Streaming services and simulcasts have changed the way anime is consumed outside of Japan.
You’ll often hear about how fansubs could take months to release in the pre-streaming era and how many shows would never get that treatment at all. Now it’s rarer for a series to not get licensed with episodes releasing alongside their Japanese airing. This has transformed the discussion about anime to what’s current and overall made the medium far more accessible to larger audiences. There are downsides such as series becoming forgotten after airing but overall it’s been a positive transition for the community.
And yet I’m taking myself out of the equation: I’m done watching simulcasts.
This has been a long time coming for me. Over the past year life got in the way and I’ve found it increasing hard to keep up with series, culminating in falling up to eight episodes behind on series in the past few seasons. I ended up binging them from the beginning once they ended anyway because I needed a refresher of what I watched multiple months back. Meanwhile during the interim where I wasn’t keeping up with shows it was a stressor– totally self-imposed over what is ostensibly a hobby but it’s my innate reaction to falling behind with anything.
For a long time I held issue with binge culture before I fully immersed myself in anime a little over three years back. Partly this was my cynical anti-mainstream mindset of the time but I also valued the water-cooler talk that came from watching an episode unravel week-by-week. It turned what was for many an antisocial activity into a social one. Communities formed around the weekly discussion (indeed, this is what has happened to the anime community). And I still value this but I’ve come to find value in binging as well.
I guess I never actually held anything against binging for completed series. Many years ago I did this with series like The Sopranos and Battlestar Galactica to name a few and they’ve become some of my favorite stories. It was also necessary for people to catch up with series multiple seasons in as serialized stories became popular (again, this is more obvious in retrospect than it was to college me).
This really clicked when I become an avid anime watcher (read: weab). Anime’s format is very much that of a miniseries with a self-contained story held within a single span of episodes. Some shows continue this story through sequels but outside of the mega series that have seemingly endless episodes these series don’t run for as long as a Western drama. Because of this you can experience their narrative over the course of a few days to a week depending on your free time and preference.
Like a miniseries you might find on HBO and its ilk, anime series have a distinct beginning, middle and end. You can even apply film structure to many series as follows (using a 12-episode run as an example). The first three episodes constitute act one with the inciting incident in the first episode and the first turning point near the end of episode three where the main characters commit to their journey. Then act two runs six episodes with the midpoint being the moment where the script is flipped. Act three takes up the last three episodes and features the climax. Sometimes it can run shorter with act two taking up a longer span of time which you can figure out if the point where the characters are at their most dire happens past episode nine.
Obviously this structure fits a dramatic series rather than, say, a slice of life. When it comes to those latter genres I still find a lot of enjoyment in immersing myself in the lives of those characters and their world for extended sittings. Slice of life series are primarily tonal so having them wash over me is a trance-like experience that is harder to capture in smaller separated chunks.
I don’t want to sound like this is the only valid way to watch a series but it’s what I’ve found works for me. It helps me to analyze what I’m watching as a big picture. Themes become more prevalent to me when they happen in succession. Which leads me to a fairly personal reason why I’m moving away from simulcasts: I just can’t keep series straight week to week. Between the ten or more shows I might be watching and everything that happens in my daily life I can forget what happens in a story, especially if it’s particularly complex. This leads to reading synopses or even rewatching an episode which is time I’d rather spend elsewhere (such as writing here!).
And yeah, there’s also this blog to consider. This is my first time writing long-form pieces about anime so I’m still feeling things out but ideally I want to be able to hone in on one show at a time. Binging a series is a focused experience that will hopefully lead to better reasoned posts in this regard. Ultimately though this is more of a secondary effect of a decision I’d probably have made anyway.
While I’m on this topic I want to speak about one service that has been doing a disservice to the anime community: Netflix. Each season they buy up exclusive rights to one or two series and then break standard anime industry practice by waiting until the season ends to put them up as a completed piece. This may fit my new approach but it screws over an entire community based on weekly discussion and those series likely suffer as a result. This is made worse by how Netflix Japan *is* simulcasting Little Witch Academia this season while the rest of the world has to wait. Why does anime need to conform to Western binge culture? It’s bullish and stubborn on Netflix’s part.
There are a few shows I’ll probably be watching live, namely Game of Thrones which is too topical in my daily life not to be part of the discussion. I may also watch the first episode(s) of a series in the future if I decide to do a season preview guide. Otherwise I think this is a decision that will help anime better fit into the current shape of my life.