There was once a time when the majority of online anime was obtained from XDCC bots in anime channels on IRC. All of that changed when Crunchyroll entered the scene in 2006. I absolutely despised this group back then. With the extraordinary rise of Youtube in a matter of months, Crunchyroll saw an opportunity and tried to duplicate their success. The problem was that they didn’t own any anime, so they got it the way everyone else did, through fansubs. Now, if you were watching anime 10 years ago, you will surely remember 2 disclaimers that were present in nearly every fansubbed anime episode and went along the lines of:
“This is a FREE fansub. If you paid for this, you were ripped off!”
“Stop distribution and delete this anime when it becomes licensed in your region.”
Fansub groups had a purpose: to spread the joy of anime and garner enough attention to get most of it released outside of Japan. I can’t say the same for groups today, but that’s for another time. On the other hand, Crunchyroll only had one goal in mind: making money.
The thing about fansub groups was that they did everything for free. Want the latest Ranma 1/2 subs? Just pay for blank tapes and shipping and a fansubber would mail it to you. Don’t want to sleep before catching the latest Haruhi episode? Fansubbers would stay up late at night to get their releases on an XDCC bot before morning. While some groups were threatened with legal action, at least they weren’t trying to profit off of their work.
On the other hand, Crunchyroll had almost every anime you could find on the web on their site and were making tons of cash off of it. Assuming they already had a server and lots of bandwidth, it would’ve been like making money out of thin air. Who needs the philosopher’s stone?
With Crunchyroll’s continuing rise, it was only a matter of time before the big anime companies sent their lawyers after the owners. The lawyer tactic, which proved highly successful with fansub groups, was destined to fail with Crunchyroll for two reasons:
1. They had a huge (and loyal) audience built up after over a year online.
2. They were swimming in money.
Crunchyroll did eventually remove all of the fansubs from their site, but they also bought the rights to distribute some anime, which was shocking to say the least. This was a turning point in the western anime industry, and also when my view of them started to change.
A couple of things that fansubbers had been trying to get anime distributors to do for decades was to release more anime at least within a year or two of it coming out in Japan. After Crunchyroll turned legit, they managed to do what decades of subbers and dozens of anime distributors had failed to do; they not only released anime that would normally have never left Japan, they did so on the same day it aired (faster than most fansub groups). Since people only needed to find an episode and click play, it was also much easier to use than IRC and even Bittorrent.
In the few years that Crunchyroll has been operating as a legitimate company, they have created a new generation of anime fans due to ease of access and availability. They have also abolished the rift between anime companies outside Japan and anime fans. Some of you older fans may remember when anime companies blamed their poor sales on anime fans for pirating anime. Fans pointed the finger right back, blaming companies for taking years to release anime and selecting “bad” titles. Not to say it doesn’t exist, but you don’t see much of that anymore as some companies have gone bankrupt and fans no longer need to pirate anime.
Thanks to Crunchyroll’s actions and the appearance of similar sites, most airing anime in Japan is now legally accessible to anyone with an internet connection in North America. This was unthinkable just 5 years ago, and I concede that despite Crunchyroll’s legally questionable beginnings, they have done more than enough helping the anime industry to make up for that. I guess that a bad thing can become good in the end.
If you have some thoughts on how anime in the west has changed over the years or want to voice your opinion, feel free to share by leaving a comment.