The past year or so has been surprisingly eventful if you’re a stateside, regular anime viewer, but not when it comes to the anime that’s being released; rather, it’s how it’s being released and distributed, that’s been making news. Thanks to Hulu dropping a vast amount of its anime library (which was partly thanks to Hulu delving into offering its live TV service, and Hulu looking at how much of the anime it offered was being watched enough to justify the distribution costs...), we saw the ripple effect of Crunchyroll and Funimation laying down their arms and saying to the effect that if they didn’t work together, they both stood a real chance of going under. This has resulted in VRV, a Crunchyroll developed service that now acts as a comfortable timeshare of sorts for the two distributors. You can pay for a single subscription, and you get access to Funi’s dubs, and Crunchy’s subs. Netflix also deserves a mention for picking up the occasional show, but instead of simulcasting like everyone else, they instead opt to wait until the show has fully finished, and then make every episode in a season available (which is... what it is) But also in the last year, another challenger has appeared to wail on your wallet like a Steam Summer Sale: Amazon’s Anime Strike service.
Now, for those of you wondering why a mob armed with pitchforks and torches has just materialized out of thin air, I’ll explain (and for those of you in the mob, take five, and get some coffee or tea while I catch people up). Amazon is already well known for its Prime Video streaming service, which works like Netflix, but instead of $10 a month, it works instead as $50 a year, which not only nets you a sizable video library of movies and television shows (including original content like The Grand Tour and The Man in the High Castle), but also makes you a Prime Member, which gets you deals on Amazon offers, and cheap, fast shipping offers. It sounds expensive, but $50 a year for all this is justifiable, in my opinion. The controversy starts when we look at the “channels” Amazon Prime is starting to offer...
Like Hulu, Amazon Prime is offering extra channels like HBO, Showtime, and a few others. The good news is that you can get HBO without going through the HBO GO app. The bad news is that these channels are all optional extras, locked behind the already sizable $50 paywall. Anime Strike, Amazon’s anime streaming service, costs an extra $5 a month. This doesn’t sound so bad, until you realize that Amazon has gone out of its way to making sure currently airing anime series are only (legally) available on its service. For those of us old enough to remember the old days when Microsoft locked using Netflix on Xbox behind the Xbox Live Gold service, this is like an irritating form of PTSD. It’s like if Nintendo was a streaming service: tons of great content (Nintendo games), locked behind a large entry price for something I’m not dying to have (yet another console with next to no third party support, unless you want to buy Minecraft and/or Skryrim for the fifth time). And to top it all off, there isn’t even a good mobile app for the service, so if you’re on the move a lot like me, you’re stuck watching stuff through your phone’s web browser, which is dammed annoying...
And when I say great content, I mean it. Just as Nintendo can justify a $300 price tag for a console that only really plays Nintendo games, Amazon Strike makes its case as well by having an unbelievably great selection of titles. For the past four seasons now, Anime Strike has somehow gotten its hands on great shows such as The Great Passage, Scum’s Wish, Re:Creators, and now Welcome to the Ballroom and Made in Abyss have found themselves in this pit of hidden gems. And to add insult to injury, Anime Strike is currently the only place you can watch 1995's Memories, one of the most underrated, and greatest, anime films of all time. Well, more like an anthology of Japanese animation: three short films, all of which feature jaw dropping production values that put Studio Ghibli on notice, the standout of which is, without question, Magnetic Rose: a segment directed by Koji Morimoto (a key animator on Akira), based on a story by Katsuhiro Otomo (the director and original creator of Akira), scored by Yoko Kanno (the composer for Cowboy Bebop), and scripted by Satoshi Kon (the director of Tokyo Godfathers and Paprika). Yes, it’s as impossibly good as you’d think it is.
The worst part about Anime Strike though (to me at least) isn’t the stupid pricing, but the fact that none of the media I’ve just listed are getting the attention they deserve. It’s well and good that Memories has finally found itself on a streaming service, but it’s 22 years old. The current shows deserve time in the spotlight, and locking them on just one service does a huge disrespect to them and us. The Great Passage is a somber yet lighthearted show that turns making a dictionary into a decades long drama. Scum’s Wish is a fascinating look at teenagers discovering themselves sexually, and how sex translates into romanticism, through a teenager’s mind. Re:Creators is a fantastic action show that’s not only smart, but something that people who have a passing knowledge of media industries (such as anime and comic books/manga) would get an absolute kick out off, since it’s basically what would happen if fictional characters found themselves existing in our world. And Welcome to the Ballroom & Made in Abyss have some of the best animation of any show this season, and, and... [sigh] it’s just not fair.
I’m always one for trying to shine attention on media that’s been overlooked in some way, but Anime Strike is making a name for itself in the best-worst way possible: the home of anime greats, and the ONLY place where you can find them, at least legally. Part of me wants to know how the people running it have taste this great, while another part wants to punch the people who set up the pricing on this service. I know I could just pirate or torrent this stuff, but I want to support this industry and the people working in it, not screw them over. Maybe if these series could find their way onto other streaming services sometime after they air, maybe if Amazon reorganized its streaming service; in any case, I love what’s here, but I hate how it’s locked behind an expensive door.