When I left America seven years ago, I couldn't even imagine the idea of free streaming video on the internet—much less free streaming anime, subtitled in English, and simulcast with the episode's Japanese airing. So as I've gotten more and more back into anime, I've been surprised by hatred of some fans for sites like Crunchyroll, Viz Media, or Hulu.
This hatred sends my mind reeling. How could anyone complain about getting their anime free and translated on the same day as it airs in Japan? And when people cite having to watch commercials—like every TV show that goes on the air—as rationale for pirating instead, I am completely dumbfounded.
When I started watching anime in the far flung past of 1994, the stereotype of "what anime was" varied from crazy animated ultraviolence to hardcore pornography. Most shows that we now think of as anime, Robotech, Transformers, etc., were thought of as purely American made shows. In the days before Toonami, the only "anime" on TV was Sci-Fi Channel's Saturday Anime, and Sailor Moon on USA Network.
At the video store, our anime section was a small half-shelf with movies like Battle Angel, Dominion Tank Police, Akira, and Tenchi Muyo in Love—and there were no complete series to be found at all. Moreover, at this point in time, an anime VHS tape cost $25 ($35 for subbed) and had two episodes on it—three if you were really lucky. If you do the math, that means to get a whole series, you'd have to spend upwards of $325 just for a single show—and they'd only release a single tape every two months or so.
By the time I hit high school, I'd figured out some of the tricks to make the hobby (read: addiction) affordable—namely importing semi-bootleg VCDs from Singapore (getting a whole series for only $40). And once I had a few of those (Evangelion and Lodoss War), I was able to start trading. By using message boards, I was able to find people interested in swapping series and an envelope of CDs was much cheaper than importing from Asia—though that's not to say I didn't have to mail a giant box of VHS tapes from time to time.
The quality of what I was watching at this time was horrible. The first time I saw Dragon Ball Z, it was in real media format so blocky and degraded that you could not read the subtitles 90% of the time. However, by the time I graduated, the quality of anime had improved to what we'd call 480i today.
It was also in high school when the world started moving away from 56k modems and on to highspeed internet. Suddenly getting anime was easier than ever with mIRC, direct FTP servers, and Kazaa. This is when fansubbing really exploded. Suddenly, I was watching anime the week it came out in Japan—and long before it was even licensed in the West.
At my highpoint, I was averaging two to three anime a week.
This anime boom only grew as I entered college and Bittorrent exploded onto the scene, decimating all other types of file sharing in the process. Torrents were a large part of the death of the American anime industry. Suddenly, the people most likely to buy anime DVDs had already seen the entire show years before and had since moved on. How could any company compete with a free, English-subbed, DVD-quality anime coming out mere days after it aired in Japan?
The answer is, well, Crunchyroll and the sites like it. They provide the same product, but legally, and without the hassle of a download. And best of all, these sites fix the underlying problem with fansubbing: that the creators of the anime you so love get no financial recompense whatsoever.
So really, at this point, I don't understand why anyone with access to free streaming anime would bother to torrent. It's there, free, on demand, in English, and supports the creators of the anime. It's a win, win, win, win! And all you have to pay is a few seconds of your time to ignore a commercial.
There you have it, my "Why, back when I was a kid" story about what it used to be like growing up as an anime fan. Here I am, not even thirty years old, and I feel like I need to tell the youn' uns to get the hell offa my lawn.