Just to be straight with all of you, this isn’t going to be a post on Interspecies Reviewers. I have not watched the show. I wanted to but I don’t get FUNimation which it originally started airing on so I gave up. And now I’m no longer sure I want to watch it. And that’s the bit I want to talk about.
Oh and to be clear I’m not going to debate the worth of hentai and whether Interspecies Reviewers is or isn’t a hentai to begin with. Again, I haven’t seen the show. As for my views on hentai: it seems like a healthier industry than live action pornography. Make of that what you will.
What actually fascinated me about the hubbub around Interspecies Reviewers is the very unique arc of public perception the show had and how it looked to me, an outside observer.
When the season started out the series had a modest but fairly positive presence in the WordPress blogging community. Not that many bloggers were covering it, which I’ve come to understand is not necessarily representative of the larger anime viewership but it can give you an idea. However the blogs that were talking about the show had generally positive things to say with a few bloggers downright gushing about the series.
It was also very well rated on sites such as MAL (at one point the highest of winter 2020) and all in all seemed to be enjoying a successful season.
I read these posts and reviews. Noted the “adult” content. Made a mental note to check it out if it ever became available on one of my platforms. That was about it. Not the most exciting story but still a good outcome for any anime.
Then controversy struck. FUNimation pulled the series from the rosters claiming the content simply didn’t meet with their distribution guidelines and the fans went nuts. Again, I’m a complete outsider here. I can only go by what I’ve read and the uneducated guesses I make. Form the outside, it seemed like the fans went for FUNi’s throat, calling it censorship, a poor business decision and trying to rally people to drop their subscription in retaliation.
Aside from the rather bare bones initial statement, where FUNimation explained that they would have to edit the series into oblivion to make it match their standards and as such preferred to let the series air untouched on a different platform, they have remained silent on the subject. Since then AnimeLab, a subsidiary of FUNimation, has picked up the show. (As I don’t know when this will actually publish, all of this happened in the past few weeks. I’m sorry if the story develops further.)
My first reaction was that this was probably pretty good news for the show. Unlike some fans I do not think that FUNimation had not properly vetted the show before signing a distribution deal, more likely they caved to advertiser and investor complaints. And I think they are in their right to chose what they distribute on their platform. The statement to fans could have been better I guess. I’m somewhat numbed to this. I watch older shows a lot and it’s not unusual for Cruchy to decide not to renew a license when I’m right in the middle of a series so that it just suddenly disappears from my queue without any explanation. As such, personally I’m used to it. It’s frustrating but I never really expect a statement.
However, as annoying as it may have been for fans, I’m not sure how bad a business decision it may have been. Despite good viewer support it does seem like a show that had been pirated a lot for some reason as actual viewership was not as high as expected and so far, there doesn’t seem to have been a huge drop in FUNimation subscriptions. Moreover as it now airs on a subsidiary it’s all rather academic.
As for the anime itself, to me, it sounded like a blessing in disguise. Even though the distributor decided to stop showing it on their platform, they weren’t sitting on the exclusivity clause (probably the studio had a condition that FUNimation had to air the series to keep their exclusivity, that’s pretty common) So Interspecies Reviewers were free to find distribution elsewhere and most likely still kept a good part of the distribution money from the original deal as well.
More importantly though, the show now had all this wonderful free publicity and in the best possible form. The events framed FUNimation as a big baddie fans could unite against while the poor little series was the beloved fan favourite underdog being mistreated by the rigid and joyless corporation. It was an us against them narrative with Interspecies Reviewers being solidly on the side of US. The way I saw it, as long as the series was passably decent it would do great as it had already racked up all this good will from anime fans through the controversy. On top of that, my understanding was (and is) that aside from the explicit nature of the premise, Interspecies Reviewers actually stays away from a lot of the more uncomfortable tropes like underage characters, abuse, non consent ect.. In my limited view, it seemed that by dropping it from the roster FUNimation had just doubled the shows popularity and made it a guaranteed hit. I thought that if I was on the production team, I would have sent FUNimation flowers.
And for a second time, I was convinced that would be the end of it. And then something unexpected happened… again. Well unexpected for me. As more and more people started watching Interspecies Reviewers to see what all the hoopla was about, and more think pieces started to include thoughts on the anime itself, perception of the show changed.
Everything I read led me to believe fans were all almost unanimously against FUNimation’s decision to drop the show with varying degrees of mad about it, but at the same time the show’s rating started going down. Maybe it was due to the fact that it was now being watched by a more general audience and not strictly devoted fans of the genre, maybe it was just that it didn’t quite live up to the stellar rating and hype, but I was suddenly starting to see a lot of negative reviews.
In fact there must have been quite a backlash as it dropped on MAL despite all the perfect 10 reviews popping up in the comments. I actually read all the reviews I could find to prepare for this article.
None of those negative reviews had any issue with the mature content at all. The consensus I found was the the show was boring. Or to put it in more detail, the stories got very repetitive with little to no character development or deep world building to make up for it. The more positive reviews tend to focus on what the show represents (i.e. a tribute to anti censorship, a more general a acceptance of highly sexual material in mainstream media…). Again, I haven’t seen the series so I have no opinion but I am less interested now. Those new reviews just don’t appeal to me. Also I’m a little disappointed it’s not hentai. Don’t judge me…
I really didn’t think the community would separate the political background from the actual show. I’m impressed. Obviously not everyone did but enough for a clear picture to come through. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this type of situation before, where extra attention didn’t immediately polarize the fanbase and people calmly put aside the issues from the products. And I don’t think any of the negative reviews had huge backlash from fans either. Is this a sign of growth? If so, Interspecies Reviewers may have had the most positive impact on the anime fanbase any show has ever managed! That deserves a thumbs up!
I still think Interspecies Reviewers is going to come out on top in this whole story. Added popularity is pretty much always more lucrative than extra prestige. But I wonder if anyone feels that they would have been better off maintaining a smaller but more positive fanbase? I also fear that I have been lucky in seeing only the respectful and moderate side on the conversation. Maybe there are people out there getting into fights over this series. If not though, I’m both impressed and just happy. What do you guys think?