I have never been very fond of Netflix, or any of the other major streaming parties for that matter. Part of that is certainly rooted in my love for collecting anime physically, but also because services like Netflix are exceptionally poor at what they do.
Way back in 2019 I jokingly published a 3 Reasons To Skip: Netflix. I haven’t touched the service again since then, until I needed a review for this week and my latest batch of blurays wound up delayed. Mournfully, I fired up Netflix and picked out a show. Then I picked another one because the first was incomplete, which led us to Dragon Pilot.
And you know what? I found a whole slew of new reasons to despise Netflix.
All my old complaints remain relevant. Their library is incoherent, incomplete, and lacks any kind of meaningful synergy. In the wake of watching of Dragon Pilot I received spam mails with recommendations, which suggested anything from Tokyo Ghoul to random karate movies. Their content is mislabeled and mistranslated, what little anime it offers frequently lacks bonus content or follow-up seasons, and all of this you have to find out while navigating the most horrendous UI imaginable.
For anime fans, it was horrible value for the money it cost to maintain a subscription. Nowadays… it’s even less value!
It used to be you could access content licensed for other countries through the use of most decent VPN services, but it appears Netflix wasn’t about to be taunted any longer. Using a VPN now puts you at risk of having your anime interrupted at any moment by an error message like this.
Region-locking is customer unfriendly bullshit. A way for soulless corporate crooks to wring as much money out of licensing as possible, while citing arguments that have been outdated for nearly 2 decades. Ancient fears that countless people would go out of their way to import DVDs from Asia to save money, which now haunt streaming services like a specter of the past.
Netflix doesn’t just enforce this nonsense, it goes out of its way to bully customers who circumvent it. Letting you watch a ways into the show before instantly cutting it off, which can actually turn out to be a false positive. I don’t know how deep Netflix is looking to determine if a VPN is being used, because mine wasn’t even running at the time. Even if it were, it defaults to a VPN in my native country, in which Dragon Pilot is available VPN or not.
False positives are already unacceptable for this, but keep in mind that VPN services are not illegal and have a lot of use cases. People with privacy concerns, people on vacation that want to access content for their country/in their language, avoiding cookies, or protecting yourself while on public wi-fi. All of them valid reasons to use a VPN, but Netflix doesn’t care. You’ll watch the content it offers in whatever country you happen to be, without any additional security or privacy.
Still, region-locking is an old nemesis of consumer advocates. Netflix reinforcing it is disappointing, but ultimately somewhat to be expected. Don’t worry, though. I have far more damning proof of Netflix being actively malicious and spiteful towards its users.
When I review anime I tend to take my own screenshots. I want to show off images of content in anime that I found relevant, instead of using carefully curated screenshots that some marketing lads prepared. So imagine my surprise when I tried taking screenshots of Dragon Pilot and was faced with this.
Any attempt to capture images on Netflix is blocked off. It uses your own system resources to “protect its digital rights”, by instantly blacking out the screen if it detects any kind of capture device. Sure, that makes some sense when it comes to active video recording, but if you’re taking a funny screenshot to share with people, or trying to make a gif of a cool moment, that too is blocked. You’re not allowed to share a little bit of your fun. For all Netflix knows you may be stealing their anime one little screenshot at a time!
This is outright malignant and, in my opinion, a powerful argument in favor of piracy. Sharing screenshots and gifs is one of the many ways in which anime is shared around virally. People see funny scenes online and start asking what anime it’s from so they can find out more. If you see people sharing images of Dragon Pilot online, or any other Netflix exclusive, chances are they either “stole” it or had to go out of their way to work around Netflix’ bullshit.
Because shit like this always has a workaround. It exists to annoy and frustrate those that can’t be bothered to look up solutions, or people with limited technical know-how that can’t make sense of those that exist. It’s a meaningless roadblock that makes the service actively worse for people, just to “combat piracy.” Corporate paranoia is what it is.
Not to mention, it’s censorship in a way. When I learned that taking screenshots didn’t work, I considered just not watching more of Dragon Pilot because fixing the problem seemed like too much of a bother. Whether my review would’ve been positive or not at that point doesn’t matter. What’s important is that “professional” discourse about the series would’ve been prevented.
Netflix wants to maintain control of the conversation around its media and promote it only through the uncritical lens of its own marketing or the shit recommendations it gives you while browsing the service. It doesn’t like critics because they might say bad things about the shows they’ve licensed. It doesn’t want users taking screenshots and gifs, because they might be unflattering or show off bad parts of the series. They’ll say it’s to prevent people from taping entire series and putting them online, but doesn’t this all seem massively overkill considering that Dragon Pilot is freely available on piracy sites all the same?
If you can, I strongly recommend avoiding Netflix. For anime fans it’s a blight on the medium; yet another party hogging random anime licenses. It offers too little worth watching to justify a subscription, but for some series you are left with little to no legal alternatives. Their practices are actively consumer-unfriendly, to the point where they’d gladly expose you to security risks just to make sure you aren’t watching series available just slightly over the border.
I hope I won’t have to write a third article about Netflix. Not because I am hoping they’ll improve, but because I hope I’ll never have to watch an anime on it ever again.