I have accused streaming services of a lot of wrongdoing in the past, all of which I still firmly stand by. However, when I heard that Crunchyroll was under fire for publishing propaganda and embezzling subscriber money, that certainly caught me off guard. I decided to do a little investigating of my own and soon found the three causes for this recent controversy: Crunchyroll’s self-published cartoon High Guardian Spice, entitlement, and online bigotry.
What is High Guardian Spice?
Some context to start us off.
High Guardian Spice is a cartoon series published by Crunchyroll. The series was pitched several years ago, but it struggled to find financial backing and lingered in development for several years. It eventually found support in Crunchyroll and the final product, after much delay, would release on the streaming platform in late October. As of writing, it features 1 season counting 12 TV-length episodes.
The story is heavily inspired by Little Witch Academia, but with the DNA of series like Harry Potter, Sailor Moon, and Magic Knight Rayearth blended into it. It’s set in a medieval fantasy land protected by specially-trained heroes, who are all graduates from High Guardian Academy. We follow the lives and adventures of four students that have just started their studies there: the boisterous warrior Rosemary, the anxious sorceress Sage, the dwarf blacksmith Parsley, and the aloof elven ranger Thyme.
Season 1 mostly focuses on the girls becoming better adventurers by studying and going on quests. It also has coming-of-age-themes as the girls help each other deal with anxieties and other life problems, as well as an overarching plot revolving around a conspiracy that this first season sets into motion.
All in all, pretty good stuff for a cartoon. I felt a little too old to appreciate some of the more low-stakes, age-related drama, but I had a great time with High Guardian Spice. Give the series a watch yourself if you’re interested.
Since its announcement 3 years ago, High Guardian Spice has been haunted by a community determined to dislike it. Its first trailer showed behind-the-scenes footage, where it was addressed that the writing staff was all-female, and women also made up half of the production team. They were proud that so much female talent got to work on an ambitious series, but “elevating female talent” was interpreted as “oppressing men”. When the trailer then also described the characters as “diverse”, this permanently enraged the overly-sensitive, anti social justice crowd.
Years before we’d get even the slightest detail of what the series would be about, it was being written off as propaganda for radical feminist and LGBT agendas.
Every trailer would be heavily disliked on YouTube and spammed with identical comments, which soon carried over to Crunchyroll itself. In the week of its release, High Guardian Spice was flooded with 1-star reviews that tanked its overall score. At one point, I took a sample size of the top 100 reviews, which revealed that over a quarter of these specifically featured rants about the show being political, too woke, or infested with social justice lecturing. Over 30 more reviews were random hate messages or effortless reviews, several of which spammed random symbols just to meet the minimum character threshold to post a review.
In short: an online hate mob review-bombed a cartoon because it looked too progressive.
But how can I be so sure that these negative reviews are disingenuous? Common sense and pattern recognition will tell you as much, but let’s compound that with some actual analysis.
For these reviews to be earnest, all these people would have had to binge this series at a rapid pace and all come out feeling that 1/5 was a justifiable score. Something that is incredibly unlikely, as these same people made every effort to communicate that they didn’t want the show to exist and certainly wouldn’t be rushing to support it. The fact that illegible or near-empty reviews were highly upvoted also betrays that this was not an attempt to actually critique or have an earnest conversation about the show.
Also, If High Guardian Spice really was as bad as they claimed, then the score would’ve stuck over time. Instead, once people got a chance to actually watch the series, we saw the score gradually recover as more earnest reviews rolled in.
The reviews posted are also overwhelmingly vague, with many of them citing generic complaints or basic facts. The many posts claiming that the animation and voice-acting are bad may seem legit, but none of them ever provide examples or talk about anything specific in the show; such criticism would require having meaningfully engaged with it. The posts complaining about political correctness and social justice are also laughable to any who have actually seen High Guardian Spice. What are the results of this radical agenda that these posters are so afraid of?
Two female side-characters live together and share a quick kiss several episodes in… One teacher briefly explains how and why they changed their gender after a student finds an old photo… One of the main girls is flustered when she meets an attractive girl, which is one scene several episodes in… And one development that would be a spoiler, but isn’t too overstated either.
This disproportionate reaction only makes sense if you’re judging the show from the Wikipedia page, which has a separate segment for LGBT themes. Incidentally, the Wikipedia page hasn’t been updated yet and still features information based on pre-release guesstimations. Probably better to watch the cartoon if you want to argue about it lads, but then you’d come dangerously close to having to actually form an opinion.
High Guardian Spice is just a fantasy action series in a high school setting. It has LGBT themes to it, absolutely, but that would be an incredibly low bar for your outrage. If I may be crude for a moment: High Guardian Spice is not gayer than Sailor Moon. Is Sailor Moon part of the radical LGBT-feminist alliance? Is Naoko Takeuchi a threat to all men?
Why do this?
If anything, the accusations against Crunchyroll prove two things:
- Many of these Crunchyroll users were fed an opinion on High Guardian Spice based on shallow evidence, which they dutifully parroted without verifying it for themselves.
- They are mortified by the notion that women and non-straight people have a presence in media, and perceive this as an organized attack against themselves.
In a way, these posts claiming that High Guardian Spice is SJW propaganda are themselves the real propaganda. It’s a targeted, deliberate campaign of misinformation, intended to change the perception of the show. The immediate hope is that the low score will deter potential viewers, thus denying the series and its creators a fair chance at being successful.
They also hope to garner more sympathizers by convincing animation enthusiasts that women and queers are looking to infect their medium. It’s always an attack to them; other people can’t just exist in a community or create things, it always has to be some grandiose plot to change the medium entirely and drive out everybody else. Cartoons like High Guardian Spice present an opportunity to them, because they only have to lie a bit and suddenly it fits their tragic narrative.
The feminist, social justice warriors made a cool cartoon that a lot of people genuinely enjoyed. A cartoon that certainly mirrors their progressive worldviews in places, but primarily seeks to provide fun adventures, lovable characters, and creative fantasy scenarios. Even some cool action scenes at times.
Meanwhile, a horde of (presumed) adults wasted years fostering a resentment towards a cartoon for teenagers. And for what cause, really? Because women were excited about making something? Because LGBT people exist? That’s kinda sad. Especially since these upsetting factors exist in a show they didn’t even want to see to begin with. Hell, assuming these are anime fans we’re dealing with, it’s not even in their medium.
If the only thing that would please you is High Guardian Spice not being in your life… then why are forcing it on yourself?
Naturally, all of the above is not meant to imply that anybody that didn’t like High Guardian Spice is a misogynist. Even I would only rate the show a 7/10, so I can imagine other people having even harsher opinions on it. This is totally fine and something I accounted for while writing this article.
At least 30 of the reviews I analyzed rated the show 1/5 just because it isn’t an anime. A major point of criticism in this whole fiasco is that Crunchyroll is an anime streaming service, but for High Guardian Spice they opted to invest their earnings into a cartoon instead. Money that theoretically could have gone to acquiring more licenses or otherwise improve the service.
I am not exactly eager to leap to the company’s defense here because this argument reflects my own distaste for streaming services. However, Crunchyroll does have a history of hosting non-anime content, some of which they helped finance. They even financially supported A Centaur’s Life, which was animated by a Chinese studio. These are all edge cases though and, barring RWBY, there doesn’t appear to be any precedent for a project like High Guardian Spice.
Lacking complete financial transparency, it is hard to judge how many anime could have been licensed had High Guardian Spice not been made. If you pay for the service and feel that its anime offering has been insufficient, then I can understand how seeing a cartoon pop up instead can be vexing. I find every streaming service to be insufficient, so I get your pain.
I also found some “normal” reviews by people that just didn’t like the show or dropped it a few episodes in. Even if their arguments sometimes overlapped with that of the tidal wave of trolls, these people at least made a decent effort to express their dislike, without being childish about it.
Therein lies a problem, however. Legitimate concerns may warrant being discussed, but when they are expressed in the same way as reactionary, hateful comments, the lines between them begin to blur. The legitimate concerns become a shield for bigots to hide behind—to deflect any criticism of their behavior as being an attack on the people with honest concerns. Not only do they get to dodge their way out of having to argue their actual viewpoints, they also get to radicalize these normal users by making it seem like the social justice mob is after them as well. “We’re all being targeted by them” they’ll say, even though it’s them who shoved these people into the line of fire.
We have seen this before with similar movements in games, comics, and books, often with tragic results.
For those people who just didn’t like High Guardian Spice or who wished that Crunchyroll made more anime instead, all I can advice is to avoid having your opinions overlap with that of bigots. If you write a review, put in genuine effort so it doesn’t resemble the shallow spam. Or post it on a separate channel like a blog. If you’re concerned with Crunchyroll’s business practices, email them, file a complaint, or even vote with your wallet by cancelling your subscription.
If all you do is post 3 sentences on the show’s review page and rate 1 star, your opinion will be perverted and abused. Your concerns will become increasingly difficult to extract as they are swallowed up by the bigoted overtones that dominate these easily-spammed channels. You deserve to be heard. Don’t let them take that away from you.