Sometimes legitimate businesses and industries arise from unusual practices, sometimes these practices are illegal. This is surprisingly the case for anime in the US, an industry which has become a global phenomenon in part due to the illegal and voluntary unpaid labor of digital pirates. It sounds a bit romantic, no?
Before legal streaming services became commonplace, western fans would lament the low number of shows and films translated into English or sold internationally. Without many legal avenues available, fans took to illegally copying videos, translating the dialogue into their own subtitles, and distributing these videos on tapes and eventually torrenting and streaming sites. While the piracy did hurt the industry, it appears to have had some positive benefits by helping to set the groundwork for anime’s success in the West. The pirated videos would be high quality, released relatively soon after the original air dates, and most of all, free. The barriers of entry to enjoy anime were dramatically reduced and continue to be so to this day (as long as you know how to avoid malware and pop-ups on these sometimes less than safe sites). As a result, the fan base would grow through forum discussions of their favorite shows, pushing demand for more and more pirating and increasing legal purchases as well.
But, now that the anime industry has truly begun to enter mainstream pop culture, as evidenced by the myriad of nation-wide film screenings, its presence on streaming services like Amazon and Netflix, numerous comic-cons, and anime conventions the industry has been growing increasingly hostile towards fan-subtitlers and illegal uploaders. This is due to losses resulting from piracy being reported to be in the billions of dollars, a very large loss considering the industry pulled in only $17.7 Billion in a record breaking 2017.
In order to combat these losses the anime industry has made real efforts to innovate. A star of this innovation comes in the form of Crunchyroll, a former for-profit media hosting site that expanded rapidly and was known for its catalogues of illegally posted videos. In 2009, the website would be offered a partnership with Japanese broadcasters and producers if it removed and banned all illegal content on its platform, it would accept and has now become one of the primary legal anime-streaming services in the world with over 45 million registered users and 2 million premium subscribers. If you can’t beat them, take them under your wing. And the industry is better for it. Overall, the anime industry continues to learn from the success of pirates and by taking and improving on what the pirates could offer. Instead of having to wait weeks, months, and often years for even the chance of an official English release of a show or turn to piracy, shows now increasingly air simultaneously with Japanese releases with English subtitles or dubbing. All while providing the knowledge that watching ads or subscribing directly supports authors, producers, and animators. It is rather fitting that a company dealing in stories should have its own redemption arc.