OMAKASE @Viewster – Another Thought

I’ve still been thinking a lot about the upcoming OMAKASE service over the past few days, as well as reading various opinions on forums and social media. The whole situation has got me to thinking.

I’d be interested to see how good the takeup rate of OKAMASE is in the UK and whether people really are put off by the high price and non-optional extras or if that’s just a few of us online. Not just to know whether I’m “right” or “wrong” either. At least, not exactly.

Viewster obviously have a plan and an idea of what they’re doing. I’m just wondering if they know (or guess) something about the UK market that some of us fans don’t. Have Viewster really misjudged the UK market, and potentially soured the goodwill they’ve accrued so far, or have they spotted a genuine opportunity that others just can’t see?

Time will tell. Some of us think they’ve taken the wrong turning, Viewster themselves clearly don’t. The coming months will be interesting.

Hell, this month will be interesting. Viewster will be at MCM London Comic Con in two weeks’ time. I don’t know if they’ll have a panel there but I do know that they’re bound to get questioned quite directly about things at their booth.

Problems Facing Simulcasts (and other legal anime streams)

Legal options for streaming recent anime shows have made major inroads in recent years. Yet people still embrace fansubs. Whether from downloads or via unofficial streaming services, these options still gain a lot of views for various reasons.

The problem is that there are several reasons that people have for using fansubs and you can’t easily eliminate them all. However, there are several things that could be tackled. Also, because many people are swayed by a combination of reasons, the more that can be tackled, the less common it will be.

Cheap

OK. Let’s get this out of the way first. People can be cheap. Being able to get hold of multiple shows, ad-free and in a high-definition format is a big temptation.

For some, it is the only reason. For others, it is the tipping point when added to the reasons below.

Knowledge

Not everybody knows what legal platforms are out there. As a general rule, if you’re a part of a community that keeps a list of legal options then you already know they exist. Some people genuinely don’t know.

On a related note, not everybody knows of every service. Here in the UK, there is a big feeling that Crunchyroll is the only service that people have really heard of. In the past couple of years, when shows haven’t been on Crunchyroll over here, but were on other services, people genuinely thought there was no legal UK option at all.

Similarly, not a lot of generic video-on-demand platforms make a huge deal of their anime catalogues. So people with access to Netflix might not even realise that they have a fairly sizeable anime back-catalogue on there.

Fragmentation

Not every platform has every show. So even if Crunchyroll, for example, is seen as “The Anime Streaming Service”, they don’t have the licenses for every show. This ties into knowledge, above, in that titles are wrongly assumed to be unavailable because people haven’t heard of the service that gets the local rights.

It’s one thing over in America, where a fair few of the licensing companies have their own outlets and there are more generic streaming options (like Hulu) for them to partner with. Also, over there, titles showing up on multiple services is relatively common.
Here in the UK, a lot of licenses still get picked up by companies without their own platform. Worse, sometimes it is the English-language rights they have overall, which just happen to include the UK rights. And as Crunchyroll is a competitor over in America, them sub-licensing to Crunchyroll for the UK streams is rare. Not unheard of, but rare all the same.

Unequal Services

The different streaming platforms have their own strengths and weaknesses. Some go wider than anime. Some have larger catalogues. Some have apps on multiple platforms. Some have paid subscriptions to go ad-free No one service ticks all of the boxes.

This, when combined with multiple services and potentially multiple subscription fees, can be quite frustrating. Especially when shows exist on a service you use but a region you don’t live in.

Missing Shows

Some shows simply don’t get official releases in English, or any given non-Japanese language. For these shows, it does become a choice between “pirate” and “do without”. And not everyone wants to miss a show, especially if it is the main one they wanted to watch in any given season. However, this does keep fansubs as an active option in people’s minds. After all, once you’re used to using them for one thing, it’s hard not to see them as an option for others.

Platform exclusivity, regional lockouts and delays that cause the official version to go up hours (or even days) after a translated fansub hit the internet don’t help much, either.

Translation Choices

Here is where it starts to get tricky. We go from already shaky moral ground to something even more so, based purely on personal aesthetic preference. However, fans have their own preferences on how they like their translations. With fansubs, you can drop and pick up distributors depending on your preference. Even with much more legal products such as The Bible or classic French literature, you can “shop” for the translation which is more accurate or more to your personal preferences.
With contemporary foreign language products (such as anime), however, there is only One True Translation. If it isn’t your preference, tough. If it is jarring and distracting to you, tough. If you know what they really said, or can tell (from other audio-visual cues) that something really doesn’t match up, tough! You’re stuck with them.

I have more to say on this subject, but it’s potentially a blog post of its own.

This can all lead to getting a fansub of a show or episode. Maybe instead of the official release, maybe in addition to it. (Some things make more sense after having looked at more than one translation option)
Either way, though, it provides more excuses for people to rely on fansubs. Especially as, in this case, a translation that works better for someone is going to be a “superior” product for that person.

In Conclusion

These aren’t the only reasons but they are some of the ones used. None of them are easy matters to address, as they are mostly tied into how current licensing rules work. Even knowledge of services is hampered by business reasons because, as a general rule, one service isn’t going to recommend a rival owing to shortcomings in functions or content.

Ideally, the industry has to band together as “The Industry” to combat this. Less exclusivity, more sharing. Competing on service level, not exclusive shows. Cross promotion, because surely someone using a rival is better for business as a whole than using an unofficial download.

One other thing that the various companies need to do is to try to be a wide-reaching as possible. Licensing companies need to get things on multiple services and regions. Services need to work across multiple platforms. Expecting people to settle for a limited offering just isn’t going to work when there are free alternatives out there, legal or not.

Lastly, accepting that there is no single customer type, but that catering to multiple tastes (including translation tastes) is going to keep more people “legal”, as it takes away the reason people have of going elsewhere.

UK Anime Fandom: A Review

OK, well maybe not exactly a review but I do have a few things to say based on observations over the past year or so.

There are some attitudes within the UK fandom that seriously piss me off. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, which is exactly why I rant about stuff on here, but some people just seem incapable of looking outside of their particular pet peeve and just want things to work the way they want them to work. Yet they’ll state their ways as being sure-fire things with no risk to balance out the rewards. Which always seems a little short-sighted to me.

The UK fandom has preferences just as varied as our American and Australian counterparts; we’re just a damned sight smaller. And, yes, that sometimes means that what we really want (in my case, everything on Blu-ray) just isn’t viable.
Yes, I loudly lament that fact and, yes, I try to think of ways to try and fix this. But trying to state that things are as simple as making a different business decision and it being a guaranteed instant success? I, for one, am not that stupid. (Nearly, but not quite…)

One of the recent fandom explosions is based around a blog post that Jerome Mazandarani put out and linked from the official twitter feed. It also builds on things he’d said before, regarding some of the contractual obligations that the Japanese licensors have them work under.
And, suddenly, people are up in arms saying that Jerome’s just blaming the license holders for difficulties based around Manga’s preferred business model.

It’s not that I completely agree with all of Manga’s decisions, but here’s where I have a few issues with the current mob opinion.

Obligations

Firstly, a lot of what Jerome says with regards to what they’re allowed to do and when make a lot of sense. They tally with the way Manga and the other companies have had to release things in recent years. They also tally with things that the other distributors (in and out of the UK) have been saying for a while.

Granted, you have to do a lot of reading between the lines to get the same story out of other companies. But it all carries the same basic shape. It just seems that Jerome is the only person with the balls to say it in public.

I will say that as much as I respect honesty, information and even bluntness compared to corporate secrecy, I do accept that this doesn’t always go over well with standard business practices.
Then again, what I think about standard business practices is fairly blunt anyway.

Also, in my case, I loathe secrecy and favour as much information as I can get hold of. So when two companies have similar problems and one of them is brutally honest about the business realities, I actually respect that. Hell, I can actually tolerate and accept annoying decisions if I understand why they were made – even if I don’t actually agree with the reasons.

Delays

The release order, as a general rule, will go Japan, America, Australia, UK. The order can vary a bit, except that Japan will naturally always be first, but this is the order things tend to be. And each release has a tendency to have a few months between them. You then add in the fairly common scenario where any English-language release doesn’t even start until the Japanese home release is finished. And as they tend to release things in multiple smaller chunks, this tends to add a significant perceived delay.

One of the obligations often referred to is the required window before they’re allowed to release in the UK. Manga (and other distributors) obviously want to ride the hype, ride interest from people having seen legal simulcasts and get their product out on shelves before people get bored and just grab a torrent.

This is where the fandom opinion begins to really get on my nerves, and where the commentators start to weaken their own otherwise sound arguments.

The “sell bare minimum releases for cheap” argument has merit. I agree with other fans that quite a lot of us would be fine paying a bit more for a more polished product. Saying that maybe publicly criticising the people you license from isn’t a great idea is also a valid point. As I said before, I personally find it refreshing. But people who don’t like this approach have valid reasons for doing so.
And then there’s always someone who says “And if they’d just get their releases out faster” at which point I realise that these people just have an axe to grind against Jerome and aren’t going to let little things like facts get in their way.

Fine, you don’t have to like someone complaining at restraints. Fine, you can blame some of the issues on a company’s own business model. But if they say that their hands are tied when it comes to how early they can release shows and you respond with “Stop complaining and release shows earlier” then you just come across as wilfully ignorant.

Mouthing off at your business partners is one thing. But purposefully breaking street-date would be a sure way of ensuring that there would be no future product to put out on the shelves.

Varied

The other main issue is that the fan base is very varied. You cannot please everybody; you can just cater to your chosen audience with your chosen business model. And inevitably, every fan will have some shows that they think were picked up by the wrong company simply because their type of show was picked up by someone that is not their type of distributor.

Here’s where tensions are running high, though. Manga tend to take the mass-market approach. Well, in as much as Anime can be classed as mass-market. They release affordable sets and tend to work down to a price point.  This is great for the more casual fan, or for people like me who have a lot of interests but somewhat limited funds. They don’t have many collector editions in fancy boxes or tins. Personally, I prefer this approach as I just like to be able to get the damned discs out of the damned case. But for some people, a release in a standard case is a total dealbreaker. Heck, for some people, choice of artwork of the exact placement of logos on the box can lead them to favour an imported release over a UK one, even if the actual disc is functionally identical.

Yes, the main variation we have in our fandom is that it’s not a simple case of “Collectors” versus “Casuals”. It is more that although all Collectors are Dedicated Fans, not all Dedicated Fans are Collectors.

You then get MVM, who tend towards slightly more niche releases at the expense of being less likely to release a Blu-ray. And you also get Anime Limited, who are primarily collector-oriented. And with the latter about to release their first non-classic series, it’s going to be interesting to see how their “Collector Box First, Cheaper Set After” works for recent shows.

I have a fair few Anime Limited releases, with some more to come courtesy of Kickstarters. They are very nice but damned if I’d want “fiddly box” editions for my entire collection. But there are some fans who’d love “high quality art box” editions for everything they bought.
(And I am purposefully using two very different descriptions here to refer to exactly the same type of box. Different people can, and do, see the same thing in very different ways.)

Similarly, I have a fair few MVM releases. And they do seem to maybe put a little more visible effort into their marketing push, likely because of their smaller catalogue. But they are also more likely to go DVD-only for some titles.

Manga may not be perfect but, for me personally, their tactic of getting a lot out (much of it being on Blu-ray) at a cheap-ish price in a simple box suits me down to the ground, simply because I don’t have the funds to buy as much as I do if it’s all collector boxes. But if I enjoy a show, or a genre, I want to have a physical copy of it. So I can watch when the internet’s down, in nice sharp quality with subtitles that aren’t crap.

Small Market

In an ideal world, every company would be able to release every series in their catalogue in both DVD and Blu-ray formats, as well as being able to offer standard and collector editions of the higher profile shows. Sadly, the UK market simply can’t handle that. So sometimes it is a case of releasing a slimmed-down version to get it out at all. Yes, they could just go for the collector-only release but would that really be any better?
Personally, I say no. I would (grudgingly) pay over the odds for the shows I really wanted but I’d be buying a whole lot less shows on impulse. Which would be a shame as they are some real gems (not available on streaming services) that I only picked up because the series set was fairly cheap.

Bringing it back to Jerome’s rants, it is clear that the UK distributors are basically stuck between the fans and the rights-holders. And of course he’s going to get annoyed when he feels like he’s being forced to agree to terms that means he can’t offer what he knows a significant chunk of his customer base really wants. All companies are often left fielding the same questions from irritated anime fans. And Manga, professional or not, are the only company who openly agree with things being “a major ball ache”.

And, in this day and age, delaying a physical release too far after initial broadcast is just a really dumb idea that has to die.

UK Market

The unfortunate, and simple, fact is that we aren’t the US market; we’re a lot smaller. The more casual side of anime fandom makes up a significant chunk of potential sales. And when you pay the licensors a minimum guarantee and have to fund a set minimum print run (and have to deal with the BBFC’s non-optional per-minute classification checks) you really can’t afford to alienate the more casual buyers.

The US, Canada and even Australia has the advantage of having a larger overall market so that the more dedicated fans are a significant number in themselves. Also the overall market size means they can work better on volume. Oh, and Anime seems to be a whole lot more successful on TV in those countries. Somehow, the execs and the audience over here just don’t take to it as well. Which also means that they can’t satisfy and/or stir interest from the casual audience anywhere near as much over here.

With a larger market size, maybe they would be able to manage standard-plus-limited edition dual-releases more often. That way they’d be able to satisfy all sides of the market a lot easier. The way things are, though, it’s often a bare-bones release or a super-shiny one. And although you’re not likely to get the casual audience to pick up a pricey collector edition, there is still a significant shank of the dedicated fandom who would avoid a collector release owing to price.

Going Forward

Do things need to change? Definitely! Eventually the more casual fans, and some of the space-limited dedicated fans, are going to go near-exclusively to digital anime. Maybe via streams, maybe via paid downloads. But eventually physical releases will be collector-only, and the distributors will have to adjust accordingly.

However, that time is not here yet. And if every company operated on the collector-only high-price route too soon, it would potentially kill the anime industry here in the UK. People just seem wilfully oblivious to that fact, though. It’s not the answer they want, so they’ll just pretend that it’s “wrong”. And I get enough of that crap working in IT Support.

And the other thing is that attitudes have to change on all sides. Manga’s strategy probably does have a limited lifespan and they will have to change eventually. But Jerome is right, too. Something has to give from the Japanese licensors’ side as well. And the customers also have to do a bit of meeting halfway. Sometimes you just have to deal with a higher price. Or a lack of art box. (Or a lack of simple Amaray Case). Sometimes you have to buy what’s out now in a hope that future releases will be closer to what you want. We currently have a UK anime industry. It would be bad if it fell apart. And although it could do a lot to improve, improvement requires customers and profits.

We have our own part to play.

Doctor Who movie – Why the Panic

Another day, another Doctor Who Movie rumour. And this one seems to be gaining traction as something actually possible. As expected, there is a wailing and gnashing of teeth, with many people concerned that it would be its own continuity and not fit in with the existing show.

I can see two reasons why this is not a bad thing.

Firstly, take the Transformers movies of recent years. Big blockbuster spectacles. They didn’t exactly resonate well with a lot of the existing fandom, but there are many vocal fans who appreciate them despite not really liking the movies.
The bay-verse Transformers certainly revitalised interest in the franchise, and interest in the toyline. And even if you don’t like the look of them, it allows Hasbro to put money into other TF toys. For me, I bought my first transformer in about 20 years this year. Is was Reveal the Shield: Wreck-Gar – part of a line inspired/funded by the success of the movie toys but of an old character from the 1980s that would (and did) appeal to people who remember him from back then.

It’s also probably at least partly down to the success of the movie that the new series Transformers Prime can exist. It is definitely not the movie-verse. But some of the styling take a few cues, yet are more smooth and rounded and, to be honest, more like “real” Transformers…

…but without the movies, probably no Prime.

Secondly, have you ever seen an in-season movie? I’ve seen a few. Between some of the Japanese shows that I follow and stuff like the X-Files that I used to watch a bit back in the day.

These movies fall into two major categories. They are either totally standalone or pretty heavily integrated into the season mythology. So you’re either paying big money to see a story that doesn’t really count, or paying big money to see an important part of a story that you’re following on a TV channel you already pay for… neither sits well.
Then there’s a third, minor, category. The story that kind of fits, but doesn’t really gel with continuity. They can still be fun to watch, but when character and situations line up that don’t fit with the main show’s plotline, it can take you out of it. Suspension of disbelief can only go so far when the same movie has a character that definitively left or changed at the same time as a power or ability or item being used that was not around when the other character was. Minor, maybe. But if you’re spending more time wondering when it fits, you’re not enjoying the movie.

So, yeah. Something that is its own take on DW would actually sit well with me. As it would either be a really cool what-if, or something crap I can class as not counting.