One thing that has had an interesting effect on my anime-watching habits lately (and I use lately in the loosest sense since most of my anime-watching has been virtually put on hold *grumble grumble unreasonable work schedule grumble*) is the prevalence of shows being streamed for online consumption. I�m not talking about Joe-shmoe�s backwater site for illegal fansub streaming, I�m talking about actual legal venues like Crunchyroll, Funimation, the Anime Network and things like that. While to this point it�s never offered 100 percent seasonal coverage, these options have come close; for the Summer season I think there were maybe only 1 or 2 shows (outside of shows aimed at kids or OVA series) that weren�t offered as video streams somewhere.
At first the transition wasn�t particularly dramatic, but within the last year the fansub landscape has really changed. I get the impression that most groups aren�t particularly interested in fansubbing series that are offered as streams, because nowadays the majority of episode offerings at my normal fansub-acquisition haunts are provided by �ripping groups,� people who rip the video streams from the various websites and offer them as bittorrent downloads, virtually unchanged and without any alteration to the subtitles that are provided by the professional translators.
I have very mixed feelings about the whole situation. On one hand, I think it�s great that there�s a legal option for people to watch virtually everything that comes out in Japan. The streaming offerings range from shows almost guaranteed to be perennially popular (Bleach, Naruto) to some unusual, niche stuff like most of the noitaminA offerings. This makes it much simpler for me to recommend anime to other people, especially those who aren�t interested in watching fansubbed anime. On the other hand, though, there are various disadvantages that I�m only now really beginning to discover as the format and distribution platforms mature.
I�m the type of person who likes to archive the shows I enjoy in some way, whether that be in fansub form on one of my various hard drives, or on DVD. One thing that streaming has done is offer false hope of physical releases and removed some of the opportunity to archive series for later viewing (unless you want to break down and illegally download, that is). There was a time when it was safe to assume that if Funimation was streaming a series on their website, it was because they either already had the DVD rights and were providing episodes for preview purposes, or that they had licensed the show for both DVD and online distribution. Even series which didn�t have DVD release information at the outset were eventually upgraded to DVD licenses (Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom and Corpse Princess, to name a couple examples). But I feel like I was really naive of me to get all worked-up over Funimation�s announcement that they had struck a deal with Fuji TV to simulcast the noitaminA programming block, because so far that�s proven fruitless as far as DVDs have been concerned (yes, I realize it was silly to think that a Masaaki Yuasa show would actually be released on disc here, but I was riding high on wave of licensing euphoria at the time, forgive me). And, to put it bluntly, I�m glad that I decided to download fansubs of a couple of series that Crunchyroll had in its library, because guess what? You can no longer watch shows like Aoi Hana, Ristorante Paradiso or Natsume Yuujinchou at their site, since they�re no longer available and there�s no evidence that they were even there in the first place.
There was no real announcement (that I saw) indicating that these series or any others that were once available would be disappearing from the site, and that�s one reason why I�m still hesitant to participate wholeheartedly in the �streaming revolution.� I have no guarantee regarding whether or not the shows that I�m actually interested in paying a subscription fee for will stick around for the long haul or not (the burden of having niche tastes, I suppose). Also, as someone who enjoys the benefits of technology but is not always willing to use a lot of complicated workarounds, I�m finding that using streaming video has made it difficult to get screen-grabs to post in reviews. I�ve always been forced to go through less legal means to get my screen grabs because I�ve never found a good catch-all method of taking screen captures from the various streaming video formats and platforms used by legal streaming sites. I�m an anime reviewer, not a hacker.
So yes, there�s a part of me that�s very happy to see so many series available for viewing via such a simple and user-friendly means of distribution. Hooray for expanding the fandom and all. But there are still plenty of drawbacks and the whole situation really outlines how underserved those of us who enjoy more unusual productions still are. But that�s another blog post entirely.