November 07, 2019

Streaming the big three (comparing content)

Crunchyroll is the biggest kid on the block, with the most content in every category. The most titles, the most user comments, most user reviews (both in terms of quantity and quality), wide-ranging forums, and a blog. Like Amazon, when it comes to discoverability, it's worth checking Crunchyroll even if you're going to watch someplace else.

HIDIVE recently took steps to catch up in terms of user-generated content by partnering with MyAnimeList and integrating the MyAnimeList rating system into its listings. Funimation has a decent review section for most titles. Funimation and HIDIVE use their blogs to announce new titles, while Crunchyroll actively covers the whole industry, making it a daily read.

HIDIVE offers a bit more granularity in its search filters than Crunchyroll, though you have to remember to apply the filters in a stepwise left-to-right fashion. And you can only search on titles. Funimation has a useless filter option once you drill down to the genre categories, useless because you can only select the genre categories you're already in.

Crunchyroll, Funimation, and HIDIVE acquire all the content they can afford, so practically any anime worth watching makes it to the North American market. Crunchyroll wins the quantity race with its emphasis on subs. Funimation and HIDIVE compete in the dub space. In many recent cases, Funimation ended up with the dub and Crunchyroll with the sub.

Right now, I have the most saved shows (bookmarked or in my queue) in Crunchyroll, followed by HIDIVE (lots of classics), with Funimation trailing in third place. To be sure, Funimation has must-see titles like Hyouka, Robotics;Notes, Assassination Classroom, Spice and Wolf, and Snow White with the Red Hair, so it's not easily passed over.

The recent consolidation of Sony-owned Aniplex of America (and its subsidiaries) under the Funimation banner should expand and extend the Funimation anime catalog.

With the smallest catalog of the three, HIDIVE leverages its relationship with Sentai Filmworks to give its catalog the look and feel of a curated library. This "quality not quantity" approach includes many of my favorite Kyoto Animation franchises, such as Clannad, Beyond the Boundary, Tamako Market, and K-On.

As noted previously, licensing and content sharing deals are as fluid as the tide in this business, so Funimation ended up with earlier Kyoto Animation titles like Full Metal Panic, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Kanon.

HIDIVE also has Strawberry Marshmallow, Makoto Shinkai's Garden of Words and the outstanding Patlabor franchise, including the three full-length movies, that are less mecha movies than traditional police procedurals. Patlabor WXIII deserves mention in the psychological horror and monster movie genres as well.

The geopolitical anachronisms (and magneto-optical drives) notwithstanding, the original Patlabor series (especially the first season) holds up well. Thanks to being originally mastered on film, it looks great after thirty years.

Sentai Holdings, HIDIVE's parent company, recently garnered a $30 million investment from the Cool Japan Fund, a public-private partnership the Japanese government uses to promote cultural outreach. This support should help to cement Sentai's unique status as an independent licensor of Japanese anime not owned by a big multinational.

Crunchyroll has the biggest live-action catalog of the three but is systematically letting its licenses lapse (sadly including outstanding series like Antiquarian Bookshop, Hero, and Galileo), and now has only a few more titles than Funimation. If you're an Ultraman fan, Crunchyroll still has five full series.

Most of Funimation's live-action content are movies (which adds up to fewer hours of actual content). Four Japanese titles worthy of attention are Shinobi, Goemon, Assassination Classroom, and Space Battleship Yamato.

HIDIVE has the most eclectic lineup, ranging from two seasons of an AKB 48 reality show to Lone Wolf & Cub and Samurai Punisher from the 1970s and a Godzilla flick from the 1980s. For the older tokusatsu demographic, two series, two movies, and a special from the samey but enjoyable (in measured doses) Garo franchise.

Then there's the misleadingly titled 100 Sights of Ancient Cities, which is about traditional Japanese arts and crafts. Tabiaruki from Iwate is the kind of travel show you'd expect to find on NHK World. I'm a little puzzled about how HIDIVE ended up with these titles but they do make for a nice change of pace.

Of course, you don't subscribe to these services for the live-action offerings. It's all about the anime. Thankfully, the big three don't make you buy a pig in a poke. You can search their catalogs without subscribing and bookmark the URLs for shows. Funimation and Crunchyroll have "free" ad-supported options and HIDIVE has selected "free" episodes.

In any case, the subscriptions are reasonably priced. On an annualized basis, you can get all three anime services for the cost of HBO Max. Or maybe you'll just get HBO Max (that will include Crunchyroll). I'm sure that's what AT&T is hoping. Oh, and toss in HIDIVE too. It's the best value buy and has an impressive backlist of oldies but goodies.

Related posts

Streaming the big three (a little background)
Streaming the big three (the user experience)
The streaming chronicles

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