The pros and cons of the Netflix anime studio partnership

Netflix recently partnered with four more anime studios, but what does it mean for the industry?

On October 22, 2020, the NXOnNetflix Twitter account announced a partnership with NAZ, Science SARU, Studio Mir, and MAPPA. This isn’t the first time Netflix has partnered with an anime studio. In 2018, they made a deal with Production I.G, Wit Studio, and BONES. This was followed by Anima, Sublimation, and David Production in 2019.

On the surface, this announcement seems like unequivocally good news. Netflix is worth nearly $200 billion and they’re aggressively investing in anime. This means they see potential in the medium. It could also mean that studios will start seeing higher production budgets, which theoretically translates to higher quality programming.

It also means less simulcasts each season. Netflix Originals are typically released as a complete package. Episodic schedules aren’t impossible, they’re just uncommon. The 2018 Grappler Baki relaunch was released episodically on Japanese Netflix each week at 24:00 JST. The rest of the world, however, had to wait until it finished airing. It’s possible they received negative feedback for this, because in 2020 they dropped the entire follow-up season worldwide on the same day.

Another criticism is that Netflix doesn’t always release physical copies of their original programming. If you’re not a collector, this probably doesn’t bother you as much as others. Shows like Hi Score Girl and Devilman Crybaby aren’t going away anytime soon. Netflix produced them, so it’s probable that they would have a perpetual license.

That great, but what if they decide that anime is no longer part of their key strategy like Adult Swim did in 2008. Even worse, what if Netflix goes bankrupt and shuts down?

It’s not likely to happen, but it is a concern for some fans. Without a home video release, it’s plausible that exclusive titles could be lost to posterity. This isn’t true of all Netflix Originals. The Irishman and 13 Reasons Why both have physical releases, but it’s less common with their anime titles. The only one I can think of is Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is being handled by a third party.

My biggest concern is with the people working on the localizations. I trust that Netflix is hiring skilled translators, but are they hiring people that specialize in anime? Knowing the source material and the audience that consumes it is just as important as knowing what the words mean. This is how we ended up with the awkwardly translated “Sea King Retsu” in the last two seasons of Grappler Baki.

I hate to be the, “it’s Shinigami, not Soul Reaper” guy, but they call him Retsu Kaioh in every other season. This inconsistency implies they’re using multiple translators that aren’t doing proper research or sharing notes. This kind of mistake is unacceptable for a megacompany like Netflix, especially when those with less resources get it right.

That doesn’t mean it’s all bad, though.

As I’ve already discussed, Netflix has a lot of money at their disposal. Even when compared to Crunchyroll and Funimation’s parent companies, Netflix is no slouch. This is most apparent in how they dub their shows. Netflix is one of the only union anime dubbing operations in the business.

With Netflix dubbing more anime each season, this could put pressure on Funimation and Sentai Filmworks to pay their actors more. Actors go where the work is. More union dubs could incentivize anime voice actors to become union members. With less non-union actors, it will be harder for non-union studios to cast their dubs. In a perfect world, it would lead to SAG-AFTRA organizing these Texas studios.

It may also finally give Crunchyroll the kick in the ass they need to start paying their translators more than $80/episode.

The most obvious benefit to having more anime on Netflix is that more people will be exposed to it. Streaming is awesome. Being able to watch whatever I want, whenever I want is a dream. I grew up in a time where the only way to watch anime was on TV or DVD. Fansubs existed, but downloading anime wasn’t feasible on my dial-up internet connection.

Because of the proliferation of streaming, anime doesn’t play on TV as much as it used to. VRV and HIDIVE are great, but they have limited reach for people that aren’t already fans. Netflix has over 180 million subscribers. That’s a lot of potential anime fans. More anime fans means more anime gets made. It means more merchandise and video games. It also means bigger conventions with bigger guests.

Well, maybe not that last one quite yet.

For better or worse, I’m excited to see what happens next. Netflix is a force to be reckoned with. They just need to do a better job of catering towards anime fan specific needs like simulcasts and home releases. Most of my favorites this year have been Netflix Originals, so they have my trust so far.

They’re also the company that produced three seasons of Grappler Baki after a 17 year hiatus, so I’m a little more forgiving of their flaws than others.