Product Review: Crunchyroll
Finishing off our recent anime-related trifecta, we take a look at Crunchyroll, the “anime and drama” streaming service.
There are tons of niche streaming services popping up in the wake of many consumers cutting the cord. HBO GO is there to scratch your Game of Thrones itch… for a price. Showtime, IFC, TBS and TNT all have streaming services. Even mainstream providers like Exfinity and
DirectTV are rolling out apps to watch their content elsewhere. Into this a la carte trend leapt Crunchyroll, an online community dedicated to all things Otaku.
The Nitty Gritty
Crunchyroll began as an online community for Japanese media created by two Berkeley graduates. While it always offered partnered content with Japanese video providers, it got a lot of flack early on for also allowing submissions from the “fansub” community. These groups would grab broadcasts of popular anime in Japan, create their own English subtitles, and release the content as their own.
Most of this ended when Crunchyroll secured a deal with studios Gonzo and TV Tokyo. Landing mainstream titles such as Bleach and Naruto gave the company clout, and alleviated the need to turn to pirated editions of popular series. Recently Crunchyroll has partnered with Funimation and Kadokawa. This further increased its library with heavy hitters like Dragon Ball.
The service currently boasts 1 million paid subscribers. It is available on the web, and in app form for Windows, Android, I-phone, Xbox and Playstation. Crunchyroll has a premium, ad free version for $6.95/month, or a free version with commercials. The free version does have a release delay, usually one week from the air date of the episode.
With all its partnerships, Crunchyroll has positioned itself as the same-day source for syndicated anime. In that sense, they are similar to Hulu for American television. The community aspect of the service has also lead Crunchyroll to partner with VRV, an online simulcast service where viewers can watch popular anime simultaneously as it airs in Japan.
The library has all the major series, from classics like Dragon Ball to new sensations like Attack on Titan. They carry all genres: shonen action, sports and comedy; seinen horror and drama; shoujo slice of life and romance, etc. The premium service also grants access to manga which can be read through a web browser.
Crunchyroll also touts itself as the premiere source for East Asian drama. This usually takes the form of Korean live action recreations of classic anime like Death Note and Liar Game. If you love Ultraman, you’ll love the Crunchyroll drama section, as they have every Ultraman movie you could ever want (and then some). That is a lot of giant robot versus foam monster action.
Crunchyroll in Action
I tested Crunchyroll’s free service both as an app on the Xbox One, and through its web version on Windows 10.
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I watched a few episodes of Dragon Ball Super, and attempted to simulcast the premier of Boruto: Naruto Next Generation…
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Crunchyroll’s free service has some of the most egregious use of paid content breaks I have ever experienced. Both Hulu and VUDU felt fair in their use of commercials to compensate for free content. Their commercials generally acted exactly like commercials for cable television programs. This padded out the content to similar lengths. I used to watch a ton of anime, and can tell you for a fact that an anime episode without commercials runs 22 minutes from starting song to ending credits. It took me over 35 minutes to watch a single episode of Dragon Ball Super. I gave up halfway through the second episode.
The VRV simulcasts are much better, if you can get them to work. I couldn’t get the video to load on my Windows 10 laptop, but I was able to get it to work on a Windows 8 machine. The frequency of the commercial interruptions was much less, more in line with a 22 minute episode (running about half an hour with ads.) VRV has it’s own subscription service for 9.95 that gives you Crunchyroll, Funimation, and a slew of other video providers. I’m not sure that’s a giant plus for Crunchyroll, when your partner is a better deal than you.
It’s a shame that Crunchyroll is so stingy with its content. Given their courting of the fansub community this is especially troubling. Fansubs arose in response to Japan’s complete lack of concern with providing content to foreign consumers. This community was so tired of waiting months or years for series and movies to come stateside that they stepped into that void with their own translation and editing work. Crunchyroll survived in its infancy on that community. Turning around and giving them exactly what they rebelled against (heavily monetized, delayed content) is pretty bogus.
It’s also a shame because the rest of Crunchyroll’s ideas seem smart for such a niche provider. They have video segments previewing upcoming seasons of anime. Breakdown and reaction videos and forum tie in’s to simulcasted content. They even offer manga and have sales for cosplay and figurine collecting enthusiasts. In every other regard they cater heavily to a very insular community.
This service does have upside, IF you are a big fan of Japanese culture. A premium membership to Crunchyroll is a pretty small price to pay for a site tailor made for your Otaku needs. Everyone else will most likely be turned off by their poorly crafted free services. Netflix, Hulu, and VUDU provide a ton of anime and foreign film content these days. Your money might be better spent with them.