July 08, 2023

dLibrary Japan (update)

So I resubscribed to dLibrary Japan. dLibrary Japan primarily targets Japanese speakers (and learners) with something-for-everybody prime-time material.

dLibrary Japan is owned and operated by NHK Cosmomedia, which also runs NHK World (available OTA and streaming) and TV Japan (cable and DirecTV).

Because NHK Cosmomedia doesn't want dLibrary Japan competing directly with the pricier TV Japan, its premium Japanese-language cable channel, dLibrary Japan doesn't maintain a permanent backlist or carry live programming.

As a result, the catalog is a mile wide and an inch deep, with licensing periods limited to one year on average (longer for a few extended series). This no doubt saves a lot of money, but it also means you have to watch it or lose it.

On the plus side, dLibrary Japan rotates new content through the service at a brisk clip, so it's not hard to find something good on. You really have to pay attention to the "Coming Soon" category! One benefit of the low demand for live-action J-drama in North America is that dLibrary Japan's only (legal) competition is TV Japan (itself) and Viki.

Not all of the content on dLibrary Japan is exclusive to the site, such as Don't Call it Mystery also on Viki, MIU404 also on Netflix, and Summer Days with Coo also on Tubi. Just most of it.

Even there, Viki skews toward BL and shoujo manga adaptations. Tubi and Netflix (in North America) acquire Japanese language content at a decidedly plodding pace. Both have much larger K-drama catalogs. Netflix and Tubi don't even have a designated J-drama channel. Anime, yes, but they don't have enough J-drama material to bother.

I'd like to see dLibrary Japan become the VOD service for TV Japan. But as mentioned above, what with all the cable cutting going on, NHK Cosmomedia has to worry about cannibalizing its TV Japan subscriber base. Despite its lock on the overseas hospitality industry, subscriber numbers have got to be hurting.

Right now, only Partners (season 21), Crime Scene Talks (season 7), and episodes from the business and economics interview series Ryu's Talking Live and Dawn of GAIA are on both (after the initial run on TV Japan).

The latest Taiga drama is Ryomaden from 2010. There are no Asadora in the catalog. Again, internal competition from TV Japan and NHK World are likely the deciding factors.

On the other hand, dLibrary Japan is streaming a growing number of shows like Logically Impossible in close to real time. Perhaps the service will ultimately end up with all the programming that isn't licensed to TV Japan. That'd work for me!

Right now, live domestic news programs (such as Good Morning Japan) and NHK's flagship Taiga and Asadora dramas are the only bottom-line advantages that TV Japan provides.

Already, several of NHK's travel and infotainment shows run for free on NHK World (often dubbed). dLibrary Japan simply links directly to NHK World. I can imagine all three getting fused into a tiered streaming service in the near future.

Aside from a handful of movies and series, dLibrary Japan has little localized content, which cubbyholes it and TV Japan as niche services and puts a hard cap on the size of their overseas audiences.

Unlike NHK World, which perhaps tries too hard to make its content as accessible as possible. Accessibility sounds like a good thing, but at some point, all of this smoothing out starts to erase what makes a product of Japanese culture uniquely Japanese. Right now, perhaps the anime streaming services do the best job splitting the difference.

You should still subscribe to dLibrary Japan for a month (or two or three) to watch the subtitled Ryomaden, NHK's year-long (48 episodes) biopic about Ryoma Sakamoto, one of the Founding Fathers of modern Japan.

The other draws for me this time around are the latest seasons of Solitary Gourmet and Partners and an eclectic collection of police procedurals (a genre that Japanese scripted dramas excel at), including a return to crime fighting in Kyoto in CSI: Crime Scene Talks.

The 2011 live-action Bunny Drop movie does a good job adapting the first half of the anime and leaves things at that (alas, this movie is not subtitled).

The Roku app is functional. The video plays when you hit play. Otherwise, it's like a half-broken VCR, where the buttons don't reliably do what they're supposed to. Closed captions don't work. They do in the browser app, which doesn't appear to suffer from these issues.

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# posted by Blogger Sophia
7/12/2023 3:54 PM   
How's the quality of the video on-demand feed? I tried NHK World, but I found the video quality kind of bad. What's your opinion?
# posted by Blogger Eugene
7/13/2023 6:01 PM   
NHK World clearly operates under a tight bandwidth allowance. Static shots, slow pans, and talking heads look fine. With anything more complex, like a fast-moving sumo bout, the artifacting significantly degrades the picture.

The VOD library is all over the map, from pretty good to awful. NHK World seems to have difficulty creating HD streams from older archived material. My default is OTA, which in my area is on a 480i subchannel. VHS fidelity but it saves bandwidth.

dLibrary Japan has more bandwidth and a higher data rate. It's paid content, after all. I have no complaints about the picture quality. By comparison, I first watched Ryomaden on TV Japan via Dish a decade ago. dLibrary Japan is a big improvement.
# posted by Blogger Sophia
7/14/2023 3:52 AM   
I might subscribe in the wintertime, then, when I can take full advantage of being at home to watch a lot of it. Are the subtitles removable? I prefer to watch the shows raw if possible. Any other recommendations for shows on it that might still be available during the winter?
# posted by Blogger Eugene
7/14/2023 5:45 PM   
You don't need an account to browse the dLibrary Japan catalog. There are a handful of free episodes available too. Closed captions can be turned off. The subtitles appear to be hard-coded. In any case, very little of the content is subtitled. I'm mostly watching police procedurals this time around. More about that in a later post. Also for later, two series on Viki I quite like are Sleeper Hit and Isekai Izakaya Nobu.
# posted by Blogger Sophia
7/14/2023 6:14 PM   
Oh My God. They have Atsuhime! I remember starting to download the raws for that on torrent back in the day before I had to cancel internet. I only got to see a few episodes. I'm so excited I can finally watch all of it. :) Looking forward to wintertime.

Thanks so much, Eugene! You're the best! I appreciate all your help over the years.