Amazon recently introduced a little chaos into the world of anime streaming. Anime Strike, which launched earlier this year, is taking heat from anime fans for disturbing the harmony viewers finally reached with English-language streaming services. It’s made a mess of the streaming ecosphere, and was (for me) pricey to boot. But despite consumers’ somewhat unfavorable responses to it, it may become an unavoidable expense for many anime fans in the coming months.
Last September, otaku rejoiced when the two biggest competing anime streaming services—Crunchyroll and Funimation—joined forces. Previously, when a new anime season came out, simulcast titles were split across them. Most fans chose one or the other, shelling out $60 yearly. But completeness was a goal for both businesses, according to interviews with each service’s founder. The September deal let Crunchyroll and Funimation share portions of their considerable anime libraries, new and old. It works because Crunchyroll, for the most part, streamed subtitled anime while Funimation streamed dubbed titles.
Everyone won, at least for a few months. And, anyway, people who don’t subscribe to either service could still watch a limited selection of anime for free—just with a lower video quality and ads.
When Amazon launched Anime Strike in January, fans hesitated to take it seriously. It’s Amazon’s first branded streaming channel. The price is prohibitively high if you don’t have an Amazon Prime account already. To access anything, you must have both $99-yearly Prime and $60 yearly Anime Strike subscriptions. That’s a lot of money. And there is no free option outside the 7-day trial. (66 million people subscribe to Amazon Prime—and I am in the minority of Amazon shoppers who did not have have Prime.) Anime Strike is also only available in America.
When I browsed through the winter anime selection, Scum’s Wish, a brilliant show about lovers who love other people, caught my attention. It was only available on Amazon Strike. So, I typed “Scum’s Wish” into Amazon’s search bar. Buried among the original Scum’s Wish manga volumes and t-shirts—facets of Amazon’s world domination scheme—was the “Amazon Video” search result. I signed up for a 7-day free trial for Amazon Prime, which of course bled into a yearly subscription, to check out the show. So, yeah, I will have paid $160 to watch Scum’s Wish, because it is exclusive on Amazon Strike.
For one show, the double paywall fee was not worth it. For my spring, 2017 anime picks—most of which are on Anime Strike—it may be. But when I wrote about them for Kotaku, commenters balked. Many laughed that, yes, they’ll watch the shows—only after pirating them. Most of what they usually want is on Crunchyroll or Funimation or free websites. Why spring for a new service? Why mess up a good thing?
In an interview, Anime News Network’s Zac Bertschy asked Michael Paul, Amazon’s former VP of digital video what he thought about “splintering” anime content, “so anime fans have to go to yet another location and pay yet another subscription fee” to keep up with an entire season. Paul dodged the question. He said, “The really awesome part about Amazon Channels is, as you mentioned – as anime fans want – we provide it all in one unified experience.” Unifying genres, including anime, under Amazon video isn’t quite the ideal Crunchyroll, Funimation and their fans were hoping for.
Amazon Strike’s curation team is doing a good job. Most of the anime I’ll be watching, and rewatching, this season is on the service. On the other hand, the fracturing of streaming services is definitely a downer and the Amazon double-paywall is uniformly unpopular and, frankly, feels greedy. But if it’s where fans need to go so the industry doesn’t lose billions in piracy, I guess it’s worth it.