Although I'll admit that I sometimes watch pirated anime, especially for the purposes of reviews and critical analysis (which is fair use), I nonetheless remain committed to the idea that anime fans need to pay to support the artists, writers, animators, etc. that work hard to make the shows they love.
Buying DVD's is one thing, but each DVD sale for the studio involves many middle men between the production, labeling, shipping, distribution, and retail that the studio itself won't see very much of that money. That's why I think that buying anime online directly is better, cutting out intermediaries so that more of your money goes to the artists. It also reduces clutter in your home, and cuts down on waste and pollution in the environment.
This can be done either through paying per episode, as through Amazon, iTunes, and Youtube, or by monthly anime subscriptions on sites that charge a flat fee each month. I prefer the latter, because I like having the variety and, if you watch a lot, it ends up being cheaper that way anyway.
There are many sites out there with anime streaming content. However, not all of them are legitimately licensed, meaning if your intention is to support the artist, choosing a smaller, more obscure site might mean you're just paying content thieves, and that the creators of the show aren't getting a dime.
The list I have below only includes sites for which I am reasonably sure of their officialness. My personal favorites are Crunchyroll for the service and price and Funimation for the sheer variety. Netflix is also good for watching if you want both anime and western cartoons and movies in one subscription. I kind of hate Hulu, but I tried to give it a fair look. Finally, there's The Anime Network, and my feeling about them is basically, bless their hearts they're trying? Here's my detailed look at each one.
According to this interview with Crunchyroll's CEO, Crunchyroll is devoted to making sure the studios making anime get the majority of your subscription fees to the site. I don't think anyone cares more about this issue than Crunchyroll, which is one reason I have been a loyal subscriber for a while now. Another reason is their quality of service, such as their inclusion of manga and Japanese TV dramas, the ability to change the resolution you get for good streaming speed, the price, and how quickly they update their collection and get new simulcast series directly from Japan. Members can also get discounts at the Crunchyroll store, which has a variety of available merchandise, mainly specializing in plastic action figures of high quality. You can also get books, manga, and plushies.
Mo' money = The Premium + membership is 11.99/month and has all the same content access as the Premium membership, which is 6.99/month. The + one just gives perks like convention goodies and exclusive contests. All paying subscribers get:
- No ads
- Access to all the content: anime, manga, and drama
- High definition 720p and 1080p streaming
- Simulcast shows as soon as 1 hour after the Japanese broadcast (Personally, I'm in it for the Sailor Moon Crystal!)
- Discounts at the Crunchyroll store
Both plans also allow you to give a trial membership to a friend.
Basically, I like them for general business practices and the quality of what you get for your dollar. It's really just that Funimation has control over the licensing of most of my favorite anime off of Adult Swim, so I'm also subscribed to them for that reason.
Their main selling point: they own the rights to "a stupid amount" of content. This streaming service will basically have anything you like anime-wise that you've seen on Cartoon Network. Space Dandy, Trigun, Cowboy Bebop, Blue Gender, Shin Chan, Dragon Ball Z, you name it, it's all here. Since Toonami/Adult Swim are largely fed dubs from Funimation almost exclusively, and that being the primary way new anime shows got seen in America in the dark ages when I was a kid, I've been kind of hooked on the Funimation teat since the infancy of my existence as an anime fan. And I've never been disappointed, Funimation is a company with an eye for quality anime and an ear for good American voice actors. Other dubbing companies like Dic and 4Kids have become jokes in the anime community, but not Funimation's dubs, which are usually high in quality.
Mo' money = dubs. If you get the basic subscription that I have, you only see ad-free subtitled anime, you pay extra per month for Funimation's dubs. If you like dubbed anime, this might seem unfair, but it goes to compensate the voice actors they hire, many of whom I've met/seen at conventions in the Midwest so I'm glad the company supports them. Like Crunchyroll, Funimation is a company by and for the anime fans. And you're not liable to find a better selection on any other legitimate subscription site.
The place where your free time goes to die has a surprisingly decent selection of anime. I was upset that they took out Princess Jellyfish, but they have Nana, Deathnote, and a few other shows I like. Just keep in mind that anime isn't necessarily their focus. I've also had issues in the past with them changing things from streaming to DVD only, or taking them off altogether. It makes it hard for me to recommend shows using Netflix, because you never know when they're going to sweep the rug out from under you (BRING BACK MY PRINCESS JELLYFISH).
Hulu and Neon Alley (Viz)
I was going to rip on Hulu for their lack of an ad-free option, but now I see that they're getting one, but at 11.99/month compared to Funimation's 7.99/month, Netflix's 7.99/month, and Crunchyroll's 6.95/month, all of which are already ad-free, that's still a ripoff.
Back in last fall, I played McDonald's monopoly and one of the things I won was a 30-day Hulu Plus subscription. I thought, at last, I can watch ad-free South Park? No deal. Even subscribers have ads on their content? Really? What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks?
So even if Hulu has changed, it's still a big ripoff. I logged out of Crunchyroll and played the same episode of Sailor Moon Crystal on both Crunchyroll and Hulu: If you don't have an account on either site, it will cost you to go to Hulu: they had 14 ads on the episode to Crunchyroll's 4. I'm not exactly a math wiz, but... Basically, they cram multiple ads into each break, rather like commercials on the old dinosaur called 'television', and this is beyond infuriating to me, especially since the ads are almost always repetitious anyway. On Crunchyroll, since its an anime site, even the ads are easier to sit through because they're geared towards anime fans. But Hulu gets a few blue chip sponsors and then tries to force them on everybody via excessive repetition and just... Ugh.
I mention "Neon Alley" because it's the sad failed attempt by Viz to create an online anime channel, but people online want on-demand streaming, not on-schedule viewing like on a cable channel. Neon Alley now is a paid streaming subscription site, but they don't have that good of a selection. It's a shame because I like Viz, but the company seems like it's kind of fizzling. It's also controlled by Hulu. Ugh.
The Anime Network
The Anime Network has been trying, not sure how successfully, for years to create, well, an anime network on cable. But they also have a streaming subscription site. It's through Hulu, but since it's not the same as a Hulu subscription, it's only 6.95 and ad-free, with 2-week free trials available. I wasn't that impressed with the selection, but it might grow if more people subscribed or purchased the network on their cable packages.
* Best selection: Funimation
* Best service and price: Crunchyroll