Netflix is one of the powerhouses of anime streaming. Not only has Netflix been very proactive about licensing the latest series from Japan, but they’ve partnered with Japanese studios and backed production of many works. Netflix has even installed a new lounge to help facilitate creativity and development of new anime.
As a result of all that and a general overall increased interest in it, anime is one of their most-watched genres all around the world.
But like every streaming service, while Netflix has some amazing titles and features, it also has drawbacks. The first is obvious: it requires a paid subscription to watch anything. Plans range from $8.99 to $17.99 a month, although there are no ads on any tier. For those who have limited time and budgets, the fact there’s no free option is a major disappointment. Home video releases are also inconsistent or rare.
Another criticism, especially in the anime world, is what is colloquially known as “Netflix Jail”. Most of Netflix’s new anime licenses are announced before their Japanese TV debut, just like how most of the other anime streaming services do it. But while Crunchyroll, Funimation, and HIDIVE like to upload videos within days — often hours — of their Japanese TV airing, Netflix typically releases series in batches. So while fans can go weekly on other anime streaming services and see a new episode of their latest fave, for Netflix-exclusive anime, they would have to wait weeks or months to marathon a part or a whole season.
For instance, Little Witch Academia had half of its run added to Netflix days after the whole show had already finished airing in Japan. Netflix debuted Beastars‘ first season in March 2020, which ended in December 2019.
So while Japan (and occasionally, other territories) could bask in the latest must-see anime, those in the US (and perhaps elsewhere) would have to wait and either indulge or avoid spoilers.
While this delay doesn’t bother some viewers who prefer to watch a whole block at once (and also that Netflix has plenty of content in the meantime), a segment of the anime fanbase sees this as a reason to turn to piracy. It is true that streaming became so popular because of instant gratification, but these folks, despite knowing this series would come to Netflix eventually, argue that such a delay is unacceptable in modern times. After all, Crunchyroll et al could all do simulcasts and simuldubs, and for Netflix to just sit on episodes goes against why official channels had to outspeed the fansubbers.
But is this long-standing pattern about to end?
At the beginning of September, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean (aka Part 6 aka Season 5) was listed on Netflix as “releasing monthly”.
Stone Ocean is debuting in the US and elsewhere in December on Netflix, but it is also being released on Japanese TV in January.
Netflix didn’t state how many episodes would release each month, but it’s pretty safe to assume it’s more than one. Only the first season of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure had fewer than 39 episodes, and even at 26 episodes, the series would be running for over two years while Japan would be finishing it under seven months. If that were the case, Netflix would be better off releasing it in a large batch. So assuming three or four episodes a month, that still is a dramatic speed up compared to most Netflix anime series, and it still also is enough for a mini-marathon for those who prefer larger episode uploads.
Then, about the same time, Netflix’s YouTube anime channel announced Blue Period would release on October 9th, which is about two weeks after it appears on Netflix Japan and a week after it airs on TV.
Then Komi Can’t Communicate was revealed to also debut on Netflix about two weeks after Japan, which, like the other two series, has both Netflix streaming and Japanese TV airings. But this one will also have eight dubs and even more subtitled options.
So that’s two anime being made available internationally within two weeks of Japan, and a third that’s probably around the same length, maybe slightly longer depending on how many episodes drop each month. While some people will never be happy (or rather, will always look for a reason they “need” to pirate it), this is much closer to how the other big leader(s), Crunchyroll/Funimation, does things.
A New Standard?
Whether this is going to be Netflix’s new release schedule going forward is unknown. But perhaps the reason they’re giving it at least a test run after all these years is to better combat the Funimation-Crunchyroll union. Whether it’s a series they want to personally back or not, the Sony-owned services could use their fast schedule as a way to help entice production companies and studios to let them license a title. But if Netflix is now starting to upload episodes in under a month — and as quickly as two weeks — well, it’s likely to come down to a battle of dollars.
This also gives anime watchers more reason to keep a Netflix subscription. If Netflix only drops whole or full seasons at once, well, it’s very easy to wait until that date, subscribe for a month, and then drop it. But now, starting in October, there are going to be two anime with new episodes weekly, and in December, monthly episode drops. It’s much easier to avoid spoilers from Japan for just a couple of weeks rather than months and to stay hyped when there’s something new on a regular basis. This makes Netflix more tempting.
This is also a chance for fans to prove to Netflix this is the release schedule they prefer. Again, it may not be ideal versus free ad-supported releases or paid same-day options, but two weeks is much better than four or five months. If there is no change in subscription numbers and/or viewership habits, Netflix might not see the point of weekly or monthly episode drops.
And perhaps if this downside of Netflix is addressed, perhaps they can also work on other complaints like limited home video releases. Then the concept of “Netflix Jail” would definitely be a thing of the past.