neighbour the Philippines, with Indonesia placed 6th and Malaysia at 12. Other countries in the trends include Mongolia, Bolivia, Vietnam and Nicaragua; many of which may come off as surprising.
Anime's expansion has the added benefit of it being a complex medium as it has a wide range subgenres. Already, Netflix has begun streaming series like the comedy Saiki K., the youth-oriented stop-motion series Rilakkuma and Kaoru, and the romantic comedy Ouran High School Host Club.
Many make the mistake of seeing anime as only Sci-Fi it seems. “If you look at the catalogue in the US, it’s pretty heavy on sci-fi, fantasy, shonen (aimed at teenage boys), and seinen (aimed at adult men), but our community, we see anime as a medium, so over time, there should be more shoujo (aimed at women), there should be more slice of life and sports anime, great romance shows,” Derderian says. “We had great success recently with our rom-com films.”
The rise of anime on Netflix has also led to a new Netflix documentary called Enter the Anime', aimed at exploring the history and rise of the genre, and spotlights anime series, such as Castlevania, Aggretsuko (each Netflix specials), Fullmetal Alchemist and even Ghost in the Shell. The documentary is set to premiere on August 5.
Could there be impact on Malaysians?
Probably the biggest impact it will have for Malaysians is not just the possible growth of more anime fans, but most importantly the ability to watch anime legally. Before streaming, our only options to watch anime were to watch it on free to air channels, subscribe to Astro's entertainment package to get Animax, or buy the "questionably legal" DVDs available at entertainment stores. Other than that, most of us have no choice but to resort to illegal streaming sites; a matter that has even caught the government's attention.
With Netflix stepping up their game in their offerings, this could actually lead to more legal ways to support anime creators while also raising more awareness of anime as a medium of entertainment. But there are still aspects of Netflix that could be better; such as how they don't air anime by episodes but by seasons instead, months after the anime has completed airing. After all if an anime is popular enough, fans will not wait and still resort to illegal streaming sites.
At least while before, we had the excuse of there not being proper legal streaming sites catered to us, or even how expensive Astro is, we don't have the same excuse now. The only problem is, as of now, we will need some level of patience if we want to watch a particular series or season of an anime. But if you enjoy binge-watching anime, you have plenty on your plate to keep you satisfied thanks to Netflix.
Now excuse me, I need to binge watch Steins;Gate, an anime I've been meaning to watch for years now.