Updated thoughts on anime piracy

A few days ago the newsfeed on my phone informed me that Netflix was bringing Neon Genesis Evangelion to its streaming service. This is certainly great news! The show has an amazing following and many will be delighted that they can finally see the show again. At the same time, the presence of such a famous show on the most mainstream streaming service out there may allow new people to discover it. All in all, this is uplifting news.

Urusei Yatsure, one of anime’s oldest and most respected romantic comedies. Not available for streaming or purchase.

That is, until you realize that this also means that one of anime’s most celebrated shows, arguably the most well-known license outside of the big shounen properties, was not available in any form. The show can’t be streamed anywhere and it’s not available firsthand from any anime retailer I frequent. If you wanted to see Neon Genesis Evangelion in the last few years, your only hope was to find a secondhand copy somewhere or became a filthy, disgusting pirate.

Entertainment industries love to lash out at piracy. They claim it hurts the industry and the ability of artists to continue making the products we love. Consumer advocates, in turn, point out that piracy is a service problem and love to use Steam and Spotify as examples of the gaming and music industry getting people back on the straight and narrow. However you look at it, I think both sides should be able to agree that in order to purchase or steal a product, it needs to be sold somewhere in the first place.

Shaman King
Shaman King, a hit shounen series based on the long-running Hiroyuki Takei manga. Not available for streaming or purchase.

I want the anime industry to be profitable and I want consumers to get fair treatment, but before any of that, I want animation to be conserved for the future. I want shows to inspire other creators, but I also want the fans to be able to better understand the medium by seeing these shows if they want to. And frankly, the industry and complicated copyright nonsense are just not allowing that.

It’s frightening to search for shows on Because.Moe and realize just how many franchises are not around anymore. You can’t watch the original Devilman anywhere, even though Netflix just did a big reinterpretation of it. The same fate befalls big licenses like the original Mobile Suit GundamLyrical NanohaMagic Knight Rayearth, or even pretty much anything from the World Masterpiece Theater. Even as I am writing this I find myself doing extra Google searches because I can’t believe some of these shows aren’t legally available.

And when shows are up for streaming, it’s all spread across various platforms that all have their own subscriptions, and God help you if you don’t live in the USA. Compare this to piracy platforms, which don’t have to wrestle with needlessly complicated copyright laws and just have vast libraries of anime, all united in a single place. Or look at PC gaming, where Humble, GOG, and Steam will share much of their libraries so users can pick the service that just works best for them. Streaming platforms, by comparison, are more like hostage situations.

Freaking Berserk. The original 1997 anime is not available for streaming, but hey, at least you can watch that 3D remake abomination.

Let’s say you are a big CLAMP fan. Well, if you want to see all of their stuff you need Hulu for Chobits and Tsubasa, Crunchyroll for Cardcaptor Sakura, Hidive for CLAMP School Detectives and Angelic Layer, and for Rayearth and Kobato you are just out of luck. And the big reality check is that anime fans don’t care enough for what these platforms offer to still draw them in. Anime fans will happily cope with lower-quality streams and ad-filled webpages if it means they can at least watch Neon Genesis Evangelion right now.

A turning point in my sympathy towards piracy came last year when Emuparadise was forced to take down all of its ROM files. For years, Emuparadise was the go-to source for gaming roms, allowing gamers to emulate and play older games. In a way, this might seem understandable from a business sense, but I would like to point out that right now, as I am writing this, I can’t play Super Mario World on my Nintendo Switch. And sure, I have a Wii U lying around, but with some effort I could compile a list of hundreds, if not thousands, of retro games for Nintendo systems that are not available on any of its digital storefronts or on its mini-console systems.

Toward the Terra
Toward the Terra, the 2007 TV series based on classic 70s sci-fi manga. Not available for streaming, though at least the 1980 movie is on Crunchyroll.

What some man in a business suit might see as lost revenue was, in fact, one of the most comprehensive libraries of an entire medium, but like its counterpart in Alexandria, it got put to the torch. Those roms are out there and will always be circulated, but without Emuparadise, gamers are now left searching for them on less-reliable sites. The library of Alexandria of gaming burned not because of civil war, but because overbearing publishers intended to sell a fraction of its content for a ridiculous price and wanted to eliminate the free alternative.

Anime does not have its own Emuparadise, but as I began writing this blog, I became increasingly aware that we desperately need one. Neon Genesis Evangelion is a big example and, oftentimes, these big shows will always end up being picked up by at least someone given enough time. However, throughout this entire article I have made the effort to only mention bigger shows as examples. If we delve into obscurer anime, you’ll quickly find that countless shows are no longer available.

The anime adaptation of Valkyria Chronicles by A-1 Pictures. Not available for streaming or purchase.

I once considered putting links in my articles to where the shows I cover can be viewed, but I quickly discovered that it just wasn’t possible. I like writing about lesser-known shows, but the tragic irony is that I am trying to draw attention to products that nobody is selling legally.

This is still a relatively young medium, but considering the problems we face today, I am left wondering how many beloved shows will have disappeared by 2030. Will we, in the future, still be able to see Humanity Has Declined with the same ease we do today? What about The Devil is a Part-Timer? Heck, what about ERASED?

As a parting gift, here is a list of all the anime I covered that, according to Because.Moe, are not currently streamable within the US. The ones in bold also have no physical copies for sale on Rightstuf:

  • Love Hina
  • Hyouge Mono
  • Gunbuster
  • My Daddy Long Legs (Tube TV stream appears broken/incomplete)
  • Higurashi: When They Cry
  • Higurashi: When They Cry Outbreak
  • Tokyo Mew Mew
  • Mouse
  • Shinzo
  • Chi’s Sweet Home
  • Mermaid Melody
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion (for a while yet)
  • Run=Dim
  • Magic Knight Rayearth
  • Simoun
  • Cyberteam in Akihabara
  • Sound of the Sky

8 thoughts on “Updated thoughts on anime piracy

  1. Thanks for a balanced view of the problem. I’m categorically against piracy — but I think the rights holders have a responsibility to the public to make their materials available.

    Isn’t that what it means to be in business? To provide product to customers?

    If you refuse to do so, doesn’t that refusal have consequences?

    In addition to the series you mentioned (and I just had to buy second-hand Love Hina DVDs to see that series!), I’d like to add seasons 2 and 3 of xxxHolic. Not streaming anywhere; not _really_ available on DVD.

    Those gaps constitute missing cultural artifacts.

    1. I think you are very right and it’s a shame to hear that even XxxHolic isn’t exempt from this.

      Personally, I will watch anime legally when it’s on a streaming service I already have or can access for free, and shows I do pirate I often attempt to buy on physical media if I liked them. As fans of such a niché medium, every person buying goods and supporting the industry helps.

      In an ideal world, I think we should have something akin to Abandonware. If nobody is providing it, then people should be able to effortlessly share it among each other themselves. As you say, these are cultural artifacts we’re allowing to disappear.

  2. Let me just quickly note that Higurashi is available on HiDive. Sentai just called it When They Cry. They have the 2nd season and OVA too.

    Anyway, I feel the same. I’m against piracy, but if a show/game/album just isn’t sold in your country, you’re kind of left with no choice. Between the time that Crunchyroll lost Haruhi Suzumiya in 2014 and Funimation picked it up, there was no way for me to legally rewatch my literal favorite anime. Soooo… I still have the mkv files somewhere on my computer. I’m so happy that I have the Funimation Blu-Ray now, but there was a years-long gap there.

    Unfortunately, when I read about rescue licenses that Discotek did (and Justin Savakis worked on), I learned quickly that the anime industry pre-digital didn’t really treat its legacy the best. Too many stories of master tapes being hard to find, or just completely missing. There are some shows that can never be rescued.

    In regards to the streaming services, I don’t like the whole exclusivity thing either. Aniplex got it right by not just putting their stuff on Crunchyroll, but also Netflix and Hulu. But given the runaway success that Netflix had, that’s what others (Hulu, Disney) are trying to emulate now. That’s why I like VRV as it has Crunchyroll and HiDive, among other stuff, so that’s 2 giant birds with one stone. But yeah, it’d be better if shows were available on multiple platforms, but that seems unlikely at this point.

    1. Hey AnimeBird,

      Thank you for pointing out that Higurashi is actually available under an altered name, I will correct that in the article. I am also glad to see that some old licenses have been getting re-releases, which also allowed me to buy physical copies of Haruhi and Higurashi. However, the shows that are getting rescued are often works that have some fame to them, and even that is questionable. Sure, we got a nifty re-release of Cardcaptor Sakura, but Tokyo Mew Mew and Mermaid Melody? I doubt it.

      Do you have any links for those stories about missing tapes? I am curious about it.

      1. Yeah, unfortunately, that’s the thing. The shows that had a sizeable fanbase are being rescued, but those that had only a small amount are being left behind. I’m mixed in my opinions, I’ll be honest, as, yeah, we should try to rescue everything, but at the same time, why bother rescuing a show that only a (relatively) small number of people ever cared about to begin with? It’s a hard trade-off.

        I’ll try to look and find a couple times/places that Justin talked about that, and add another reply later.

  3. I think I have memberships in pretty much every legal streaming source for anime in the United States, and yet, one of my favorite anime comedies, Astro Fighter Sunred, has never been licensed at all, and exists only in fansubs.

    I’m honestly happy to pay for anything that’s available legally. But I long ago abandoned the strict moral high-ground of opposing all torrenting under any circumstances. I realize that’s kind of an entitled attitude, but so be it!

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