Open Letter To Netflix: Please Release Anime Episodes On A Weekly Basis

Dear Netflix,

Like many anime fans, I was completely blown away by 2013's Little Witch Academia, which was made by Studio Trigger for the Young Animator Training Project's Anime Mirai showcase. Fan enthusiasm was so high that when a sequel was announced later that same year, a Kickstarter campaign launched to fund its extension to 50 minutes met its $150,000 goal within hours, and eventually raised a total of over $625,000. Clearly fans around the world were extremely passionate about this franchise.

This same passion reached a fever pitch with the announcement that Little Witch Academia would be made into a proper series airing in early 2017. However, when fans discovered that Netflix had acquired the streaming rights for the show, their excitement suffered a blow, due to the way Netflix releases its content.

I am a big fan of Netflix and have been a subscriber for years. I watched it evolve from a standard VOD service to a licensor, producer, and creator of some of the best content available nowadays across multiple genres. I also think the Netflix model of releasing entire seasons at once for subscribers to consume at their own preferred pace is a great improvement upon the "standard" model that television has employed for decades. However, I think that in cases such as Little Witch Academia, this model does a disservice to anime fans, to the anime industry, and to Netflix itself.

First – the fans: Anime fandom in the age of the internet has become a fairly tight-knit global community. Fans from around the world communicate with each other and interact with anime fans and creators in Japan, which has even resulted in several artistic collaborations between Western and Japanese artists. Additionally, the existence of multiple legal anime streaming services such as Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hulu, and Netflix, which bring nearly every new anime show to a global audience almost as soon as they air in Japan, has enabled the community as a whole to experience, enjoy, and discuss its shared passion on a daily basis. That is why hobbling Western fans by forcing them to wait until a show is done airing creates a disconnect between them and fans in countries that receive the content from other sources. They can no longer discuss the show as it is airing and are at a constant risk of encountering spoilers about the plot and characters from fans who are watching it as it airs. Thus, in its attempt to cater to the niche anime market, Netflix is actually hurting the fans it wants to serve.

Second – the industry: While I am not an advocate of piracy, and am in fact a fairly enthusiastic proponent of both legal streaming and legal ownership of anime (I own numerous anime shows and movies on DVD and Blu-Ray), it would be foolish to pretend that piracy isn't easy or that it poses anything other than a fairly small (or even nonexistent) risk to nearly anyone engaging in it. I think that combating piracy in this day and age is less about being right and more about being smart. Piracy is indefensible on moral and legal grounds, but the truth of the matter is that if you make it too difficult for people to obtain something legally, many of them will turn to piracy simply because it is easier. Additionally, anime fans often feel aggrieved by the industry, as they are forced to suffer second rate and overpriced products on a regular basis. That's not to say that the industry doesn't also produce top notch products (it routinely does), but there are enough cases of the former that my point still stands – anime fans want to support the industry, but only if they feel like the industry respects them as fans, and many of them feel "cheated" by the Netflix practice of releasing these shows after they are done airing.

Third – Netflix itself: Given all that I have written above, Netflix risks making its name synonymous in the anime community with something to be avoided. I already saw this happen previously with shows like Knights of SidoniaSeven Deadly SinsAjin, and Kuromukuro. When fans found out these shows were licensed by Netflix, they either forgot about them or found other ways of watching them as they aired, because by the time they arrived on Netflix, the fandom had collectively moved on to newer shows. Far be it from me to advise a media giant like Netflix on its best business practices, but speaking as a fan of both anime and Netflix, I would hate to see the brand become a pariah in the anime community due to its One Size Fits All approach to content distribution. Additionally, heeding fan calls on a topic like this is exactly the kind of signal that members of a niche fandom want from the companies that help them enjoy their hobby.

Therefore, I implore you on behalf of anime fans in the U.S. and around the world to switch to streaming the anime shows you license on a weekly basis.


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