Last week, Bandai Entertainment announced they would no longer be releasing new titles. This week, Media Blasters announced they are laying off 60 percent of their staff. It’s a sad time for the anime industry. And, as a person who just blogged about watching fansubs last week, I am feeling deservedly guilty.
I’ll give myself a little credit where it’s due. I’ve been dutifully paying my Crunchyroll subscription for over a year. I watch Toriko on my Hulu Plus account. I never watch fansubs for shows I can get on DVD or Blu-Ray. And let’s not forget all the money I spend on conventions, figures and Gundams.
However, many are arguing that it’s fans like me that are killing the industry. Just the fact that we watch— and therefore support— fansubs is enough. Voice actress Stephanie Sheh explained the problem on her Facebook page:
“To those #animefans who say #fansubs “create” demand for anime. Ask yourself something, if a fansub wasn’t available for a certain show, but you saw ads and commercials for the show, maybe you even saw untranslated clips of the show, are you seriously telling me you would have no interest in the anime? Come on people, be honest with yourself.”
Over at Kotaku, Charlie Maib argued against fansubs for a different reason:
What digital distribution did do was create a beast that demanded that content be available on demand, without cost. It created a situation where fans no longer supported the actual companies and the people who worked to secure rights, translate, redesign packaging, and get it to market. Why pay for something when you could get the same product with pristine quality for free on your computer?
In other words, the rise of high speed Internet and the instant-gratification availability of fansubs have changed our expectations about how we should receive anime. And to that I say, what’s wrong with that?
As a journalist, I completely understand this. As somebody who works in an industry that is also often labeled dead or dying, I realize how changing consumer behavior can significantly alter the product. People believe information online should be free, so nobody pays for paywalls. In journalism, this means that we’re swapping newspapers for news sites.
In anime, it might mean more digital streaming— like Crunchyroll, Hulu and Nico Nico— and fewer DVD releases. It might mean fewer tangible products and fewer dubs. Maybe consumers will miss those things, and their dollars will bring them back. Or, more realistically, people will begin to see instant streaming as the norm. I think many already have.
Things aren’t perfect in journalism. It’s significantly less profitable than it used to be, and it’s a lot harder to get work as a reporter. And if they ever teach computers to write perfectly fact-checked, objective stories, surely I’ll be out of a job. Maybe this means I should be more sympathetic to the anime industry. But from my standpoint, I don’t see a dying industry; I see a changing one.
But despite my bravado, I’ve felt too guilty to watch any more Mawaru PenguinDrum since this all went down. I’m thinking I’ll just wait for the release, if there is one. If you were in my shoes, what would you do?