Greetings, fabulous people of the Internet! Hanime on Anime here, and let’s talk about Netflix anime. No, really. Let’s talk about Netflix anime. Not any show specifically, just anime that’s produced distributed by Netflix in general.
I’ve been doing my Novembflix event for a few years now and have even reviewed some of the popular streaming platform’s anime shows outside of the event. And while I’ve come across some great shows that I would highly recommend, more often than not, I feel like I often find more mediocre content that provides some decent entertainment value. Why is that? Well, being an otaku for over ten years, my theory is that Netflix doesn’t understand anime. It knows what anime is, there’s no doubt about that. But there’s a good bit of evidence that I’ve noticed watching its anime content that shows there’s a big element to anime as a whole that it’s not getting.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m not going to throw that much hate at what great anime content Netflix has produced over the past few years. There are in fact some awesome anime shows and movies produced by the platform that are readily available to watch. Just a few of these include Violet Evergarden, Aggretsuko, Little Witch Academia, The Seven Deadly Sins, and (maybe) Devilman Crybaby. But oftentimes, I tend to find more shows like Sirius the Jeager, Dragon Pilot, and B the Beginning that are fine but aren’t something you’d consider to be quality content. And often shows like these have some elements in common. For one, they give us just enough character and story to establish the show but don’t offer any more depth or discussion to them. And sometimes, the concepts of these shows are so odd and out of left field that they feel like the creators came up with the ideas by throwing darts on a board to see what they get. So while there are some great anime that Netflix has produced, not all of the company’s anime are masterpieces either.
Netflix tends to be heavy-handed in the production of these shows, but one evident thing is that when it gets renowned directors or studios-or just people who know what they’re doing- involved in their anime projects, they turn out pretty well. Other times their projects are based on great franchises and the creators who produce them treat these properties with the utmost respect, and turn out well as a result. Regardless of what makes shows like Aggretsuko and Violet Evergarden so great, I feel like when the creators are allowed to do what they want while putting a considerable amount of time, effort, and care into their projects, Netflix gets some great shows. Cause it seems when Netflix gets very involved in certain projects, things turn ugly, which leads to one of Netflix’s most controversial revamps of a beloved anime franchise.
In 2018, Netflix bought the rights to the anime franchise Neon Genesis Evangelion and would be airing the original 1997 show and its two films The End of Evangelion and Death and Rebirth. This dark mecha anime is widely known for its deconstruction of the mecha genre of anime, its themes on depression and self-worth, and it’s controversial final episode have been cited as changing the mecha genre and ushering in an era of dark and thought-provoking anime. Being a fan of this anime, I was excited to finally have the original show readily available for me to watch without having to shell out hundreds of dollars to buy ancient DVD box sets. What I and other fans wound up getting was a complete slap in the face. So yeah, what happened?
Well, the biggest issue I took from Netflix’s take on this show was that the entire show was redubbed. Why was this such a big problem? Because a good bit of the original cast is still working as voice actors. As a matter of fact, many of them, including Spike Spencer and Tiffany Grant (who play Shinji and Asuka respectively) reprised their roles in the new Evangelion movies! I was so upset about the issue on Instagram that Spencer himself used my comment on Shinji and what a great job Spencer did with him for promoting an online petition to bring the original cast back! So clearly, fans-and even the original cast of the show- were not pleased by this.
And if that wasn’t enough, Netflix also rewrote a lot of the show’s original dialogue for the new dub and didn’t have enough money to buy the show’s end credit song Fly Me to the Moon.
Based on these examples alone and even my own personal take on the matter as an Evangelion fan, the reason why Netflix received a lot of backlash is apparent. Evangelion, love it or hate it, is a history-making anime show that deserves some respect. It was certainly nice that Netflix wanted to give the show a fresh coat of paint, but it seems Netflix never took into consideration what they actually had in their possession. This is a show that has had a massive impact on anime and what they did with it feels very disrespectful. I’m sure there are legit reasons for doing a lot of what they did with the show, but I feel that in the end, Netflix treated this show like it was just some other anime on its platform. It’s the almost complete lack of respect for such a great property is apparent of how little Netflix understands some of its properties. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time Netflix showed a complete lack of respect and understanding of anime. Enter Enter the Anime.
This hour-long, poorly-edited, profanity-littered, obnoxious, infuriating, offensive excuse for a Netflix commercial that likes to think it’s a thoughtful documentary on the anime industry has been one of the worst explorations I’ve seen on anime. Much of it involves the narrator, Tania Nolan, going on a paid vacation while talking to individuals in the anime industry about the shows they’re making for Netflix and other random crap about these people we don’t need to know. And somehow, they even consider their Castlevania show to be anime (WHICH IT’S NOT!!!). Worst of all, it lazily covers a serious issue in the anime industry- the stressful and underpaid life of animators in the business- which would have been a great Netflix documentary on its own!
Nothing about this documentary thoroughly discusses anime and why it’s so popular worldwide as well as Japan or any of the controversies within the industry. All this documentary tells us is that Netflix has anime and they know some people in the business that can make shows for them. Though as a side note, if Adi Shankar is a time traveler who doesn’t belong in this period, then I’m Mickey Mouse (I think some Indiana Jones fans will appreciate that line)!
So with all of this, does Netflix really get anime? To a certain degree, yes. Netflix knows that anime is a popular form of animation that has gained a massive following worldwide with dozens of recognizable franchises that have practically become ingrained in pop culture. They also know how it’s made. But what they don’t know is the why. They don’t know why anime is so beloved globally. So with that said, why is anime so loved?
Well, I can’t speak for the entire otaku community, but I can speak about why I love anime so much. In my very first blog post as Hanime on Anime, I stated that anime is very much a passion of mine. And a lot of that has to do with anime being so different. I started watching anime at the age of sixteen or so. At the time, I liked it because it was animated but still mature enough to where I didn’t feel like a kid for watching it. When I got to college, I realized there was a whole community of people who loved it as much as I did. Now as a working adult who still enjoys it, anime for me is an escape, but also something that helps me understand the world around me.
There are hundreds-if not thousands-of anime shows out there in many different genres and for different ages. It’s a medium of entertainment that can be enjoyed by all people of all ages while at times addressing serious issues without shying away from the harshness of certain issues. For example, with race being such a hot topic of discussion today (especially here in the U.S.), if you were to ask me an anime I would recommend watching to get a thoughtful discussion on it, hands down that would be Code Geass.
A show that I’ve reviewed before on two separate occasions (one was an OVA from the franchise), Code Geass centers around an exiled prince named Lelouch who starts a rebellion in a colonized Japan (now called Area 11) to simultaneously free the oppressed Japanese people (called elevens) and kill his father, the Emperor of the Britannian Empire. This show has very obvious themes of racism, politics, and even colonialism, and it does not shy away from how harsh life can be for those negatively affected by this world. The Japanese are treated like dirt regularly all while their resources are used right in front of them almost without permission. To assume that something like this is popular and enjoyed by millions of fans because it’s different and goes against the grain of every other animated show out there is an insult to me. Because for me, anime is something that can be fun and entertaining but also have a lot of thought and discussion that can be taken away by just about anyone, whether that be on certain themes or ideas, or on certain elements of the story or the characters themselves. Which brings me back to Netflix and its overall understanding.
Netflix knows what anime is, how to make it, and maybe even a few well-known names in the industry. What Netflix doesn’t understand about anime, again, is the why. Why is anime so popular? Ask any fellow otaku and your answer will vary. Ask me that and you’ll get the above paragraphs. Anime is Japan’s unique way of expressing ideas as well as entertaining people. That’s what Netflix is missing from a lot of its shows. Netflix could probably tell you what’s trending in anime, but in the end, none of that matters. I’d like to think modern day audiences are smarter than big media execs in Hollywood give them credit for, so if you only give the people mediocre entertainment that’s popular, it will only be satisfying for a short time. Even though there are some legitimately great shows, anime is just another way for Netflix to make money. At the end of the day, Netflix wants more subscriptions from the masses.
Special thanks to Irina from I drink and watch anime for letting me share this post on her blog! As I said in the beginning of this post, I’m Hanime on Anime. I’m a passionate otaku and public librarian from Mississippi, and I review anime shows and films every Sunday and occasionally post some editorials (like this one) and discussions every once in a while. If you liked this, I have plenty more on my official Hanime on Anime page!
-Hanime on Anime