I like anime.
If you don’t like anime, some of this will not make sense, although much of this rant can be generalized to a wider category of video online and the legality/morality/convenience thereof.
Yes, I separated it into three different categories, because on the Internet, there is the right thing to do, the thing that “everyone does,” and every imaginable shade of grey between. With anime, there are several options to get your fix.
The one that best espouses “the right thing” with “convenience” is currently Crunchyroll, a fine option if they have licensed the anime you wish to view [in your country]. I live in the US, and so do they, and this works out in a lot of my favor. I will not deny that. While the website is riddled with ads at the best of times, for $10/month you can view your videos commercial-free, which also has the benefit of solving all most of my NoScript-related video oh-god-it’s-flash-get-it-away-ness. We’ll come back to that.
Of course, the biggest licensee of anime in the US (yeah, I’m states-centric, I live there, got a problem?) is Funimation, and they have dipped their toes in the water of anime streaming as well through the magic of Hulu (after a half-assed in-house attempt made the pirates happy to have an easy job, to the general derision of everyone who read about it that was smart with computers). The primary problem that I encounter with this is twofold: commercials that bounce off my NoScript and break the video stream, and broken video streams that are uploaded so and take a week to fix. (Granted: the series in question was Full Metal Panic!, not exactly new material, but there was a week that the two episodes they uploaded were broken, and it wasn’t fixed until the following week, when I saw four episodes go up.)
Viz Anime, the other large company that licenses anime to show in the US, follows a pretty similar format as Funimation, with even more postage-stamp sized video. And commercials.
For everything else, there are torrent sites with fansubbers who find the shows in their pristine habitat, spend hours of time translating and timing their work, and then uploading it to the world for free. This is the route, incidentally, that most people used before legal alternatives came about (and in fact drove them to be created, because why wait a year or two to buy a show you can have now for free?) Legally, at their best, these exist in a grey area; the show isn’t licensed to watch outside of Japan, but neither is anyone making money off of it, so there’s no one to sue. At their worst, they are rips of commercial DVDs (and of course, the ad-supported/subscriber-based video from the sites above) and thus are piracy in the classic mode known by everyone who ever had Napster/Limewire/etc on their computer.
Right, so back to legality, morality, and convenience. In the US, legality and morality tend to be conflated together, but it is important to remember that the two can be separate from each other. I don’t feel guilt over downloading and watching a show that hasn’t been licensed, for example. And I don’t want to buy more DVDs because our shelves are full and frankly, most of the time anime is a disposable good to me – I watch it once and I’m done, thanks. I subscribe to the premium option on Crunchyroll and watch about half the shows they have to offer. I watch a couple of the Funimation shows; and they aren’t always the new ones, although generally first episodes will get a glance. Technical issues I work through occasionally, but if I spend more time trying to get a stream to work than I do sitting back and watching, I’ll download it instead, because I’m here to watch anime, not play with stopped video and the refresh button.
I’m actually down to only about 4-5 shows that I download over torrents, which sounds like a lot, but I used to be in the 7-10 range, which means I’ve cut that in half. My hard drive is happy with me for that; I hate deleting things. Often, the torrents use higher-quality video than the official video stream, and the first time I watched subtitles that weren’t the ugly VHS style from Ye Olden Days, I could have wept for joy. I could actually see the picture as well as the words, and real typography in subtitling was an amazing concept; it still is, because the Japanese don’t care about subtitles and the concentration is on the English dub. (Never mind that I don’t like dubs, and never have, from the days of Sailor Moon bad bad awful voice-acting)
In the end, I’m okay with anime streaming at Crunchyroll, I am ambivalent about the whole Hulu thing because of the whole postage-stamp video thing as there is that or full screen: fullscreen does not make it look better, and I know, old videos don’t have HD resolution, but why do I see something like this show, which is new? It looks like ass. And the subtitles are also ugly with a black border that isn’t quite wide enough to differentiate the text from a pale background. The quality of torrents is generally better, the people who fansub certainly put their hearts into the shows, but I still want to support the people who create the original works. The options for this are better than they were as recently as two years ago, but there is still work to be done.