I’m impressed with Crunchyroll’s Production Division

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.

Crunchyroriginals

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.

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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:

In/Spectre

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.

In_Spectre Episode 1 - Gallery - I drink and watch anime

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.

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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.

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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.

Crunchyroginals trailers

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.

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Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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24 Responses

  1. foovay says:

    I really think there is room for everyone. I’m perfectly happy to see Crunchyroll, as well as Netflix, going more into production of anime. With my limited knowledge, it seems to be it’s not unheard of for a “Western” company to do anime. France certainly has made some anime I really liked (Oban Star Racers) and there’s Rooster Teeth. The only worry I would have is if western companies make their own anime, then they might be less inclined to negotiate rights for Japanese anime that us anime fans might really want to see. But then that might create a market for Japanese anime makers to make that anime available through their own websites and streaming services open to a worldwide market. The world is going to globalize. There’s no turning the clock backwards. But I think it’s most likely going to make things even better for fans willing to negotiate a wider ocean to find their preferred anime to watch. It may be even more fans to the genre – which means more money – which means more reason for companies to invest in making more anime…which means more anime for fans! Yay!

    • Irina says:

      I agree. I’m just whiny about having to subscribe to 6 services and go through all the different watch lists. Cause I’m spoiled

      • foovay says:

        Tell me about it. I’m miffed because I finally broke down and rejoined Amazon Prime for other reasons, but thought – well I’ll get their anime vids. HAH. Everything you “get” with Prime is $2.99 an episode or more. There are some free things, but it sure seems like everything I go to look for costs more money. I am still loving VRV a bunch. But I have had to put my foot down on the budget and so I don’t have Funi. There’s only so much you can spend on streaming services.

        • Irina says:

          Prime in Canada is just laughable – at least for anime. We are not the preferred market, that’s for sure

          • foovay says:

            I’m in the u.s. you would think… Ugh. Amazon seems to exist to annoy me. Which is sad because I remember when they were new and Prime was awesome and customer service was real humans… Gawd I’m too old.

  2. In/Spectre was a manga first. I tried it out on Magazine Pocket…and I know it would have been much less likely for me to do so if the source were actually a novel (and it were only a novel, as opposed to a path such as novel -> manga -> anime).

    I remember reading forum replies to an ANN post re: HGS and they mostly summed up my own thoughts: “You can have your Western-made anime-inspired series with your own agenda, just don’t sacrifice the plot for said agenda. If it’s good, it will bring in the $$$ by itself.”

  3. Zombiedub says:

    Chrunchyroll in one deal with webtoon got whole gold mine but it will depend on CR how well it can extract gold from it.

    First 3 webtoons it picks are also big 3 of Korea. I personally think that CR could have benefitted better if it didn’t rush the adaptation.

    In case of Tower of God 16 -18 episodes for s1 would have been great as thet weren’t able to explain many details in just 13 episodes. TOG has very good plot so even though first season didn’t have any extraordinary sakuga effect , it was still received well by audience both in West and China. But for many anime only fast pace season of TOG was confusing especially if one didn’t paid proper attention(due to mysterious nature of TOG story telling and lack of proper details which anime didn’t able to gave due to less numbers of episodes). They still done well considering they gave to done it in 13 episodes. But at the same time they did some changes with characters behaviour and scenes which will definitely upset it’s webtoon fans and those changes also didn’t sit well with future plots (though anime only people will not be affected by it). TOG has potential to become backbone for CR originals for next decade(yea, TOG has enough material! ) But it will depend on how CR will adapt second season .

    In case if GOH, they decided to adapt little too much(110+ chapters, they will cover in these 13 episodes). It is doing more than good in West for now .

    Next to come is Noblesse . I’m hoping that Chrunchyroll didn’t rush it like GOH as Noblesse has good amount of comedy and slice of life scenes which I really like. I’m excited to see one of my favourite webtoon characters in anime format(there was an OVA of it too , 4-5 years before by same studio) .

    One bad news is that Japan don’t seem to enjoy anime of koreans source much (probably due to Japan – Korea relationship or due to unfamiliarity with webtoons in Japan or both)

    I’m hopeful and excited for other webtoons and manhwa that can possibly be adapted in future like Bastard, Breakers, Solo leveling and more.

    • Irina says:

      Adaptation is a delicate art. I’m not sure how much Crunchyroll is actually interfering in it, they might be leaving all these decisions, including how much of each webtoon to adapt per season, entirely up to the studios that have a lot of experience in the field. It’s an interesting question where those decisions are made.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I really can’t wait for when Anilog/Animelog becomes availble for like all over the world and this was something that should have been done a realy long time ago since region lock has become an archaic relic of the past.
    To be bluntly honest i fucking hate western localization companies like Funimation and Crunchyroll.
    The people who work there are polikore (Japanese term for Politcally correct yakuza) crybullies who attack fans and they care only about pushing agendas in the dubs intesad of being an accurate translation as possible. I mean the anime dub of Prison School had gamergate referenced when it wasn’t even in the original sub or manga and it was added because the script writer basically hated otakus because they don’t like women.
    Plus this one va Alex Moore recently just shitted on fans who weren’t even able to purchase anime and just mocked people for criticizing if dubs are inncaurate just by labeling them as sexist bigots and colonizers. Not to mention the fujoshis attacking the MHA author for not making ships canon and hes been called homophobic falsely because of that.
    Plus the VA’S demanding affirmative action in anime which is something and i say this as a Wasian that i really beyond hate and getting rid of hiring who is best for the job and it has to be someone to fit the same bill as the character. (So are we going all the way to Morrowind to find a Dark Elf voice actor) and all of this just comes off as Cultural imperialization from the west something just fucking keep the story as is and not put in any this diversity crap at all because frankly anybody who gets validation from any media should just drop dead and pandering to 30 year old San Francisco hipsters who hadn’t grown up past the terrible 2s is a very bad idea.
    I’m never going to buy anything at all from Funimation or Crunchyroll at all for the rest of my life and if i wanna buy anime i’ll just use whats there at value village or go on other online retailers like Play Asia,CdJapan or Animate International to pick up anime for now.
    -K.Anthony

    P.S
    4chan of all places has better sense of morality then any fucking western baka gaijin trashy Karen known as polikore crybully woke Karens who bitch all day on twatter looking for problems.And also Netflix of all companies saying fuck capitalism on Twatter really ironic isn’t it?

    • Anonymous says:

      And also one more thing too. Japanese people really couldn’t care less at all about fucking western baka gaijins crying about Uzaki chan are the same people enjoying that pro pedo trash cancer on netflix known as cuties that only Epstein and friends would enjoy and also glossing over wheter or not you do support pedophillia and just give “muh” inclusivity trash well and being ironically body negative really says all it has to be said.

  5. railgunfan75 says:

    I think the fact the Crunchyroll getting involved in productions is a good thing. The fact that studios would be willing to work with a company outside of Japan is telling. It shows that there is some recognition concerning the international fan base. It also shows that western companies are serious about the anime industry which is only a positive for those of us outside of Japan. It effectively leads to more anime which of course is a good thing. When Tower of God first aired, I thought it was really cool that you had a Japanese studio adapting a Korean story while working with an American company. In these difficult times seeing a project cross borders like that is really cool (and yes I acknowledge the business benefits for all involved).

    In terms of the series, the only two I’m familiar with are Tower of God and God of High School. I haven’t read either’s source material but both are good series. I think Tower of God is better overall due to God of High School having narrative issues. The main difference is the Tower of God did better with it’s world building the God of High School has so far. Also God of High School feels a bit rushed with it’s apcing to me.

    • Irina says:

      I thing ToG was the better adaptation even though fans really disagree. It changed more stuff from the source but that’s sort of necessary when crossing over to a new medium.

      • railgunfan75 says:

        Can’t say that I read the source material for either yet so I can’t be a judge in terms of how it relates to that. Judging based solely on the anime Tower of God is the better of two. And as you said things have to be changed to make an adaptation work and I think that is a fact that some people forget.

      • Zombiedub says:

        The reason webtoons fans have that opinion is because they are aware of future contents and plot and some of changes doesn’t sit well with future plots.

        Anime is good and OST and art were very good. But anime kinda ignore future story with some unnecessary changes and cut.

        TOG has insane level foreshadowing season 1 of webtoon. Some of foreshadowing will strike back after 300+ chapters and some are still a mystery(though they are important as they gave the idea about depth of plot and is one of favourite things fans appreciate about TOG).

        As you already watched and read season 1 of TOG.

        some of unnecessary changes were showing ghost guy to be dead on providing back up life to Rachel which is neither present in webtoon nor it is like that. Anime showed Ren to be dead while in webtoon it was clearly stated that He is alive(though it can be fixed).

        Anime cut all BamXEndorsi scenes . In webtoon there were good amounts of it and Endorsi got massive character development due to Bam but it is absent in anime. Endorsi actually developed some feelings for Bam, trained him and even plan to have a date with Bam after last test. She changed due to her interaction with Bam to the extent that she even go against Jahad’s assassin for Anak (which she never would have done otherwise). Endorsi was among most upset when it was announced that Bam was dead. These all shouldn’t have been cut considering what will be coming in future.
        Funny thing is they even go out of their way and include anime original Bam and Rachel scene, so it was more of a studio and directors choice and not lack of episode. One interesting thing to note is some BamXEndorsi scenes were ruined by including Hatz in middle, which I can’t think of a reason to justify(so how can some fans won’t mind it? )

        Rachel was done good in anime but depth and mystery nature of Bam and Rachel and outside tower is ignored. Well for anime only it wouldn’t matter for now(as they can only judge it by what they saw in s1) but when those ignored plot points comes in spotlight in future anime only won’t be able to appreciate the depth of story planned by author .

        I can add many more such things as a fan but it may bore you. But for many old fans of TOG s1 is special
        because after getting quite far in story one can’t help but appreciate s1 even more but if TOG will be adapted all the way then anime only won’t be able to get the same.

  6. Dewbond says:

    People didn’t care for High Guardian spice, mostly because the video selling the series was more about the creators waxing about how PC and woke it was. Didn’t do much to build any goodwill to something that was already ‘out of place’ on Crunchyroll to begin with.

    Overall though, Crunchy’s track record seems to be mixed so far. Tower of God shows great promise, but God of High School seems to have completely fallen apart, which is a shame.

    I’ve made my feelings about Crunchyroll and ‘the west’ getting into bed with Japanese studios quite clear. I don’t like it, but it is going to happen and we just have to accept it.

    • Irina says:

      “Fall apart” probably depends on your metric. GOH is still the second most watched anime of the season of the fifth most watched of the year so far. That probably isn’t a complete failure from a business standpoint. It’s also visibly less expensive to make than pretty much any show I’ve watched in 2020.

      • Dewbond says:

        That’s a good point, and yes, it has been successful, but I think Crunchy was hoping for good word of mouth, and the buzz seems to be that GoH really didn’t live up to the (granted unfair) amount of hype built around it.

  7. WCRobinson says:

    I keep meaning to subscribe to Crunchyroll, one day I shall! This post was great to find out some more about it, in my opinion it is important for companies to constantly try new ideas such as in-house creations, it is such a competitive scene that it is necessary.

    • Irina says:

      It was interesting to research and for a company that started seemingly spread out and disorganized, I thought it was impressive how they managed to focus themselves within a few years.

  8. savageddt says:

    Ive been made aware of the fact that Crunchy roll was a thing thanks to Raistlin a few months ago. Once we have things figured out regarding finances, I might become a subscriber too.

  9. AK says:

    About the possibility of Crunchyroll going more for making their own productions as opposed to negotiating rights to distribute anime, that’s an interesting point I hadn’t thought of. Like you suggest, I think a lot of people have subscriptions to these services so we can watch anime series from Japan pretty much upon airing that we wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.

    I haven’t seen any of those American productions, and I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with them, but a lot of fans just won’t have so much interest in them, so I think it would be dangerous for Crunchyroll to ignore the anime distribution side of their business too much. I already shifted from a Crunchyroll to a VRV subscription so I could get access to Hidive’s catalogue, which includes a lot of series standalone Crunchyroll doesn’t that I wanted to watch. Since they have direct competitors in Hidive as its own standalone service and in Funimation, Crunchyroll should be mindful of keeping that balance. Especially if too many of the shows look “too western”. I get that that shouldn’t be an issue; it should be the quality of the show and everything that matters, but it’s still an issue.

    • Irina says:

      For now they seem to be focusing on producing anime. This said, if Crunchyroll does get bought up, their strategy might completely change, especially if their parent company isn’t American anymore.

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