This may be something of a controversial post, but like Toonces I chose to drive this car over the cliff and I’ll see it through to my fiery demise.
Today we are going to look at something which anime fans are almost universally familiar with – piracy. Recently, Miles Thomas from Crunchyroll (@MilesExpress999 on Twitter) posted a pretty lengthy discussion regarding piracy.
Not going to lie, this really got my blood up. But before I get into why this is a serious issue for your fandom, let’s define exactly which sort of piracy we are discussing. It is important to make note of the particular breed of piracy in question because, like any act, context is vital. Stealing is generally wrong, but if a hungry parent steals from a crooked business owner to feed a starving child then we might look upon that act with more compassion. We know that there is a difference between manslaughter and homicide, self-defense and abuse. Events matter, but so does the context.
To be clear, the kinds of piracy I am not talking about do not universally get a pass. I’m not giving other kinds of piracy a thumbs up like, “Yep, totally okay, go right ahead.” I’m just trying to pinpoint the specific kind of piracy that is under the microscope to make sure the discussion stays on topic.
I also want to establish that there is some irony inherent in this discussion, since Crunchyroll was once a site for ripped anime and they have now gone straight. But let us remember that they started in 2006 and went legal in 2009, over seven years ago, during a time when legal anime streams were essentially nonexistent. They broke new ground and showed that fans yearned for this model of content delivery, back when the notion of legal streaming was essentially non-existent. The difference between illegal streams in 2006 when Crunchyroll started and 2016 when we are having this discussion is integral to understanding what’s at stake.
So, on to the feature – who am I talking to when I rail against pirates?
If you pirate shows that you have no legal means to view in your region, I am not talking to you. This is a huge issue for a lot of older material that is not streaming or was never released on anything other than VHS or laserdisc back in the day. It’s also a major issue for a lot of tokusatsu material such as the various iterations of Kamen Rider or much of the Super Sentai series. Not to mention, as I discussed in my hulu post some weeks back, not every streaming service is universally available in all regions.
If you pirate shows because you prefer a particular translation over the legal translation, I am not talking to you. I know that translation/interpretation is an issue of personal taste, and as someone with some background in language it’s not easy work and the vagaries of translation can drastically alter the tone of certain scenes or characters. I personally have never felt that the translation of legal streams has impeded my understanding or enjoyment of a work, but that may not be the case for everyone. I will give this group the benefit of the doubt, even if I am still somewhat suspicious.
If you pirate shows because the only legal option is expensive physical media, I am not talking to you. This is a bit harder to pinpoint because “expensive” is a relative term, but it is no secret that many physical media releases for Japanese media are outrageously expensive. Collecting an entire show can often be a $80-$150 expenditure, and the raw dollar-per-minute exchange rate is painfully low compared to more accessible western media. The simple fact is that not everyone has that kind of dough to shell out for a show they have never even seen, so I understand the hesitation to put money down.
If you pirate ripped versions of legal streams, I am talking to you. Miles’ tweet and discussion basically breaks down how a great deal of anime fans, many of them in the US where access to legal streams is at an all-time-high, are going to pirate sites like kissasian or gogoanime to watch ripped versions of Crunchyroll and Funimation streams.
Let me state that one more time, to make sure we are crystal clear. These are pirated streams on illegal streaming sites that are direct rips from legal streaming sites like Crunchyroll and Funimation.
Guys, as a community, we can do better.
We must do better.
Now hear me out, this isn’t so much an attack on anyone’s character as it is a plea to carefully consider our actions. I’m not going to say you’re a bad person for watching illegal anime streams. You could be out doing much worse things, and I think some people who pirate usually end up supporting the industry in other ways by either discussing the shows or buying other merchandise.
Nevertheless, we have got to value the work that these creators have done. The only difference between watching an episode of a CR/Funi translation stream legally and illegally is that the legal stream gives something back to the creators and translators who have made this available for us. While some people buy merchandise for various shows they have watched illegally, many shows are watched once and discarded – giving those creators not a single dime for their work.
If we do not support legal streams, they will not make the shows we want.
If anime companies receive no compensation for streaming, they will stop allowing them.
If we do not support the industry, there will be no industry.
Folks, let’s be real – we are living in a golden age of access to anime/eastern media. For those of you who weren’t alive or part of the fandom in the 80s and much of the 90s, we used to have to go through some pretty absurd hoops to get this stuff. We would spend hours upon hours networking, scouring Blockbusters, digging through the collections of a friend’s older sibling, and all sorts of toil just to watch a low-res fifth generation set of episodes from the middle of a series with no subtitles or any clue as to what we were seeing. It may have built character and taught me an appreciation for every scrap of anime I could find, but that was not fun and I do not want to return to those days.
What we have now is truly remarkable. Simulcasts are the crown jewel of the fandom – peak access, people – and we have got to understand that it costs time and money to bring us that content.
That’s what it ultimately comes down to: money or time. The only ways to support anything are time and money. Not every anime fan has equal amounts of disposable income, but if you are a fan then you have some time to spare. The time it takes to watch those extra 2-5 minures of commercials means literal money for the companies that make and translate the shows we love. If you are watching dozens of anime episodes, but can’t spare those extra minutes per episode, then you may not have enough time to be a fan in the first place. This is a time intensive hobby, a luxury good, it is not necessary for survival nor guaranteed. If we don’t preserve it then the industry will cease to be.
Sure, even if the industry stopped production tomorrow we would have years of content to work with, but eventually it would dry up. Without new content to encourage discussion and fire our imaginations this would grow stale. Without legal and easy streaming options we simply won’t have new fans to replace the old and the community will die out, figuratively and literally.
Sure, you can rip CR/Funi streams and tell yourself you are not hurting anyone. You may even be right – there is not necessarily a direct negative impact that you put on these companies by pirating. However, there is something that is 100% verifiable:
When you rip legal streams you are helping no-one.
You might think that piracy sends a message, that it lets these companies know that you want different translators or less commercials or whatever else you believe. The truth is piracy does send a message, but it is almost universally not the one you intend.
When these companies see you pirating legal streams, they don’t say, “Ah, they would have preferred a more accurate translation, we will change our business practices in the future. This is clearly on us, our bad guys.” What they see is a confirmation of all the worst stereotypes that exist about anime fans – that they want everything for free and will give nothing in return. And knowing from past examples how many anime companies operate, they would much rather go down with the ship than keep producing content for people who will not give them the time of day. I want anime streaming and access to be like 2016, not 2006, and if things revert back to the way they were before then we will lose a lot more than ten years.
We have to give a little bit if we want to continue enjoying what we love, and 5 minutes of commercials is a small price to pay.
If we don’t pay it this season, we may never get a next season.