I heard the news that Crunchyroll hit a milestone 3 million subscribers recently and I thought it was about time I talked a bit about the currently reigning anime streaming service.
I’m not that knowledgeable on it mind you and there are still many aspects of the business model that are obscure to me. However, over the past few years Crunchyroll has been dipping their toes in the production side of the anime industry rather than sticking firmly to the distribution aspect of things and I have to say, I’m impressed.
What was surprising to me is just how young Crunchyroll is. The site itself was more or less and Asian YouTube when it started back in 2006 with a lot of illegal dubs and fansubs. I wish we could still find those fansubs… And it seems it didn’t become a fully legitimate distributor until 2009. I’m going to skip a few steps here – let’s just say the company grew.
Also this has nothing to do with the present post or the timeline, but I had often wondered why the Crunchyroll and Funimation collab broke up so quickly and whether there was any bad blood. I was just too lazy to look it up until now. Turns out it’s nothing that interesting. Funi was bought up by Sony while Crunchy got bought by Otter Media (AT&T) and the parent companies had no interest in preserving the partnership. Booo, it was way more fun for me when I could have both libraries in one place. I would happily pay more for a combined service. Please take notes all you powerful influential anime insiders currently reading this post…
Anyways, back to the matter at hand. From what I could find, the production division started in 2015, yup only 5 years ago as a joint venture with Sumimoto. The following year, Crunchy decided that they would dub and release a number of shows on physical format in house. This wasn’t quite the production of a series from scratch but it was a step in that direction and gave the company a feel for localization and manufacture.
In 2018, Crunchyroll announced plans for a first completely original series. Now this is still not anime production exactly because it is an American production of an original webseries but it’s mechanically similar. That first original series announced was High Guardian Spice (which has wrapped production but hasn’t aired yet). But I think we know that a few other titles have been picked up since.
In July 2019, Crunchy once again decided to take up a new media production by partnering with Glitch Production to produce a YouTube series called Meta Runner. I have not watched it but the images remind me of the Canadian series ReBoot which I absolutely loved as a kid so I got instant nostalgia love for it.
In October of the same year, we found out that Webtoon was now partnering with Crunchyroll for a series of original anime produced by Crunchyroll based on some of Webtoons more popular properties. This were the be the first completely Crunchyroll produced anime and were a proof of concept for the division.
In February of this year, we finally got the details on all these originals. You can read the full post on Crunchyroll’s own site here. Here are my views on them:
Based on a Japanese novel series and adapted to anime by Brain’s Base studio. I watched, reviewed and enjoyed this show. I would watch more. This is a classic anime from a very experienced and reputable studio. I thought it did quite well. In many ways it’s an extremely conventional venture and a fairly safe bet for a first release.
Tower of God- This one was a bit more of a Gamble. Webtoons are still unusual as source material and the art of adapting them hasn’t been stress tested yet. Also the original look of the series was likely to be heavily changed as the webtoon itself had changed in presentation throughout the years and the original designs didn’t resemble the current ones that much. Still this was likely to alienate some fans right off the bat and in a project like this, the existing fanbase is extremely important. Crunchy chose TMS, one of the oldest and best known studios in Japan, possibly to offset all the risks they were taking.
I’m not sure how to judge the success of this one. I’ve seen a lot of fanboys and girls or the toon decry that the adaptation was a travesty but well… I liked it. I liked it a lot. And from what I can tell, a lot of people seemed to have watched it so that’s a point in its favour.
The God of High School – Well this one is airing at the moment and so far fans seem to be much happier with this adaptation. Personally I liked Tower of God more. Both as a story and as an adaptation.
In many ways, GOH is a safer bet than Tower of God. Sure they are both Action Shonen for Webtoon with the word God in the title but GOH has a lot more of the classic Shonen tropes going for it and is aimed at a slightly wider demographic. Maybe also a slightly younger one. MAPPA studios is handling this one and well, I like MAPPA, I think they’ve done some great shows. They don’t seem to have that many action Shonene in their repertoire though. I wonder why they were chosen for this particular project.
Onyx Equinox I’m not sure what happened to this one. I can’t find much info. Every post I saw (some from this month) still says it’s slated to premier summer 2020 on Crunchy but it’s almost August. It seems to be a completely original series as I couldn’t find any mention of source material and it is not Japanese but that’s about all I know. It’s billed as a Crunchyroll Studios Production and I’m not sure if that means Crunchyroll is doing the animation in house!?! That would be bonkers.
There is a trailer out and it gives me Mysterious Cities of Gold vibes for obvious reasons. I will most likely watch it when it comes out. It’s an odd pick.
Noblesse Now this is the one I was looking and am looking forward to the most because it’s a supernatural action comedy. I love those! In many ways this was also a pretty safe bet as Nobless is one of the most popular and oldest series on WEBTOON. It started in 2007 and ran until 2019 but it’s a comparatively short series that’s also completed.
Having access to the entire narrative is really a big plus when it comes time to adapt it. However, both in genre and tone, it’s quite different from all the other series Crunchyroll chose to adapt which I find interesting.
Meiji Gekken: Sword & Gun (working title) – Another action series but the historical setting and older cast makes me think it’s aiming to be more of a seinen. Once again, the information on this one is spotty. All the sources I could find just rehashed Crunchyroll’s press release which was non more than a brief synopsis. But there’s a trailer… someone’s animating this stuff.
FreakAngels- This is another webcomic adaptation but from British author Warren Ellis whose a fairly well known comic book writer. Crunchyroll is part of Warner and AdultSwim and all that. This seems like a project that would have fit in there but I guess it could be a bid to remind their Crunchyroll subscribers to look at their sister companies or potentially to lure AdultSwim watchers to Crunchyroll. I’ve read FreakAngels but I have to admit I don’t remember much. I didn’t dislike it though so there’s that. I think it will probably be easy to adapt and sell to an American audience and the post apocalyptic setting and superpowers are very in vogue!
Guardian Spice- I already mentioned this one. Nothing to add really, aside that some people thought it was too feminist or something but I haven’t read up on that too much.
As you can see, this first roster is not that diverse or adventurous but I think it shows a couple of real savvy decisions. The anime industry is already so rooted in Japan that going onsite to fight over adaptation rights or scout out source material right under local producers would probably have been extremely difficult and costly. They wisely decided on a single series (In/Spector) which did not have a huge following and was therefore easy to secure and left it in the hands of a studio that is by now somewhat familiar with international audiences.
The end product is in many ways indistinguishable from the bulk of the series already in Crunchyroll’s catalogue and gave the company a good idea of the steps and costs involved in just that. Creating their own standard anime and thereby securing exclusive international distribution rights in the process as well as the possibility of licensing it out. This is all valuable market data and it almost didn’t matter what the anime they did was. It was smart that they did one and smart that they stuck to only one until they got more of that data.
I can see the idea behind the American productions. Negotiating rights and production through the experience and connections of AT&T is fairly simple and it adds completely exclusive titles to Crunchy’s library regardless of their success. However I wonder what people who have access to tons of American media already and specifically sought out a service for anime will do with these title. I guess in the end as long as they’re good it doesn’t really matter but I do hope we’re not seeing a trend of abandoning complicated anime distribution negotiations in favour of simply producing traditional cartoons.
The Webtoon collaboration though, now that’s a stroke of genius. A largely untapped market tat comes with an already included fanbase and with a company already intimately familiar with international digital distribution rights and challenges. If these first three titles prove successful, Crunchy will be sitting on a goldmine of original content and they must have realized the awesome potential as they didn’t skimp out on the studios. Seeking out well established names that can craft an anime likely to appeal to existing anime fans, ensuring good production values but so far seemingly reasonable budgets.
On top of that they chose titles that are both safe enough to almost guarantee initial interest but subtly appeal to slightly different demographics to judge interest across a wide slew of their audience.
This is a project that was carefully thought out and whoever thought of it deserves another raise!
This ended up kind of long. I hope I didn’t bore you guys. Ultimately regardless of the shows themselves, the business move behind Crunchyroll originals is being handled quite well in my opinion when it could easily have been a complete failure. Now it could still prove to not be worth it for the company in the long run but no matter what, I think the experiment itself was still worth it.